One of the important questions all medical students have to answer in their fourth year of medical school is when to take the USMLE Step 2 exams. The answer to this question depends on each student's individual circumstances. Let me list a few pointers that might help you in making your decision. At the onset let me state that I do not know of a good reason to not release your scores to residency programs. Everyone should release scores, to do otherwise suggests you are hiding something. If you don't want your scores to be known by potential residencies, you simply need to schedule the test after your information is sent to programs, this is a much better alternative.
After you have decided on a time to take the test, check out my list of the best resources to study for Step 2 CK.
- The only nationwide deadline facing medical students is that prior to obtaining a license and starting internships and residencies, students will have to pass the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS. So all medical students will have to pass these exams before July 1st after their fourth year. However, most medical schools have their own deadlines. If your school requires both Step 2 exams to be done before January 1st of your fourth year, you need to plan accordingly.
- The next question you must answer is whether or not you need your Step 2 CK score to be available when you are applying for residency. There are two situations where this might be the case. If you are applying to a competitive residency and your Step 1 score is not impressive, most people recommend doing everything you can to obtain a great Step 2 CK score to send to residency programs. Alternatively, no matter what residency you are applying to, if your Step 1 score is below the national average (usually ~218 or below), most people recommend sending a Step 2 CK score to potential residency programs so they know you have passed the boards and will be eligible to start residency on time. If you fit into either of these situations, you should take Step 2 CK before the end of September in order to have the score available during residency application.
- If you have a deadline from your school but you do not need to send a Step 2 CK score report to your potential residency programs, there are still some scheduling conflicts to consider. Students applying to early match residencies or other competitive residencies will spend most of the months of November and December interviewing. Available interview dates in these situations are usually sparse and difficult to manage. The last thing you want is to miss the only available interview date at a top choice residency because you have Step 2 CK or Step 2 CS scheduled the same day. If you can move your Step 2 dates earlier or later, I would recommend doing that. If you have a January 1st deadline like many schools but will be interviewing in November/December, consider taking your Step 2 exams in the September/October time period.
- It is important to remember that Step 2 CS is not a very important exam for most fourth year medical students. The vast majority of students pass the exam and there is no numeric score released to students and residency programs. Therefore, it is in your best interest to simply schedule this exam when it interferes the least with your interviewing and clinical rotations.
- If you are trying to cram your Step 2 CS or Step 2 CK in December before a deadline, beware of unpredictable winter weather. I have known a number of students who missed clinical duties or interviews as they were stuck in the airport after the Step 2 CS exam. Many of you will be traveling to cities prone to snowfall (Chicago, Philadelphia), so bear that in mind when scheduling.
If you have any other advice for the four year students reading this, please post below. Good luck to everyone and don't forget to check out my list of the best books for Step 2.