Journey to STEP 1: Introduction

Last year, if you asked me what I imagined myself doing during my 3rd year of medical school, it definitely wouldn’t be studying for STEP 1. I was supposed to take the exam last April and then go on a week-long baecation to Tulum. Instead, COVID-19 hit and my exam was cancelled multiple times. The destruction that the pandemic caused in millions of lives across the world makes my complaints about a standardized exam (of all things) pretty insignificant, but it was a big source of stress at the time.

A lot has changed since I studied for STEP 1 the first time around. I have the knowledge of four core rotations under my belt, have taken more standardized exams, and have been responsible for the medical care of real people. I truly believe that those testing delays were a blessing in disguise and I will perform better this time around.

While some of you may be preparing for (or have already taken) STEP 1 yourself, some of you may not even know what the heck I’m talking about. In this post, I’ll be answering some commonly asked questions!

What is STEP 1?

The USMLE STEP 1 is an 8-hour standardized exam, covering the basic/foundational sciences learned during medical school. It is required for medical licensure within the United States. Students receive a three-digit score after completion, however in 2022 the exam will move to a pass/fail grading system.  

What’s the big deal? Why does it matter?

Residency programs use STEP 1 scores as one of several metrics when selecting students for their programs. Some specialties are traditionally more completive than others, so receiving a higher score is at of even greater importance. Just like the MCAT, a high score helps open doors, but a lower score (as long as it’s a passing one) is not the end all be all.

When do medical students take it?

This depends on the school. Most schools take the exam after second year, which is typically when basic science coursework is complete. However, there are also schools that take it during 3rd year. There are pros and cons for both models!

How long do you study for it?

Schools schedule a “dedicated” study period for their students. This is usually a six to eight-week long period where a student’s only responsibility is to focus on the exam.

How do you study for it?

The most popular study routine is UFAPS. This stands for U-World, First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy Medical. Other commonly used resources include Anki and Boards & Beyond. I’m thinking of doing a more detailed study schedule post in the future, let me know if you’re interested!

That’s it for the FAQ for now! I hope to do weekly updates over the next 6 weeks (don’t hold me to it though lol), so stay tuned. Wish me luck!

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