Saturday, March 07, 2009

USMLE Step 2 CK Books And Study Strategy

I recently took USMLE Step 2 CK, which explains my absence from blogging on here. While I do not have my score yet, I figured I would share my study strategy as well as the books and resources I used to prepare for the exam. Relative to USMLE Step 1, preparing for Step 2 CK is a much shorter, much more straightforward process. Of course, people may have different goals and needs for their Step 2 score, but I think for most people it ends up being a test you simply have to pass to continue with your training as a physician in the United States.

USMLE Step 2 CK Study Schedule

With regards to a study schedule, someone mentioned the saying "2 months, 2 weeks, 2 days" to me, meaning that one should take 2 months to study for Step 1, 2 weeks for Step 2, and 2 days for Step 3. And, from what I know so far, I think that is roughly correct. I'd say I spent about 2 and a half weeks studying for the exam. For the first week or so, I simply read through a review book on Step 2 concepts (more on that below). For the remainder of the time, I simply did qbank questions. The schedule was pretty packed, but it worked out well in the end. I don't think spending any time over 3 weeks would have been worthwhile. Some people may be considering taking a review course. If you feel like your basic science and clinical knowledge are not as strong as you want them to be, or feel like passing may be a challenge, then it is worthwhile to consider. However, for most test takers, a Step 2 review course should not be necessary if you simply are studious, read a bit, and complete a qbank.

USMLE Step 2 CK Books

As with any major exam, everyone always wants to know what is *the* book to use to study. When I was looking, the main options people seem to gravitate towards were First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK, Crush Step 2, and USMLE Step 2 Secrets. Honestly, any of the three books would be fine, I think. However, I first narrowed it down between Crush and Secrets. You may note that both books are actually written by the same author, Adam Brochert. I can't imagine they would contain very different information, so I went with Secrets over Crush (I guess I like having Secrets more than Crushes? I don't know). Then, I compared First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK and USMLE Step 2 Secrets. Initially, I thought I would go with First Aid, given how much I liked First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. As I read through the comments though, I noticed that many people found that First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK was not clinically-oriented enough for their tastes, which matters as Step 2 CK is more of a clinical exam. Therefore, I ultimately decided to go with USMLE Step 2 Secrets.

USMLE Step 2 Secrets was indeed well-written. The book follows a format of questions and answers a la the Socratic method. The material is divided into chapters based roughly on organ systems, but with a few exceptions thrown in (such as preventive exams and smoking). For students who feel a bit rusty on their clinical material, the book provides a good, broad refresher. However, if you were recently on clinics, or feel generally comfortable with your knowledge base, I think it is debatable whether one needs to read a book to prepare for Step 2 CK at all. What no one is debating though is the value of doing a question bank.

USMLE Step 2 CK Q-Banks
While there are many qbanks for USMLE Step 1, I think the right choice is much clearer for USMLE Step 2 CK. Sure, there are still just as many options, but I think there is much more broad consensus about using USMLE World. Similar to Step 1, the Step 2 CK UW software is a downloadable application written in Java that mimics the FRED Software used by CK. It contains approximately 2300 questions (which translates into about 50 practice sections). It took me about 2 weeks to go through all 50, although I must admit I was rushing a bit at the end. If you were to do 4 sections a day and review each one, then it would take about 6 to 8 hours per day, and about 12 to 14 days to complete the entire qbank. Clearly, doable, but it requires you to be very committed to finishing. I wish I had budgeted a little more time to review the questions I missed, but I think it was fine.

USMLE Step 2 CK Test Day
Again, just as with Step 1, the exam is on a computer at a Prometric Testing Center. Registration is done months beforehand, similar to USMLE Step 1 registration. While Step 1 had 7 sections of 50 questions each, Step 2 CK has 8 sections with 46 questions each. After signing in at the test center, you can place your belongings in a locker. The proctor then calls you into the anteroom, check your ID, takes a photograph, and gives you a laminated sheet and dry erase marker for notes. After entering the testing room, you are assigned a computer and the exam begins. You have a total of 9 hours from this point. The first section is a tutorial that is budgeted at 15 minutes, but you can skip through this if you are familiar with the FRED software, giving you 15 extra minutes of break time. The next 9 hours are just... tedious. You can take up to an hour of breaks, scheduled however you want them, in between any of the sections. I chose to take a 15 minute break after section 2, a 30 minute break for lunch after section 4, and a 5 minute break after section 6 just because my eyes were getting tired. Although Step 2 is longer than Step 1, the test day felt much better simply because I was not as stressed. You'll be tired at the end of the day, but glad to be done. Good luck!

Updated 2015-12-18


  1. great post. thanks

  2. Good luck with your score!

  3. Thanks for your neat and detailed information,thanks for beign there.

  4. finally, someone who doesn't use crush or FA. im glad to hear you stuck with a little book like secrets and a q bank. hope it all worked out!

  5. Thanks much for sharing this. A very straightforward post too!

    Best to you in everything!


  6. Thanks, everyone! And yes, I got my scores back a few weeks ago and did just fine. By "fine," I mean, a score that most people would be happy with, and would not cause any program director to give a second look.

  7. Come on... spill the beans... how much did you get ? :P



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