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The Impact of Step 2 CK Scores on Residency Interviews

9 min


A residency program applicant being reviewed by residency program leadership.


Applying to residency and contemplating the likelihood of securing interviews can be stressful. You’ve dedicated your entire medical school career to studying, conducting research, taking exams, and presenting your best self on applications. With the transition of USMLE Step 1 to a pass/fail grading system, medical students now face heightened anxiety regarding the significance placed on Step 2 CK for securing a residency position.


Remember, applicants are more than just numbers; however, test scores offer residency programs an objective evaluation tool. There has been a shift away from using grade point average as a screening metric. Instrad, programs are prioritizing USMLE and NBME exams due to their standardized nature for all medical students. Many medical students now wonder how this shift impacts them as applicants. This article aims to address numerous frequently asked questions posed by medical students over the past two years.



Timeline for Taking USMLE Step 2 


We recommend completing Step 2 by July of the application year to allow time for the NBME to process scores. In recent years, there have been scheduled delays in NBME score processing for USMLE exams, typically announced in advance. It’s important to ensure you complete Step 2 early enough for your score to be available before submitting residency applications. Additionally, taking the Step 2 CK exam in early summer provides time for a retake if needed. Each medical school has different timelines and requirements for Step 2 CK, so consult your school advisors for a structured timeline. Refer to our 4-week Step 2 study plan and residency application timeline for additional resources.



How Important are USMLE scores?


Now that Step 2 CS has been discontinued and Step 1 has transitioned to Pass/Fail, one of the few standardized metrics residency programs have to evaluate medical students is the Step 2 CK score. This shift has intensified the importance of passing Step 1 on the first attempt. Additionally, many residency programs now consider “preferred” Step 2 scores, which may serve as filters during applicant screening for interview selection. Consequently, the significance of Step 2 CK scores in residency applications has become paramount across specialties. It’s essential to acknowledge, however, that each applicant is reviewed holistically and is more than just a number. Nevertheless, dedicating your efforts to preparing for Step 2 CK has become crucial to pass initial screenings by residency programs that use Step 2 CK scores as a criterion for selection.



Do Step 2 CK Scores Matter After an Interview?


Sometimes you won’t be able to take Step 2 CK before submitting your residency applications for a variety of reasons. Although this is not ideal, it’s still possible to get a number of residency interviews without a score. However, you will need to take Step 2 CK and have a passing score by the time the rank order list is due in order to be verified through NRMP.


After residency interviews, programs will focus on creating trank lists based on various factors that differ from program to program. However, Step 2 CK scores are a great way for programs to objectively measure a student’s clinical and didactic aptitude. The important thing to remember though, is that if you received an interview for a residency program, they already think you look great on paper! The interview is mainly a way for the program leadership to get to know your personality and see if you’re a good fit for the program culture. However, Step 2 CK scores are required to rank candidates, so programs will review your scores before ranking. It is also a great idea to contact the program coordinators to inform them that your Step 2 CK scores have been reported so that they know you are eligible to be ranked. 



What is a Good Step 2 CK Score?


To pass the Step 2 CK exam, you have to score 214 out of 300. What qualifies as a “good” score depends on many factors: what specialty you’re applying for, what program you’re applying to, if you’re applying to a community or an academic institution, etc. Generally, a “good” Step 2 CK score is between 240 and 260. Let’s break it down by applicant specialty, which is arguably the most important parameter to determine what a competitive score looks like. This chart was taken from the NRMP Charting Outcomes document from the 2022 Match: 

USMLE Step 2 CK scores of US MD seniors by preferred specialty and match status.

As you can see, the average USMLE Step 2 CK score across the various specialties varies greatly. Use this as a guide to determine how competitive your score is, but don’t forget that these metrics are averages across all matched and unmatched applicants applying to that specialty. 


Final Insights


It is easy to emphasize one singular test score or aspect of an application as a determinant of whether or not a given residency program will grant you an interview. However, it is important to remind yourself that you are more than just a number on your application. Although USMLE scores are important aspects of your application, don’t forget to make yourself as well-rounded as possible! If you are looking for additional assistance with studying for Step 2, or your residency application, we can help! Schedule your free consultation to learn more!

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