What Are the Hardest USMLE Topics to Study and Learn?

USMLE Step 2 Test Prep

The United States Medical Licensing Exam, known as the USMLE or simply “board exam,” is by far one of the most difficult examinations in existence today. It covers several years’ worth of highly complex information that you must know in order to become licensed in your field. The following USMLE topics are widely regarded as the most difficult, so familiarize yourself with them early on and perhaps give them some special attention, too. 


Biochemistry is truly a paradox among medical students. It’s absolutely fascinating to explore the various chemical processes that keep human beings alive, but as part of gaining a firm understanding of the subject, there’s a lot – a lot – of memorization involved. You’ll find yourself learning about metabolic pathways, enzyme design and structure, and much, much more, so without a solid understanding of terms and their meanings, it’s difficult to understand much of anything. The sheer complexity of biochemistry makes it the most difficult topic on the USMLE according to the majority of medical students. 

Many doctors (who were once in your shoes) recommend that you take the time to study up on the basics of biochemistry whenever you have a chance. Simply understanding basic terms and processes will make everything to come much simpler for you. 


Medical students also agree that microbiology is the second most difficult topic you’ll find on your USMLE. In fact, it’s difficult for many of the same reasons as biochemistry. It’s the study of all living organisms that are small enough to require a microscope to see them, and that encompasses thousands upon thousands – even millions – of different organisms. The volume of information that students must retain in order to understand even the simplest concepts in microbiology is staggering. 

Getting a head start on microbiology basics (much like doing the same for biochemistry) can benefit you here, as well. The more of the basic concepts you learn now, the easier it will be for you to learn the more complex ones down the line. 


Though it isn’t quite as difficult as microbiology or biochemistry, the topic of pathology presents challenges to most medical students at some point in their education. Pathology is a bridge between science and medicine, and to put it as simply as possible, it’s the study of diseases. There are more than 100,000 identified diseases across the globe, so it’s easy to see why so many students struggle with this particular topic. Fortunately, medical students also tend to find pathology interesting, which can make things a bit simpler. 

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a difficult pathology course involves reading your course syllabus and obtaining as much of the recommended material as you can early on. The more you can read and understand about pathology before your course even starts, the more the lectures, your textbook,  and other materials will make sense. 

Biochemistry, microbiology, and pathology are the three most difficult topics on the USMLE according to medical students from around the world. In all three cases, the complexity lies almost solely in the volume of information you’ll need to retain and very little on actual comprehension issues. As such, start studying these topics as soon as you can and consider scheduling some extra study time for them as needed, too.

The 5 Most Difficult Topics on the USMLE According to Medical Students

Medical Students Surviving

The United States Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE, is one of the most difficult and rigorous exams you will ever take. The questions focus on numerous topics ranging from anatomy to communicable disease, and you’ll need to recall several years’ worth of information to pass and obtain your license to practice. Below are the five most difficult USMLE topics according to students who have passed their exams with flying colors.


Most medical students agree that biochemistry is by far the most difficult topic you will find on the USMLE. Not only is there a ton of information to memorize and absorb like a sponge, but because biochemistry is at the cutting edge of medicine in 2020, it’s also changing almost every single day. Doctors recommend devoting a period of your daily study time to biochemistry and keeping up with the latest trends and news, too.


Much like biochemistry, the strange and expansive world of microbiology is difficult to study and even more difficult to truly understand. Nevertheless, microbiology is the very basis for disease; microbes like viruses and bacteria must be fundamentally understood in order to provide the best possible diagnoses and treatment plans for patients. Be sure that you spend plenty of time reviewing microbiology texts, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.


Pathology is the study of disease and is often referred to as the bridge between science and medicine. It’s at the very center of every single interaction you will ever have with your patients, from diagnosing them to treating them – and even slowing the spread of contagious diseases. Like biochemistry, the way we understand pathology changes on a daily basis, which means it’s incredibly difficult to study effectively. Dedicating a lot of your study time to this topic and keeping up with any new findings will go a long way toward helping you score well on the USMLE.

Ethics/Medical Legal Issues

The ethics and legality of the practice of medicine is quite complicated, and with every single passing year, that complication grows. Doctors and nurses fill out piles of paperwork with every patient interaction as dictated by numerous healthcare regulations and laws. Learning the ethics and legal aspects of medical practice is difficult because there’s simply so much to take in and it never stays the same for long.


