The Best Resources for Step 2 CK Preparation

Students often ask us our advice on what the best resources are for USMLE Step 2 CK test preparation, especially because Step 2 CK doesn’t have a go-to resource the way USMLE Step 1 does with First Aid. We also know that there are a lot of resources available for Step 2 CK preparation – the sheer number and volume of what’s available can be overwhelming. To help you prep for Step 2 CK, we compiled together the resource advice of some of our tutors who scored 279-281 on Step 2 CK.

The use of practice questions and supplementary resources is key for Step 2 CK preparation. What are the resources you can use to help you excel on Step 2 CK?

UWorld For Step 2 CK

This is the best resource for Step 2 CK out there. The UWorld vignettes for Step 2 CK are very similar to the length of the actual questions on the exam and the difficulty of the questions is also similar to what you will encounter on test day.

The biggest difference between Step 1 and Step 2 CK questions is that Step 2 CK questions require you to think like a physician – the questions really test your ability to apply your medical knowledge practically and reach a clinical diagnosis or management decision. Questions often make you work through an important differential – you need to be able to confidently narrow in on the diagnosis, and then decide the next step in management, whether that be a diagnostic option or therapeutic intervention. This emphasis on management decision-making is a key component that differentiates Step 2 CK from Step 1.

How to Use UWorld for Step 2 CK:

Try to do UWorld a solid TWO passes before your exam.

Set a goal of going through the UWorld Step 2 CK question bank twice. After your first complete pass through the question bank, identify topics that are high-yield and areas that you are weak on. Take a few weeks to address your weaknesses and sharpen your knowledge base, with an emphasis on topics where you struggled. Then take a second pass through UWorld. On your second pass, solidify high-yield topics and pay particular attention to questions that you got incorrect. Since this is your second pass through the question bank, incorrect questions are particularly revealing – and you should emphasize these areas in your studying so you can get a strong USMLE Step 2 score.

Begin with subject-specific blocks but then transition to randomized, mixed blocks.

Med Student Studying for Step 2 CKYou want to replicate real test-taking conditions when using UWorld – and to do this effectively, you will want to avoid getting too comfortable with subject-specific blocks. We recommend that you initially begin with subject-specific blocks, and then transition to randomized, mixed blocks as you get more comfortable with concepts tested in specific subject areas. You want your brain to practice the kind of quick thinking and subject-switching you will have to do on the day of your real USMLE Step 2 CK exam. On test day, you might have to do a psychiatry question followed by cardiology and then pediatrics – but your brain needs to do the work of first identifying which question-type you are in, and then identifying all the relevant information in that specific subject that you need to answer the question in front of you. To practice answering questions actively and as close to exam day as possible, start using randomized, mixed blocks during your practice exams – especially as you get closer to test day.

Utilize timed mode.

Because you want to replicate the exam day as closely as possible, you should be very diligent in making sure to answer your questions in timed mode. Step 2 CK questions are much longer than what you encountered on Step 1 – not only are the vignettes a lot longer in length but working through the answer choices takes a lot more time. Using timed mode consistently and regularly will ensure that there are no drastic surprises on test day. Timed mode also allows you to uncover subject area weaknesses that you may not have been aware you had prior to your timed USMLE Step 2 practice exam.

OnlineMedEd for Step 2 CK

OnlineMedEd is a fantastic resource that does a great job of covering high-yield material for Step 2 CK in an easy-to-use platform. It has videos, notes, practice questions and flashcards to use as a study guide. The lectures and the notes are the most high-yield and best use of OnlineMedEd to improve your USMLE scores.

Use your UWorld practice sets to guide your use of OnlineMedEd. In doing UWorld practice questions, you should be consistently identifying topics that you are struggling with – then go to OnlineMedEd and watch the lecture videos for the topics that you struggled with. The lecture videos are fairly short and break down complex medical concepts in an easy to understand way.

The notes that accompany USMLE Step 2 CK lecture videos are an excellent test resource. Once you watch the lecture video, we recommend placing more emphasis on the notes – because watching videos is often a passive activity, and the notes will be sure to cover and focus on the most high-yield and important parts of the lecture video and overall medical concept. In reading through these notes, taking time to internalize the information – first, read through the material carefully, then close your eyes and see if you can recall and re-state or re-explain what you just read.

The Best Text-based Resources for Step 2 CK

The optimal resource strategy is to use UWorld practice questions, with a text resource and OnlineMedEd. Having a go-to text during your prep is extremely helpful.

