Step 2 Clinical Knowledge

We surveyed students with competitive Step 2 scores about their study and exam preparation strategies. The following summarize our findings

Question bank(s) used.

Question bank(s) used. Students selected all that applied:
100% used USMLE Step 2 Qbank – Uworld
3% used Kaplan Qbank

Resources used to prepare for Step 2.

Students selected all that applied:
42 % used Step-up to USMLE Step 2
33% used First Aid USMLE Step 2 CK
29% used USMLE Master the Boards Step 2
17% used USMLE Step 2 Secrets
Students also used: OnlineMedEd, Boards and Wards Step 2, DIT, Uptodate and FirstAid Step 2, Step-up to Medicine, Crush Step 2

Did you take Sub-I prior to taking Step 2 CK?

53% said yes
47% said no

What clerkships were helpful in your Step 2 CK preparation?

Select all that apply.
83% Medicine
73% Pediatrics
63% OB/GYN
57% Surgery
50% Medicine Sub-I
43% Neurology
40% Psychiatry
37% Family Medicine
23% Emergency Medicine
7% Anesthesia
7% Radiology

How many practice exams did you do?

Please include the exam provided by IUSM in your total.
30% took one practice exam
27% took four practice exams
13% took three practice exams
13% took more than six practice exams
10% took two practice exams
7% took five practice exams

How often did you take practice exams?

Not all respondents answered this question. See below for additional comments
40% took practice exams less than once a month
17% took practice exams 2-3 times a month
10% took practice exams once a week
3% took practice exams 2-3 times a week
37% indicated “other” in terms of frequency.

See below for individual comments:

  • Once with the school, then 2 in the 3 weeks before exam
  • Other than the IUSM I took one two weeks before the test and two during the week before the test. I think these are best just to train you for stamina.
  • I took my first exam provided by IUSM 4 months prior to my exam date. I then took 28 days off for dedicated study time. I took my second exam, which was provided by USMLE world q-bank with 19 days left. I then took the 3 exams offered by NBME with 14, 8, and 3 days left respectively.
  • Practice test provided by IUSM and 3 tests during month of studying
  • Took them all (except for the IUSM one) within 1 month of my test date
  • More frequently closer to exam date

When did you begin studying for Step 2 CK?

30% started studying one year prior to the exam
30% started studying two months prior to the exam
13% started studying three months prior to the exam
13% started studying one month prior to the exam
7% started studying 6 weeks prior to the exam
7% started studying 3 weeks prior to the exam

How many questions did you complete?

50% completed 2000 questions (or the entire USMLE qbank which is 2300 questions)
23% completed 3000 questions
20% completed 4000 questions
6% completed fewer than 2000 questions

While you were in clerkships, how much time per week did you devote to preparing for Step 2 CK?

Answers varied from a few to several hours each week.
Ten percent of students devoted their study to shelf exams.
Some students used UWorld questions to prepare for shelf exams.
Sixteen percent of students studied for Step 2 during their vacation month.
Eight percent of students studied during their fourth year clerkships.

When you were not in clerkships (i.e. during breaks or vacation), how much time per week did you devote to preparing for Step 2 CK?

Answers varied from 20 hours to 80 hours. Some students did not study during breaks but studied during the clerkships.
33% studied 50 hours a week
25% studied 35-40 hours a week
13% studied 30 hours a week
8% studied 20 hours a week
Some students did not quantify time per week but indicated they took vacation time to study and spent the majority of their time studying.

Are there any other study or test-taking tips you would share with students who are planning to take the exam?