Gross anatomy is one of the least difficult topics on the USMLE according to med students and doctors, but neuroanatomy is a different story. This is the term used to define the anatomy of the nervous system, and while it may not seem all that intimidating at first, it’s important to remember that neuroanatomy also encompasses the complex anatomy of the human brain and the way our bodies respond to it. With so much still left to understand about the brain and how it works, it comes as no surprise that students find neuroanatomy an incredibly difficult topic.

Biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, ethics and legal issues, and neuroanatomy are arguably the five most difficult topics you’ll find on the USMLE. It’s important to utilize a variety of study tips to focus on these areas so that you can pass your licensing exam with flying colors.

5 Awesome Tips to Help You Study Effectively for the USMLE

usmle study tips for students

The United States Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE, is an important test for anyone who wants to be a physician or surgeon in the US. It’s also a difficult test and one that requires months and months of preparation. Below, you will find five of the best tips to help you study for the USMLE.

Tip #1 – Start Early

All too often, medical students wait until the last few weeks before the exam to start cramming information. Though some research suggests that it may be beneficial to review certain types of material just before an exam to help with information retention, it’s typically best to start studying well before the exam. Absorb new information once or twice each week, then for the rest of the week, review all the information you have learned so far. This is the best way to truly learn information in a way that will serve you well on your exam.

Tip #2 – Study Frequently

There’s nothing wrong with a once-a-week study session with your favorite group, but it’s important that you set aside some time every single day for study. The longer you go between reviewing your materials, the higher the chances that you will forget what you have learned. Successful medical students set aside at least an hour every single day for study, though many set aside even more time when they can. Taking a day off from studying now and then is also encouraged as it can help you avoid burnout.

Tip #3 – Use a Variety of Study Tools

As a medical student, you can glean your information from a wide variety of sources. Information covered on the test will be covered in your classroom lectures, of course, but you’ll also need to read your textbooks, create flashcards to help with memorization, and more. Utilizing a quality USLME qbank is another great option since it gives you the opportunity to experience a mock exam and review your progress over time. Similarly, though studying alone can be productive, sometimes it might benefit you to study with a group. Use all the tools available to you for the best possible results.

Tip #4 – Ask for Help

Everyone struggles with certain topics now and then. Maybe you’re a whiz when it comes to anatomy, but pharmacology has you stumped. This is another great reason to join a study group that consists of a few students. Each of you will have your own inherent strengths and weaknesses, and you can help each other find new ways to learn and retain critical information. If you must, email a professor or colleague and ask for help. Often, they don’t mind providing you with some extra knowledge, and they may even be able to point you toward new resources.

#5 – Take Mock Exams

Mock exams are one of the best study tools of them all. They allow you to imagine yourself in the real testing environment, but they give you options that the test environment doesn’t. For example, when you finish your mock exam, you can easily go back through the questions, review what you’ve missed, and even learn why your answers were incorrect. Then, you can flag those questions for study later, or you can even create a new mock test down the road comprised of nothing but questions you previously answered incorrectly. The possibilities are limitless.

Studying for the USMLE can be a challenge, and for some students, it’s one of the most stressful periods in their lives. With the five study tips listed above, it’s possible to make it a little less exhausting, a little less difficult, and a lot more productive. Start early, study frequently, and use all the tools available to you. Finally, never hesitate to ask for help when you need it.


The Best Advice for Acing the USMLE

MCCQE Examination

If you’re like many students who will be taking the USMLE later this year, there’s a very good chance you’ve spent several hours reading blog posts, scouring forums, and looking for the best possible advice available for acing it. Though there’s no one magic recipe that works for everyone, there are a few things you can do that will drastically improve your chances of not only passing but doing so with flying colors.

Study Religiously

Everyone who’s ever scored a 99 on the USMLE will tell you the same thing: the key to acing the exam is studying. Though there are a few exceptions out there, most people can’t simply sit down at a computer and fly through the questions with a perfect score without putting in an incredible number of study hours. No matter how busy your schedule between school and work, you must set aside some time every single day for studying – no exceptions. This is the only way to ensure the information is ingrained in your mind in such a way that when test day comes, you have no trouble at all recalling answers.

