5 New NBME Practice Exams Forms: Here is What You Need to Know
For many students preparing for USMLE Step 1, the available NBME CBSSA (Comprehensive Basic Science Self Assessment) exams are the bedrock of their preparation. Currently, the available NBME CBSSA forms are Form 13, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 and are considered the best and most accurate way to assess one’s predicted performance on the USMLE Step 1.
However, as of March 25, 2019, the NBME will be retiring all of the old CBSSA NBME forms (except form 18) and replacing them with 5 new NBME forms. Per the NBME, these test forms will need to be started and completed no later than 90 days after purchase, thus if they are purchased just before the deadline then June 21st would be the last day to use them.
The replacement forms will be rolled out in two parts. On March 25, NBME Form 20, Form 21, and Form 22 will be introduced. Later in the Spring of 2019, NBME Form 23 and Form 24 will be released, though the exact release date has not yet been revealed. The retirement of the old NBME forms and the release of the new NBME forms is a big deal for nearly every student preparing for Step 1.
Here at Elite Medical Prep, we strongly recommend that students complete at least 3 or 4 of these NBME practice exams prior to taking their real USMLE Step 1.
Although the NBMEs contain ‘retired’ questions, we have found, through feedback from our many hundreds of students, that these questions are often a very accurate representation of the types of questions they faced on their USMLE Step 1 test day.
Furthermore, the scores on NBME practice exams are calibrated to match real scores on USMLE Step 1 (NBME and USMLE are essentially the same entity), meaning there is no better predictive tool available.
Many students carefully consider the way that they use these practice exams.
Because setting up a detailed schedule is important for successfully covering all the testable material, students are often asking their tutors how should they schedule and spread out the NBME practice exams.
Some of the NBME forms, such as Form 19, are known to be particularly challenging (maybe even too challenging?), and often students avoid taking it too close to test day in order to decrease the negative psychological impact of feeling one did ‘poorly’ on a practice exam right before the real thing.
At Elite Medical Prep, we strongly recommend thoroughly reviewing the answers to these questions by using the enhanced feedback system available for nearly all these tests.
Now that there will be several new exams, a subset of students preparing to take USMLE Step 1 in the months of April-June will have the advantage of taking the old forms (before they are ‘retired’) and practising with the new exams as well.
Making use of these additional NBME Forms (#20, #21, #22, #23 and #24) could be a really important benefit for those students who know how to extract the most learning from these questions.
One of the key areas that our tutors spend time with their students is to show students how to most effectively review their NBME practice exam.
Strong USMLE students don’t simply answer the question and move on. Rather, successful and effective students will consider why each of the possible answer choices listed is right or wrong. Often tutors spend time showing their students how the question may be slightly edited or reconstructed to reflect one of the other answers.
Frequently Asked Questions about the New NBME Practice Exams:
Given the news of the new exams, Step 1 students are likely to ask a number of questions about the new NBME practice exams and the retirement of the old NBME practice exams. Some of these questions include:
- What should I do if my test date is planned after the switch from the old NBMEs to the new NBMEs?
- How can I make the best use of the old exam forms before they are ‘retired’?
- Should I still use the UWSA practice tests to help measure predicted test score now that there are more NBMEs?
- How reliable will the new NBME forms be at predicting my score performance on the USMLE?
- What kind of takeaways can we obtain from these new tests once they become available?
Over the next few days, we will examine many of these questions regarding this switch from the old NBME forms to the new forms. Once the new NBME CBSSA forms are released, you can expect that all of the tutors at Elite Medical Prep will be aware of the material covered.
We will also break down the individual questions and their answers. Furthermore, we will be looking for patterns that can help us tutor our students to prepare even more effectively for Step 1. We would be happy to guide you in navigating the new exams. You can contact us here.
Update on the New Forms (March, 2019):
Since we posted this information at the end of February 2019, Elite Medical Prep has been inundated with questions regarding the validity of this information and how this will affect students at different medical schools. We have presented lectures and conducted Q&A workshops with students at several medical schools. Likewise, we communicate with learning specialists at medical schools across the USA and abroad. We have addressed some of the questions above in separate blog posts (please see the links above).
First, this information is definitely correct as the NBME website finally included this update on its website in early March. Why it took so long to put this information on their site is unclear, as this has created unnecessary stress for medical students preparing for Step 1, and also for their administrations that have purchased or wanted to purchase vouchers for their students to take these practice exams. We are unclear why this occurred, but presumably, it may have been an oversight within a large (presumably bureaucratic) organization.
What Should You do With The Old Exams?
Now that the switchover date is very close, many students still remain confused or unsure regarding what to do with the old exams. The default response for some students will be to purchase all the available exams right before the deadline, and then figure it out afterward.
In our view, this is acceptable though unnecessary because students risk having too many practice exams. We have found students can overload on practice exams and in the fog of practicing for test day, they lose sight of the value of carefully reviewing the exams after they are taken. Score prediction is incredibly important, but it is not meaningful unless a student has time to take corrective action based on the score report and the feedback.
That is why we do NOT recommend taking a practice exam within 2-3 days of your actual exam date.
In general, our recommended response to this retirement and release remains that students should try to purchase 2-3 practice exams before the switchover date. The exams that students choose to purchase should have good predictive score value.
Therefore, NBME Form 19 should probably be avoided. Discussions with our tutors and our prior work with hundreds of Step 1 students continually reaffirms that NBME CBSSA Form 19 under-predicts one’s USMLE Step 1 score by 10-15 points, sometimes much more. Also, some students use it as ‘a challenge’ or a way to ‘get them focussed again’ despite realizing that the score prediction can be quite off.
Our feedback from students and younger tutors who took NBME Form 19 for their own Step 1 preparation has been that along with a poor score prediction, NBME Form 19 tends to depress a student’s confidence, usually at a critical juncture. Humans are very strongly affected by emotional triggers, and the intensity of USMLE Step 1 tends to make students more susceptible to additional negative stressors.
There is more than enough good quality score prediction available from the NBME. Therefore, we urge students to resist the FOMO urge and get their score prediction elsewhere.
Which ones of the Retiring NBME CBSSA Forms should you choose?
Among the remaining soon-to-be retired NBME CBSSA Forms, we are agnostic as to which ones should be chosen. Dr. Kenneth Rubin has been leading our team of tutors in dissecting the NBME practice forms, going back all the way to the first ever released NBME practice exam, CBSSA Form 1.
The takeaway is that while the wording can change slightly over the years, the content of the exam differs little because the fundamental science of medicine has been largely the same from the perspective of a student preparing for Step 1.
Therefore, NBME Form 13 is just as valid as NBME Form 17 or 18 in providing a score prediction.
We are still gathering information
Keep in mind, that we do not know the predictive ability of the soon to be released new NBME Forms–Forms 20, 21, and 22. However, we can infer that because NBME Form 19 is being retired, the NBME has realized that this practice exam has caused problems for students preparing for the exam.
Our preliminary guess is that by mid-May there should be enough information available via our existing students and via information in forums such as Reddit, to provide a good idea of the quality of score prediction for the new forms.
Therefore, those students taking their exams in mid to late June, through the end of July should have the benefit of lots of good quality score prediction and practice material.
As soon as these new NBME exams are released, our team of tutors at Elite Medical Prep will analyze the new exams and make sure to elicit feedback from our students. We will be sharing those insights to help students better understand how to prepare for the challenge represented by the USMLE Step 1.