The USMLE Step 1 Test is Becoming Pass/Fail

USMLE Step 1 Test Is Becoming Pass/Fail

Medical students see the acronym, USMLE and start thinking about the hours of studying they need to do for a sufficient score. The United States Medical Licensing Examinations determine what types of specialties medical professionals are allowed to practice as well as where students can complete residencies. Until recently, the Step 1 test was based on a grading scale, but the structure of exams will be transitioning to a pass/fail format in 2022.

How will this change your medical journey? Here’s a look at what you can expect as you progress through your medical training and education.

Why Is USMLE Step 1 Switching to Pass/Fail?

The Invitational Conference on USMLE Scoring and its co-sponsors decided in February 2020 that USMLE Step 1 exams will follow a pass/fail structure effective January 1, 2022. Step 1 exams were graded according to a three-digit numeric scoring system that allowed students to move into Step 2 and Step 3 after receiving a score of 194 or higher (out of 300). Questions test students on their knowledge on a range of topics including pathology, pharmacology, behavioral science and anatomy.

Most individuals sit for the Step 1 examination as early as their second year of medical school. The reason for the pass/fail change comes as a result of medical students placing a great deal of pressure on themselves to do well and the purpose of the exams.

Medical Student Pressure

For years, USMLE Step 1 exam results have been used by residency programs to assess student applicants. The better a score, the more likely it is that a student would qualify for a competitive residency. This creates a sense of competition among students to the point where individuals neglect coursework or their well-being to make time for studying.

Students might also create a “parallel curriculum” alongside medical school coursework. Rather than paying attention to instructors, students will craft their own curriculum based on what they expect to see on USMLE assessments.

Intended Purpose of Step 1 Exams

The USMLE Step 1 test was originally designed to prove medical licensure eligibility. The first stage of examination is intended to show that a medical student can successfully serve as a junior doctor with supervision.

This USMLE test was never intended to be a format for student comparison. Switching to pass/fail will hopefully minimize disruptions across education and licensing procedures.

What Does the Pass/Fail USMLE Mean for Medical Students?

USMLE Step 1 grading changes impact medical students in different ways depending on where they are in their education.

What it Means for Existing Students

If you are in a medical school program, it is important to note that the Step 1 pass/fail change will not take place until 2022. Those planning to take USMLE exams before this time will follow the same course of action in place now. You will receive a numerical score, and results will be a determining factor in where you can apply for a residency.

Step 1 grading for late-2021 students gets interesting. Students taking USMLE exams in the latter half of the year might look for residencies at the same time as someone who takes the Step 1 test as a pass/fail. Your USMLE Step 2 numerical scores and medical school grades could play a pivotal role in what opportunities are available.

What it Means for Up-And-Coming Medical Students

Future medical students could expect Step 2 CK scores to be the new standard for entry into residency programs. Only time will tell, but one can assume residency programs will seek out new quantitative data on students, as the Step 2 CK test will still provide a numerical score. These along with Shelf Exam grades are expected to be larger stressors for students in 2022 and beyond.

Pros and Cons of USMLE Step 1 Pass/Fail

There are arguments for and against a pass/fail Step 1 grading system. It will take time before we know the long-term outcomes of transitioning to the pass/fail format. However, some of the advantages of the pass/fail scoring method include:

  • Students still need to achieve a passing score to proceed.
  • A pass/fail format eliminates pressure for Step 1 exams.
  • It levels the playing field for medical residencies.
  • Individuals will be less likely to create a parallel curriculum.

Some disadvantages of the pass/fail scoring method are:

  • Numerical scores may encourage students to study more.
  • A pass/fail format rewards minimum competency.
  • Standards for licensure decrease with pass/fail.
  • It is unclear what criteria will be involved in residency selection.

Medlearnity Offers USMLE Step 1 Tutoring Services

Medlearnity helps current medical students prepare for USMLE Step 1 exams. We understand the importance of test preparation, so we connect you to highly-trained tutors from leading medical schools and healthcare centers in the United States. Our team helps you grasp core concepts through tutoring programs that are 100 percent remote for convenience. Meet with one of our instructors via Zoom for a personalized experience.

Ready to see the Medlearnity difference for yourself? Sign up for a free trial with us today.

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