Use the Right Study Materials

It is also important to remember that no two people learn the same way, so you’ll need to make certain that you’ve tried various study methods. Whether you respond better to lecture-style learning, quiet reading, using flash cards, or like many other students, online question banks, try to discover which of these methods gets you the best results and then stick with that. Of course, you should use the other methods to your advantage as well, but if question banks seem to help you memorize information better than textbooks, try to schedule most of your study time around the question banks.

Learn More about the Exam Itself

Though a lot of students spend a great deal of time learning the material that will be on the exam, they fail to spend much time learning about the exam itself. Via the USMLE website, you can find out everything you need to know, including how the exam works, how to apply, the fees you can expect to pay, and even get access to your scores and transcripts after you’ve taken the exam. It’s always a great idea to check the USMLE website often for information, and reading the FAQs can help you familiarize yourself with many different aspects of the site and the test itself.

Keep Calm and Prepare Yourself

It may seem tough to stop thinking negatively at times, especially when you come across specific topics or material that seem intimidating or difficult. In these cases, rather than worrying about your ability to learn the material, continue to go over it in different ways using different methods. If it still seems too difficult, reach out to professors at your school or ask about mentors and tutors who may be able to provide you with the insight you need. Allowing anxiety to take over will only make it more difficult for you to learn.

Though acing the USMLE is a great feeling, it’s important to remember that you don’t need a perfect score – you only need a passing score. You should always do your very best but be careful about allowing your desire to achieve perfection hinder your ability to properly study. Above all else, know you can do it, and be sure that you put in the time to study the right materials.


What Every Medical Student Should Know about the USMLE


The USMLE, or United States Medical Licensing Examination, is by far one of the toughest examinations you will ever have to take. Learning as much about it as you can is important to helping you prepare, and with the right tools, you can truly succeed not only on test day, but all throughout your medical career. Here’s what every medical student should know about the USMLE.

There are Three Parts to the USMLE

The first thing you should know is that you will take the USMLE examination in four separate parts over the course of five days. There are three “Steps”, and the USMLE Step 2 is divided into two parts – clinical knowledge (CK) and clinical skills (CS).

  • Step 1: This is the multiple choice examination, and it takes place over the course of one day. You will answer questions on a computer about everything from nutrition and genetics to diseases and pathology.
  • Step 2: Step 2 is divided into two parts:
    • USMLE Step 2 CK – The CK part of Step 2 involves multiple-choice questions all about your knowledge of medicine in the clinical setting.
    • USMLE Step 2 CS – In this part of the exam, you will examine and diagnose a variety of actors based on their “symptoms” and histories.
  • Step 3: Finally, the USMLE Step 3 is a bit different in that you will take this after your first year of residency. Once again, you will be asked to diagnose and treat patients, make assessments based on virtual cases, and answer multiple choice questions.

You Need to Prepare Early On

The USMLE isn’t like any other test you have ever taken, and that means the earlier you start preparing for it, the better. Many students wait until the last six months prior to the exam, but those who start preparing earlier – even on the very first day of medical school – tend to fare better. One of the best ways to prepare for the USMLE is by utilizing a question bank filled with customizable features. By going over questions during your studies in a variety of different modes, you will not only reinforce the material you learn in class, but you will also familiarize yourself with the question formatting, which will help you feel more confident when test day comes.

Not Everyone Passes the First Time

Finally, it’s time to address the elephant in the room – what happens if you don’t pass. Each and every year, somewhere between 75% and 80% of those who take the USMLE pass it on the first try. That means 20% to 25% do not pass immediately and must take the exam again. Though this can be disheartening and certainly frustrating, you should never give up. Schedule the examination again as soon as possible, find a study group, and utilize your question banks as often as possible.

The USMLE is a difficult exam that puts tends of thousands of students on edge every single year. Understanding how it works, what you should do to prepare, and what to do if you don’t pass the first time will help to ease your anxiety, and that alone is often enough to enhance your chances of success. You absolutely can succeed as long as you are willing to put in the effort and study.

Steps Required to Become a Doctor in the U.S

Become a Doctor in the U.S

American doctors are among some of the highest-paid healthcare professionals in the world, so it comes as no surprise that people from all over the planet study, work hard, and obtain their license to practice within the US. There are several steps involved in becoming a doctor in the United States and understanding them can help you make better decisions about your chosen career path.

#1 – Earn Your Undergraduate Degree & Prepare for Medical School

The very first thing you need to do to become a doctor in the US is earn your bachelor’s degree. Though the major you choose is not really important at this point, remember that you will need to complete courses in biology, chemistry, math, and physics before you can gain entry into medical school. Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, you will need to take and pass the MCAT exam, which stands for Medical College Admissions Test. Almost every medical school in the country requires you to not only pass the exam, but also score highly on it. The most prestigious schools in the nation require incredibly high scores.

#2 – Get Your Medical Degree

Medical school is tough, and programs typically last about four years. You’ll spend the first two years in a classroom setting and the last two working with patients under the supervision of an experienced doctor. American medical students find their studies quite stressful, but fortunately, there are ways to simplify things. Keeping healthy, utilizing proven study methods, and getting enough rest will go a long way toward helping you to earn your degree.

#3 – Complete a Residency

After you’ve graduated from medical school, you will be required to complete a residency program to prove your competency to work as a physician in the US. During your residency, you will work in a variety of specialty settings, including things like obstetrics, pediatrics, and even surgery. During this time, you will be responsible for patient care, and depending on the year of your residency, you may or may not work under the direct supervision of a doctor. Residency programs last four years, and you will complete this part of your education in a hospital setting.

#4 – Get Your Medical License

Finally, in order to work as a physician in the US after you complete your residency, you will need to obtain a license, and in order to get the license, you will need to take the USMLE licensing exam. In order to qualify for the exam, you will need to complete medical school and your residency program beforehand, and you will need to pass any exams that come alongside this residency, too. The USMLE is a three-step exam, and you must pass each step-in order to move on to the next. Scores here are not important; this is a pass-or-fail type of examination.

Once you obtain your license, you can seek employment in a hospital or clinic, or if you prefer, you can even start your own practice. You may also choose to seek certification from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in a specific area of medicine in order to further your career as a physician.


Important Things to Know Before Taking the USMLE Step 1 Examination

USMLE Step 1 Examination

If you are preparing to take the USMLE Step 1 exam, you may be feeling stressed out, apprehensive, or even terrified of failure. One of the best things you can possibly do is educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and the following bits of information are sure to help you do just that.

Test Format

Familiarizing yourself with the test format can help you feel more at ease when it comes time to test, and fortunately, the first part of the USMLE is pretty cut-and-dry. It consists of seven sections made up of 40 multiple choice questions each, and you’ll have a total of eight hours to finish it. You’ll get a total of 45 minutes during the test session for breaks, but if you finish a section before the allotted hour is up, you can use that time to take a break, too. It’s always a good idea to participate in the optional 15-minute tutorial just before the exam that will help you feel even more at ease.

Application Steps and Cost

To apply for the USMLE Step 1, you will need to apply through the NBME, or National Board of Medical Examiners. If you are from a country outside of the US, you need to register with the ECFMG, or Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. You will be able to choose a test date from a number of available dates throughout the year, and as of 2018, the cost to take the USMLE Step 1 exam was $605.

The Best Time to Sit for the Exam

If you are curious about the best time to take your exam, it’s important to know that most students opt to sit for it sometime between their first and third years in medical school. You should be able to pass once you’ve passed all your basic medical science courses, and you should always take it before you start your clinical rotation. If you take it at this point, the things you’ve learned are still fresh, but you’ve also had the opportunity to take a couple extra months to study.

Passing Scores and Test Results

In order to pass the USMLE Step 1 examination, you will need to obtain a score of 192. As of 2016, the NBME reported that the average score among passing students was 225 with a standard deviation of about 20. The NBME releases scores to students each Wednesday of the year, and it takes about a month after you’ve taken the exam to get your scores. When they are available, you will receive an email advising you how to check your score online.

The USMLE Step 1 is an important step in obtaining a license to practice as a doctor in the US, and while it can be a stressful event, learning more about it will help you relax and obtain a better score. Remember that you can take this exam as many as six times in your lifetime, too. Study hard and do well in medical school, and you should have no problem obtaining the required score of 192.