USMLE STEP Experiences

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Welcome to this blog series where we feature a diverse collection of USMLE STEP experiences shared by various medical professionals. These narratives offer a unique glimpse into the journeys, strategies, and personal insights of those who have navigated the complexities of the USMLE STEP exams. Each story is a personal account and reflects the individual experiences and opinions of the authors.  

While we present these experiences to inspire and guide you, please remember that they are based on personal perspectives and may contain subjective viewpoints. Please note that these USMLE STEP experiences may contain inaccuracies, errors, or grammatical issues, for which The Match Guy is not responsible. 

Dive in to explore these varied paths to USMLE success and find valuable lessons that might resonate with your own journey. 

USMLE STEP 2 CK Experience: 275 | Ihsan Shawki Akili

My name is Ihsan Shawki Akili. A medical doctor who graduated from Aleppo University in 2018. 

I also hold a master’s degree in public health from the University of Debrecen. I am currently pursuing an advanced joint master’s degree in public health response to emergencies at both University of Oviedo, Spain, and Karolinska Institute, Sweden. 

USMLE STEP2 CK experience: (Predicted: 264 -270+): Actual score 275

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that this is merely my personal experience. What worked for me may not work for everyone who intends to take the exam. Everyone is different. It is always preferable to read and experiment with various study methods before settling on one. 

Study time: one and a half years of undedicated study time. 6 months of dedicated study time. In total two years. 

Study resources: 90% of my study time was spent on UWORLD, and 10% was spent on first aid. 


I started studying step 2 ck as a way of improving my clinical knowledge and staying up to date with the current disease trends and guidelines. I began with First aid in 2019 and finished it in about four months then studied UWORLD bank. Finished both in 2020 in about one year. I was studying together with my work at the hospital as a medical resident doctor in internal medicine and cardiology. Then I booked IFOM 2 instead of Step 2 to check my preparation for the Step 2 exam.  

However, I couldn’t take it because of the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in a lockdown. I Ended up canceling it. As I couldn’t afford to take the step 2 ck. I ended up canceling the whole idea of taking the exam. In 2021, I relocated to Hungary, and later to Spain in 2022 as part of my studies. It was a glimpse of hope that I could manage to save money for the exam. I started over studying for step 2 ck, I did the whole UWORLD bank once more. It took me around 9 months this time to finish it together with my ongoing master’s studies.  

I first took NBME10 as a way of determining my preparation and my percentage was 88%. Then I knew right away I was ready to take the real deal I booked it during my summer holiday to have like two months of dedicated revision time. 

During the two months of revision time, I went over the whole UWORLD graphs, tables, and algorithms in about three weeks of time. I didn’t do any UWORLD wrongs. In the remaining time, I studied the whole CMS forms which I think are very important because they teach you how to think in a proper way and not to think that each and every question is meant to trick you just like UWORLD.  

This habit may ruin your entire preparation, so I suggest stop doing UWORLD within the last three months of your preparation time and switch to NBMEs and CMS. UWORLD is a learning material NOT an exam material. 

The actual exam was most similar to the newest Free 120. 

Things I wish I did:

I wish I could limit my preparation time to just one year of dedicated instead of on-and-off study time. Never listen to people who say this is a long journey and you are not going to score well without step 1. Trust your practice scores even though you will feel horrible after the exam, this is normal. 

Actual score: 275

Assessments were all taken one month before the exam except for NBME 10 which was taken four months before the exam. one assessment per day.

NBME 9: 20 wrongs, 90%. 
AMBOSS self-assessment: 267 
NBME 10: 24 wrongs (88%). 
Oldest Free 120: 87% 
Old free 120:89%. 
Newest free 120: 90%. A week before the exam. 
NBME 11:  22 wrongs, 89%. 
NBME 13: 24 wrongs, 88%. 
NBME 14: 24 wrongs, 88%. 
UWSA 1 and 2: NOT TAKEN 

Exam experience:

The previous day, I couldn’t sleep well. I slept only for four hours. I drank a double espresso shot before the exam, skipped breakfast, and kept two extra cups of coffee in my locker just in case. I packed two bags of nuts and a large bottle of water for my lunch break. As I was taking my exam in Madrid, the check-in process went very smoothly. I took a five-minute break in place after each block. I ran four blocks before taking my first long break. I ate some nuts and drank my third coffee before continuing for another two blocks. Before the seventh block, I took another short break and ate some more nuts, washed my face with cold water, and didn’t drink any more coffee because I was extremely jittery. Then I finished the last two blocks. Don’t worry if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before; it’s normal and it won’t ruin your entire preparation because adrenaline will kick in and prevent you from becoming drowsy or distracted during the exam. Just make sure you have an extra cup of coffee than usual. Reduce your coffee consumption the day before the exam and increase it on the exam day. 

Trust in yourself and in your practice scores.

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STEP 3 Experience: 259 | Ritesh Pahwani

Introduction: Hey there, fellow med students and future Step 3 takers! I’m excited to share my experience prepping for Step 3 with you. Fresh off my Step 2 victory, I decided to tackle Step 3 head-on. In this blog, I’ll walk you through my timeline, study resources, strategies, and all the ups and downs I faced to help you on your own Step 3 adventure. 

