What to do the day before your USMLE Step 2 Test Date

11 min



The day before your USMLE Step 2 CK examination may bring feelings of anxiety, desperation, and fear; after all, the examination you’ve spent so many hours preparing for is now on your doorstep. However, with the right strategy, you can avoid test-taking anxiety the day before your USMLE Step 2 CK examination. In this blog post, I cover what you can do to feel prepared on test day, how you can confidently approach the exam, and some key ways to prepare physically and mentally to help you achieve a passing score for Step 2 CK.



How can I feel confident I will receive a passing score for Step 2 CK? Should I study the day before my exam? 


It’s important to remind yourself that the day before your test is only one day of many leading up to your USMLE Step 2 CK exam. The real work to achieve your score goal comes from the effort you’ve put in throughout your study period, reviewing content, going through question banks, or working with your Elite Medical Prep tutor. Take confidence in your prior preparation: last-minute cramming the day before the test is unlikely to dramatically change your score, and may throw you off your game and introduce unwanted test-taking anxiety, hindering your chances of achieving a USMLE Step 2 CK passing score.


While some students like to study the day before their USMLE Step 2 CK test day, and light studying reviewing key concepts and weaknesses can be helpful, I recommend against intensive studying the day before your test. Taking the day easy and doing fun, restorative activities can provide you with a boost of energy and with the mental fortitude necessary to excel on test day. The last thing you want to do is overexert yourself studying the day before the exam and find yourself exhausted and burnt-out on test day. 



How do I confidently approach USMLE Step 2 CK on test day? 


The most important thing to do to build confidence during the exam is to establish a test day strategy ahead of time, and stick to that strategy. Part of your USMLE test day prep should include at least one full-length practice examination (8 blocks) under as close to real-world conditions as possible (i.e. go outside of your home to study, time your breaks strictly, and go through the exact pre-test routine you will perform on test day).


If you have a clear strategy, stick to it on test day, and don’t panic! Research from the psychology literature shows that test takers with high test anxiety find actions like reading the directions of the test to be more unpleasant than test-takers with low test anxiety. If you have a strong, well-developed, and practiced plan ahead of time, you can help keep yourself in the right frame of mind to succeed during the test and avoid getting sidetracked by anxiety about what to do next. Approaching the exam with confidence will help you achieve that passing score for Step 2 CK.


How can I prepare physically for the test?


It’s important to remember that the USMLE Step 2 CK examination is 9 hours long, inclusive of break time, and the break time you do have is relatively limited. Therefore, using strategies to keep your energy and focus up is imperative to achieving a passing score for Step 2 CK. You should practice getting up at the same time you will wake up for your exam at least 1-2 weeks before your examination if possible (make sure to factor in transit and check-in time; most test centers require you to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start of your exam). If you have problems with insomnia, try to use effective sleep hygiene strategies such as minimizing exposure to electronics and light before going to sleep, and consider mindfulness strategies to calm yourself before you go to bed. If you have serious issues with insomnia, consider seeking the assistance of a medical professional well in advance of your test. 


You should also have a plan for what you will eat and drink on test day. You don’t want to be making a lot of decisions on test day: to avoid decision fatigue, plan out exactly what you will do well ahead of time. Eat a breakfast that is large enough to carry you through your first few blocks without getting hungry, but that isn’t so large and heavy that you become sleepy during the test. Avoid excessive simple sugars that will give you a burst of energy that will rapidly fade during a block. Instead, try to eat complex carbohydrates, fats, and protein to sustain your energy. If you regularly drink caffeine in the morning, make sure you factor in caffeine into your test day strategy—keep in mind that bathroom breaks are limited. Bring snacks and a lunch that you can eat quickly to conserve your limited break time. Experiment with different timing for breaks during your practice full-length sessions to determine what helps you maintain your focus and energy the best and stick to that strategy on test day. 



How can I prepare mentally for the test?


Physical preparation is important, but mental preparation is essential for getting a passing score for Step 2 CK. The day before your test, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with anxiety about the coming day. Many students feel an incredible urge to cram as many topics as possible and will frantically study throughout the day and into the night. This knowledge isn’t likely to translate to success on your USMLE Step 2 CK exam, which focuses more on reasoning than on rote memorization of buzzwords and facts. Try to find some activities that will refresh and restore you: get out in nature, spend time with your loved ones, or go to the gym and have a great workout. These activities will help you develop the right frame of mind to achieve your USMLE Step 2 CK score goal. Remember that your test day is the culmination of weeks or months of preparation, and pat yourself on the back for having made it to the end. With a clear and focused mind, a physically prepared body, and well-earned confidence, you are sure to walk out of your exam feeling that you will receive a passing score for Step 2 CK.

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