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A Few Questions to Ask Yourself Before Studying for Step 2

  • by Sasha Wolf
  • May 23, 2023
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

Your road to Step 2 is full of challenges: first, you go through clinical rotations and take Shelf exams, and then you start the demanding process of preparing for USMLE Step 2 CK. You’ll be advancing in your medical career while growing into the role of a professional. You’ll also be wearing at least two hats (or coats!) – the white coat of your clinical interactions and ongoing learning, and the student’s cap of daily intensive studying. 

How do you approach this exciting but challenging moment? We offer some basic questions you should ask yourself to make your Step 2 preparation process more efficient and optimal for your circumstances. Everyone has a unique pathway to success, and we are here to help you find your best one. 

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Question 1: Have you had your clerkships already?

If you have completed them, you’ve already gained a great deal of knowledge for Step 2 CK. Don’t underestimate the value of clinical duties as a learning experience! Step 2 focuses on a patient presentation: you will encounter questions such as which lab or test to order, and questions about diagnosis. Making associations between patients and disease manifestations you see on clinical rotations and the textbook explanations of them will help you put a face and a story to a disease. 

Some of you may not have started your clerkships. Keep in mind that studying during rotations is not easy, and time management becomes essential. There are many small pockets of downtime you can use to study, so that you don’t end up studying the whole evening after a long day on rotation. There are also a range of ways you can add study pockets to your rotations, and you should choose the ones that work best for you. 

One suggestion is to have a resource with you at all times to use when you have a free moment. If paper books are difficult to carry, use an eBook. Don’t aim to finish the whole chapter in one sitting. You can always go back and revisit the material you’re struggling with. If it’s too hard to concentrate on reading, go through flashcards and questions. Nowadays, many resources (for example, UWorld, Anki, etc.) provide you with apps so that you can use your phone anytime and anywhere to study efficiently. 

If you’ve aced your Shelf exams, you’ll still need dedicated time. The specific topics emphasized during your rotations will likely not perfectly overlap with the wide variety of topics necessary to do well on Step 2 CK. 

This leads us to the second question…

Question 2: When are you planning to carve out some dedicated time for Step 2?

Unlike with Step 1, most schools don’t give you a dedicated study period for Step 2 CK – which means you will be responsible for making this time for yourself. That’s when time management becomes as important as ever, and there are several strategies you can use to succeed:

• You can take Step 2 during or after a vacation – this way, you’ll have a significant amount of free time to study. 

• Establish a dedicated month to study for Step 2.

• Take easier rotations while you’re preparing for Step 2.

• You can incorporate some Step 2 preparation into your core rotations.

The strategy you choose is up to you – you know how you study best. Starting early and studying throughout your core rotations would be ideal. If you haven’t had your core rotations yet, then you can opt to study for Step 2 little by little during each rotation and wrap it up with a dedicated study period. 

This latter approach is definitely worth considering if you have a chance. In the case of Step 2, let’s change our terminology from pre-dedicated to “first pass” and from dedicated to “second pass.” Choose your framework resource (something that covers everything you need to know for Step 2 and will serve as a backbone structure for your studying). Your best bet will likely be a high-quality question bank, many of which have up to four thousand questions. There is no “holy grail” book or lecture resource for Step 2, but plenty of good options are available to supplement question banks. Check out our post on the most popular resources for Step 2 prep to see what real-time data on students are adding to their Blueprint Med School Study Planner schedules.

The goal of a first pass block is to make it through all of the material once. Ideally, you could incorporate Step 2 prep in your rotations and Shelf exams prep. This sets you up for your second pass because you can start with the confidence of knowing you’ve seen all of the information you need to know. Then, it’s simply time to focus on the topics you struggle with.

This leads us to the third question… 

Question 3: Have you been able to figure out your weak points?

If you’re approaching your dedicated Step 2 study time and haven’t taken a practice exam yet, make it a priority. You absolutely should take a practice exam before starting your dedicated study period, and here’s why:

• It’ll help determine your level before you start preparing. This way, you’ll be able to calculate which areas lack knowledge and how much time you need to prep. 

• You need to know if you’re able to learn and recall all the material in a timely manner. Time very much matters, as Step 2 CK is divided into eight 60-minute blocks and administered in one 9-hour testing session.

• It’s important to understand the duration of your attention span. On the actual exam, you can take a short break between each block or take only a few longer breaks. It’s helpful to start paying attention to how many blocks you can complete in a row before your attention span starts to dwindle.

• You should know your anxieties and distractions. Use the practice exams to identify them, so you can work to find solutions and stay concentrated on the big day.

You have a choice of several Self-Assessments to take: the NBME writes a number of practice exams or “Comprehensive Clinical Science Self-Assessment” to help prepare for Step 2 CK. Other examples of Self-Assessments are UWorld and AMBOSS simulation tests. Take the first practice test early on to identify your baseline and to track your improvement over time. Make sure you take them every week or two, depending on the length of your study period. 

Which leads us to the most important question…

The big takeaway question: Do you have an Overall Study Plan?

As you can see, planning is a key factor in your success. Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner provides you with a highly flexible study schedule. It allows you to use your favorite resources alone or in combination with the other ones and tackle both Shelf exams and Step 2. You can also customize it to learn or review productively and to retain more information.

Thousands of medical students use Blueprint's Med School Study Planner to save hours of planning time, see exactly what to do each day, and ace their med school exams. Get unlimited FREE access today!

Thousands of medical students use Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner to save hours of planning time, see exactly what to do each day, and ace their med school exams. Get unlimited FREE access today!

Using Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner to prepare for Shelf exams

During rotations, make separate study blocks in Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner for each rotation as you go. Add the relevant resources to each study block – that way, they’ll be spaced out perfectly for the duration of your associated rotation. If you would like to know more about the resources our students use most often while on rotation, check out this page. Feel free to add your framework Step 2 resource to your plan for each rotation as part of your pre-dedicated study period. 

Using Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner to prepare for Step 2 

Good news: if you incorporated some Step 2 resources into your prep for Shelf exams, congratulations, you did your first pass already! Now, schedule a practice exam to figure out your weak areas and focus on the resources that will help you where you need it most. For Step 2 study plan, feel free to choose the topics you want to work on manually in each resource. This way you’ll create a highly personalized plan without overloading yourself with additional topics you feel good about.

Preparation for Step 2 is challenging and demanding, but it can be rewarding as well. The beginning point in approaching Step 2 is to ask yourself Questions 1, 2, and 3 so that you can structure your Overall Study Plan. It will take time and patience to figure out your prep process, but once you’ve done so, you’ll be ready for Step 2 in no time! 

Photo by Roy Reyna