What is USMLE and how to prepare for it

Understanding the Fundamental Purpose of USMLE

The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is a licensing exam for allopathic physicians and is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Medical schools use USMLE for graduation decisions, whereas residency programs use it as a criterion to rank the residency applicants. This exam can also be given in place of COMLEX-USA.

COMLEX-USA explained

The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam is a licensing exam for osteopathic physicians. National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners for graduates of osteopathic medical schools administers COMLEX-USA.

Effective prep tips

The COMLEX-USA exam assesses the osteopathic medical knowledge and clinical skills that are important for practicing osteopathic generalist physicians. This is also a 3-level exam and tests your knowledge in 2 dimensions. The first tests the patient presentation, whereas the second one tests your expertise in physician tasks.

You either pass/fail the first level, while the other two levels have a numerical assessment. Results for COMLEX-USA are out every 8th and 10th week. However, it can take up to 14 weeks in the case of computerized testing.

To obtain a license to practice medicine, you need to pass the 3 USMLE exam steps. This exam tests your basic medical knowledge and covers the subjects learned in the initial years of medical school i.e. 1st and 2nd years. Certain schools make sure that you have cleared the USMLE Step-1 before going for their clinical rotations. Moreover, students usually take step-1 in between the 2nd and 3rd years of their med schools. The second part of the USMLE has separate two areas that are assessed in this step.

Step-2 CK tests your clinical knowledge. It assesses your basic knowledge of clinical sciences that you learned during clinical rotations. The third part of the USMLE step 2 tests your clinical skills. Clinical Skills include physical examination skills, clinical decision-making, note-writing ability, and interaction and communication with patients. Many students choose to take this part at the end of the 3rd year and the beginning of the 4th year of their med schools.

Certain schools require passing both of these steps to graduate and start 1st year of your residency. In addition, some schools offer their Step-2 exam, which makes it easier for you to pass out the USMLE Step 2. Moreover, medics suggest that if you are planning to take the USMLE Step 3 exam then you must be done with your clinical rotations as it assesses clinical knowledge and skills.

It’s worth keeping in mind that USMLE step 3 assesses your in-depth medical knowledge along with your decision-making skills. Medical experts suggest that this part must be taken when the core areas of your knowledge are still fresh and when going for a specialized residency.

It is also beneficial for medical students who want to have their licenses during residencies. In other words, step 3 can be taken as soon as you start your residency.

Arrangements for unique scenarios

For those who have disabilities, the NBME can accommodate them according to their case. After registering for the exam, you can write a request to NBME for special accommodations. Remember, that the request must include a request form, a personal statement by the applicant, and relevant documents. Luckily, for breastfeeding mothers, there is another request form available on the NBME website.

Getting ready with a step by step approach

Deciding how to prepare for USMLE can be a difficult task. Consider the most effective learning techniques to pass it by scoring well. The preparation material for each step includes review books, subject-specific review material, and question banks.

Critical considerations for the exam

The first step consists of nearly 308 multiple choice questions divided into 7 blocks. Each block has a 1 hour time summing up to 8 hours including breaks. In the second step, there are approximately 350 multiple choice questions divided into 8 blocks and you will have several hours to complete your exam.

Once you come to step three, there will be 450 multiple-choice questions. You have 2 days for this exam. The exam conducted on the first day has 256 multiple choice questions, divided into 6 blocks. Each block is 1 hour with 42-43 questions. Whereas, the second day features 198 multiple choice questions divided into 6 blocks. Each block has 33 questions. Moreover, this part also has case simulations each of 10 to 20 minutes.

You need both review materials along with practice questions to have a strong grip over the knowledge and the practice as a medic. Some of the popular books are First Aid for the USMLE, high Yield Comprehensive USMLE Review, and Kaplan Medical USMLE QBank Series.

In addition, USMLE also provides you with various exam preparation materials along with test format, practice questions, and review books. Moreover, some med schools have their practice exams which can help you with the preparation.

Improve efficiency with these winning tips

  • Stick to a routine

    To schedule your academics it’s ideal to make a week wise timetable and focus on a specific subject throughout the week. Allot each day studying the same topic with different methods. For instance, you can watch a video lecture, review the review material or solve a question bank. Moreover, ensure you decide the study hours and ensure that you spend a specific number of hours studying. Plus, allot some extra time for difficult topics.

  • Don’t slack off

    It’s essential to manage your time wisely. Ensure that you don’t skip any lectures and ask questions to your teacher. Doing this will increase your understanding of the closure material. Plus, choose a topic that is being taught in the class and study it throughout the week to be focused. Most importantly, limit socializing and avoid using your cell phone while studying to minimize distractions. However, you can adopt any learning technique depending on your nature.

  • Find a friend to study with

    Discussions with friends are always remembered therefore, studying with the right study partner can be beneficial in remembering the course material. Moreover, ensure that your partner motivates you and is willing to help you in case of any challenging topic. Also, plan weekly sessions to discuss your progress and the topic you aimed to study. In addition, you can talk to people who have recently passed a similar exam. Ask them questions and make sure you remember what they told you.


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