This is a guest post from Eric Brown of NYCSPREP. Originally from Philadelphia, Eric Brown is a resident of New York, where he works as a standardized patient (SP) and advises NYCSPREP with their Clinical Skills Course. With many years of experience and industry insight into all things SP-related, he helps students ace their CS exams by simulating patients they will work with. He also remains up to date with expectations, trends, and developments in CS exams, to help NYCSPREP keep their course current. In his free time, Eric likes unwinding by watching baseball and can be found at the game when the Phillies (his home team) are playing. If you have any questions about standardized CS exams or courses at NYCSPREP, email Eric at eric.brown@nycsprep.com or visit www.nycsprep.com.

USMLE preparation is no small task, and it’s easily the most crucial step in any medical student’s future. When you’re preparing for the USMLE Step 1, it’s important to have a strong study plan. This helps you organize your time better, so you can cover all the material on which you will be tested and become familiar with the test format.

Here are 10 essential steps for creating an effective USMLE study plan that will help you achieve success:

1. Find Your Starting Point – You need to know where you stand before you can calculate your study needs and set a USMLE study schedule. Instead of relying on non-standardized med school grades, sign up for NBME self-assessments or other tests for a better understanding of your baseline score, strengths and weak points.

2. Set a Goal – Define what you want to achieve at the end of your USMLE preparation. For instance, are you aiming for a score above 240 or just looking to pass the exam? Take career goals into account but be realistic, since jumping from a 140 baseline score to over 260 will require more time or effort than aiming for 200!

3. Know Other Demands on Your Time – You need to know how much study time you can commit to USMLE preparation, and this depends on many factors. For instance, will you be studying full-time or on rotations while you study? Is there a deadline by which you need to take the exam? Could family or work obligations affect your USMLE study plan?

4. Plan Study Hours, Not Days – When you’re planning your USMLE study schedule, start thinking in terms of hours instead of days, weeks and months. On average, students taking the USMLE Step 1 exam will need at least 500-600 hours of study, which works out to 10 hours daily over 6-8 weeks. Individual students may need more, or less.

5. Define Your Study Timeline – A timeline gives you a clear idea of how and when to study, as well as how hard you need to work. For instance, if you have a deadline for taking the test or outside responsibilities such as a job or family, you will need to allocate more time for USMLE Step 1 study than a full-time student does.

6. Set a USMLE Study Schedule – Use the information you’ve collected about your baseline score, strengths, weaknesses, goals and timeline to plan an effective strategy for USMLE preparation. Set aside a certain number of hours on a daily, weekly and monthly basis for your USMLE study plan, tweaking these as and when required. If you use Cram Fighter’s study planning software, your study plan will adapt to any changes you make along the way.

7. Take Multiple Practice Exams – Practice tests and self-assessments are a great study tool for USMLE prep. Along with determining how far you need to go at points along your study plan, they also help you become familiar with the exam format and develop a proper time management strategy. Include USMLE practice exams at different stages of your study plan.

8. Simulate a Full-Length Test – The USMLE Step 1 exam takes place over 8 hours, with 7 hour-long blocks and an additional hour for instructions/breaks. Most practice tests have 3-4 blocks, but exam fatigue usually strikes during the last few blocks in a full-length test. Take two back-to-back practice exams to train for the real deal.

9. Recreate the Exam Setting – Treat practice tests as you would actual exams, by spacing out breaks and applying the same restrictions. You can also schedule and take a USMLE practice exam at the testing center to familiarize yourself with the environment, traffic conditions, check-in and checkout process, restrooms, etc., before test day.

10. Use USMLE Study Resources – There’s no shortage of resources, guides and question banks to help you with USMLE preparation. Use these to your advantage, but make sure you aren’t wasting time with low-yield study material. Consider signing up with a training center for courses or tutoring if you need extra help, especially if you’ve set your goals high.

The best way to be fully prepared for USMLE Step 1 is to study smart. Give it your best and have faith in yourself, you’ve got this!