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Are you wondering how to make the most efficient use of your time to achieve high USMLE scores in the first and second year of medical school?

Here are 5 USMLE study tips for success during your preclinical years:


1. Plan Your USMLE Study Schedule.

After understanding when the mandatory classes will be for your current course, decide what blocks of time you will have each day to study. Often you will have several free late mornings and afternoons to study each week. If you’re a morning person, consider getting up at 5 or 6am each day to get in some quality studying before going to class. If you’re a night owl and cherish your morning snoozes, consider studying for a block of several hours every night after dinner. Make sure that you leave some free time each day to relax, exercise, and do whatever other personal activities you need to. Once you have blocked out your study times for each week, plan out what you will get done each day. Write out a daily “To-do List” so that you can check off each task after you complete it.

2. If Lecture Attendance is Optional, Should You Attend?

Do you learn best by listening to a teacher? Attending lectures is probably the way to go for you then. Alternatively, do you prefer to read and teach yourself new material on your own? Your time may be better spent foregoing lecture and learning things yourself. Other people who should consider skipping optional class are those who tend to zone out 10 minutes into a lecture, those who have a long commute to school, and those who have trouble sitting still for 3 hours without falling asleep or getting restless. Carefully consider how you will learn best and make the most efficient use of your time when deciding whether or not to attend lectures.

3. Take Notes on Your Lectures.

Just reading lectures off of powerpoint slides will require you to spend more time and energy to memorize material in the long run. Take notes from lectures in an outline format using your own abbreviations, highlighting, arrows/symbols, and whatever other tricks you like to use. Write out any pathways and charts that are important. Be sure that you aren’t just copying down the slides word for word; anything that you write down should be a fact that you must learn for your exam. Writing information down will improve your recall of it as well.

4. Quiz Yourself on Your Notes.

 You should first read through your notes once or twice to make sure you grasp all of the concepts. After that, start quizzing yourself on your notes by using a blank piece of paper to cover everything other than the subject heading. Try to recall everything that you wrote about the heading, then uncover your notes to see how well you did and what you missed. Continue to do this for each subject heading that you have in your notes. Active recall is the best and most time-efficient way to understand and memorize your notes.

5. Start Using First Aid Early.

Don’t wait until your dedicated study period for Step 1 to open First Aid! You should use First Aid to supplement lecture material while studying for your courses first and second years. This will allow you to pick out what you need to know for Step 1 and familiarize yourself with the review book. As Step 1 starts to approach second year, start studying more heavily from First Aid for your exams so that you are “one step” ahead once you get to your dedicated study period for Step 1.

Erica Linnell

Erica Linnell

Erica Linnell, MD, is currently a psychiatry resident at Brown University. She studied at Vanderbilt University as an undergraduate, majoring in neuroscience. For medical school, she attended Rutgers- Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick, NJ. Erica was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society and scored a 252 on Step 1 and a 266 on Step 2.
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