Moreover, using a text resource like Master the Boards with both OnlineMedEd and UWorld practice questions also gives you the benefit of changing-up how you’re learning on a day-to-day basis. The audio-visual video component of Online Med Ed combines really well with a text resource and practice questions from UWorld to help you apply everything you’re learning.

Below, our tutors who have scored 279-281 on Step 2 CK provide their thoughts on the most commonly used text-based resources to practice study strategies for Step 2.

Master The Boards for Step 2 CK

Although there’s no gold standard textbook resource for Step 2 CK, the next best textbook resource for Step 2 CK is Conrad Fischer’s Master the Boards. It’s a 700-page user-friendly text that highlights the most important material and presents all information in a step-by-step approach.

We recommend combining Master the Boards with UWorld practice questions – in our experience tutoring students, we have found that these two resources work well together to supplement each other – each resource fills in the blanks and details that the other resource may have left out. Master the Boards is not all-inclusive though, and that’s why combining both Master the Boards and UWorld practice questions WITH OnlineMedEd is an excellent strategy to make sure you are covering everything, and especially making sure you master high-yield content. AMBOSS is another resource that can be helpful, with an extensive question bank.

Step Up To Step 2

We have seen that this text really works well for some students, but it depends on your learning style and whether you prefer traditionally formatted textbooks. The chapters in Step Up to Step 2 are short and efficient, and all information is presented in bullet-point format.

The bullet-point format makes it so that students don’t get dragged into details and can ensure that they have all the high-yield information for each subject. However, if you’re finding that you are particularly weak in a specific subject, we recommend that you seek out additional resources that cover the material in more depth – whether that be OnlineMedEd, or another text like Master the Boards.

We often recommend that students use Step Up to Step 2 as a review text to ensure that they know and have mastered all the high-yield information of each subject – the bullet-point format of Step Up to Step 2 is highly accessible and makes this really easy to do.

Step Up to Medicine

This is the go-to text for content on internal medicine, family medicine, neurology, ambulatory medicine, and surgery. And it breaks all the information down in a step-by-step approach, from recognizing the symptoms, to arriving at a differential diagnosis, and deciding on a diagnostic work up and/or treatment option – which is exactly how you need to approach questions on Step 2 CK.

However, Step Up to Medicine is not an all-inclusive text. It doesn’t include Ob/Gyn, Pediatrics or Psychiatry – so you will still need to consult other resources for those subjects.

It’s still an excellent in-depth and comprehensive resource for the subjects that it does cover, and students should use Step Up to Medicine as a resource especially if they have identified any of the subject areas it covers as a weakness.

First Aid for Step 2 CK

This is your traditional review book resource – it’s super comprehensive, presented in a book-like format (no bullet-points), and each section covers all the details relevant to the subject or topic being discussed. If you decide to use First Aid for Step 2 CK, you won’t really need another text-based resource to turn to, because it truly covers everything.

However, we recommend that in addition to using First Aid for Step 2 CK, you also consider consulting texts like Step Up to Step 2 because its emphasis on high-yield content through bullet-point format can help you to quickly and efficiently ensure that you have mastered all the high-yield content on each topic. You can do a run-through of Step Up to Step 2 on a particular subject or topic after you read through its more comprehensive counterpart in First Aid for Step 2 CK. Don’t get bogged down in all the level of detail that First Aid for Step 2 CK provides, though. It’s an extremely helpful resource, but don’t spend precious hours of your dedicated time memorizing low-yield, high-detail content.

The best method of using First Aid for Step 2 CK is to begin with the subject or topic areas that are your biggest weaknesses, and then to move onto the others. As already recommended, mix up your use of resources by using audio-visual resources like OnlineMedEd, and of course lots of UWorld practice questions!

Step 2 Secrets

We think this is an excellent USMLE exam resource to use as an overall review towards the end of your Step 2 CK prep. It’s in question-and-answer format, and it’s a quick read (only about 300 pages) – so it’s a great way to test yourself in a fast and efficient way to make sure you know most of the high-yield content for Step 2 CK. In making the best use of the question-and-answer format, we recommend that after you read the question – pause, close your eyes, and take the time to answer what’s being asked before rushing to look at the answers (a great strategy for test-taking in general!).

Good luck on your Step 2 CK prep, and don’t hesitate to set up a trial tutoring session with our USMLE Step 2 CK coaches if you need advice on preparing for your exam – we would be happy to help!

About the author 

Akshay Goel MD

Dr. Goel is a body-trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel has guided several students and doctors into successful careers over the past decade. He continues to help Medlearnity tutors optimize their educational methodology to drive the highest tutoring and admissions impact possible.

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