How to Stay Sane During USMLE Step Studying: Mental Health

Studying for USMLE step 1 was one of the most challenging experiences I had in medical school. Since this exam has a significant impact on chances of matching into residency, medical students are under a great deal of pressure to perform well on it. I know many students who exerted themselves mentally and emotionally, to the point where they do more harm than good to their score. Don’t let that be you. The more you take care of your well-being, the better shot you’ll give youself at doing well on this exam. In this post, I’m sharing tips on how to maintain your mental health while studying for this incredibly demanding exam.

Tip #1: Find a support system!

Studying for Step 1 is a HUGE mental game. Whether it’s your mom, boyfriend or classmate, find someone who you can vent to when you score a 30% on your Uworld block after scoring 80% the day before. I’ve been there. It makes me want to cry. )’: Lean onto these people and let them help you stay optimistic, motivated, and focused on the bigger picture!

Tip #2: Stay active!

Let’s face it, no one can be productive for hours. We all need breaks. One of the best breaks is exercise! It’ll help you stay in shape and it’s good for the brain! Win, win! I set time aside to work out or go to a yoga class every day. But, if I was too stressed to do so, I made sure to at least go outside for a quick 30-minute walk and/or run. If you don’t feel like getting active, at least a take a few breaks between your study blocks!

Tip #3: Don’t sacrifice sleep!

It is completely possible to do well and get 8 hours of sleep every night. Remember, sleep will help your cognitive performance. So do it because it’ll help you score better!

Tip #4: Get off your phone!

Let’s be real, it is a huge distraction! Think about how much you’d learn if you replaced your Instagram time with Anki! I didn’t even touch my phone after week 3 of dedicated. DISCIPLINE yourself to do this. Know that you only have one shot at this exam and need to give it all your time and energy.

Tip #5: Make life as easy for yourself as possible!

This could mean spending a little extra money on a grocery service or studying at your parent’s house so they can ‘take care of you’. Also, try to avoid any many projects or life events during this time!

Tip #6: Take the day before the test (or at least half) off!

Getting some time to relax and unwind is the BEST thing you can do for yourself the day before the exam. I did some last-minute reviewing in the morning (about 3 hours) then stopped! I then got my nails done, went to a yoga class, visited the testing site, relaxed with a glass of wine and got a good night of sleep! Use this day to focus on getting your mind in the right place to perform well on test day. Know that at by this point, you’ve done everything you can to prepare for this exam. Reflect on all the hard work you’ve put in. Acknowledge the difficulty of the exam, but be confident in your preparation. Know that there are some things you can’t control, so find peace in letting go of the need to control. <3

Good luck with your Step 1 exam and let me know if you need anything!


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