Time management tips for USMLE exams

Any medical student can do well on the USMLE® exams, with the right preparation and enough dedication. Studying strategically starts is not just about the topics you review and the resources you use, but also with how you manage your time. Creating or adapting a study schedule that allows you to maximize your productivity – and then sticking to it – is essential. Give these time management techniques a try and implement your favorites into your study routines: 

Pomodoro Technique

Rather than working your way through a checklist and pausing between tasks, this study method focuses on time: The Pomodoro Technique divides your schedule into blocks of 25 minutes (“pomodoros”) with short breaks of 5 minutes each in between. Working 25 minutes at a time with uninterrupted focus and a shorter break allows you to maximize the information you’re absorbing while also giving your brain its needed break to continue to commit the information to memory. It’s also good for fighting against procrastination, as you can start a pomodoro anytime. 

Block scheduling

SImilar to the Pomodoro Technique, many medical students use block scheduling to organize and manage their time. Inspired in part by cycles of pomodoros and break time, scheduling blocks of a designated time with subsequent designated breaks can help you keep on track during the day. Regardless of the length of your blocks, make sure to always give yourself a short break so your brain has the chance to consolidate the information it just took in and commit it to memory. One major perk of block scheduling is that you can start blocks any time and end at any time. The end of a block is always in sight, and this can also keep you motivated! 

Make a master schedule

Preparing for any USMLE exam means that you have a lot of material to review. Before you even sit down to start reviewing, it is important to create a master schedule of sorts for yourself. This way, you can keep track of which topics you have to review and how much time you have left. Decide how many days per week you want to study, and how many hours per day. Make sure to build in some time for breaks, possibly a rest day each week, and time to review what you’ve already reviewed to keep it fresh in your mind. You can then divide out the number of Qbank questions you have by day and create blocks from this, or select the days on which you’ll study each topic. Sounds like a lot of work right? It doesn’t have to be! Several study schedules accessible online, such as Lecturio’s 40-Day Study Schedule for the USMLE® Step 1, use block scheduling and have a prepared master schedule ready for you to use or adapt rather than reinventing the wheel for yourself. 

Set achievable goals

Whether your goal is to answer X Qbank questions in a week or to successfully complete your morning study block, setting (achievable) goals is also a good way to motivate yourself and thus stay on track. Each person’s goals will differ, but remember to give yourself a small reward when you achieve your goals! Not to mention, it always feels great to check something off a list. 

Give yourself enough time

Managing your time is of course important, but above all, making sure you give yourself enough time to properly get through the material you need to review is essential. Without enough time over all, even with the best-planned study schedule, it is hard to succeed. While it is certainly satisfying to check something off your to-do list, make sure you are learning and reviewing the material you need to know to really know it and be ready for your next USMLE exam, rather than just to check another topic off your list.

Using your time wisely is just one step toward achieving your dream score on the USMLE exams, but it’s a very important one. With the right time management, you’ll certainly set yourself up for med school success.