Dedicated Study Schedule

Bliss Chang

Bio: Bliss is a fourth-year medical student at Harvard. He applied into Internal Medicine with hopes of pursuing a Cardiology fellowship. He is an avid mentor and passionate medical educator currently working on two books for medical students. In his spare time, he travels the world with the hopes of visiting every country.

July 2, 2020 |

A study schedule that works for you is key to acing Step 1. While there is no single magic schedule that works for everyone, there are several elements of a successful study routine. In this post, we’ll explore these key elements as well as tips on how to know whether your schedule is working for you.

No matter how much you love studying, you should set aside one day each week to relax and spend away from studying. This will go miles towards preventing burnout and helping you balance the rigors of this period with other important aspects such as family, friends, and your health. The other days you should plan to study more or less full-time. To some students, full-time means most of the day (12+ hours) whereas others spend a fixed time, such as from 8am to 5pm. Again, the key is to create a sustainable plan that you will adhere to for the entire dedicated period. Remember, you can always adjust your schedule so it’s better to start less, try it out, and adjust as necessary. You should certainly aim to give yourself enough time each day for basic needs and some exercise (it’s great for your brain!).

Since the amount of time you have for the dedicated study block varies from 4 to 8 weeks depending on what school you’re attending, you’ll need to adjust your schedules accordingly. Start by dividing up your resources over the course of your study period. In our last blog post, we covered what study materials to use and why. To recap, you will most likely use a combination of reference materials (First Aid book/flashcards), Qbanks, targeted tools (videos), and official NBME practice exams as the backbone to crafting your study schedule.

Here’s an example of what a 6-week schedule would look like using flashcards, a Qbank, and 3 NMBE practice exams:

Weeks 1-4: Content Review

  • Daily Tasks
    • Reference Materials
      • 750 new cards/day + review, OR
      • Read 40 pages/day (highly recommend using some form of active learning to ensure you retain this!)
    • Qbank (60 questions/day)
    • Videos: Watch 4 videos/day
    • Use accessory resources (Google, YouTube) to supplement difficult topics as needed

Weeks 5-6: Reinforcing Content; NBME Practice Exams

  • NBME Practice Exam 1
    • Day 1: Take Exam starting at 8am with simulated lunch break
    • Day 2: Review answers (do not review answers on the same day as your tunnel vision will continue to exist)
  • NBME Practice Exam 2
    • Day 1: Take Exam starting at 8am with simulated lunch break
    • Day 2: Review answers (do not review answers on the same day!)
  • NBME Practice Exam 3
    • Day 1: Take Exam starting at 8am with simulated lunch break
    • Day 2: Review answers (do not review answers on the same day!)

You may have noticed that the schedule is rather quite simple. This is what you want – you do not want to craft an overly complicated schedule. That being said, here are a few ways to personalize your schedule (for the better):

  • Begin your studies with your weakest subject first. This will allow you time to review the most difficult material again closer to your test date.
  • For topics that are especially difficult to you, set aside 30 minutes a day to cover this material with multiple other resources such as YouTube, Podcasts, and learning from a friend. The more exposure you have to the topic, the easier it will become even if difficult at first.

How to Know Whether a Schedule is Working For you

With your first practice exam not until a month into dedicated, you may wonder how to know whether you’re learning adequately. For one, your Qbank scores should begin slowly increasing as you learn more and more content and develop your test-taking skills. If you chose the flashcard approach, your review cards should become very familiar and easy to you. Next, you should be studying consistently – if you begin feeling burnout (e.g. not finishing what you’ve been finishing), then you should take a few days off and reassess your schedule. Don’t be afraid to take a few days off – these few days will not make or break you, but if you burn out, that can break your score.

Needless to say, studying for USMLE Step 1 is a major milestone and rite of passage for all of us in medicine. It’s not the most enjoyable period of time for most students, but you’ll walk away knowing so much more. Best of luck on Step 1 and all your future endeavors, friend!

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