The Facts About USMLE Step 2 Percentiles

The Facts About USMLE Step 2 Percentiles

Step 2 CK Percentiles & Average Test Scores

One important thing to note is that, overall, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge scores are higher than for Step 1 and Step 3. This higher average could be looked at as meaning that the exam is easier — for example, it would be easier to score 240 on Step 2 CK than to score 240 on Step 3.

That’s true, but it’s also not quite the right way of looking at things. With many students scoring higher, you need a better score on Step 2 to achieve the same percentile.

Because residency programs compare exam scores of different applicants to each other (not just looking at the number in isolation), it’s your Step 2 percentile that really matters.

What’s the Average Step 2 Score?

Data provided by the National Board of Medical Examiners, which administers the USMLE, indicate that the average score for Step 2 CK for U.S. medical graduates hovers just above 240.

Generally, it’s been 242 to 243 over the past few years. The 25th percentile is around 232, while the 75th percentile is near 256.

These percentiles mean that if you score at or below 232, you’re in the bottom 1/4 of test takers, while if you score at or above 256, you’re in the top 1/4. If you score 243, you’re right in the middle of the pack.

Does Your USMLE Step 2 Percentile Actually Matter?

Yes! Step 2 CK scores impact your probability of matching to your first-choice program. Now that Step 1 has transitioned to a pass/fail system, Step 2 will only matter more. 

step 2 ck percentiles score

What’s the Minimum Score to Pass Step 2 CK?

In 2020, the minimum score to pass Step 2 CK was 209. There are 370 questions on the exam, and you only need to get a little over half of them right to pass.

You’re probably aiming to do more than just pass, and of course, the more competitive the residency program you’d like to match with, the higher the score you should be aiming for.

What’s the Average Step 2 CK Score of Students Who Matched to Their First-Choice Specialty?

The 2020 report by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) showed a mean (average) Step 2 CK score of 246.9 for students who matched to their first-choice specialty.

What Step 2 CK Score Do I Need to Secure Residency Interviews?

You can use the average score given in the previous section as your target score for gaining residency interviews. However, since that score is a mean, you may receive a lower score and still get interviews. The 2020 NRMP Program Director Survey noted that scores in the mid-230s or above typically guarantee interviews. 

Some of your success in gaining interviews may come from seeking expert advice from people around you. Connect with a school advisor, a mentor in your specialty or a tutor. These professionals can guide your path to your desired residency. They can provide study tips to help you score better and give experienced advice about securing interviews.

Average Step 2 Score by Specialty

As would be expected, the median score for matched applicants varied by specialty. The most competitive specialties (such as plastic surgery and dermatology) had median scores above 250. The least competitive (including family medicine, pathology and psychiatry) had median scores near 230 (give or take a couple of points).

Scores by Specialty: Broken Down

In general, the more competitive specialties often receive higher scores. You may already know which areas offer the most competition, and this knowledge may factor into your decision to choose one specialty or another. If you want a better idea of average scores by specialty, use this list, starting from the highest average score and moving down:

  1. Dermatology and plastic surgery
  2. Interventional radiology
  3. Neurological surgery and orthopedic surgery
  4. Diagnostic radiology
  5. Internal medicine/pediatrics
  6. Radiation oncology
  7. General surgery
  8. Anesthesiology
  9. Obstetrics and gynecology and vascular surgery
  10. Emergency medicine
  11. Child neurology
  12. Neurology and pathology
  13. Psychiatry
  14. Family medicine

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Step 1 vs. Step 2 Scores & Test Averages

The USMLE Step 1 passing score is 194, and the national average score is approximately 232. The USMLE Step 2 passing score is 209, with an average score of 245.

These two exams are considered the most important exams a medical student will complete as they advance through their medical career.

Among medical professionals in training, USMLE Step 1 used to be the most feared hurdle. Now that Step 1 transitioned to a pass/fail model, we can expect residency programs to become more interested in using Step 2 CK scores in their decisions. (Step 2 CS already uses a pass/fail system.)

(If you’re thinking about Step 1 percentiles, this might interest you.)

Step 2 Score Percentiles: Side-By-Side Comparison With Step 1, Step 2 CK and Step 3

For all tests, scores range from 1-300, but the same score on a different test step will land you in an entirely different percentile. 

The mean scores for Step 1 over the past several years have ranged from 231 to 235. Step 2 CK receives average scores between 245 and 247. Students often receive mean scores between 227 and 228 on Step 3. These differing means indicate differing percentiles. 

To land near the 75th percentile for Step 1, you will need a score above 245. In Step 2 CK, you will need a score above 255. For Step 3, you will need a score above 235.

Since Step 1 now operates on a pass/fail system, your percentile for that examination matters less. For the following two tests, however, a score in or above the 75th percentile can help you achieve your desired residency.


When Should You Take Step 2?

Some students consider putting off taking Step 2 CK until after their residency applications are complete, figuring that this means it won’t matter for their application. This strategy might work in some cases, but more competitive residency programs require you to take Step 2 CK for them to consider ranking you for their program.

They want to see that your performance on this exam matches your performance on Step 1 and is strong enough that they want you in their program. You likely won’t be able to get away with putting off Step 2 to avoid having it matter for your residency applications.

When Is Your Step 2 Score Released?

You usually receive your Step 2 CK results within 3-4 weeks of testing. Since test item pools must be modified annually, you will experience a scheduled delay if you test between the end of June and late July. 

If you need to receive results before early August, the USMLE program recommends taking the exam before this delay period. Most examinees must report their testing results by early August, so taking the test before the scheduled delay will increase your chances of receiving your results on time.

Should You Prepare for Step 2 CK?

Step 2 CK is fundamentally a different test than Step 1. When taking Step 1, you’ve been spending most of your time in the classroom and the library, and Step 1 primarily tests basic science facts. When taking Step 2, you’ve been spending most (okay, basically all) of your time on the wards and in the clinic, and Step 2 primarily tests clinical knowledge and reasoning.

In a way, you’ve been reviewing for Step 2 every time you cared for a patient as a medical student. This fact could be a big reason why Step 2 CK scores are higher overall — medical students are better prepared for this exam simply because of the nature of medical school itself.

Many students use this as an excuse not to bother studying for Step 2. They figure that third year will prepare them well. The fact that many students study less gives the motivated student a great opportunity.

If you dedicate a significant amount of time to preparing for this exam, you’ll be ahead of many of your peers. If you create a study plan and stick to it, then you have the chance to do really well on Step 2 CK. Your extra studies could be the edge that gets you into your chosen residency program.

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Do You Have a Study Plan for Step 2 CK?

To get the best score you possibly can on Step 2 CK, you need an efficient and effective study plan. Medlearnity is here to help you prepare for Step 2 CK and beyond. Check out our study guide for Step 2 and our review of the best resources to use as you study.

Personalized help from a professional tutor can also make a huge difference in your score. Our students report improvements in their USMLE scores of 20 to 50 points after receiving tutoring.

Your tutor will identify your strengths and weaknesses and help you create your study plan. They will also walk you through the process of reasoning through questions. With a good grasp of strategy, you’ll feel confident on test day and be ready to ace the exam. If you’d like to see what it would be like to work with a tutor, we invite you to schedule a free one-hour session.

A great Step 2 CK score is important, but it’s just one part of your overall residency application. We can also help you with other aspects of this process, including writing a personal statement and presenting your application in the best possible way. A comprehensive approach will help you to land a residency spot in the specialty and location of your choice.

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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