Greetings! If you made it to this page then you, like me, are stressed out of your mind with the looming dread of Step 1 and are looking for something to give you some direction. I don’t have the benefit of hindsight (I take my Step 1 in March) but I am hoping that because we are in the same position and I don’t yet have any skin in the game, I can distill down some of what I have learned from my research and present it to you in a (mostly) unbiased way. I have indicated where my assertions are supported by evidence, but otherwise this post reflects the things I have gathered in my research and interpreted through the lens of my own bias. I have taken the things that work for me and discarded the rest, so take this with a massive grain of salt. That being said though, I think this post will be helpful to at least some of its readers!
Before we begin I think it’s helpful to know a little bit about me so you can see how I came to create this schedule. I attend a mid-western medical school that recently changed its curriculum from a subject based organization (Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology, etc.) to a system based one (Cardiology, Pulmonary, Neuro, etc.) and with this they compressed our two pre-clinical years into just under three semesters. This allowed for them to create five, two week “synthesis” blocks that are intended to integrate the material and provide a framework for studying for Step. On these days we have class from 8 to noon and then have the rest of the day off, with the intention that we use the time to study. This also means that we are able to take our boards as early as mid-February (I’m planning on taking mine on March 1st).
My study outline won’t fit perfectly with everyone’s schedule but my hope is that by talking through the process I used to make it, it can serve as a template that can be easily customized. With that said, let’s get to the details!
I based the content of the schedule on the free 8-week study schedule provided by CramFighter. For a fee they provide customized schedules based on your timeline and the resources you want to use but I found that I couldn’t customize it enough to accommodate for my fluctuating schedule while still in school (also, I am incredibly cheap). However this provided a template from which I calculated what I called “content/days” (think pack/years for smoking). A content/day is the material that you would reliably be able to get through in one full day of studying, and therefore on days where I had class in the morning, I only accounted for .5 content/days of studying. One CramFighter sample day was one full content/day, and I used this to calculate the approximate number of days that I should spend studying for any given block. Then based on how confident I felt in each particular subject I added or subtracted content/days accordingly. For example, in my schedule, Heme/Onc was 3.5 content/days on the first pass and 2 on the second (slightly more than what CramFighter would have recommended) and GI was 3 and 1 (slightly less).
After you have calculate the content days that you would like to spend, back calculate how early you should start studying in order to reach this number. Based on my proposed schedule, I figured I would need 49 content days to reach my study goal. So I counted backwards from hypothetical test date until I reached it.
Factor in the number of days that you will be taking practice exams or scheduling Catch Up days. These should not be factored into your content/day calculations but are very important to incorporate into your timeline. Based on data from previous students at my institution, NBME practice exam scores were not strongly associated with the actual Step 1 score, however many students report that these exams were useful for honing test-taking skills like timing and building endurance. Therefore I only factored in time for 5 practice exams and I won’t be terribly stressed if I don’t wind up actually taking them all. This schedule is much more vague than others so I planned to have a Catch Up day almost every week to give me the flexibility to spend more time on some subjects if they require it, and potentially to spend that day relaxing or doing errands.
Do not pass ‘go’. You definitely did not schedule in enough Catch Up or break days. Go back and add more of these in where you can!
Let me know in the comments if this was helpful or if you have a different approach that you would like to pitch! Here is a link to my example schedule.