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USMLE Step 2 CS Tips

Instructor: Bill Sands
The Step 2 Clinical Skills component of the USMLE can be challenging for many candidates. Read on to learn what you can expect from the test and pick up some tips that can help you feel calm and in control on test day.

Tips for the Step 2 CS

The Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) portion of the USMLE is not like most other standardized tests. There are no multiple-choice questions or fill-in-the-blank word problems. Instead, candidates will be expected to demonstrate their interpersonal communication and physical examination skills as they interact with a series of fake patients in 12 simulations.

Despite the unique format, the CS portion is not necessarily more challenging than other parts of the exam. The following list contains a few tips to help you ace this part of the test and get one step closer to your license.

Be Prepared

As with all other exams, preparation is essential to a good score. You can start by reading the detailed explanation of the physical examination process or watching an exam orientation video (both of which can be found on the USMLE web site) to be sure you completely understand what will be expected of you.

Sample scenarios and corresponding instructions for filling out patient notes are also available. Find a friend or classmate and ask him or her to practice these patient encounters with you. While you cannot predict the exact nature of each interaction you'll be faced with on the actual exam, holding your own practice simulations can familiarize you with the process and make you more comfortable on test day.

If you find you want a refresher on basic clinical skills, you might consider checking out these lessons on Initial Patient Assessment and Improving Doctor-Patient Communication Skills. These Medical Terminology and Pathophysiology courses might also prove useful for reviewing common diagnoses.

Adapt Standard Test-Taking Strategies

While the Step 2 CS is not your average exam, you can still use the same tried and true test-taking strategies that have benefited you up to this point. Some helpful tips include:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast on the morning of the test. Step 2 CS can last up to eight hours, so it's important that you have enough to eat beforehand.
  • Stay relaxed. The exam can certainly be stressful, but do your best to remain cool and calm. Not only will this help you perform better, you'll also be graded on your ability to act in a professional manner.
  • Pay close attention to any instructions in order to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
  • Manage your time wisely. You'll only have 15 minutes to conduct an examination and 10 to type out the corresponding patient notes. Make sure you focus on the parts of a physical exam most relevant to a given scenario and consider the most likely diagnoses first when filling out patient notes.

Arrive Early

Though punctuality may seem like a foregone conclusion, it's especially important for this assessment. Not only does arriving early allow you to relax and catch your breath, it also ensures you are there for the on-site orientation that is mandatory for all students. Should you arrive late and miss the orientation, you will not be permitted to sit for the exam. If you arrive during the orientation, you might still be able to take the test, but you will need to sign a Late Admission Form. Don't take any chances: arrive early.

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