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USMLE Preparation

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

USMLE Exam Brief

USMLE, or the United States Medical Licensing Examination, is a prerequisite to gaining a medical license in the USA. The NBME (National Board of Medical Examiners) and FSMB (Federation of State Medical Board) are the two co-patrons of the examination. 

This prestigious examination is drafted to test and measure a candidate's ability to apply the medical concepts, knowledge and patient-centred skills vital for adequate care. However, every authority granting medical licenses has regulations and rules that affect each individual's qualifications.

Thus, it becomes essential for an individual to understand the intricacies of the USMLE exam.


USMLE Exam Pattern

Let's take a deeper look to understand the USMLE exam pattern.

The exam syllabus is so as to understand the candidates' unique skills and abilities. The outline of the content is divided into 18 core areas concerning the different organ systems. The USMLE exam steps cover traditional interdisciplinary subjects. 

The exam is conducted in 3 steps. 

The first two exams are to be taken when the individual is in a medical college. Step 3 is open for medical school graduates. 

In step 1, there are 280 MCQs split into 7 blocks of 40 questions each. All the blocks are worth 60 minutes. The test content for step 1 is curated to test the capabilities and knowledge of an individual. It includes various medical and scientific concepts like underlying health, diseases and therapy modes. 

USMLE Step 2 revolves around the application of medical knowledge and skills. It also emphasizes clinical science, disease prevention and health promotion. 

The exam is spread into 318 MCQs, divided into 8 blocks of 60 minutes each. The exam is conducted via an online testing session for 9 hours. This is USMLE step-2 CK.

Besides the USMLE step-2 CK, there is also USMLE step-2 CS which includes treating 12 patients for 15 minutes each. It's a practical examination. 

At last, once both step 1 and step 2 are complete, the final step of the ladder includes step 3. 

This step evaluates the individual's knowledge of clinical science and biomedical, which is significant for ambulatory settings and patient management routines.

This exam is two days long. On the first day, the examination includes 232 MCQs. This is separated into 6 blocks of 38-39 questions. Each block comes with a 60-minute timer. The first day of the test extends over 7 hours, with a 45-minute break and a 5-minutes optional tutorial.

Then, on the second day, the test includes 180 questions, divided into 6 blocks of questions, with a 45-minute deadline. There are 13 computer-reliant case simulations with 10-20 minutes each. 

It’s conducted via online mode. 

Books for USMLE Step-1

Any student keen to throw themselves into the rigorous USMLE preparation must have the right books and aid on their side. Let's look at the ideal USMLE preparation for Indian students!

  • First Aid for the USMLE Step-1: This book is a unique and essential find. It's not written by any academician or instructor but by the students that have aced the USMLE exam previously. Then, to maintain the book's accuracy, it's reviewed by the top faculties. This book has over 1,300 topics, which includes all the key concepts and samples, along with 1,000 colored illustrations of clinical processes, information and disorders. 
  • Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes: 7-Book Set: If a student requires an in-depth, detailed look at the step-1 exam, this book is the right one. It has high-quality study materials, including 2,700 content pages covering all the knowledge and skills, in addition to charts and diagrams. These lecture notes include complete volumes of Physiology, Pharmacology, Anatomy, Pathology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Behavioral Science and Social Sciences.
  • Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review: This book is written by students, medical experts and current medical residents. It’s a laser-focused and comprehensive resource which is easily the most impactful review tool. It has review questions for every chapter, testing your knowledge of core concepts and ability to remember dense information. The book teaches instrumental strategies to help the student understand the core idea of a question.

Books for USMLE Step-2

For a foolproof USMLE preparation plan, you need to chalk out the basics of USMLE step-2 CK preparation! For that, you need the following list of books:

  • USMLE Step-2 Secrets: This resource is a practical reference guide that explains medical concepts concisely and effectively. It's a one-destination guide written in a Q&A format to help you prepare for diagnosis, treatment knowledge, and patient management and care. One will note that the book features essential questions similar to ones in actual exams. 
  • First Aid for the USMLE Step-2 CK: This book, much like the Step-1 version, is written by previous students who have nailed the exam. Experts then review it for accuracy purposes. The book contains over 1,000 common topics; each section contains specialized mnemonics and critical facts to contextualize the content efficiently. Every step in the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition is provided with excellent coverage.

