How to Study for USMLE Step 2 CK

Studying for USMLE Step 2 CK can be particularly stressful during the course of busy 3rd year rotations and the 4th year application process.  Still, it is important to set aside time to adequately prepare for the exam as it is a major component of your residency application.  If you have been studying, reading, and learning during your clerkships, you are likely more prepared than you think.  The ongoing studying for the shelf exams is excellent preparation for Step 2 CK as the style of the questions is very similar to these examinations.  Step 2 CK is different from Step 1 in that CK predominantly based on applying your knowledge to clinical scenarios.  There is much less of an emphasis on extraneous memory recall and instead a transition towards application of what you know to solve novel patient cases and anecdotes.  That fact should inform the way that you prepare.  Namely, practice questions are the key.

My general advice for exam board preparation is to continue what you have been doing.  By the time you are preparing to study for and take Step 2 CK, you have taken an innumerable number of exams, quizzes, and tests throughout medical school.  And if you have made it this far in medical school, you’ve likely been fairly successful throughout that entire process.  If you happen to have struggled on clerkship examinations, you may want to try to identify any problems with your test taking strategies for clinical based questions as these tests are quite similar in content and style to Step 2 CK.  Still, strong preparation is the best way to ensure success on these exams.  Make a schedule, chose your resources, and get to studying.

While Step 2 CK resources have traditionally been more sparse in comparison to Step 1 preparation tools, this will likely change with the progression of Step 1 to pass/fail score reporting.  It will be interesting to see what new learning tools emerge based on this change as Step 2 CK scores will likely transition to the importance that Step 1 scores traditionally carried.  For now, here is the list of resources that I recommend you use in your preparations.  While there are many more resources available, those listed below are sufficient to optimize your time, money, and efforts. 

As I’m sure many of you are familiar with this question bank from Step 1 preparation, UWorld is the gold standard preparation tool for Step 2 CK.  UWorld’s team has worked extensively to augment both the quality and quantity of the practice questions available over the past several years.  The questions aren’t the only feature that make this such an invaluable resource.  The in-depth analysis provided for the questions for both the correct and incorrect answer choices is where I spent the bulk of my study time with this resource.  The descriptions break down the question and deliver the content that the question was testing you in well-polished, succinct answers.  Too many times I have seen students just focus on getting the questions right.  There is a lot to be learned by missing questions and studying the explanations is a great way to build your fund of knowledge.  They have two practice exams available for self-assessment.  I purchased a subscription for the Step 2 CK UWorld that I completed throughout the timeline of my clinical coursework and used to prepare for shelf exams.  It is worth purchasing another subscription or resetting your account when you begin your dedicated studying for Step 2 CK.  Completing the entire UWorld question bank is my most highly recommended tip for Step 2 CK preparation.

National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) Practice Tests provide practice examinations that are useful for reviewing specific specialty subject content and also comprehensive material to prepare for Step 2 CK.  These practice exams generate score reports that can help you identify specific content areas weaknesses to guide the remainder of your studies.  They also provide a rough idea of what score your performance on the practice test might correlate with on the real exam.

In terms of books, First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK is a good reference guide.  I don’t recommend reading it cover to cover given the time restraints for Step 2 CK preparation, but it is good to have a quick and easy place to annotate learning points from practice questions.  I had extensively annotated a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and ended up referencing it for several specific areas that aren’t covered as in depth in the Step 2 CK version.  Step-Up to Medicine was another great resource that I used throughout all of my clerkships (not just medicine) and I found particularly helpful for preparing for the Step 2 CK exam given the detail it provides on the fundamentals.

Image from

Online MedEd is a great resource for video based learning.  I used these videos to varying extent to cover certain topics studying for shelf exams throughout the clinical years.  I found these videos particularly helpful for reviewing specific content areas where I was not performing well.  They also provide for a more passive way of learning when you’re exhausted from reading or focusing on practice question blocks at the end of a grueling day.  I made a cumulative list of videos that I found particularly helpful for me to review easily confused concepts as the exam date approached (such as the Pediatric’s – Orthopedic video).  There is other content available through this site, but selecting videos to address your specific weaknesses is the most high-yield.

By the time you are taking Step 2 CK, you are already a pro test taker.  Trust the process of preparation and try to maintain a solid routine of studying so you can excel on test day.  Good luck!

Med Student Edge has no financial relationships with any of the resources that have been mentioned in this post.  Do you have other helpful resources that you’d like to share? Leave a comment or contact Med Student Edge directly.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
Latest posts by Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA (see all)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: