5 Things You Should Know Before Taking the USMLE Step 1 Exam

The USMLE step 1, more commonly known as the boards, is a critical point in every doctor’s career. The brain wrecking questions, quizzes and the thorough interrogation of the examiners can send any student running for the hills. Regardless, you will have to take the boards at some point, so, it’s better to prepare for them beforehand. Although, the exam has 3 parts, here we focus on getting you through the first step. There are some fundamentals of the exam that you need to know and even before you start studying for the test. To help you out, here are some of the most important things that you should know before taking the USMLE step 1 exam.

The format

Basically, the USMLE step 1 is a computer-based analysis of your knowledge. It’s multiple choice, with 7 sections, each having 42 questions, making the total amount to 322. You are given 1 hour for every section. You can also take up to 45 minutes break split in as many as 6 different occasions. If you finish a section early, you can add this time to your break time, but not to the time for the other section. The exam lasts for a total of 8 hours in a single day, which is pretty long, especially considering all the brainstorming that you will need to do.

The content

The exam covers all the basic grounds that you learned in med school, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, pharmacology and behavioral science. On top of this, the specialized anatomy, physiology, pathology and medicine of the particular specialty you have chosen is also included. The exam aims to find out your basic understanding of concepts, the definitions, and problem-solving ability.

When to take the test

The best time to take the test is in between your second and 3 years of Med school. At this time, most of the primary knowledge is fresh in your mind and with a little extra studying, you can easily attempt the exam with minimal effort and maximum result.

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What is the passing score?

You need a score of at least 192 to pass the USMLE step 1. This was much lower back in 2013 but has risen since.


You need to acknowledge the fact that you will not be able to retake the exam, simply to improve your score. However, if you fail the USMLE step 1, you can retake the exam for a maximum of 3 times within 12 months. If you still fail, the 4th attempt has to be 12 months after the first attempt and at least 6 months after the date that you last attempted the exam.

Before you make up your mind to sit the boards, you need to give the factors discussed above some thought. They will surely help you figure out the best plan of action to tackle the USMLE step 1 with good results. The exam isn’t very hard, but you need to be prepared thoroughly before you attempt to take it. After all, it’s the first step to achieving your postgraduate degree!

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