What Every Medical Student Should Know about the USMLE

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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.