Not too long after receiving my USMLE Step 1 score and after the joy, relief, and a little dance to celebrate, another reality struck me: The USMLE Step 2CK.
The US residency path is, indeed, a long journey, full of challenges and USMLE exams.
Whether you are like me and had taken the USMLE Step 1 first or if you are starting your journey by taking the USMLE Step 2CK, you’re probably as I was at that time, and as many IMG are: full of questions.
What is the USMLE Step 2ck? How is it different from the USMLE Step 1? What study resources to use and how? For how long should I study for the exam?
And the most crucial question.
How can I get the highest score possible?
In this article, we’ll review together all you need to know to answer these questions and develop a study plan to maximize your preparation and be successful.
Before we dive into the subject, remember that the content of this blog is based on my personal experience with USMLE exams as an international medical graduate.
My experience might differ from yours, but I believe the lessons I’ve learned from my journey may give you some clues to build your own strategy and, hopefully, reach your goals.
- Differences between Step 1 and Step 2 CK you need to know
- Best Resources for Step 2 CK Exam Preparation
- How to study with UWorld Step 2 CK (Plan)
- When to Consider a Tutor for Step 2 CK Prep
- How to get a high score in the USMLE Step 2 CK
Differences between Step 1 and Step 2 CK you need to know
Let’s discuss this topic further…
If you’ve read my article on the USMLE Step Exam day Survival Guide, you’ve probably read my metaphor of the test taker who is like the gladiator entering the arena.
Well, here is another epic expression just for you: Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated.
In other words, before discussing preparation strategies, it’s essential to understand the exam’s content and adapt your preparation plan to your strengths and weaknesses to crush the exam.
The USMLE Step 1 tests your basic science knowledge with questions such as “which enzyme is involved in X Y Z pathology” and “What is the mechanism of action of X Y Z drug.”
There are a lot of resources you can use for your preparation, and the test relies heavily on memorization.
Conversely, the USMLE Step 2CK tests your clinical knowledge with questions such as ” What is the correct diagnosis?” ” What is the best next step in this patient’s management?”.
There are fewer resources, which is, in my opinion, a positive thing, and Step 2CK is usually considered easier than Step 1.
The question stems are long and full of details that may be challenging to go through.
In addition, many test takers answer wrong, not because they don’t know the correct answer but because they don’t know how to deduce it from all the information provided.
Therefore, the bread and butter of your preparation will lie in learning how to:
- Quickly and efficiently read the question stem.
- Filter the relevant information.
- Use your clinical knowledge to pick up the correct answer.
Or, in other words, become the master of test-taking strategies.
Now that we know the challenges test tak
rs will face, let’s review the best resources and how to use them to take on the challenge!
Best Resources for Step 2 CK Exam Preparation
As we’ve seen in the previous paragraph, Step 2 CK is about building the knowledge and skills to deal with questions and pick the correct answer.
The best way to do so can be summed up in one word: practice.
The only resource I used during my Step 2 CK exam was the UWorld Step 2 CK Qbank, which contains around 3800 questions!
UWorld’s large pool of questions is ideal for Step 2 CK’s preparation for two main reasons:
- UWorld is a learning tool: All the knowledge you need for the exam is reviewed in the Qbank. The detailed explanations for each question replace classic textbooks.
- Uworld is a practicing tool: The Qbank interface and question format is designed to mimic the actual exam closely. Through practice, you’ll get used to skimming the questions, learn to avoid the pitfalls, and identify your weaknesses to work on them more effectively.
That said, when choosing your Step 2 CK resources, there are two main scenarios:
Scenario number 1: Taking the USMLE Step 2CK after the USMLE Step 1
If that is your case, there is good news: all you need is UWorld Qbank.
However, if you want to learn about more options, there are other great resources.
OME is a comprehensive resource with videos, notes, flashcards, and practice questions.
Dr. Williams is a great teacher, and his explanations are fantastic.
Moreover, he is very good at identifying high-yield information for the exam!
I didn’t personally use Picmonic, but I’ve only hadheard positive echoes from people who used it.
If you have trouble understanding complicated medical topics or remembering certain things, Picmonic can help you learn more quickly and effectively.
I personally don’t like using textbooks for exam preparation because high-yield information is frequently lost in a sea of data.
Also, most people think that reading textbooks is a form of passive learning, which I don’t think is the best way to learn.
But I must admit that the Master board USMLE Step 2CK textbook was surprisingly easy to read.
