How to Score a 260 on USMLE Step 2CK

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The USMLE Step 2CK exam has historically been overshadowed by its more intimidating, basic science-focused younger brother – the USMLE Step 1. Many residency programs may not even require a passing Step 2CK score to apply and match. But with the USMLE Step 1 going Pass/Fail as of January 26, 2022, these trends are liable to change and your Step 2CK score will likely only grow in importance in the coming years. 

 

So what now? Though many students tend to attain higher absolute scores on the USMLE Step 2CK (with a national average of 244 compared to 232 on the USMLE Step 1), it remains a difficult exam. Roughly 4% of first-time domestic test takers fail Step 2CK, with the failure rate for IMGs being even higher at up to 30%. As the relative weight of the Step 2CK exam increases, so too should the time and effort you put into your preparation strategy to not only pass, but score well and put yourself in the best position possible for the residency match. This blog post will go over the general preparation strategies that I used to score above a 260 on the USMLE Step 2CK, and I hope they will guide you to success as well.

 

 

Study Early, Study Often

 

The single best thing you can do both to achieve your score goal and to maintain your long-term knowledge base is to study early and study often. For a higher USMLE Step 2CK score, this means beginning to learn and retain high-yield information at the start of your clinical rotations. The good news is that many of these concepts will be tested via your shelf exams, so the impetus to study early is already built into most medical school curricula. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are done with pediatrics just because you took your pediatrics shelf – the more often you review the material year-round, the more prepared and efficient you will be when structuring your ultimate Step 2CK dedicated study schedule. The gold standard method for this sort of long-term studying is spaced repetition through the use of digital flashcards, which segues nicely into the next section on active learning.

 

 

Prioritize Active Learning Methods to Help Achieve Your USMLE Step 2CK Score Goal

 

Too often I come across students who spend hours and hours reading through and highlighting textbooks including First Aid for Step 2CK, Step Up to Medicine, and others. These are all great books for the USMLE Step 2CK and they probably contain the majority of what you need to know for the exam, but skimming and highlighting are just about the most passive methods you can use to study and – when used alone – rarely lead to good outcomes. The key to knowledge retention is active learning. The absolute top-tier resources for the Step 2CK exam are UWorld and pre-made Step 2CK flashcard decks like Zanki. It is imperative to actively review your UWorld blocks for difficult concepts and to make your own additional flashcards to help you retain the information. Ideally, you should be using Anki flashcards or an equivalent platform every day to review old cards and learn new material; my decision to keep up with all of my Anki cards throughout clerkships, regardless of which rotation I was on, was instrumental in achieving my Step 2CK score goal. Many students initially find Anki unintuitive or “hard to get into,” but building habits here is key. Whether you’re waiting for a ride home or in between sets at the gym, learning to fill the pockets of empty space in your daily life with Anki will help you to blaze through your cards and maximize your review time. Supplementary videos from Online MedEd or the Sketchy series can help reinforce some particularly difficult concepts, but here again, long-term retention is best enforced with subsequent flashcard creation. Keep your textbooks, but use them as reference material and not a reading requirement!

 

 

How Timing Will Effect Your USMLE Step 2CK Score

 

The final key to the puzzle is to time your USMLE Step 2CK exam and dedicated study period as optimally as possible. I frequently recommend students schedule their Step 2CK block soon after the end of core clerkships or right after completion of a sub-internship when their clinical skills are the sharpest. Proximity to core clerkships and real-world application of high-yield concepts will cut down on necessary review time, making your dedicated study schedule more dense and efficient. The length of dedicated study is also important. Most students should plan for around 4 weeks of full-time study, and if at any point you are scoring well within your desired range on NBMEs or UWSAs, it may be beneficial to consider moving up your exam date. It is not advisable to study for USMLE Step 2CK full time for longer than 6-8 weeks; you will inevitably begin to burn out and forget important concepts. Be realistic in your planning and don’t forget to take breaks!

 

 

To Summarize

 

The key takeaways are:

  1. Start studying early, and study at least a little every day.
  2. Use active learning methods, especially UWorld questions/reviews and daily flashcards.
  3. Optimize the timing of your dedicated study period and USMLE Step 2CK exam date.

If you implement the steps we have discussed here today, you will be well on your way to achieving your USMLE Step 2CK. Good luck, work hard, and above all be kind to yourself!

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