How to Study for USMLE Step 3: Tips + Study Plan

November 7, 2023
4 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 11/6/23

Are you planning to take the USMLE Step 3? If yes, read on to learn how to study and the steps to take to ace the exam.

The USMLE Step 3 exam marks the final milestone for a physician who wants to get licensed to practice in the United States. The exam assesses students’ clinical knowledge and tests their ability to apply it. 

As you prepare to start this journey, it is important you have a well-structured study schedule and effective strategies to ace the exam.

In this article, we will explore how to study for the USMLE Step 3 exam, outline a few key tips, and provide you with a one-month study schedule you can use to make the most of your study time.

Whether you are a medical student or an aspiring physician, this article will equip you with the necessary knowledge and tools to pass the Step 3 exam.

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How to Study for Step 3

Preparing for the USMLE Step 3 requires an organized and focused approach. Are you worried about how to study for the exam? In this section, we’ll break down how to study for the USMLE Step 3 exam:

Female doctor writing notes on paper

Understand the Exam Format

Before you begin studying, familiarize yourself with the Step 3 exam content and format. Step 3 is a two-day exam that consists of multiple-choice questions and computer-based simulations. On the first day, applicants will take 232 multiple-choice questions divided into six one-hour blocks.

The first day of the exam focuses on content areas such as foundational sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology and medical literature. The second day focuses on content areas such as diagnosis, health maintenance and screening, therapeutics and medical decision making.

You can become familiar with the exam format when you watch the interactive testing experience video which is offered by USMLE. Getting familiar with the exam content will reduce stress and improve your chances of doing well.

Choose Your Study Resources Wisely

The next step is to select the resources that you will use to prepare for the exam. Ensure you select high-quality study materials that will give you the necessary information to aid your preparation for the test.

Create a Study Schedule

Having a timeline is the first step in creating a study plan on how to study for an exam. The timeline is the time you have to prepare for the exam. Having enough time to study will not lead to a mental breakdown and unnecessary stress.

Also, ensure you develop a study plan covering all the areas you need to study for the exam. Allocate more time to weaker subjects to enable you to study them longer. In addition, incorporate practice questions and medical cases into your study plan.

While preparing for Step 3, ensure you learn how to manage your time effectively. You will score better if you manage your time well during the exams. Moreover, prioritize good health during your study period. Get adequate sleep, eat well, and do not stress yourself. You should also keep physically and mentally fit to perform well on exam day.

Review High-Yield topics.

High-yield topics have a high chance of coming out in the exam. While studying for the exam, check through the practice questions to know the topics that come out frequently. Ensure you pay attention to those topics and study them well. These topics include hypertension, diabetes, common infections, and their management. After this, you can check out other topics.

Take Practice Exams

While studying, ensure you have time for practice questions. Practice questions enable you to note your weaknesses and allow you to improve in the areas where you need help. To make it more effective, you can simulate exam conditions and assess yourself after the practice tests.

How Long Should You Study for USMLE Step 3?

While the amount of time you dedicate to studying for step 3 varies depending on the individual, students should typically dedicate at least two to three months to studying for the exam. The variation depends on individual circumstances and personal study habits.

The duration allows the candidates to review the necessary clinical knowledge, practice CCS cases, and do multiple practice exams to know their readiness for the exam.

Ultimately, it is important that you, as a student, are well prepared and confident in your preparation before taking the USMLE Step 3. Ensure you review all the necessary information because good performance is important in the advancement of your medical career. 

Male doctor holding tablet

Below are some of the factors that can affect how long to study for the Step 3 exam:

Clinical Experience

Applicants who recently completed clinical rotations or are involved actively in medicine may need a shorter time to prepare for the exam than others.

Patient Management Knowledge

The level of clinical knowledge an applicant has about patient management can greatly impact the time of preparation for Step 3. If you, as an applicant, are confident and sure about your clinical knowledge, you may need less time when studying for the exam.

Prior USMLE Performance

Before taking Step 3, you must have taken the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 exams. Your performance in these two exams can determine how long to study for Step 3. 

Personal Study Habits and Study Resources

Your study habits greatly affect how long it will take you to study for the exam. The choice of your study resources can also affect the duration of your preparation because good resources and effective study material will allow you to study more efficiently.