Moreover, the author Dr. Conrad Fischer did a great job highlighting the most relevant information for the exam.
Well, now, to sum up.
Although the cited resources are great, remember that the foremost resource that will help you learn and prepare for the exam remains UWorld Qbank.
Scenario number 2: You take the USMLE Step 2 CK before the USMLE Step 1
Although UWorld is considered the central resource for USMLE Step 2 CK preparation, if you’re taking the exam before the USMLE Step 1, UWorld may not be enough.
If you’re willing to start your USMLE journey with Step 2 CK, you’ll still need to use UWorld Step 2 CK, to which you’ll add other resources.
- Video contents: Board and Beyond, OnlineMedEd, Sketchy, Osmosis, Kaplan, Randy Neil Biostats
- Flashcards: Anki, Picmonic
- Textbooks: First Aid Step 1, Master The Board.
But if taking Step 2CK before Step 1 will make the preparation harder, why do so many IMGs do it anyway?
The reasons may vary, but in general, many IMGs take Step 2 CK first because they are more comfortable with clinical knowledge, especially if they have already graduated as doctors.
In addition, Step 2 CK is considered easier and thus more accessible.
However, I wouldn’t recommend that an IMG take the Step 2 CK before Step 1, as I believe I scored high in Step 2 CK partly thanks to my step 1 preparation.
And scores do matter.
Although passing Step 2 CK first and getting a high score is possible, doing so will make your preparation longer and more challenging and may jeopardize a high score.
How to study with UWorld Step 2 CK (Plan)
Now that we’ve established that UWorld is the main resource for Step 2 CK preparation, what is the most efficient way to use the QBank?
There are around 3800 questions in UWorld Step 2 CK Qbank, which means that with a pace of 80 questions a day, six days per week, it will take approximately two months to complete a first pass of UWorld.
Here’s a daily study plan you could use to make sure you nail your preparation:
|7:00 am – 8:00 am||Wake up, get ready, and have breakfast|
|8:00 am – 9:00 am||Do 40 Uworld questions|
|9:00 am – 9:15 am||Take a short break, stretch|
|9:15 am – 12:15 pm||Review the questions studied in the morning, make notes, and summarize key points|
|12:15 pm – 1:15 pm||Take a lunch break, eat a healthy meal, and take a short walk|
|1:15 pm – 2:15 pm||Do 40 Uworld questions|
|2:15 pm – 2:30 pm||Take a short break, stretch, and have a snack|
|2:30 pm – 5:30 pm||Review the questions studied in the afternoon, make notes, and summarize key points|
|5:30 pm – 6:00 pm||Take the time to review the key information you’ve studied during the day|
|6:00 pm – 7:00 pm||Go for a walk or workout|
|7:00 pm – 8:00 pm||Dinner time! Spend time with your loved ones|
|8:00 pm – 9:00 pm||Relax, and get ready for bed|
This represents the best-case scenario for a test-taker with a strong basis who can study the whole day.
If you’re working or need time to build your foundational knowledge, completing a first pass of Uworld may take longer.
Regardless of how long it takes you to go through all UWorld questions, here are some fundamentals on using UWorld Qbank:
Keep a minimum of 40 questions per block.
Not 10, 20, or 36.
Once a block is started, you cannot stop the exam because you get tired after doing 15 questions.
It’s important to train yourself to stay focused and get used to answering the same number of questions in a row as the actual exam.
Activate Time mode, Tutor mode
Okay, I’ll confess. The first time I used UWorld, I didn’t time myself because I wanted to take the time to think of my answers.
What a mistake.
Even though my answers were correct, my time management was a disaster when I finally activated the Time mode.
Don’t repeat my mistakes, and get used to answering correctly and quickly from the beginning of your preparation.
Read all the explanations
I know it’s tempting to scroll to the bottom to read the summary of the explanation.
But just don’t.
It’s crucial to take the time to read why an answer is correct and why the others aren’t.
This process is what ultimately helps you the most to build your knowledge.
In addition to helping you memorize the most relevant information, your notes are what you’ll be reviewing the days before your exam, as you cannot go through 3800 questions in a few days.
A Notebook option in Uworld allows you to save notes. However, those are lost once your subscription is over.
Therefore, I recommend you save your notes elsewhere, as you may need them in the future for your Step 3 preparation.
Do at least one pass of UWorld.
Doing one pass of all Uworld’s questions and then a second pass of the wrong questions is considered ideal.
