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Maximizing Your Dedicated Step 2 CK Study Period

Wait, so Step 2 CK matters? Yes, yes it does! I think by now, most medical students know USMLE Step 1 is a pass/fail exam. Thus, the primary objective measure on our application for residency is the USMLE Step 2 CK score. It wasn’t always this way, of course. I remember many of my attendings saying, “One month for Step 1, one week for Step 2, and one day for Step 3.” This statement applies to a very different time and a completely different environment for medical students, especially when it comes to Step 2!

Given the importance now placed on Step 2 for residency, in this post, I’ll answer two frequently-asked questions about the USMLE Step 2 CK dedicated study period. Use this information to guide your exam prep, and you’ll be way ahead of the pack! 

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FAQs About the USMLE Step 2 CK Dedicated Study Period 

How long should I study for Step 2 CK?

Hmm, definitely longer than one week! I like to break down USMLE Step 2 CK prep into three phases:

Phase 1

This is your preclinical time and all the hard work you put into making sure your Step 1 performance is strong. It’s worth noting that strong foundations for Step 1 do carry forward to Step 2 CK. 

Phase 2

This is the period when you are on your clinical rotations. It includes the studying you do for your 3rd-year clinical rotations and any specific Step 2 prep that you’re able to squeeze into those busy weeks. 

Phase 3

The beloved dedicated study period is back for round 2. Phase 3 usually occurs right after your clinical rotations end and extends until you sit down to take the USMLE Step 2 CK exam. This phase of studying is highly variable and highly individualized. Students generally take 1-4 weeks of dedicated study time, with most students taking 2-3 weeks.  

During phase two, your primary focus will be clinical performance and a strong shelf exam score. However, I think it’s important to consider this time as part of your prep for Step 2 CK. Performing well in the clinical environment and studying for your pediatrics or surgery shelf exam will also contribute to the medical knowledge necessary for Step 2 CK.

As for how to prepare for Step 2 CK during your 3rd year, I would recommend that you dedicate an hour during each week of your clinical rotations to reviewing material from prior rotations, i.e., doing a block of practice questions that includes all of the rotations you have covered. This will help keep material fresh as your 3rd year continues. Believe me, you’ll want to do this. A year is a long time! My first rotation was pediatrics and I am really glad I kept some of the pediatric content fresh with those weekly reviews, as it made my phase 3 dedicated study period so much more manageable. The vaccine schedules, congenital defects, and metabolic disorders are very easy to forget. 

When someone asks me how long I studied for Step 2 I think it’s important to clarify whether they mean how long I studied in total, compared to how long of a dedicated phase 3 study period I took. I count my entire third year as time spent studying for Step 2 CK. I know you already have a lot to do in your 3rd year, but it’s important to keep an eye to the future during that time. If you feel overwhelmed, check out this blog post “How to Survive and Thrive in Your Core Clerkships” geared towards succeeding on your clinical rotations even with all the other obligations you’ll have!

The biggest pitfall I see in creating a Step 2 study plan is students waiting for phase three, dedicated, to start studying. If I can leave you with one piece of advice, it is to make the most of your phase two studying time. Not only will you perform better on your shelf exams and in the clinical setting, but you will also set yourself up for a better score and an easier dedicated study period. 

How can I maximize my dedicated study period for Step 2 CK? 

The principles of Step 1 prep apply to Step 2 prep: practice exams and practice questions are your best friends. Before deciding how long you will study for Step 2, I recommend taking a practice exam at the start of your dedicated period to establish a baseline. There is not enough time to review all of the content on Step 2 CK during your dedicated study period, and that’s OK! (You worked hard during your clinical rotations to keep it fresh, right?!)

Once your baseline is set, review that practice exam to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Consider your shelf exams. Were any of them outliers, low or high? Consider the order of your rotations. What were the first two? Are you rusty on pediatrics like I was? These questions can help you prioritize the topics you need to tackle during your dedicated study time. 

Now, schedule your practice tests and plan to take them all in an exam environment. Aim to complete 80 Qbank practice questions per day on mixed and timed modes. Review these questions with the goal of finding one takeaway per question. (It does not need to be the educational objective, focus on what you learned.) 

The rest of how you spend your time is highly individualized. Consider topics from your weaknesses, any poor shelf performance, or low subject score on your practice exams. I would pick one or two resources, like the textbooks Master the Boards: USMLE Step 2 CK or Boards and Beyond: Step 2 and review content that is high on your priority list or that helps you understand concepts from your Qbank blocks. Keeping track of these topics and how you will attack them can be daunting.

Introducing the new combined USMLE Step 2 Shelf Qbank from Blueprint Test Prep.Still looking for a Step 2 Qbank? Meet the new combined Step 2 & Shelf Exams Qbank with 5,000 practice questions that most closely match what you’ll see on your USMLE Step 2 and all of your shelf exams. Get started with 7-day FREE access!

Further Reading

The keys to success on Step 2 CK include an early start, strong shelf exam efforts, and an organized phase three dedicated study period. My final point is that the 3rd year of medical school and Step 2 CK are stressful milestones, so be sure to take care of yourself and keep an eye on your colleagues. The more you care for yourself, the more you will be able to care for others, and the more energy you can put towards your Step 2 prep!

For more Step 2 CK tips from Blueprint tutors, check out these other (free!) blog posts:

About the Author

I attended Purdue University for undergrad and completed a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering with a Pre-medical focus and then continued my journey to Indiana University for Medical School. I am currently in my fourth and final year of medical school with the intention of pursuing a career in academic general surgery. Over this time, I have worked as a tutor for over 10 years, including several years working as a tutor in the department of engineering and now tutoring medical school exams exclusively with Blueprint. I am currently interested in either vascular or trauma surgery but as I prepare for general surgery residency, I have an open mind. As a fun fact, I have worked as a personal trainer for 5+ years and currently own and operate a personal training business.