The USMLE Step 1 tests a medical student’s ability to apply basic science concepts to their medical practice. Each student should score highly since the exam results are a significant deciding factor on your residency application. For this reason, every student dedicates their time to prepare and study for the test. The preparation process is demanding, and the last thing you want to worry about as you study is any logistical issue. The following steps can help you navigate your way through USMLE Step 1.
1. When to take the test
There is no perfect time to take the USMLE step 1 course, but most students sit for the exam in their second or third year of med school. As you select the test, you may want to consider several variables. For example, if your school has incorporated study time into your curriculum, the best time to take the exam is at the end of the dedicated study period, when the material is still fresh in mind.
If your medical school has not structured study time, consider talking to other students from your institutions who took the exam before. Learning from them can help you strategize and establish the time that suits you.
It is also better when your test date matches or is close to your study partners since you work towards the same goal. While no time is the right time, peaking on too early makes it easier to burn out before test day. You should work to peak as you approach the test date to avoid burnout.
2. How to apply for USMLE Step 1
Students in the United States need to log in to the NBME’s website to start the USMLE Step 1 application process. Those in medical schools outside the US can register with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Once you are logged into the website, you select an eligibility period you would like to sit for the exam. You may also choose the region from which you will take the exam and input your medical school, demographic data, contact, and any other test-taking accommodations requested. For example, students with physical challenges may include additional testing time or wheelchair access.
After your application approval, you will receive an email with information about your Scheduling Permit, facilitating exam registration within the eligibility period you selected. You can then schedule your appointment by logging in to the Prometric website.
3. The exam format
The USMLE Step 1 exam contains 280 multiple choice questions sectioned in seven parts. Each category has 40 questions that you will need to complete within an hour. The entire test takes eight hours with a maximum of 45 minutes for breaks. It is also essential to understand the content outline for the test. How you designate the breaks solely depends on your preference. For example, you can take short breaks after each block or an extended break halfway through the test. However, you can’t take a break in the middle of one block. You can even go through all the seven blocks without taking any break, but this is not recommended.
There is usually a 15-minute tutorial period at the beginning of the exam, which you may skip and add time to your total break time.
4. Minimum score
Previously, each student needed to have at least 194 to pass the test. However, on Feb 12, 2020, an announcement said that the test would be changing to a pass or fail format.
5. What to do after the exam
An eight-hour exam is no small feat, meaning you may need time to relax. Be confident about the effort you put in as you await the results, which may take three to four weeks. Once your results are in, you will receive an email from the NBE or ECFMG linking to that entity’s website. You may need to contact your registration entity directly if you don’t get your results within two months.
6. What to do if you score poorly
Fortunately, you can retake the exams up to six times if you failed or didn’t complete the test. You can retake up to three times a year, and the subsequent retakes are spaced out within six months. If you fail or don’t complete the exam more than six times, you may not be able to sit for another test.