Best Ways to Study for Step 2 CK
USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) presents a different challenge as compared to Step 1 because clinical experiences (and thus, knowledge gained during a clerkship) may vary widely amongst students. Thus, there is a distinct need to focus on high-yield review resources outside of clerkships, of which there are fewer for Step 2 when compared to Step 1. The exam is certainly high-stakes, as demonstrating an improvement in score from Step 1 to Step 2 CK is important for many residency programs to demonstrate a student’s ability to be an effective test taker who can pass their board exams at the end of residency. This is especially important if a student did not score as well on Step 1 as they would have hoped as this can be an opportunity to show academic growth. Thankfully, showing an improvement on Step 2 is manageable! It just requires some critical thinking and on occasion, helpful study guidance. Many students find easier or more intuitive the memorization of some basic science concepts seen in Step 1 which. In this post, we will discuss the best Step 2 CK resources and how best to study for the exam.
How is Step 2 different from Step 1?
Besides the obvious focus on clinical medicine as compared to the basic science seen in Step 1, Step 2 CK features one additional block of questions, pushing the total exam time (including breaks) to approximately 9 hours. This extra hour can be daunting as it demands even further discipline and stamina than Step 1 and should be accounted for while studying and taking practice exams to replicate test day.
How do I set myself up for success?
Certainly, focusing your efforts throughout your clerkship year on becoming the best medical student possible and learning from your residents and attendings is key. However, due to time constraints, the clinical year requires even more discipline than the previous years. It’s important to set a routine and be diligent about staying on top of your question banks and readings every night. If it’s a slow day on the wards or in clinic, working in some UWorld questions can certainly be an effective use of time. Otherwise, block off some time in your schedule every evening to stay on track.
What resources should I be using?
Compared to Step 1, there are far fewer outside resources needed to perform well on Step 2, leading to a relatively streamlined studying process that focuses on a select few high-yield medical review resources. If you need additional information, all resources are listed on our reviews page. Our recommendations for resources are as follows:
To no surprise, this resource is relied upon by virtually every student that takes this exam. Rich with diagrams, graphs, decision trees, and illustrations, this resource should be #1 on everyone’s priority list to complete once throughout the clinical year and then again during their dedicated study period. Questions are constantly being added throughout the year, consistently improving the quality of this question bank. Purchasing a 1-year subscription and starting early is key to working through the questions in a timely manner. Additionally, this subscription will come with two practice exam which will be key in assessing your performance during your dedicated study period.
Best way to use this resource: During each rotation, you should divide the number of days you expect to be able to devote to studying (generally the clerkship length minus a few days to account for practice shelf exams, study breaks, etc.) by the number of UWorld questions available for that subject to come up with a goal number of questions to complete daily. Aim to finish a few days prior to your shelf exam to allow yourself time to take practice exams and focus in on your areas of weakness.
This resource is becoming more well-known and widely used, and for good reason. Spaced repetition has been scientifically proven to be an effective learning tool and method for long-term retention. With the advent of standardized pre-made decks by Reddit users such as Zanki and Brosencephalon, students have access to thousands of flash cards based on high-yield resources such as First Aid for Step 2 and UWorld. This is a great resource for memorizing some nit-picky details (e.g. Pap smear and HPV testing guidelines) while also gaining repeated exposure to decision trees and charts which will heavily guide your clinical reasoning during the exam and on the wards. Zanki Step 2 is a very well-made and comprehensive deck readily available online, while WiWa is another user-made deck that is more extensive and focuses on smaller details and pathophysiology which can net you some extra points on exam day. If you have a strong knowledge base and are performing well clinically, Zanki Step 2 is a great resource for you. If you need more guidance and background knowledge, WiWa might be a deck better suited to your needs. Some students learn best from making their own flash cards, and distilling UWorld educational objectives into a flashcard or two can be a highly effective study strategy as well.
Best way to use this resource: Begin using it with your very first clinical rotation alongside OnlineMedEd and UWorld to maximize learning and knowledge retention. Begin to complete (or make) the relevant cards as you learn material and keep up with them every day throughout the clinical year.
A relatively newer resource, AMBOSS provides a comprehensive interactive study platform featuring over 2,000 questions with extensive explanations and reference tools. A common question that is asked is “which is better? Amboss vs. UWorld?”. The answer is “it depends”. It depends on how much time you have available and what phase of studying you are in. Completing UWorld should be your #1 priority and is the best resource for learning and reviewing material while simulating the actual testing platform. Because of the extensive nature of AMBOSS’ question bank and occasional nit-picky or intentionally tricky questions, it should be used only if time permits to gain exposure to questions and content from a different angle. Some students have reported that AMBOSS questions have taught them concepts that were tested on Step 2 CK that they did not learn anywhere else, although this is anecdotal and seems to be limited to very few instances, so take it with a grain of salt. Ultimately, this is a well-made and polished resource, but still comes second to the tried-and true resources UWorld and Anki.
Best way to use this resource: The shelf-specific question banks are great for subject-specific studying throughout the year, especially for topics such as surgery where UWorld questions alone may not be enough. Only use this resource if you have completed UWorld and all of your practice NBMEs and are still looking for more material.
#4. Step-Up to Medicine/Step-Up to Step 2 CK
These textbooks (by Agabegi and Agabegi) are a widely used resource for all things internal medicine, a subject that is heavily represented on Step 2. Thus, it’s a great resource for some in-depth learning and can be read or referred to during downtime on the wards. However, like most medical school textbooks, it’s quite dense and can be difficult to read comprehensively. If you feel that you don’t learn well from textbooks or have a good grasp of internal medicine topics, you can likely skip this resource and not miss out on much.
Best way to use this resource: Supplement your learning throughout clerkships, especially internal medicine, with chapters from this book as time allows.
This resource is a favorite for students in their clinical years due to it being free and easily accessible. It provides a great framework of essential knowledge for any rotation that students may be on, but in regards to Step 2 CK, does not provide enough detail necessary to fully understand the material.
Best way to use this resource: Watch videos either prior to, or near the beginning of, your clerkships to learn the essentials for whichever rotation you are on. You may refer to these videos throughout the year as you may forget certain topics, but don’t rely too heavily on this resource during dedicated study time as your time will be better spent on practice questions.
What resources should I avoid?
First Aid for Step 2 CK
Although this seems to be a popular textbook, its quality and usefulness does not compare well to its Step 1 counterpart. Many students have mixed opinions of this book’s effectiveness in regards to Step 2 CK studying. Given that the resources above will likely be a better use of your time, we recommend skipping this resource for Step 2.
How much time do I need for dedicated?
It depends on your performance and desired score. Most students take anywhere between 2-4 weeks for dedicated studying to complete 1 pass of UWorld while completing NBME exams and UWorld self-assessments. An easy way to create a sample schedule is to divide the number of UWorld questions by how many you can reasonably complete in one day (aim for 2-3 blocks per day) and then add 5-7 days to that to account for practice exams and rest days; that will be the optimal length for your dedicated study period.
If you need help along the way to define a study strategy, contact or call us! Our USMLE Step 2 CK tutors are happy to aid in your studying process.