The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination process for medical licensure in the United States. Commonly termed as “the boards,” you might have heard a lot of your seniors and professors talk about their experiences while preparing for these exams.

The USMLE exams are the first checkpoint in your medical career and will have a significant impact on your residency options in the future. Passing, and scoring well on each of the USMLE exams is important to progress in your medical education and will pave the way for future success in your medical career.

What should you know about the USMLE steps?

USMLE has a three-step approach for its licensing exams.
  1. USMLE Step 1 assesses whether you understand and can apply important concepts of the basic sciences to the practice of medicine, with special emphasis on how they apply to health, disease and modes of therapy.
  2. USMLE Step 2 CK tests your clinical skills in supervised settings.
  3. USMLE Step 3 checks your patient management skills and the accuracy of your prognosis and diagnosis.
You can take the Step 1 exam after your second year in medical school when you’ve completed the basic sciences curriculum or USMLE Step 1 subjects. You should ideally start your USMLE Step 2 preparation after your clinical rotations. The Step 3 exam is best attempted after you’ve graduated from medical school and have done at least one year of postgraduate training in the USA.

How can you build an effective USMLE preparation plan?

USMLE preparation is all about setting realistic goals and managing your time well. Here’s what you can do as part of your preparation:
  1. Determine your starting point: You should have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are before you draw up a study plan. Most established medical schools allow you to take self-assessment tests which can determine your baseline score, areas of thorough understanding and weak points. These results will help you develop an effective study plan.
  2. Set realistic goals: You should also know what you intend to gain from your preparation. The USMLE exams can be challenging—hence, you must set realistic goals for yourself. If your baseline score is 140, having an unrealistic goal of 240 or more can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on you.
  3. Consider obligations which might affect your study schedule: Factor in your personal or professional commitments which might take away time from your study schedule. For instance, you may not be able to devote much time to your studies if you attempt the USMLE Step 2 exam during your clinical rotations.
  4. Plan your schedule in hours instead of days: Planning your schedule in terms of study hours instead of days can help you organize your schedule better. This way, you can fit in a few hours of study even on non-productive days. While planning your schedule, keep in mind that the average preparation for the Step 1 exam can take at least 500-600 hours.
  5. Attempt multiple practice exam sessions: Practice tests can be great tools for your USMLE preparation. They can help you become familiar with the exam format, improve your test speed and enhance your time management skills. For optimum performance, try to attempt as many practice sessions as you can before your actual exams.
  6. Go for full-length test simulations: Apart from being difficult, the USMLE exams are notorious for being mentally and physically tiring. The Step 1 exam takes place over eight hours, with only one hour for breaks. Full-length test simulations can help you get used to exam fatigue and manage your time better in the actual exam.
An experienced team of faculty and enrollment in an established medical school can help you significantly with your USMLE Step 1 preparation. Saba University School of Medicine has an impressive first-time pass rate of 99% for the USMLE Step 1 exam (average between 2015 and 2019) with small class sizes and a team of highly dedicated faculty.

Click here to learn more about the basic sciences component of the USMLE Step 1 at Saba University.