USMLE STEP 1 study schedule & preparation plan for IMGs

For most International Medical Graduates, The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 is the very first step of a long journey to residency. Now, regardless of your goals or how much time you plan to study, setting up an efficient preparation plan for the USMLE Step 1 is essential to ensuring success on this challenging exam. 

When preparing for the Step 1 exam, I spent months and months studying to get the maximum score, and although the exam has since changed to pass/fail, I still believe that my studying for Step 1 helped me the most to score high in Step 2CK. 

In this article,  I want to share with you the preparation plan that helped me score 254 on step 1. 

Before we proceed, it is essential to remind you that there numerous ways to prepare for the Step 1 exam, and this study program might not fit your goals or your schedule.

But if you are interested in getting a pass in the step 1 exam AND building strong foundations to score high in any USMLE exam and build solid knowledge as a doctor, then you are at the right place.

So, ready? 

Follow me and grab your copy of the above study schedule as you read! 

Setting Goals

The preparation plan I’m going to share with you lasts approximately five months.

However, depending on your goals, this duration can be shorter or longer

The best way to determine the length of your preparation is to first settle your goals by asking yourself the appropriate questions. 

  • When do you plan to participate in the residency match cycle? 
  • How much time has passed since you graduated? 
  • What type of learner are you? 
  • What are your strengths and your weaknesses? 
  • How much free time do you have to prepare for the test? 
  • How many hours do you plan on studying per day? 

The answers to those questions will determine your goals and how much time you have to achieve them.

For example, if you work, you’ll have less time per day for studying. If you have strong basic science knowledge, you won’t bother watching videos and will spend more time doing questions, and so on.  

I came up with this preparation schedule for IMGs who have already graduated and need to rebuild some knowledge to take the exam confidently.

Therefore, the preparation schedule encompasses First Aid book coverage, learning Videos, and UWorld questions.

Depending on your needs, you can shorten or skip any of these parts while preserving the same sequence. 

Creating a Study Schedule

 We’ve all experienced this in our professional or personal life. 

You set up a schedule plan, really motivated to respect it. However, as time goes by, you quickly start to feel overwhelmed, accumulating late work before just giving up.

The thing is, when you decide to follow a study schedule, there are three specific rules you must implement to succeed in your endeavor.

Be realistic:

Some of you may be capable of learning something in one day and others in one week. 

You can progress and get quicker in the learning process, but it is crucial to be realistic with your capacities when making a study plan.

When you start studying, you’ll rapidly know how much time it takes you to go through 40 questions of UWorld or read X pages of First Aid. Once you’ve defined your rhythm, it is important to respect it and go at your own pace.

USMLE Step 1 exam is full of information that takes time to be processed by your brain. You can see it as a big large meal. If you try to eat everything at once, you’ll throw up everything.

Nobody wants that.

Set milestones in your study plan

Step 1 preparation can be very daunting and exhausting. To go through it, one needs a lot of motivation. 


When you’ve been studying for hours, for weeks or months, sometimes it’s hard to find that motivation. 

Here is when the milestones come into play, as small accomplishments and success throughout your preparation are what will keep you boosted.

One step at a time.

For example, for week one, your goal is to finish the first aid biochemistry section. 

Refrain from thinking of the exam or the remaining work. Just focus on that goal, and once you’re there, take the time to congratulate yourself. 

Take time to have a break:

This one must be the one I’ve had the most challenging time following, but you cannot imagine how important it is.

Exercise, sleep well, spend time with your friends and family, or watch a movie from time to time. 

This is a marathon, and you need to manage your energy, as a tired brain will never be as efficient as a rested one. 

Review Materials and Resources

We’ll be using in our preparation plan three main categories of support.

Books materials

The only book I’ve used during my step 1 preparation, and the only one I recommend you to use, is First Aid Step 1.

Videos materials

During my Step 1 preparation, I used many videos to help me understand the content of First Aid Step 1 and build knowledge. 

I recommend Pathoma, Boards and Beyonds, Physeo, Sketchy Pharma and Microbiology, and Kaplan Videos for the Nervous System section. 

Those are, in my opinion, the most valuable resources if you need more explanation or clarification about any given topic.


I’ve personally used UWorld Qbank for all my Steps preparation, as it’s the best one. 

Suppose you need more information on how to use these materials and approach UWorld questions. You can read more about these topics with my articles, The Ultimate Study Guide for USMLE Step 1 Preparation and Test Taking Strategies for the USMLE Test Exams.

Tips and Tricks

The secret of Spaced Repetition

Walking down the street, you probably encounter many passersby whose faces you don’t remember. 

However, you perfectly remember the face of your friends or family you see frequently. 

In other words, you must refresh your memory with set intervals to keep any information in your brain, and the more you encounter that information, the less likely you are to forget it one day. 

It just becomes something “You know.” 

The same principle applies to the knowledge you acquire for Step 1 and in medicine in general. 

To memorize the information, you must encounter it multiple times at set intervals. 

Moreover, the more context you give to a piece of information by understanding the concept behind it or making connections, the easier it is to memorize it. 

If you’ve downloaded my Step 1 schedule, you might have noticed that I systematically start each section by first reading First Aid Step 1 and eventually watching videos before doing UWorld questions. 

The principle is to encounter the same information in different settings while reading First Aid, watching a video, and then doing questions on UWorld.

The same concepts apply to flashcards or doing a second round of UWorld or First Aid based.

The principle of spaced repetition is one the most efficient way to learn, and once you’ve learned how to implement it in your routine, the USMLE exams won’t have any more secrets for you. 


Creating a comprehensive preparation plan is important for ensuring success and reducing stress. 

It helps to break down a task into manageable steps, identify and address potential issues, and improve efficiency. 

Key takeaways:

  • Be realistic about your timeframe
  • Time off is also part of your study schedule plan
  • Spaced repetition is key

About The Author

Scroll to Top