What is the USMLE Step 1: Tips and FAQs

In your journey to become a doctor in the United States, you’ll encounter the USMLE Step 1, the first of three exams. The USMLE, short for the United States Medical Licensing Examination, is the licensure exam you need to pass to practice medicine in the US.

Specifically, the Step 1 exam tests your foundational understanding of medical principles. To succeed, you must demonstrate knowledge of diseases, treatment principles, and the inner workings of physiological processes.

You have the option to take this exam right after graduating from medical school. However, some US medical students prefer to tackle it during their third year when the fundamentals of medicine are still fresh in their minds. Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 is essential to achieving success. So, firstly, here are some tips to help you along the way:

  1. Plan Sufficient Study Time: Allocate an adequate amount of time to study for the exam. Depending on your knowledge base, you can opt for either the 40-Day or 99-Day Study Schedule. These schedules provide a structured plan to cover all important topics and allow for thorough revision.


  1. Utilize High-Quality Resources: Make sure to use trustworthy and comprehensive study resources. Review books like First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and CanadaQBank are popular choices among students. Consider supplementing your study materials with additional resources, such as educational videos and online lectures that can be found on CanadaQBank.


  1. Active Learning and Practice Questions: Simply reading and memorizing facts may not be enough. Actively engage with the material by answering practice questions and participating in interactive learning activities. This will reinforce your understanding and help you apply knowledge in a clinical context.


  1. Create a Study Group: Studying with peers can provide valuable support, motivation, and the opportunity to discuss difficult concepts. Join or form a study group where you can share resources, exchange insights, and clarify any doubts.


  1. Timed Practice Exams: Practice exams are a crucial component of your preparation. Take several timed practice exams on CanadaQBank to simulate the actual test environment and gauge your progress. These exams will help you identify weak areas and develop strategies for managing your time effectively.


  1. Focus on Weak Areas: Identify your weakest subjects or topics and dedicate extra effort to strengthen your understanding in these areas. Retain a balance in studying across all subjects, but devote additional time and resources to the areas where you need improvement.

Remember, success in the USMLE Step 1 requires a combination of thorough preparation, effective study strategies, and self-discipline. CanadaQBank understands the importance of preparing for the USMLE Step 1 and offers resources to help medical students succeed in this crucial exam. That’s why we’ve curated some frequently asked questions to gain a clearer understanding of this pivotal step in a medical student’s journey.

Frequently Asked Questions About USMLE Step 1

Here are some FAQS about USMLE Step 1

When should you take the USMLE Step 1?

Typically, most students aim to take the USMLE Step 1 after their second year of medical school. This timing allows them to have covered all the necessary basic sciences that are tested on this exam. International medical school graduates also need to take this exam to practice medicine in the United States.

What about the USMLE Step 2?

Once students complete their third year of medical school, finishing clinical rotations, they usually proceed to take the USMLE Step 2. This step is closely aligned with the knowledge acquired during clinical rotations, making the timing ideal for its completion.

What about the USMLE Step 3?

It’s generally recommended to take the USMLE Step 3 after gaining at least a year of clinical experience post-medical school. Many individuals choose to take this step during their residency program, about a year into it.

Now, let’s talk about the USMLE Step 1 specifically.

How many questions does USMLE Step 1 consist of?

This exam comprises 280 multiple-choice questions. These questions cover a broad range of topics, including general principles, body systems, behavioural health, and social sciences.

How long does the USMLE Step 1 last?

The exam takes place over one day and lasts for eight hours. It is divided into seven blocks of questions, each lasting 60 minutes. You’ll have a minimum break time of 45 minutes, along with an optional 15-minute tutorial. Each block can contain a maximum of 40 questions.

Who is eligible to take the USMLE Step 1?

To be eligible, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Officially enrolled medical student or graduate in a U.S. or Canadian school leading to an MD degree accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
  • Officially enrolled medical student or graduate in a U.S. school leading to a DO degree accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).
  • Officially enrolled medical student or graduate in a school outside the U.S. and Canada listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools as meeting ECFMG eligibility requirements and meeting other ECFMG eligibility criteria.

Now that we have a good grasp of what the USMLE Step 1 entails, let’s explore the importance of using resources like CanadaQBank to prepare for this critical exam. CanadaQBank is dedicated to assisting medical students with their exam preparation. With a vast question bank, including detailed explanations and references, students can strengthen their knowledge and test-taking skills in a structured and organized manner. The platform allows for interactive learning, enabling students to track their progress and identify areas that require further attention.


Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 is a significant undertaking, but with the right resources and guidance, success is within reach. CanadaQBank provides a reliable and comprehensive tool for medical students to tackle challenging content and boost their confidence. So, if you’re on the path to conquering the USMLE Step 1, consider utilizing CanadaQBank as a valuable study companion on your journey to becoming a licensed physician.

