Last updated on October 13th, 2023
USMLE Step Exams
The USMLE Step exams can be difficult not just in content but in terms of USMLE preparation and learning how to effectively use the resources at your disposal. In this article, we break down the top 10 tips to most effectively help medical students achieve their goals and find USMLE success.
Tip 1: Create a USMLE study schedule and plan at least six months before your test date
The most common issue we encounter is students who do not create an effective study plan for starting their preparation for the USMLE Step exams. Start by picking your estimated test date and work backward from there. How many practice exam questions do you want to complete overall, and how many do you want to do per week? How many practice exams do you intend to take? Do you need to set up a content review schedule? For this task, Excel will be your best friend. It’s also important to create a dedicated study period each week to ensure you are ready for the actual test day.
Tip 2: Study hard for Step 1
Now that Step 1 is pass/fail, many medical students are taking the approach of “just passing.” Unfortunately, this has led to a very difficult road for many as they prepare for the USMLE Step 2 CK and even Step 3. Jeyaraju et al. found that performance on Step 2 has a correlation coefficient of 0.69 with performance on Step 1. Thus, the knowledge base tested in USMLE Step 1 is essential for success in the subsequent USMLE examinations.
Tip 3: Take lots of practice exams
Practice questions are central to your exam day preparation. Having hundreds of unique questions with associated answer explanations helps you learn more effectively. Check out The Pass Machine USMLE question bank with 4,200+ questions to help you adequately prepare for Step 2 CK.
Tip 4: Study each question carefully and review each question in a given question bank
Regardless of whether the answer is correct or incorrect, there is something to learn from each and every question you encounter. It is strongly encouraged that you take notes on anything you do not fully understand and review your notes from med school so that you are prepared for exam day.
Tip 5: Spaced repetition is key
The field of psychology has taught us that spaced repetition is immensely useful in retaining and consolidating knowledge in our long-term memory. The flashcard system is a popular and effective tool for accomplishing this. The use of spaced repetition in a medical setting has been shown to boost knowledge retention (Jape et al.). The Pass Machine has a built-in flashcard feature specifically for these reasons.
Tip 6: Learn to handle the fatigue
Test day is extremely tiring. If you talk to most test takers, they will report feeling extremely fatigued by the end of the examination. The best strategy is to get a feel for what test day will feel like by completing full-length practice tests. You can accomplish this by completing timed practice NBME exams (and for the ambitious, completing two or three blocks of UWorld as well).
Tip 7: Aim for success on NBME self-assessments
For those who are planning to take USMLE Step 2 CK after completing their third year of medical school, studying hard for the NBME self-assessments will provide a good foundation of knowledge. Jeyaraju et al. demonstrated that success on NBME examinations is correlated with Step 2 CK success.
Tip 8: Pick a couple of USMLE resources and stick to them
This goes back to tip #1—when you are planning, do your research and decide which resources would best suit you. For each USMLE exam, there are so many different options, but picking a couple and consistently using these will serve you far better than bouncing between resources. If you don’t know where to start, check out the resources on our website.
Tip 9: If permitted, take USMLE Step 3 sooner rather than later
This tip comes from several current medical residents that we have spoken to. All of them mentioned that they wished they had taken USMLE Step 3 closer to their Step 2 CK date because a lot of the information ends up being redundant. The timing of when a medical student is eligible to take Step 3 can vary by medical school, residency program, and state, so make sure to look into taking Step 3 sooner if you want to save yourself some pain down the road.
Tip 10: Schedule time for your well-being!
Last but certainly not least, your well-being is the main thing that will allow you to succeed on these USMLEs. Simple things like sleep, eating well, exercise, and social activities in the few weeks leading up to test day can help you stay focused and learn more efficiently. These methods have been heavily researched in relation to learning and memory and have been shown to increase both short-term memory and long-term memory.
Find USMLE Success With a Comprehensive QBank
Most students find the best methods to prepare for the USMLE include the use of a comprehensive question bank. With 4,200+ multiple-choice questions written specifically for the USMLE Step 2 CK exam, medical students can get the most questions of any QBank available. At The Pass Machine, we guarantee you’ll pass your USMLE Step 2 CK exam, or we’ll give you 100% of your money back and a free subscription renewal. Our unique QBank system allows you to study through flashcard mode or practice exam mode to let you prepare in the most efficient ways possible. For elite medical prep, be sure to check out the USMLE QBanks we offer to help you prepare to ace your USMLE exams.
Jape D, Zhou J, Bullock S. A spaced-repetition approach to enhance medical student learning and engagement in medical pharmacology. BMC Med Educ. 2022 May 2;22(1):337.
Jeyaraju M, Linford H, Mendes TB, Caufield-Noll C, Tackett S. Factors Leading to Successful Performance on U.S. National Licensure Exams for Medical Students: A Scoping Review. Acad Med. 2022 Jul 19.