Home » Planning to Use the New NBME Practice Forms

Planning to Use the New NBME Practice Forms

11 min


A group of medical students taking their NBME practice exams in a computer room.


What to do if your test date is planned after the switch from the old NBMEs to the new NBMEs

So news just came out that NBME will be retiring 5 of the currently available 6 CBSSA FORMS (i.e. NBME practice exams) and then releasing 3 new forms on March 25 2019, followed by two more forms later in the Spring. If you are scheduled to take Step 1 before March 25th this isn’t going to affect you. Per our information, the retirement of the old forms will occur as follows: CBSSA Forms 13,15,16,17 & 19 purchased before March 25th will need to be started and completed no later than 90 days after purchase. NBME Form 18 will remain accessible after the deadline. In other words, if these exams are purchased just before the deadline, then they must be used by June 21st, a date by which many 2nd year medical students will have already taken USMLE Step 1.


If you are planning to take USMLE Step 1 in the weeks or months after the retirement and new release, then it is important to plan appropriately.



  • If your test date is a few days to two weeks after the switchover then this may be a relatively easy decision. We recommend that students use the current forms as practice exams as they would’ve already planned. Then after the retirement and new release, we recommend that you purchase, take and review at least one of the new NBME forms. At Elite Medical Prep, our Step 1 schedule recommends taking an NBME every other week in the first few weeks and then once a week in the final weeks. It’s important not to take a test right before (2-3 days or less) the exam date unless you plan/schedule to have time to thoroughly review it and are aware that a poor practice performance can reduce confidence in some students. In general, we have found that overloading with too many NBMEs right before your test day is likely to detract from performance because you will not have enough time to review them and take actions to shore up your weakest areas of knowledge.


  • If your test date is 1 month to 3 months (90 days) after the retirement and new release, then we recommend making use of at least 2 of the old exam forms–generally the newer forms (#16, #17 & #18) are more representative of the actual USMLE Step 1 exam, so it’s probably best to choose those. NBME Form 19 has been considered excessively hard, with an overly strict curve, but still can have value if taken with the right perspective. If there are no issues regarding spending extra money, then we recommend purchasing all of the available forms–since each test costs $60 each, the total cost is $360 for the old exams. After the retirement date of the old exams we recommend that you plan to use the 3 new practice exams available in the first release: NBME CBSSA Form 20, Form 21, and Form 22. The important thing is to try to expose yourself to as many well written NBME style questions as possible. The challenge, of course, is how to know what the right answer is to these questions.  The tutors at Elite Medical Prep have been carefully trained to help students work through NBME questions. Working with a dedicated and skilled tutor can help make the review process much more effective. Alternative options include working with classmates to review the questions or looking up the answers in various online forums such as Reddit. However, beware that our tutors have found some of the answers posted in the forums to be quite wrong or to use incorrect logic. A major part of the process is to learn to think like the test writers themselves and to develop an understanding of the patterns and concepts that they like to test. This requires high-volume practice in a relatively short amount of time.


  • If your test date is more than 3 months (90 days) after the switchover to the new NBME CBSSA forms, then it’s likely your entire dedicated study period will occur after the new exams have been released and the old exams are no longer available.  In this case, it may be prudent to take at least one of the old NBME forms as a practice exam shortly before the retirement deadline so that you can at least try to develop a baseline of your current performance. For some who are still in the middle of their 2nd-year coursework, these tests will be really hard and the results jarring.  That’s not a bad thing if you take the right perspective. The practice exams will lay bare your weaknesses long before your expected test day. Knowing your weaknesses months in advance is something to see as a positive. You can start working on those weaknesses right away!

We recommend trying to get copies of the current exam forms (though remember that NBME Form 18 will remain accessible) so that you can have them for a later practice resource.  Keep in mind that, if your test date is after late April, you are likely to have access to all 5 of the new forms. In that case, you will have a sufficient amount of solid practice material without relying on the old self-assessments. NBME overloading is a real issue here. Still, it’s helpful to have some of the old material available in case you find time to effectively use it. Working out how to best manage all these new materials is tough. For most, it will be a hit or miss process. However, availing yourself of an experienced advisor, such as one of our tutors, can help make this process more efficient.  Given the news of the pending release of NBME Forms 20, 21, and 22, and then Forms 23 and 24, all of our Step 1 tutors will be ready to develop personalized scheduling guidance on how to make the best use of the materials and their timing.


We want to make a final point here regarding the NBME CBSSA practice exams.  Regardless of when a student takes these practice Step 1 NBME Forms, it is important to remember that these Step 1 practice exams are excellent learning resources, not simply score predictors. Score prediction is important, but if they are used only for that purpose, then it’s like throwing away gold while mining for diamonds.  There is tremendous learning value in taking the NBME practice questions. Maximizing that opportunity is something that nearly all top performers on the USMLE have done. This is something that every one of our top-scoring tutors has told us was an important part of preparing for their own USMLE Step 1 test.

If you’d like to know more about how we use the NBME practice exams, please contact us.

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About the Author

Elite Medical Prep

The Elite Medical Prep team consists of MD and MD candidate tutors from the top medical schools and residency programs, our founders, Dr. Brus-Ramer and…

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