  • Take Sub-I prior to taking the exam. Studying for that shelf is basically studying for CK.
  • I took sub-I then a vacation month and had CK at the end of vacation. This was good because I learned a ton on medicine sub-I then had a month off to focus on questions. For me, doing as many questions as possible was the best way to learn.
  • I felt like I'd been studying for step 2 my entire third year by taking every clerkship exam seriously and doing the USMLE Q bank questions during each respective clerkship. By the time I got to a month and a half before the exam I was just reviewing problem areas rather than relearning information. I also don't think it's necessary to waste a vacation on studying. I just took a lighter elective in July of my fourth year so I would have the weekends off. My number one piece of advice would be to take it early in your fourth year. You will never know more than you do right now.
  • My biggest advice for preparing for the exam is to do USMLE qbank and carefully read over the answers. I also did a 3 NBME practices tests and 1 USMLE, along with the practice test the school gave. I read Master the Boards but it on a much more casual study basis.
  • Take snacks. Take two blocks, 12 minute break, two blocks, break, two blocks, break, two blocks, etc. do not "power through" Do the bank question. Write notes on questions that are wrong then teach the concept to someone or your dog :)
  • Studying hard during clerkships for the clerkship exam is actually pretty good prep for step 2. The more studying you do during the clerkships, the less dedicated studying for step 2 you will have to do. It's always better for board studying to be review rather than learning new material.
  • Medicine clerkship is the most important clerkship in regards to doing well on step 2 and studying and doing well on the shelf is what helped me the most with doing well on step 2.
  • I think more so than Step 1, Step 2 CK is an exam where it's really advantageous to learn your weak areas early and focus on these. I used a lot of review books but didn't really read through them all--I would take useful tables/figures or questions about things I have never been great at (like pretty much all of OB/GYN, for example) and put them in my "topics I need to know better" notes. Otherwise, like Step 1, the questions from UWorld will probably be the most useful to you so rely on those and supplement your weaker topics with review books.
  • Find some dedicated time to study so you don't have competing interests.
  • Do devote specific time to study for it. Even if faculty or residents say to just take it during an easy elective. I didn't remember much from the clerkships I had the beginning of last year. Take breaks though! It's easy to get bogged down and not remember anything.
  • Tip 1 - Complete as many practice questions on UWorld Qbank as possible. This is the single most helpful tool I found when studying. I completed the question bank once during third year by completing the questions relevant to that clerkship, and then reset the Qbank and went through it a second time prior to taking Step 2 CK.
  • Tip 2 - Taking your Medicine Sub-I around the time of your Step 2 CK is really beneficial. You are extremely busy during your Sub-I, but learn so much medicine during that month that can help you during the exam.
  • Tip 3 - Take it early, even if you did well on Step 1. This gives programs a chance to see your score, and allows you to focus on studying before you are worrying about ERAS, applications, interviews, etc.
  • Tip 4 - Based on how much time you have to study, design a study strategy early on and stick to it, including your time away from studying. For example, if you have a month to study, plan on doing about 100 questions with thorough review daily with a few practice tests throughout. With the short amount of time most of us have to study compared to the breadth of knowledge we need to know, it's easy to get overwhelmed, but making a study plan and sticking to it eases some of the worrying.
  • Tip 5 - When completing Qbank questions, mix all of the questions on timed mode. Although it is daunting at first, it helps you transition between OBGYN and medicine quickly, just like the real test. You will constantly be reviewing material throughout your study period, so you won't feel like you learned cardiology at the beginning, and now can't remember which murmurs get louder with specific maneuvers.
  • Keep board exams in mind starting the first day of 3rd year. The month of the exam I listened to recorded lectures while driving, specifically I found Pestana's surgery lectures to be helpful and at the perfect difficulty level for board studying. I also made sure to have a good database of personal notes that was easy to add to throughout the year. Those notes served as a good study guide. I did not particularly like using First Aid for step 2, I should have done more research to find a better review book.
  • Do as many practice questions as possible, then look up the incorrect answer reasoning (via uptodate, uworld explanation, medical textbook, etc.)
  • USMLE Qbank is clutch. Read every answer right or wrong. Study for each clerkship during third year and review everything from clerkships for step 2. Try to do some sort of systematic review before the test with some book to frame your memory
  • Use Kaplan Q bank as a supplement to your USMLE bank- for example, I was bad at renal so I would study Kaplan questions on renal as they are a bit harder and more in depth. Essentially, they challenged me more and provided explanations in a different light.
  • Supplement questions with a review book.
  • Questions, questions and more practice questions. Also plan when and how long each of your breaks will be in advance.
  • I really liked the Case Files series for clerkship NBMEs. I thought focusing on each clerkship individually really helped me prepare for Step 2 because I was able to learn the material well. When it came time to study for Step 2, it was all mostly review.
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