Practicing the CCS Cases

The Computer-based Case Simulations (CCS) component of the USMLE Step 3 exam requires practice and dedication. The time for practising these cases can make your study plan longer and increase the duration needed to study for Step 3.

1-Month USMLE Step 3 Study Schedule

Preparing for USMLE Step 3 in under one month requires intense studying and discipline. To help you keep on track, we’ve provided a sample study schedule you can use to prepare for the exam:

Calendar with sticky notes

Week 1

This week is for building foundations in all the topics necessary after assessing your strengths and weaknesses in each subject.

Day 1-3

  • Take a full-length test to assess your strengths and weaknesses in each subject.
  • Highlight the areas that you need to study more
  • Get your study material ready

Day 4-7

These few days are for focusing on internal medicine as a subject.

  • Review topics under internal medicine
  • Focus on the common diseases, their presentations, and treatments.
  • Ensure you practice questions on topics under internal medicine and assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Week 2

This week is for reading subjects surgery, obstetrics & gynecology, and pediatrics.

Day 8-14

  • Read the high-yield topics in surgery, obstetrics & gynaecology, and paediatrics.
  • Highlight and jot down important information
  • Ensure you practice questions on topics under these subjects and assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Week 3

This week is for studying topics under psychiatry, ethics, preventive medicine and biostatistics.

Day 15-21

  • Ensure you thoroughly study topics under psychiatry, ethics, preventive medicine and biostatistics.
  • Highlight and jot down important information
  • Pay good attention to the legal and ethical aspects of medicine.
  • Ensure you practice questions on topics under these subjects and assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Week 4

This week is for a quick review of the information you have highlighted under each topic and continuous practice questions.

Day 22-30

  • Review high-yield topics under all subjects
  • Focus on your weak areas and ensure you work on them
  • Continue to practice questions
  • Take full-length practice exams under timed exam conditions.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health to improve your chances of performing well.
  • Practice sample cases and familiarize yourself with the software used in the clinical case simulations.

A one-month study schedule is intense, and you need discipline and determination to study each day. Your success hinges on keeping to the schedule and following it consistently.

FAQs: Studying for the USMLE Step 3

Still have questions about the Step 3 exam? Take a look at our answers to these  frequently asked questions for more information:

1. Is Step 3 Hard to Pass?

Yes, Step 3 is hard to pass. This is because the exam lasts two days and consists of about 412 multiple-choice and 13 case simulation questions. However, if you prepare diligently for the exam, you have a good chance of doing well. While it is a challenging exam, the majority of the test takers do pass.

2. How Do I Start Preparation for Step 3?

You can start preparing for Step 3 by familiarizing yourself with exam format and content, seeking valuable study resources, and creating a personalized study schedule.

3. How Should I Study for Step 3?

You should study for the USMLE Step 3 exam by choosing good resources, simulating test taking conditions and revising as often as possible. .

4. What Is a Decent Step 3 score?

Any score above 230 is considered a decent score. Step 3 is scored using a scale of 1 to 300, with most applicants getting between 196 and 256. The minimum passing score an applicant should have is 198, and scores below this are considered a failing score.

5. How Long Is the USMLE Step 3

The USMLE Step 3 exam unfolds over two days. Day one comprises 232 multiple-choice questions in six blocks, each with a 60-minute time limit. The day, including breaks, spans approximately seven hours, with an optional five-minute tutorial.

On day two, you'll tackle 180 multiple-choice questions in six blocks, with each block allowing 45 minutes. You’ll also encounter 13 clinical case simulations, each with time limits of either 10 or 20 minutes. Breaks are available for a minimum of 45 minutes, and there's an optional survey if time permits.

6. Is the USMLE Step 3 Requires for Residency?

No, USMLE Step 3 is not required for residency, but taking it before your residency application can boost your competitiveness. Most students take the Step 3 exam after their first year of residency. Many states require their students to pass the Step 3 exam before their third year of residency.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to study for the USMLE Step 3 is important in your preparation for the exam. After taking the Step 1 and Step 2 exams, Step 3 will require less time because you have the foundational knowledge already. 

If you are preparing for the Step 3 exam and need help and guidance on how to prepare, you can reach out to a private USMLE Step 3 tutor to help you with your exam. As you prepare for the exam, be confident and believe in yourself.

Good Luck!

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