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How to Study for CCS on Step 3

9 min


A medical resident wearing scrubs, studying for the USMLE Step 3 CCS in front of notebooks.


By the time most medical students begin their intern year, they are expert test-takers. Graduating from medical school and matching into their specialties of choice requires them to be attentive learners, good multitaskers, and skilled test-takers. That being said, a few extra tips for how to study for USMLE Step 3, and CCS cases, never hurt.


When we are medical students, we have tons of information to learn and an abundance of time (compared to residency) to learn it. When we become interns, however, we are expected to study for and pass Step 3 and Step 3 CCS while balancing sleep, clinical responsibilities, and our sanity. And, as if that weren’t hard enough! You will need to become an expert at navigating through the Primum software used for Step 3 CCS and understand how to manage the 40+ conditions represented on the exam.


In this guide, I will discuss the most efficient and reliable tips on how to study for CCS Step 3.



An Introduction to CCS on Step 3


My in-depth guide for struggling students studying for Step 3 can be found here.


The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a medical licensing exam that physicians are required to pass in order to practice medicine in the United States. Step 3 is a two-day exam, with the first day made up of multiple-choice questions and the second day made up of both multiple-choice questions and clinical scenarios. It aims to assess the physician’s mastery of medical knowledge, concepts, and skills used to diagnose and treat patients. You can find more of our tips on how to study for Step 3 here.


Step 3 can be broken down into two types of questions: multiple choice questions and real-time simulated patient care scenarios, or Computer-based Case Simulations, using software called Primum.


About 25% of your Step 3 score depends on how you performed on the 12 CCS cases that are part of the exam, so it is important to study for it efficiently, we hope these tips will help! These cases will test you primarily on conditions and situations you should have encountered during your intern year. Scoring well depends on being familiar with the scoring system, the computer program, and the timing of the exam.



Study Resources for Step 3 CCS and How to Use Them


UWorld CCS

UWorld has always been the G.O.A.T. for USMLE test preparation. In addition to over 1,900 multiple choice questions, a subscription to UWorld’s Step 3 preparation package includes “40+ classic Step 3 CCS cases that cover high-yield topics in multiple specialties” and “50+ interactive cases in an interface that closely mimic the cases you are likely to see on the actual exam.” These cases are very close (identical in some cases) to cases found on the real exam. The downside to UWorld is that learning the first 40+ cases is relatively passive, as the software isn’t interactive and it reads more like a textbook. However, it is very thorough.


CCScases.com was my go-to resource for studying for Step 3 CCS! CCS Cases is an online resource that uses the same software as the real Step 3 exam (called Primum). The platform has 140+ cases to choose from with scoring, grading, and feedback based on your answers provided for each case with suggestions on how to improve your score. I found CCS Cases to be the best way to prepare for Step 3 CCS.

USMLE.org tutorials and practice cases

The best way to get accurate information about Step 3 CCS is to get it from the source. That is, to say, the USMLE. On their website, the USMLE has a multitude of resources explaining the ins and outs of Step 3 and Step 3 CCS. Somewhat hidden in their website are USMLE Step 3 sample questions and Interactive Step 3 Practice Materials. Though not exhaustive, you can trust that these materials are going to be as close to the real thing as it gets. If you really want to simulate the test-taking experience, you can register for USMLE Computer-based Testing (CBT) Practice Session.


Experiential learning (aka on-the-job learning)


Don’t forget that you are (most likely) a medical resident! In the same way that you “studied” for shelf exams or in-house exams during your clinical years, you are preparing for Step 3 CCS by being actively involved in your patients’ medical care. Learning how to think like an independent physician during your intern year will help prepare you (somewhat) to make good decisions during your Step 3 CCS experience.


Tutoring for USMLE Step 3


I’ve said this before in previous blog posts, but it bears repeating. If you are using the above resources and you are still struggling with Step 3 content, then you might benefit from academic tutoring. Working with a tutor will not guarantee a passing score, but it will almost certainly improve your chance of passing Step 3. At the very least, a tutoring session can help struggling students find out where they can and should focus their studying efforts and improve their test-taking strategy. EMP would be happy to accompany you on your study journey, and help provide you with the tools for the best, most effective study techniques and schedule!

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