Home » Passing the NBME CBSE: Insights from an SGU Medical Student

Passing the NBME CBSE: Insights from an SGU Medical Student

17 min


An SGU med school student studying for the CBSE exam.


I’m an SGU student, where passing the CBSE is a prerequisite for taking Step 1. I’m writing this blog to share insights that could help my fellow SGU classmates and other medical students navigating similar requirements due to recent changes.


Today, I’m opening up about my NBME practice exam scores, and my experience with the CBSE and Step 1. At first, I hesitated to share them. But as medical students, supporting each other is crucial, especially with the new CBSE requirement.


I believe sharing my journey can offer inspiration to others facing similar challenges. Despite starting with a failing score, I eventually passed both the CBSE and Step 1 on my first attempt. This journey wasn’t easy; there were moments when I questioned whether I wanted to continue. However, I made a promise to myself to persevere, fueled by the memory of someone dear to me who always believed in my abilities.


So, as you read through my experiences, remember to check in on your friends. A simple message or emoji can make a world of difference.


By providing real, average scores, I hope to boost your confidence during this tough period.


Let’s dive in!


Disclaimer and Request for Anonymity:


I’ve shared my experience with a few friends, but I prefer to remain anonymous. Please respect my privacy.



My Resources and Study Routine


Resources Used:


Here’s a rundown of the resources I relied on, though remember, everyone’s study methods differ:


    1. Pathoma: Focused on chapters 1-3 (HIGH YIELD)
    2. Boards & Beyond
    3. Dirty Medicine YouTube: A concise resource for remembering drugs and other topics.
    4. Randy Neil YouTube: A Biostats guru; highly recommended alongside Boards & Beyond.
    5. Anki – Anking Deck ONLY: Look it up on YouTube for more details.
    6. UWorld: Completed 88% before CBSE with a 72% average.
    7. First Aid: Used for annotation and highlighting important concepts while watching BnB or Pathoma videos.
    8. Sketchy Micro (highly recommended).
    9. Lymph Drainage: Despite its tediousness, understanding lymph drainage proved beneficial. Here’s a helpful YT video I used.


It may seem like a lot, but each resource served a specific purpose.


Preparation for passing the CBSE & Step 1 is undeniably daunting, but it’s crucial to take your time and ensure a thorough understanding of topics. I structured my study days to cover diverse subjects, avoiding spending too long on a single topic.


Why did I prefer BnB? It’s tailored to the standardized exam format and delivers essential content without unnecessary fluff. Also, don’t overlook Anki—it’s a powerful tool for retention.


Identify your weak areas and address them promptly. Don’t underestimate the importance of fixing these—it could mean the difference between passing and failing. And don’t forget the value of study groups; surrounding yourself with motivated peers can be immensely beneficial.


My Study Routine


From around mid-December, I kicked off my study routine by tuning into Boards & Beyond (B&B) for topics that formed the backbone of my first-year medical school curriculum—think biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, and genetics. As the CBSE approached, I shifted gears to focus on reviewing organ systems, starting with my weaker areas like pulmonary and musculoskeletal (MSK). B&B proved to be a comprehensive resource, especially for anatomy, rendering additional references unnecessary unless they were covered in First Aid.


Here’s what my daily schedule looked like:


  • 8 am – 10 am: Anki reviews (~600-700 cards per day)
  • 10 am – 2 pm: Review material with BnB
  • 2 pm – 4 pm: Uworld (30-40 questions on the topics I just went)
  • 6 pm – 8 pm: Break (workout + dinner)
  • 8 pm – 10:30 pm: Pathoma, BnB or finish Anki
  • I took small breaks throughout the day to recharge and maintain focus.
  • Took 1 NBME per week with some minor exceptions.


This routine became my daily mantra, a cycle of review, practice, and reinforcement that I repeated. Additionally, I made it a point to take one NBME practice exam per week, with occasional deviations based on my progress and needs. You can also take a look at EMP’s CBSE study plan and structure your routine around that.


SGU Insights:


St. George’s University SOM recently implemented changes requiring students to pass the NBME CBSE before Step 1. While the passing grade was initially 70, it has since decreased to 67. Regardless of these changes, passing the exam is achievable with dedication and perseverance.


Despite my own success, I understand the challenges many of my peers faced. Let’s support each other through this journey, remembering our initial aspirations and staying focused on our goals.



