Looking to achieve a high score on USMLE® Step 1? Here’s what you need to know…

What is USMLE Step 1?

The United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) Step 1 assesses a medical student’s ability to apply basic science fundamentals to the practice of medicine. USMLE Step 1 is a computer-based exam taken after your second year of medical school and is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). The test is taken over the course of one 8-hour session, which is divided into seven 60-minute sections, and has approximately 280 multiple choice questions.

USMLE Step 1 is the first of three required licensing examinations for medical trainees. Most students take Step 1 (Basic Medical Sciences) after the second year of medical school. Step 2 is divided into two exams: Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) and Step 2 CS (Clinical Skills). Students usually take Step 2 at the end of the third year or beginning of the fourth. These three exams are prerequisites for taking the final exam – USMLE Step 3.

What topics are covered?

USMLE Step 1 covers these general disciplines: anatomy, behavioral sciences, biochemistry, biostatistics and epidemiology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology and physiology as well as these interdisciplinary areas: genetics, aging, immunology, nutrition and molecular and cell biology.

One might think that it is purely medical knowledge that leads to a successful test result, but keep in mind how to approach the test situation strategically. The preparation phase is not only about deepening your knowledge but, above all, about learning to deal efficiently with the given time pressure. With the adaptive learning Qbank you can test your knowledge with our full-length practice exam. The practice exam mimics the content and experience of test day so that you go through the questions under time pressure for testing.

Who takes the exam?

Medical students who are officially enrolled in, or a graduate of:

  • A US or Canadian medical school leading to the MD degree (LCME accredited)
  • A US medical school leading to the DO degree (AOA accredited)
  • A medical school outside the US and Canada listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools as meeting ECFMG eligibility requirements; and meet other ECFMG criteria

Are you about to take the exam? Discover our blog with many helpful learning tips from students and information on preparing and passing USMLE Step 1.

Where can I take USMLE Step 1?

USMLE Step 1 is administered at various Prometric test centers worldwide.

What is a good score?

USMLE Step 1 has a minimum passing score of 194 and is based on a maximum score of 300. Although, passing is good, aiming for a score of 240 or higher will be best to open more doors to residency positions. Scores are generally released in about three to four weeks after the exam is taken. Testing done during early May through early July may result in delayed scores due to necessary annual modifications to the test item pools. For more information about your score, visit: USMLE Score Interpretation Guidelines.

How can I prepare for USMLE Step 1?

While preparing to achieve a high score on USMLE Step 1, you will want to use the best preparation tools with a combination of the following features:

  • A comprehensive learning platform
  • An Adaptive Learning Qbank
  • Supports your preparation with statistics
  • Detailed explanations of correct and incorrect answers
  • Offers self-assessments
  • Charts and illustrations to help conceptualize complex processes

One key to success is to be clear about a few points right at the beginning of the preparation phase. You should already asked yourself at least the following questions during the preparation phase:

1. What target score do I want to achieve?

As mentioned before, aiming for a score of 240 or higher will be best to open more doors to residency positions. Be aware that the required score for surgical subjects is generally higher than that for conservative subjects. Of course, an above-average score is also required if you wish to apply to a more prestigious clinic.

What you should definitely know: Once you have passed the test, you cannot repeat the test and thus not improve your score. If, however, you fail the exam, you currently can take it again up to six times. The USMLE Program announced that  there will be a policy change which will reduce the attempts from  six to four. this new policy will be implemented no earlier than 1/1/2021.

2. How much time do I need and when will I be able to complete the test?

To structure your preparation well, it is recommended to set up a test date at the beginning of the preparation phase. This puts the necessary pressure on you to keep to the learning plan and to avoid wasting time through unstructured “learning by doing”.
When you decide to taking the test within two month of finishing basic courses (which many students do, because they still have the learning material ready), add another two months of studying. This way the subject matter will not be forgotten.