USMLE Step 3 Percentiles: How High Do You Need To Score To Pass

Finally, you’re now on Step 3. Let me guess, it wasn’t a breeze trying to get this far right? Well, we feel you. Beating the USMLE test series is definitely quite the feat. So to get this far, you have all the right to feel proud of yourself. Finally, you only have one more hurdle to worry about. And trust me; this one is the least of your problems. I’m not saying that you should take it lightly though.

As a med student, tests basically become synonymous to schooling. Oh, and I’m not just talking about your usual pop quizzes and 5-minute essays. When you’re studying in the medical field, you should expect long and arduous examinations, practical exercises, and hands-on exercises. If you think that reaping a cadaver open is the biggest of your problems and fears, think again. There are far more fearsome things in medical school. At least with cadavers, the reluctance and worry goes away after you get used to it. With exams like the USMLE, the worry only goes stronger by the day.

Still, no dream is nobler than wanting to become a medical professional. To help transform and save lives while getting the high life – it really doesn’t get any better than that. With all that being said, medical practice may be tough but it surely is rewarding. It’s definitely a discipline that is worth your time and motivation.

If you cut down the work in little chunks, however, you’d realize that it’s not really that intimidating. All you need to do is to create an organized schedule that will fit everything and still not cost you your sanity. This may seem too good to be true but it is, without doubt, possible. First you have to figure out the undergraduate course that will become your gateway to medicine. Then, you worry about the MCAT (Medical Colleges Admissions Test) and your med school application. After you get in is really where the rest of the fun starts.

Introducing The USMLE

Since you’re on Step 3 of the USMLE, this may be old news to you but to help out first time takers who are reading this guide right now, I believe that a brief introduction to the test series would be extra helpful.

For one, you heard the previous line right. The USMLE is not a single examination; it’s a series of tests, three tests to be in fact. These tests are referred to as “Steps” meaning there are three steps in the USMLE in total – well, four, if we are to count Step 2-CK and 2-CS separately.          

Steps 1 and 2-CK are basically knowledge exams. They are required of medical students to test their mastery of the discipline. After all, we can’t just launch inexperienced and poorly informed medical professionals in the world. That would be far too dangerous and careless. Just imagine having to leave your life in the hands and care of someone completely incompetent – a total nightmare, right? The USMLE is put in place because it’s necessary.

Step 2-CS is a little bit different. It’s a pass or fail, hands-on examination that tests a student’s patient skills. As a medical professional, it is important that you know how to communicate with your patients as well as perform necessary medical processes such as record taking and symptom identification. You must also be able to communicate results to both patients and colleagues. Practicing medicine isn’t a one-man job, after all. To recognize that fact is the first step to your success as a medical practitioner. Step 2-CS is a test that makes sure you have all the basic Clinical Skills to make it out there.

Then, there’s Step 3 which we are going to discuss in just a while.

It is said that among all the steps, Step 1 holds the most weight. It’s the biggest obstacle in your path and the very thing you want to get done and over with as soon as possible. It is a 280-item multiple choice exam that covers the basic sciences as well as relevant subjects covered during the first two years of medical school. It’s taken in the latter part of the second year and is necessary to apply for hospital residency on your intern year. If you pass (but not necessarily) with flying colors on this test, you always have Step 2-CK to mitigate your previous scores. However, it is said that if you score well on Step 1, it would be better to send out applications for residency before you even take Step 2 – well, to avoid the latter step from affecting your Step 1 scores.

If you did well on Step 1, all you really need to do is get a passing score on Step 2-CK and 2-CS. It doesn’t really matter if your scores aren’t too high as long as they hit the average mark to pass. It is said that a safe score to aim for in the USMLE Step 1 is the “magical 240.” Out of 280 items, you need to be on the upper 15% of the scale. This way, you will experience fewer problems with your residency application. For Step 2-CK, a good score would be around 205-220 and for CS you basically just need the OK pass. Again, if you’re confident enough in your Step 1 scores, it would be better to submit your applications before you even get around Step 2 of the USMLE.

If you’re the lucky guy who’s through with the worst of the storm (you’re through Steps 1 and 2), then I believe that a certain congratulations must be put in place. You did a job well done on getting this far. Anyway, here’s a quick look on the USMLE Step 3 test and the marks you need to pass.

How Much Do You Need To Score In Order To Pass The USMLE Step 3 Exam?  

Last but not least is the USMLE Step 3. You’re technically off the hook, you know? Out of the USMLE test series, students often say that this is least nerve-wracking exam. After all, you’ve passed the first two steps so you’re more or less familiar with how these tests are administered now. The only big difference this time is that your stamina is really put to the test, being a 16-hour exam and all (at least you can schedule Day 1 and 2 on non-consecutive days). Also, since this test is the deciding factor whether you get to be allowed to practice independently or not, you still have to do well.

Believe it or not, the minimum passing score for the USMLE Step 3 as of 2016 is 196. This is out of 480 questions. It’s not a terribly demanding passing score, don’t you think? Also, statistics show that many students pass Step 3 on their first try. To be specific, around 90% of students pass on their first time which is probably a load off your chest right? But since the test is slightly different and the latter parts rely more on comprehension and analysis, you still have to read up and review a lot. Step 3 is a high stakes exam where everything you’ve learned in medical school and during your intern year is put to the test. It is really the test that measures just how fit you are to be an independent medical practitioner.

On the bright side, this is the last hurdle of the USMLE test series that you must overcome. Afterwards, you can finally focus more on studying your chosen field of practice and get some time off to take a breather. You just need to brave through this one last time. We also have a guide for creating a study schedule for Step 3 so be sure to check it out later!

November 12, 2019

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