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When To Take Step 2: What You Need to Know Before You Schedule

By Alyssa Ehrlich, MD

As if medical school didn't already come with enough stress and uncertainty, preparing for residency applications requires careful planning, especially when it comes to deciding when to take the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK). In this blog post, we'll share our expert approach to achieving optimal timing for Step 2.

When to take Step 2 USMLE

Understanding Score Reporting Timelines

Knowing the timing score availability is essential. The NBME suggests allowing at least eight weeks to receive Step 2 CK scores before residency application deadlines. While results typically arrive two to four weeks after the exam, potential delays require vigilance. Regularly checking the 'Announcements section' on the USMLE website will keep you up-to-date on any scoring issues.

Decoding the Optimal Timing for Step 2 CK

  1. Get That Early Exam Date: To ensure your scores are available in time, aim to take the Step 2 CK exam no later than early August. This strategic move allows for the eight-week score reporting period, and accounts for potential delays, to make suer you have your score before programs can began reviewing applications on September 27th.

  2. Unlocking Preparation Time: Skillful time allocation is the key. Balancing your study schedule with clinical rotations ensures thorough preparation and maximizes your performance potential. Some of us study best as multitaskers, while others need to focus on maximizing dedicated time.

  3. Personalizing Your Timing: Understanding your strengths and limitations is crucial. Determine when you feel most prepared—whether it's right after core clinical rotations or after additional elective rotations and dedicated study time. Oftentimes, those with test-taking anxiety need more preparation.

Getting the Right Practice Test Timing for Step 2 CK

  1. Initiating Early Practice: Embark on practice tests at least three months prior to your planned exam date. Yes, at least three months. This initiates a valuable baseline assessment and enables a targeted study plan.

  2. Choosing the Perfect Practice Test: For most students, you should begin your journey with NBME Form 9, saving the UWorld Self Assessment forms (which tend to score more generously) later in your preparation.

  3. Unlocking the Power of Intervals: Incorporate practice tests at regular intervals to track progress, identify weaknesses, and gauge readiness for the actual exam. If you're not seeing progress, consider reaching out for extra help.

  4. Test Under Realistic Conditions: Emulate the exam environment for practice tests. Seek a quiet space, adhere to time limits, and eliminate distractions. Such replication enhances performance assessment and cultivates familiarity.

  5. Use Your Missteps to Your Advantage: Thoroughly dissect practice test results, especially your incorrects. Identify areas of strength and weakness, enabling you to tailor your study plan and focus on areas that require further attention.

  6. Assessing Your Preparedness: As the exam date looms, evaluate your overall readiness through a full-length practice test. This assessment fine-tunes timing strategies and instills confidence in your well-rounded preparation.

When to Consider Expert Help

Ever since Step 1 moved to pass/fail, Step 2 may be the most important exam you will take in your entire life. Think of how much time and effort (and money) you've already invested in your medical career. Now isn't the time to leave things to chance. If your practice test scores aren't improving at a rate to be 10+ points above your goal score by the first week of August, it's time to consider getting extra help. Whether that's a super smart study buddy, a tutor, or working with a professional on issues like testing anxiety, it's always better to be safe than sorry. And help can only, well, help! If you're curious about tutoring, don't hesitate to ask us about it.


Decoding the optimal timing for your Step 2 CK exam is paramount for successful residency applications. You do not want to be that person on the edge of your seat every Wednesday, praying to get your score report in time. Unlock the secrets of score availability by planning an early exam date and allotting ample preparation time. Utilize practice tests strategically, simulating realistic conditions and analyzing results to refine your study plan. Remember to complement practice tests with content review, active learning, and targeted practice questions. With this knowledge in hand, you'll confidently navigate the Step 2 CK exam and pave your way to success in the all important residency application process.

Alyssa Ehrlich, MD is currently a PGY4 psychiatry resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She scored a 281 on the USMLE Step 2 CK, and is a Step 2 tutor and residency application advisor, as well as the founder of USMLE Pro.

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