7 Things Medical Students Must Know About USMLE Step 1 Exam

The United States Medical Licensing (USMLE) Step 1 exam is the first stage of your medical career. You need to take this test before you can move on to Step 2 CS, followed by Step 3, and finally becoming a doctor!

Here are 7 things you need to know about the USMLE Step 1 test:

What is the Format?

The computer-based exam takes place over an 8-hour period in one day. It is divided into 7 sections, with 60 minutes allotted to each.

Each section features up to 40 questions in multiple-choice format, for a maximum of 280 total questions.

You get 45 minutes of break time, divided over a maximum of 6 separate breaks. If you finish a section early, the extra time gets added to your total break time.

Skipping the optional 15-minute tutorial before the exam adds an extra 15 minutes to your total break time.

What is the Application Process?

Medical school students or graduates of an accredited medical program in the US or Canada need to apply through the NBME (National Board of Medical Examiners).

Students and graduates from med schools/programs outside the US and Canada need to apply through the ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates).


What Does the Exam Cover?

The content of the exam covers basic scientific principles as well as your ability to solve problems using them.

Categories covered in the test include:


Behavioral Sciences


Biostatistics and Epidemiology








Molecular and Cell Biology


What is the Best Time to Take It?

You should take the test between your 2nd and 3rd year of medical school, after basic science courses are finished and before clinical clerkship begins. For most students, primary information is still fresh in their minds at this time, so studying for the exam requires less time and effort than it would otherwise.

When Do the Results Come Out?

USMLE Step 1 results are usually released within 3-4 weeks of the exam, and posted on the NBME website on Wednesdays. The NBME will notify you of your score via email as well, so contact them if you don’t receive an email within 2 months.

Is It Possible to Repeat the Exam?

You can retake the USMLE Step 1 test if you failed, up to 3 times inside a 12-month period. The fourth attempt must be a minimum of 12 months after the date of your first attempt and 6 months after the most recent attempt.

You cannot retake the exam if you passed the first time, since results are final. This is why you need to make sure that you’re thoroughly prepared before attempting it, so you don’t end up with low scores.

How Much Do I Need to Score?

The passing score for the USMLE Step 1 is 192.

While the test is very difficult, you need to aim as high as possible since your scores will help decide your specialty. Consider USMLE tutoring if you need extra help, and dedicate at least a month or two to preparation!

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Eric Brown

Eric Brown is a standardized patient (SP) who lives in New York and advises NYCSPREP with their Clinical Skills course. He has a BA from a liberal arts college in the north east, where he majored in the the atrical arts and business (he credits the first for his ability to simulate real patients). He’s amassed years of experience as an SP and keeps up to date with CS exam expectations, trends and developments. When the Phillies are in town, Eric considers it his duty to support his home team. He won’t be seen without his trusty catcher’s mitt on these occasions, and prides himself on having caught more than one foul ball with it. If you have any questions about standardized CS exams or courses at NYCSPREP, email Eric at eric.brown@nycsprep.com or visit www.nycsprep.com