Things I Wish I Knew Before Taking USMLE Step 1

The USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. It is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

It assesses a physician’s ability to apply medical knowledge, concepts, and principles to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills that are important in health and disease.

The three steps of the USMLE include Step 1, Step 2, Clinical Knowledge (CK)Clinical Skills (CS) and Step 3. The USMLE is a requirement for licensure to practice medicine in the United States and is considered a benchmark of medical knowledge and competency by residency programs and employers.

USMLE Step 1

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 is a multiple-choice examination for medical students and graduates. It is one of required exams for obtaining a medical license in the United States.

Step 1 tests the basic science knowledge and understanding of concepts necessary for practicing medicine, including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology.

The exam is a computer-based test that consists of 7 hours and 40 minutes of multiple-choice questions and is scored on a 3-digit scale, with the minimum score being 200 and the maximum score being 300. It is typically taken after completing the first two years of medical school with a minimum passing score set by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Residency programs in the selection of candidates for residency training use the score.

However, despite its importance, the USMLE is also widely viewed as a stressful and challenging exam. Many medical students find the USMLE to be a source of anxiety and worry as a high score can greatly improve the chances of being accepted into a top-ranked residency program; hence, most medical students spend several months preparing for the USMLE Step 1, dedicating several hours a day to studying and taking practice exams.

Overall, the USMLE is viewed as a necessary but demanding aspect of medical education and is generally considered challenging but a worthwhile experience for those who hope to practice medicine in the United States.

Moving on to the things I wish I had known before taking the USMLE Step 1 test, I’ve made a small list, and I hope this helps anyone out there thinking about taking the USMLE Step 1 test.

The USMLE Step 1 exam is cumulative.

The recurring refrain in medical school is “just pass Step 1 and move on to the next stage.” Still, to be very honest, this mindset can lead to a student only aiming for the minimum passing grade, which may not provide a strong foundation for success on subsequent exams.

With the USLME examinations, the fundamental knowledge required for Steps 2 and 3 is identical to that of Step 1, even if the specific questions or phrasing may differ.

Although Step 1 primarily focuses on preclinical subjects such as histology, pathology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, etc., Step 2 focuses more on diagnosis and management. However, a fundamental understanding of the basic sciences is crucial to diagnose and manage patients effectively.

In addition, while some students aim to meet the minimum passing grade, others thoroughly understand the information covered in Steps 2 and 3 while preparing for Step 1. Meanwhile, some students may still grapple with the material in Step 1.

This is not to suggest that you should become bogged down with studying material that you haven’t encountered yet, but rather, it’s important to ensure you have a solid foundation in the subject matter while you are in medical school rather than trying to catch up later on.

Starting from mid-January, Step 1 will become a pass/fail exam, which may lead some students to believe that their study approach can be more relaxed. However, I recommend you to study for the test as if it were still a numerical score, as the knowledge gained from studying for Step 1 will be crucial for your success on the subsequent USMLE exams. Establishing effective study and test-taking strategies early on is key to success.

Identify a few study materials that work well for you and stay focused on them:

During medical school and residency, it may be tempting to use many resources such as reading multiple books, doing numerous question sets, and watching countless videos.

However, success is often achieved by mastering one or two materials, such as books or question banks. Even if you exhaust all possible resources, there will likely be a handful of questions you didn’t prepare for in the USMLE exams.

It is even more crucial to have a strong foundation in Step 1 as it will aid you in your preparation for Step 2.

A solid foundation in Steps 1 and 2 will benefit you in Step 3, which is especially critical as this exam is usually taken during residency when you are working within your chosen field of specialization.

Do seize the opportunity to enhance your score if the opportunity presents itself.

Avoid rushing through the USMLE exams:

This can be challenging, especially since each Step exam has a set deadline. However, try to exercise control over the timing of taking the exams. Do not take an exam simply because you feel pressured to do so or because others are taking it at a certain time.

I would take more time to prepare and be as ready as possible before taking the exams. The worst outcome of delaying an exam is merely a temporary postponement of your training program.

But that time would be well-spent if you are adequately prepared for the exam. Once you pass the exam, even by a single point, you cannot go back and retake it. On the other hand, failing a USMLE exam may raise concerns for residency or fellowship programs. Ensure you have sufficient time to prepare and set yourself up for success.

Believe in yourself:

Think back to all the standardized tests you’ve taken to get to this point – the SAT, ACT, high school and college exams, MCAT, and others. You wouldn’t have made it this far just by luck or chance. With the right tools and strategies, you can ace these exams. So have confidence in your abilities.


In conclusion, I recommend you begin using a question bank at the start of your second year of medical school and practice the related questions, as it would contribute tremendously to your study routine.