Overall, I will only recommend you sit for the exam after first going through all the Uworld questions.
Keep a good pace
On average, students do 80 questions daily on their Qbank.
Depending on your planning and how you retain information, you can decide to do more or fewer questions.
The key point here is finding the pace that best suits you and making the learning process efficient.
When to Consider a Tutor for Step 2 CK Prep
Some IMGs consider tutoring useless, while others consider it great.
Although I never used a tutor’s services, some of my friends did and, after that shared their feedback with me.
It turned out that, even though the decision to get the services of a tutor is personal, there are some situations in which taking this step might be very helpful.
You’re an International Medical Graduate (IMG)
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that all IMGs need tutoring.
Being an IMG means that you’ve studied medicine abroad and thus might need to be more familiar with US medical education programs and goals.
This is even more true when taking your first USMLE.
In a way, It’s similar to visiting a new country.
You may do fine exploring this new environment while doing your best to avoid tourist scams.
But having a local guide can make your experience even better.
Indeed, benefiting from the guidance and experience of a tutor familiar with USMLE’s content can make your preparation easier, faster, and more efficient.
Another situation where a tutor can be beneficial is if you have failed an exam or are at risk of failing one.
Imagine these scenarios:
- You’ve studied hard for months, given your best, and… You didn’t pass the exam.
- You’ve been studying hard for months, giving your best, and still need to reach your target score in your self-assessments.
After the shock, anger, sadness, and disappointment, you wonder:
What am I doing wrong?
What did I miss?
First, stop the self-beating. You’ve probably done everything you believed appropriate for your exam preparation.
But here is the thing.
You’ve done everything, but only from your perspective.
This is where a tutor can offer external insight and help you identify and work through the areas that need improvement.
That’s a tutor’s role.
Tutors can also be helpful in teaching you exam content and sharing their experience of common pitfalls to avoid, key elements to study, and strategies to adopt during the exam. Remember that tutors are there to support you and help you succeed – they are not a sign of weakness or incompetence.
While tutoring is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it can be incredibly beneficial for IMGs who need extra guidance and support in their Step 2 CK preparation. Consider your situation and goals, and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it, I am happy to help!
How to get a high score in the USMLE Step 2 CK
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to scoring high on the USMLE exams. As an international medical graduate (IMG), I know firsthand how daunting the Step 2 CK exam can be, and how tempting it is to search for a single, proven method for success.
The truth is there are countless ways to achieve a high score, and every applicant’s journey is unique. With so many applicants vying for top scores, feeling lost in the crowd can be easy.
However, after speaking with several high scorers, I’ve identified some common features that played a significant role in their success. :
- The study materials: Choose wisely your study materials
Although UWorld is considered the go-to resource for step 2CK, you might need more, depending on whether you’ve taken Step 1.
So, when choosing your study materials, take the time to figure out where you’re weak and choose materials that will help you improve in those areas.
- Practice a lot
Building knowledge is one thing. Answering questions rapidly and efficiently is a whole different game.
Regardless of how much you’ve studied, how you deal with exam questions can make a difference, and the only way to become the best at it resides in one word:
- Do not rush your preparation
I’ve seen this scenario too often.
The pressure of participating in the next match season makes IMGs schedule their exams accordingly, regardless of whether they’re ready.
Although I can understand the pressure that comes along this journey, and the will to reach your goals rapidly, don’t sit for an exam if you’re not ready for it.
Remember, an attempt or a low score may severely undermine your application.
- Stress management
Medicine and the USMLE journey are a marathon.
I know the challenge is big and that the pressure is immense, but don’t let the stress and fear overwhelm you.
Do you want to pass these tests successfully and get stellar scores?
Then get some rest, have fun, and do not spend all your time studying because if you do, your brain will tire, and your performance will decline.
Remember, quality over quantity.
As for any USMLE exam, Step 2CK preparation can be challenging as, besides building knowledge, test-takers must learn how to deal with questions efficiently.
Many test-takers consider UWorld Qbank the go-to resource for step 2 CK preparation.
However, depending on whether you’re taking Step 2 CK before or after Step 1, IMGs may need additional study resources to help with their preparation.
For those with previous exam attempts or struggling to reach their target score, tutoring can be a great option to get insight into their weakness and boost their chances of passing the test successfully.
Nevertheless, remember that the USMLE journey is a marathon and that the key to success is constant work over the days, weeks, and months to reach your dream residency training in the US.
I wish you all the best of luck!