Ways to Ace Your USMLE Step 3 Exam Before Residency

Ways to Ace Your USMLE Step 3 Exam Before Residency

Dec 03, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

Table of Contents

Anyone taking up medicine would agree that landing a Match for residency is one of the most challenging situations they needed to overcome. It is particularly harder for foreign or international medical graduates (FMG/IMG) since they needed to adjust to the culture and language of the state they are planning to apply for. Moreover, the competition against local applicants could also hinder them from successfully landing a residency. One way to get a leg up against your competition is to ace the USMLE Step 3 exam.

Compared with Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS, taking the USMLE Step 3 exam is not a requirement for your ECFMG certification. In this exam, it focuses more on your clinical and biomedical knowledge, calibrating your understanding of patient management and outpatient care. This exam takes two days where Day 1 looks into basic science and Day 2 focuses on clinical science. As you may have known, this exam is optional—but one that can carry a lot of weight for your ERAS application.

Just like any exam, this also entails lots of preparation. Here are some ways to help you accomplish your USMLE Step 3 with flying colors.

It’s different from the other Step exams

Each exam has a unique subset of criteria and knowledge coverage. First, this exam covers two-full days compared with other Step exams that only take one day to finish.

Here’s an overview of what to expect from USMLE Step 3:

  • Day 1 exam is made up of 6 blocks of questions containing about 38 questions per block. For each block, you are allocated 1 hour to answer. Anticipate a 7-hour test duration with 45 minutes break for this test day.
  • Day 2 exam consists of 6 blocks of questions containing 30 questions per block. For this day, anticipate decision-making, diagnosis, and management topics to be tackled. Anticipate a 9-hour long duration with 45 minutes of break time for this day.

Give time to practice

Just like any of the Step exams, you should pay the same attention and preparation for this set. There are several practice Step exams on the USMLE.org website. You can browse through tutorials, questions blocks, and an overview to help you prepare.

Take the timed tests to simulate the real experience you’d get from a high-pressure exam. Focus on finding the balance to rest and finish your exam as efficiently as possible within a tight timeframe.

Work on every case scenario thoroughly

On Day 2 exam, you will be looking at 13 clinical scenarios (CCS) with each point given 10 to 20 minutes to accomplish. While it uses multiple-choice questions, it will require a different thought process than the others. The challenge lies in how you will arrive to a certain answer for each scenario. Always look into the result first before moving forward to subsequent studies. If the situation calls for it, don’t hesitate to send the patient home and do a follow-up in your office for further evaluation.

Because of the diversity of medical training and specialty, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact management. Hence, it’s advised that you work through various practice cases and the use of the software days before the exam day. There are several USMLE CSS software case tests you can download online for free. The grand takeaway for this is to treat each case as you would in a real-world scenario and not just as an exam prompt.

Hone your time management

As you’ve already figured out, time management is crucial to your profession. For the most part, participants of this exam have already taken their residency. However, there are a few exceptions to the rules—especially if you didn’t succeed during the Match. If this is your case, you will have quite some time on your hands to focus on acing this exam instead of working on this on a full schedule.

However, if you’re juggling to study in between work, you can create a study plan. Some participants may even take the exam during the ‘slow’ periods of residency including an elective or consult month. Take advantage of your weekends and days off to study as much as you can.

Plan your breaks

It can be very tempting to rush everything but allow for breaks when you can throughout the exam. A few minutes of letting your mind rest can do wonders to replenish stored knowledge and clarity. It would also be best to plan longer for food and other comforts to bring some refreshments throughout this stressful exam.