8 tips using uworld to study for step 1, step 2, step 3, and shelf exams!

I am very happy to announce that I am done with all three portions of the usmle medical licensing exam! Below I've listed a few tips that I picked up over the past 2+ years of using uworld as a study resource. Feel free to contact me with questions either in the comments section or on the contact page. I also love your suggestions for future posts!




[ 1 ] Take the time you need to learn.

I think it's important to set either a question or time goal for the day, but not both. Some days will take you twice as long to get through the same amount of questions. For me, I set a question limit for each day. The upside to this is it insured I got through the material on schedule, but the downside is that some days I just powered through material after my brain was already saturated with information and unwilling to retain more. Although, in my opinion, questions are easier to learn from than lecture, I still hit a wall after so many hours of doing questions. The plus side to a time limit is that you can set a time limit for the point when you start to become less efficient at absorbing material. This does make it harder to keep a daily schedule of material though.

Keep in mind that depending on how many hours you are studying a day (it will vary drastically for step 1 vs step 3), your day may be divided into multiple different blocks of questions vs. reading vs. breaks. For step 1, I alternated a couple of sets of questions followed by a certain number of pages reading throughout the day. For step 2, I only did questions, no reading. For step 3, I only did 1-2 sets of questions/day, and I did a lot of the questions on my phone during downtime in clinic compared to dedicated study time at my computer for the previous 2 steps.

[ 2 ] Learn using untimed tutor mode.

The questions are to help you learn. I think you get the most benefit out of questions when you see the answer and explanation immediately afterwards. That way your thought process when you answered the question is still fresh in your mind. You’re not just learning what the right answer is, but you’re also learning how to take the test, how questions are worded, and what your thought process is. 

For Step 1, I would recommend taking multiple practice tests towards the later end of your studying phase. It is important for you to become comfortable with the sheer volume of questions, time limits per section, and the length of the test. By the end of your studying, you will have spent an excessive amount of time sitting at a computer for 8-12 hours a day, so it won't be as daunting as it sounds in the beginning.


[ 3 ] But timing is important

We were required to take a reading comprehension exam at the beginning of medical school and we all found it to be so silly, but that's such a HUGE comonent of the step exams. It's not just can you figure out the answer to this question, but can you read the question and think of the answer quickly enough?? If you're a slow test taker at baseline, you will need to address this during your study time. For step exams, I wouldn't worry about it for the first half of studying just because you don't actually know ANY of the answers to the questions.

[ 4 ] Read the last two sentences of the question first.

This will give you an idea of how much detail to read into the question. Uworld and the USMLE are notorious for giving long question stems. Everyone has had the experience of being super excited that they know the diagnosis only to get to the end of the question and be asked "the patient is diagnosed with Neisseria meningitis. What prophylaxis does his family need?" If you don't read that portion of the question first, you waste a lot of time thinking of the patient's differential while you're reading the question. This wastes a lot of time and you only have about 75 seconds per question on the test. I do, however, still recommend going back and reading the question stem for these questions. A lot of times they'll mention allergies or other situations that make first line treatment not the right answer.


[ 5 ] Read the answer explanations fully.

Take the time to read the entire answer, even if you got the question right. Make sure that you understand why the answer is correct and why the other choices are incorrect. Repetition is the key to learning, so the more you come across concepts and in the context of different questions, the more likely you are to remember. Your objective for each question is to learn why the correct answer is correct and why the wrong answers are wrong. My preferred technique for answering questions is actually process of elimination. I know I got a question right when I can quickly eliminate the other three options. The worst feeling is being able to narrow the question down to 2 choices, but not being able to decide between the two.

[ 6 ] Don’t become discouraged if your score doesn’t increase as your progress through the test bank.

There are very few repeat questions in the test bank - which is why it’s a great learning tool. If you were getting every question right, then the test bank wouldn’t actually be serving a purpose. Instead, remember that we tend to learn and remember things better when we get them wrong. So, although it may hurt your feelings to consistently do poorly on practice exams, know that you’re learning (if you’re actually taking the time out to read the answer stems in detail). You will see how much you've learned if you reset the test bank and do the questions again or if you're inpatient, occasionally repeat a few questions you've previously gotten wrong.


[ 7 ] Mark high-yield questions.

Sometimes, you come across an answer stem that’s so long and boring and you’re just like “i can’t with this today.” Mark the question. Come back to it when you have time. Also mark questions that go over key concepts that you’re not sure you’ll remember (for example: Light’s criteria). These will be high-yield questions to repeat.


[ 8 ] You can reset the test bank once!

I'm not 100% sure what the recommendations are for step 1 studying, but in my days it was highly recommended to go through the test bank twice.


Share your study tips in the comments section below!