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So I Failed USMLE Step 2 CK: Now What?

If you recently found out that you’ve failed Step 2 CK and are wondering, “What next?”, start by taking a deep breath and trying to calm down. MANY people have failed Step 1 and/or 2 and the majority of those people went on to finish medical school, match into residency, and become very successful practicing physicians.

Focus on getting yourself back on track, addressing what went wrong the first time, and making a plan to put yourself in the best possible position for success on the second attempt.

Not sure where to begin? Use these five tips:

Examine Your Score Report

Did you fail by a few points or a lot? What were your strengths and weaknesses? These are going to be important questions to ask as you try to determine when to retake your test and how to go about making a study schedule. If you failed by only a few points, you’ll probably need less time to study than if you failed by a significant amount (though you don’t want to rush back into things). Also, if you were weak in only one or two particular subjects, you’ll have an easier route to improvement than someone who was weak across the board. Regardless, start by taking an honest assessment of where things went wrong and prepare to make the necessary changes to improve your knowledge in those areas. Even more importantly, if you didn’t use NBMEs the first time around, it’s essential that you do so now.

Examine Your Test Taking Ability 

Did you struggle with timing? Did you understand the questions but struggle to pick “the next best step in management”? If these were issues, then your best bet for improvement is to study with lots of practice questions. If timing was a problem, then condition yourself to become a more efficient test taker by doing UWorld questions on timed mode and challenging yourself to speed up with each test. If you’re struggling with next best step questions, try thinking about them as, “If I could do only one thing, what would I do?” If that doesn’t help and you’re still struggling to make that leap, try talking them out with a friend, or look to a tutor for additional instruction and advice.

Examine Your Residency Prospects 

Every residency is going to require you to have passed Step 2 CK prior to being placed on their rank list, so this is going to set a hard deadline for your retake. However, some programs may require you to have taken or passed Step 2 CK prior to being offered an interview, so this is something that you should investigate when deciding to retake your exam. As you’re creating your schedule and working to determine when to take your test, try reaching out to a faculty advisor to determine how you should approach transmitting your score to prospective residency matches and how you might explain your test score during an interview. The question will definitely come up, so make sure that you are prepared with a thoughtful answer.

Talk to Your School 

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is students who have failed Step 2 CK trying to study for their retake while also being actively involved in a strenuous rotation. Your best chance for success is giving yourself at least one month of dedicated study time where you can focus solely on Step 2 CK. It is never ideal to have to change your schedule around, but the most important thing you can do is to put yourself in a position to pass (and ideally score high) on your second attempt. Talk with your school administrators about changing your schedule around if needed to guarantee that you have the optimal time to dedicate to studying.


You can do this. You are not alone. Failing is never ideal, but the perseverance and dedication that you can display in overcoming this is a great quality for a future position. Renew your UWorld subscription, find a good review source, and create a plan to get you started as soon as possible. By honestly assessing what went wrong in your first attempt, you can work to put yourself in position to do well the second time around. Onward and upward. 


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