Kaplan USMLE Step-2 CK Lecture Notes: 5-Book Set: Much like its first counterpart, this set comes with 5 books that will help students understand complex and different medical concepts. These 5 books will cover the following areas- pediatrics, internal medicine, gynecology/Obstetrics, Epidemiology/Psychiatry/Patient Safety, and Surgery.

Books for USMLE step-3

Lastly comes step 3, which a student has to sit for after graduation. To ace the exam, here are the required books for USMLE preparation for step 3!

  • Master the Boards USMLE Step-3: This book is a practical resource that targets and reviews essential topics and offers vital tips to master the case concepts. It's curated to help you recall and identify the most likely-asked questions and highly tested concepts. You will understand the step-by-step approach to the diagnosis of medical conditions.
  • Kaplan USMLE Step-3 Lecture Notes: This book has 2 volumes of lecture notes that include case studies reviewing the different vital skills and concepts idealistically set in the real world. Each book will help deepen your understanding of these concepts. It has over 250 cases with detailed coverage of each discipline, including the most common medical conditions. The book also offers excellent patient management advice, patient safety tips and information on the population's health.
  • First Aid for the USMLE Step-3: Much like the first two, the third book is written by past students and reviewed by experts to ensure accuracy. It's designed in a way that it's the perfect conclusion of the first two books and offers thousands of samples and facts with mnemonic devices to help you master step-3 questions. The book comprises 100 review cases and several flashcards as well.

Tips for step-1

Wondering how to prepare for USMLE from India? It's not impossible to pass the USMLE exam, although step 1 is deemed the toughest. Here are some quick tips that will help you accelerate your USMLE step 1 preparation and help you rise to the top in your step-1 exam:

  • Your performance in USMLE step 1 will determine whether or not you will get interviewed for your preferred specialty, so understand the significance of step 1.
  • Begin your step-1 preparation right from the beginning of medical school, so you are not bogged down with last-minute cramming.
  • Make sure your learning style suits you, so figure out your specific study schedule and browse the resources to find the ones that work for you. 
  • Ensure that your grades and class ranking are consistent so that you are on track in medical school while preparing for USMLE step 1.
  • Make use of all the available practice tests that you can find!

Tips for step-2

Onto the next step of the USMLE exam – step 2. You must keep certain things in mind that will help you attain high scores in the USMLE step-2 exam!

  • Make it a point to study throughout the clerkship year, to build a solid clinical knowledge base.
  • It's essential to take at least 2 weeks to prepare for step 2 exclusively.
  • Try not to get disheartened when you see a question in the examination that you don’t know – it will pull down your confidence and hamper your overall performance.
  • The step-2 exam is an extensive 9 hours test, so you must prepare a game plan and chalk out your breaks thoughtfully to avoid running out of energy.
  • Flashcards are not just a fancy way of studying – they will help you memorize challenging concepts!

Tips for step-3

Lastly, here are some top-notch USMLE Step-3 preparation tips that will come in handy and ready you to confidently undertake the exam!

  • Decide and chalk out a number of cases and questions you will necessarily complete before the test day arrives.
  • A strong study regimen is essential, but it's even more crucial to create a schedule that doesn't exhaust you.
  • Figure the average number of cases and questions you want to prepare daily or weekly.
  • Make sure you track your progress to make last-minute adjustments accordingly.
  • Select a few but the best resources that work primarily for you, and be very consistent in using them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is USMLE hard?

USMLE step-1 is considered the most challenging examination in medicine worldwide. If you perform well in this exam, it will lay the foundation for a strong residency program. 

Can Indian doctors take USMLE?

Yes, Indian doctors who have passed 2 years of MBBS examination can appear for the USMLE exam, step 1.

When should one start preparing for step 1?

Students usually sit for the USMLE exam after completing their 2nd year in medical school. So, one can start preparing for step 1 right from the beginning of medical college. 

How many questions are asked in step 1?

 Step 1 of the USMLE exam has around 280 questions, divided into 7 blocks of 40 questions each.

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

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The above tips are the Author's experiences. upGrad does not guarantee scores or admissions.