My Practice Exams and Exam Scores


When it comes to preparing for exams like the CBSE, practice exams serve as milestones in gauging progress and identifying areas for improvement. Here’s a breakdown of my journey through practice exams and the scores I achieved:


  • Jan. 6th NBME 25 – 5 weeks until CBSE: Scored 60%
  • Jan. 13th NBME 26 – 4 weeks until CBSE: Scored 62%
  • Jan. 22nd NBME 27 – 3 weeks until CBSE: Scored 73%
  • Jan. 27th FREE120 – 13 days until CBSE: Scored 79%
  • Feb. 3rd NBME 28 – 7 days until CBSE: Scored 77%
  • NBME CBSE (Feb 10th): Scored 77% (PASS)
  • Feb. 11th AMBOSS day after CBSE: Scored 234
  • Feb. 18th UWorld Assessment: Scored 241
  • Feb. 25th NBME 29: Scored 80%
  • March 5th Step 1: Pass


In the days leading up to the CBSE, I focused on refining my understanding and addressing any lingering weak points. I added additional assessments like AMBOSS and UWorld so that I would have practice exams both before and after passing the CBSE.


Practice Exams and Review


Consistency was key to my score improvement. I dedicated an extensive amount of time to reviewing my NBME practice exams. These practice tests were lengthy, spanning around 5 hours with 200 questions. Typically, I started around 8:30 AM, took a break after the first 100 questions, and then completed the rest the following day.


Reviewing my practice tests wasn’t just about correcting mistakes—it was about understanding concepts deeply. For instance, if I missed a question on Minimal Change Disease, I looked into all aspects of Glomerular diseases using resources like First Aid and BnB. This thorough approach ensured I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes.



Tips for Studying and Mindset


Preparing for exams like the CBSE or Step 1 requires a strategic approach and a resilient mindset. Here are some practical tips:


  • Understand Thoroughly: Take time to grasp concepts deeply. Focus on specific topics each day for better comprehension.
  • Use Variety: Utilize different resources like Boards & Beyond, Pathoma, and Anki to reinforce learning.
  • Address Weaknesses: Tackle your weak areas head-on to avoid losing valuable points in the exam.
  • Study Partnerships: Collaborate with motivated study partners for support and motivation.
  • Stay Flexible: Experiment with different study techniques and resources to find what works best for you.
  • Maintain Balance: Prioritize self-care with adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise to sustain focus.
  • Resilience: Approach setbacks with determination and keep pushing forward.
  • Community Support: Lean on your community for encouragement and assistance during challenging times.


By integrating these practical strategies and maintaining a resilient mindset, you can navigate medical school exams with confidence.



My Experience on the CBSE Exam Day


Arriving at the exam center thirty minutes early, I was promptly checked in with just my ID and a printed copy of my exam permit. The CBSE comprised 200 questions divided into four blocks of 50, with each block allotted 1 hour and 15 minutes. Questions varied from concise to more elaborate scenarios, testing a wide range of medical knowledge.


After completing each section, a 15-minute bathroom break was granted. At my Prometric site, access to food and water during breaks was restricted, but amenities may vary depending on location. Notably, scores were not immediately available; we had to wait until the end of the exam window (Feb 5th – 18th) for results.


Contrary to hearsay about the CBSE being straightforward, I found it to be a comprehensive assessment demanding thorough preparation akin to the Step 1 exam. Confidence in my answers was balanced by the nagging uncertainty inherent in standardized tests.


I adopted a specific strategy: reading the last two sentences of each question first. Perfected through practice exams, this streamlined my approach, saving precious time during the exam.


Practice exams played a key role in shaping my preparation. While I can’t disclose specific content in my CBSE, they were crucial in guiding my readiness. Trusting my preparation and staying focused were essential during the exam.



After Passing the CBSE: What’s Next?


Following the CBSE, the next step was waiting for the results and planning for the USMLE Step 1 exam. After receiving my CBSE results, I had to wait approximately two weeks to receive my USMLE Step 1 Exam Permit. This meant the earliest possible date for taking Step 1 was four weeks after the CBSE testing date.


Upon receiving the score report, it was important to review the breakdown of topics missed. The report provided general areas, such as cardiovascular system or behavioral health, and addressing these weaknesses was going to guide further Step 1 prep.


Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 involved continued revision and practice, focusing on areas identified as needing improvement. It was also important to maintain a balance between study and self-care, making sure I was mentally and physically prepared for the next challenge.



In Conclusion: A Message of Encouragement


Reflecting on my journey through the CBSE and preparation for the USMLE Step 1, I’m reminded of the resilience and determination demanded in medical school. Amidst challenges, it’s vital to prioritize self-care and maintain a balanced approach to studying.


To fellow medical students facing similar hurdles, setbacks are not failures but chances for growth. Embrace weaknesses and work to overcome them. Surround yourself with supportive communities for encouragement and assistance.


The road ahead may seem daunting, but hold onto your initial inspiration for pursuing medicine. Stay focused on goals and persevere through tough times. Hard work and dedication will propel you closer to becoming a practicing physician.


In adversity, let’s support one another and uplift spirits. Together, we can overcome obstacles and emerge stronger. Medical school is a marathon—pace yourself, stay determined, and remember the impact you’ll make as a healthcare professional.


Best wishes on your journey ahead! For additional help with the CBSE or Step 1, consider enlisting the help of a 1-on-1 tutor. Contact Elite Medical Prep to learn more!

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