Starting Off with UWorld: I kicked off my Step 3 journey around July 2023 with UWorld. Each day, I tried to get done with two 40- question blocks, mainly focusing on the ones I got wrong. I’d work on 4-5 CCS cases every other day, gradually getting the hang of them. But studying and managing chores with my ongoing externship, made it tough to keep a consistent study routine. 

Dedicated Study Time: August rolled around, and I officially entered my dedicated study phase during the second week. I dove back into UWorld, but it took me a bit to find my groove. This time, I decided to review all the questions, although just a quick once-over, with a focus on the ones I missed. 

Studying with a group of friends became a crucial part of my routine. We’d put in 5-6 hours together daily, working through UWorld questions and discussing key topics that kept popping up. Teamwork really does make the dream work! 

Strategic Exam Booking: I planned my Step 3 exam across two days. The first day was set for August 23rd, and the second for August 28th. I left that gap to squeeze in more CCS case practice, aiming to walk into day 2 with great confidence. By this point, I’d tackled about 60% of UWorld and reviewed about half of it. Step 3 often felt too vague, but it turned out that the topics and concepts were pretty much a Step 1 and Step 2 rerun. So, it was more about finding your groove and believing in yourself than learning entirely new stuff. 

Study Resources: My go-tos during this journey were UWorld and UpToDate, though I only used UpToDate for specific topics. I also had my trusty Step 2 notes from my previous prep, which proved surprisingly handy for quick topic refreshers. 

Day 1 of Step 3 had a heavy dose of Step 1 concepts, biostatistics, and ethics. To beef up my biostatistics, I used UWorld’s Biostatistics Subject Review Qbank, a gem that covered all the essentials. Ethics, on the other hand, felt solid, so I didn’t dedicate extra time there. 

Day 2: Like Déjà Vu from Step 2: Day 2 felt like déjà vu from Step 2, loaded with prognosis questions and, of course, those CCS cases. I didn’t switch up my routine much for Day 2, relying on the knowledge I’d gathered while prepping for Step 2. 

For the CCS cases, I stuck to my daily practice routine, knocking out 6-7 cases. But it was the gap between Day 1 and Day 2 where I really honed my CCS skills, clocking in around 60-70 high-yield cases. 

Assessment Exams: As game day approached, I took two assessment exams to gauge my readiness. First up was UWSA2, which I took six days before my exam. I scored a solid 262. I also took the free sample exam, where I landed around 88%. The questions on the free sample were strikingly similar to the actual exam, making it a golden resource. 

Exam Day Feels: After Day 1, I had mixed emotions. The exam felt like chasing shadows at times, and I struggled with time management. But here’s the deal—most folks feel this way on Day 1. It’s all the biostatistics and ethics that can make your head spin. So, even if you feel like you bombed it, don’t sweat it. Chances are, you’re not alone. 

Day 2 was a breeze. The questions were straightforward, and I felt pretty good about my answers. I managed my time well and took short breaks after each block. The CCS cases, especially the 20-minute ones, wrapped up quickly once you solved them, leaving me with longer breaks towards the end. 

Cracking the CCS Cases: For CCS cases, I picked up some tips from YouTube videos. Mnemonics became my trusty sidekick, helping me remember all the key tests and orders efficiently. Having a systematic approach was a lifesaver in these cases. 

In a nutshell, my Step 3 journey was a mix of hard work, planning, and making the most of the right resources. Despite the haze that Step 3 can throw at you, remember to trust yourself and your knowledge. With dedication and a solid game plan, you can conquer Step 3 and take the next big step in your medical career. Best of luck to all you future Step 3 champs! 

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USMLE STEP 2 CK Experience: 275 | Dr. Mathew

Let me emphasize that the key to Step 2 success lies in excelling at Step 1. Despite the USMLE format for Step 1 transitioning to pass/fail, mastering the concepts remains crucial, even if it doesn’t manifest in a numerical score. The mastery of these concepts will serve as building blocks for Step 2 studying. The exam rewards deep understanding rather than rote memorization.

I aimed to limit my resources to UWorld Step 2, Divine Intervention podcasts, and occasional Amboss or Zanki cue cards.

UWorld for Step 2 is invaluable. I recommend completing at least two passes if time allows. The goal should be to achieve 60% correct on the first pass and 70% on the second pass. Utilize timed mode to simulate exam conditions. Aim for two blocks a day and thoroughly review each block afterward. Review all answer choices even if you answered correctly. Use Amboss to delve deeper into concepts that are difficult to understand. I found Amboss to be very good at generating tables to compare and contrast concepts. They also have a quiz feature for tables and images. I focused on completing the first pass of UWorld during the school year and then dedicated two months for exam preparation. I managed to almost complete the question bank twice.

I took one NBME(form 10) one month before my exam where I scored 277, and another one(form 12) a week before and scored 281. I also did the UWSA1 which was an easier exam and the free 120 a few days before the exam where I got 86% correct. I felt quite worried while doing the NBME but it gave me the closest prediction to my eventual score. The real exam is probably more difficult than the free 120 and UWSA but not quite as challenging as some of the NBMEs. I would say to do the most recent NBME as they have many of the drug monographs and ethics questions that could show up on the real deal. In general, they likely reflect the current trends and question styles seen on the real exam. The day before the exam, prioritize reviewing medical statistics. Wish you the best of luck!

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We hope these USMLE STEP experiences empower and guide you towards acing your STEP exams. If you find yourself needing further support or personalized USMLE tutoring, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. 

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Good luck on your USMLE exams. 

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