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Preparing to take the USMLE Step 1: a survey on medical students’ self-reported study habits


Background The USA Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 is a computerised multiple-choice examination that tests the basic biomedical sciences. It is administered after the second year in a traditional four-year MD programme. Most Step 1 scores fall between 140 and 260, with a mean (SD) of 227 (22). Step 1 scores are an important selection criterion for residency choice. Little is known about which study habits are associated with a higher score.

Objective To identify which self-reported study habits correlate with a higher Step 1 score.

Methods A survey regarding Step 1 study habits was sent to third year medical students at Tulane University School of Medicine every year between 2009 and 2011. The survey was sent approximately 3 months after the examination.

Results 256 out of 475 students (54%) responded. The mean (SD) Step 1 score was 229.5 (22.1). Students who estimated studying more than 8–11 h per day had higher scores (p<0.05), but there was no added benefit with additional study time. Those who reported studying <40 days achieved higher scores (p<0.05). Those who estimated completing >2000 practice questions also obtained higher scores (p<0.01). Students who reported studying in a group, spending the majority of study time on practice questions or taking >40 preparation days did not achieve higher scores.

Conclusions Certain self-reported study habits may correlate with a higher Step 1 score compared with others. Given the importance of achieving a high Step 1 score on residency choice, it is important to further identify which characteristics may lead to a higher score.

  • EDUCATION & TRAINING (see Medical Education & Training)

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