USMLE Step 2 CK score is one of the many considerations for residency program directors, and a good score is essential for candidates hoping to get matched with their preferred program. Obtaining a good score is even more important for candidates who did not perform well on the USMLE Step 1, as they have an opportunity to make a stronger case for themselves this time around.
While it’s well-recognized that medical students are quite smart, a nine-hour examination that is taken in one sitting can be a challenge for even the most studious among us. The best students understand that the difference between success and failure often comes down to planning, and USDoctors.co has created this guide to help with just that. This article is divided into two parts: the first will touch on the general characteristics of a good study plan, whereas the second part will cover specific tips on designing a Step 2 CK study plan and include a sample 4-week plan.
General Tips for Test Takers
Before we get into tips on designing a successful Step 2 CK study plan, we will review some general strategies that the most brilliant students swear by.
Set Clear Goals
Setting clear goals is one of the hallmarks of a good study plan, which makes a lot of intuitive sense as well if you think about it. It would not be the best plan if you just wrote down ‘study’ on your daily planner with no further details, leaving you to decide exactly what to study every time you sit down to do it. As such, you should start by first going over the syllabus and making a list of the topics that need to be covered, after which you should further divide each one into subtopics. Use actionable words like ‘complete’, ‘review’, and ‘research’ and feel free to get creative with it and organize your goals in whatever order you think is best, such as by difficulty, by time assigned, by relevance to each other and so on.
2. Manage your Time
Time management becomes a relatively simple affair if you’ve set your goals. Once you understand that you have a limited amount of time to get through all the objectives of your plan, deciding how much time each listed item merits is next. It also allows you to keep track of your time and ensures that you do not lose a single second. Time management, in tandem with goal-setting, can help you breeze through your preparation for any test, including the Step 2 CK.
3. Consistent Location and Time
Studying, to no one’s surprise, is just like any other activity you wish to make a habit out of in that it demands a consistency of action and location. As neuroscience has evidenced, our brains’ neuroplasticity ensures that tasks, no matter how challenging at first, become more manageable with time and commitment. If an activity is routinely carried out at a location, neural pathways are formed as our brains begin to associate it with that space, and this association in itself can be fruitful for learning. For instance, if you routinely study for Step 2 CK in the afternoon at the library, your brain solidifies the connection, making you more likely to make productive use of that specific time and space by repeating the same activities. So you must avoid the rookie mistake of studying whenever or wherever you feel like it, and strive to keep to structured study habits.
Step 2 CK Study Plan
Step 2 CK consists of eight sections, referred to as blocks, with each block lasting no more than one hour and containing no more than 40 questions of varying formats. To ace it, you need to create and execute a study plan that fits the demands of the exam.
- Make the Most of Resources
Unlike the Step 1 exam, which comes with a laundry list of verified exam prep resources attached to its name, the Step 2 CK exam does not leave you as spoiled for choice. In many ways, this is a good thing since you can now keep your focus narrowed to some select resources instead of wasting precious time vetting the better ones out of a wide range of options. Of course, every resource still comes with its own set of challenges and benefits, and you’ll have to learn to make the best use of it over time.
Some resources that get frequently cited as the best for Step 2 CK preparation are UWorld, OnlineMedED (OME), and USMLE Step 2 Secrets. Ideally, you would use UWorld and OME for all your high-yield information, since they offer excellent content that covers most of the concepts the exam will test you on, and Step 2 Secrets can be great for review towards the end of your study plan. Additionally, First Aid for Step 2 is a good companion text if you’ve studied from First Aid for Step 1. All of these resources are excellent ones, but none will be sufficient on its own to cover the breadth of subject matter.
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
Cognitive scientists have determined active learning to be markedly more effective than passive learning, and practice tests are a prime example of the former! It is thus imperative that you practice a lot before the actual Step 2 CK exam. UWorld, NBME, and USMLE have excellent practice tests and question banks for this purpose so utilize them! In fact, to practice for the exam and predict your final score, consider taking an NBME right after UWorld Self Assessment Exam, or if you want extra practice, consider taking UWSA #1 and then NBME, followed by UWSA #2 and then NBME. Practicing so extensively will make that final block on test day that much more doable.
- Utilize Your Rotations
Learning during your clinical rotations by observing cases in the wards and integrating related concepts through self-study may sound like a grueling task but has immense value as it will give you an unshakeable foundation and an enormous advantage over candidates who do not make proper use of this opportunity. Studying relevant topics alongside your clerkships will not only help reinforce all the knowledge you’re gaining on-the-job, but it also reminds you of all your potential areas of improvement. You’re not going to witness every pathology or clinical scenario that will be on the post-rotation exam during your externships, so covering these additional topics in your own time will likely give you a better knowledge base than most candidates. An added advantage is that when you do sit down to study for the exam, you will already be familiar with most items.
- Recreate Exam Conditions
It’s important to recreate the examination atmosphere during your practice tests to see how you’d respond to the challenges the Step 2 CK exam poses. It will also help you determine how to time your break and manage stress during the exam. As you do practice tests, notice when your energy tanks. That would be a good place to introduce a break during a real exam.
Sample 4-Week Step 2 CK Study Plan to Get You Started
To help you kickstart your exam prep, we have put together a four-week study plan based on recommendations from previous test-takers. It is a basic plan made with a four-week dedicated study period in mind and intended to help you orient yourself, but feel free to make adjustments according to your own choice of study materials and timeline.
Week 1: In the mornings, do two blocks of UWorld questions and revise around eight OME Notes (or a similar amount of material from an alternative reference text) in between. Make sure you review missed questions side by side and repeat the same process in the afternoons – two blocks of UWorld questions and revision of OME Notes. The idea is to cover as many high-yield topics as you can during the week, including examiners’ favourite topics like hypovolemic shock, Acute Kidney Injury, prolactin irregularities and the like. Take NBME #1 (6 or 8) at the end of week 1.
Week 2: Keep going at it the same way as week 1 and crank doing practice questions up a notch if you can. Your goal should be to get done with the most high-yield info well before the week is over, so to gauge that as well as how you’re faring in your overall Step 2 CK exam prep, take USWA #1 at the end of this week.
Week 3: This week should be dedicated to practice questions and self-assessments, meaning that by now, you should be doing more than 4-5 blocks of UWorld daily and keeping a thorough check of which questions you’re missing. The goal is to be through with UWorld by the end of this week and then take NBME #2 (7) and, if you can, NBME #3 (8).
Week 4: Time to hit the texts and flashcards again! Review Step 2 Secrets to see if you are retaining the high-yield bits well, revise flashcards, notes, and highlighted parts from notes and OME, and fill in the blanks on any details you might have missed. End with a final self-assessment by doing UWSA #2 before heading into the exam to ace it!
Results of a Good Study Plan
With a well-designed and properly-executed Step 2 CK study plan, you’ll find yourself calmer than most of your peers as the exam date inches closer. Anyone who has taken a standardized test knows that it often comes down to preparedness and practice rather than talent alone. Hopefully, this guide proves to be useful for you and helps you get the score you desire.
Good luck on your journey, and if you need further resources to help you make the most of your medical education, be sure to check out the USDoctors.co blog!
Clinical Rotations For Foreign Medical Students, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants and Graduates.
USDoctors.co specializes in providing invaluable hands-on clinical rotations to both foreign medical students, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and graduates. Our clinical rotations are strictly set up to help you get the US clinical experience and letters of recommendation that will greatly increase your chances of US residency placement.