Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tachy Med Student: Step 1 Scores Released

As I mentioned yesterday, my USMLE Step 1 scores were released. I'm just going to talk through my experience and thoughts on this in a Q&A format:

For more official USMLE Q&A, check out these questions from their website. 

1. What's the USMLE Step 1?
It's the first (and arguably the most difficult) part of the three-step licensing exam to become a doctor. It stands for United States Medical Licensing Examination. It's taken after the first two (of four) years of medical school and it's currently seven blocks of 46 questions taken over 8 hours all in one day.

2. Why is it important?
At most medical schools, you can't continue in third and fourth year clinical rotations until you pass it. It's also a crucial part of your applicant profile when you interview for residency - the part of training after medical school that can last anywhere from 3-7 years, depending on specialty. A poor score will decrease your chances of matching into competitive programs, or sometimes any program at all. It may be more important than any other test, but a mediocre score with room for improvement on Step 2 isn't going to ruin your life.

3. How is the exam scored? 
It's scaled based on other students, but the actual process is intentionally rather veiled. The highest possible score is theoretically 300, though there are rumors that it isn't really so set in stone. Perhaps given that the test is 322 questions, it's actually 322? There's also a 2-digit score - you can read more about that on the website linked at the top.

The point is, it's kind of a mystery, but it's apparently all very technical and statistical.

4. What's a passing score? Average?
A passing score is 188. Average on my and recent administrations of the test was reportedly 222 with a standard deviation of 24. In general, most people fall between 140-260.
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5. When did you get your scores?
My scores were released some time between 8 am and 10:30 am on the reported score release day, July 13 2011. I'm not sure of the exact time because I was trapped in an operating room with no internet. I know it was in this window because I received my e-mail that my scores were available at 10:30 am. I actually successfully checked them around 5 pm.

6. Did you do anything special to "set the tone" to see your scores?
I settled into my desk and made sure I was by myself in case I ended up having an embarrassing reaction. (This was pretty negotiable though - I originally tried to look them up at lunch with my friends but couldn't get them to load.)

I set some happy music, an old mix from John, to play on my laptop.

In order to see it, I had to download a PDF, so those few moments it took to save it, open it and wait for it to load were some of the longest of my life.

6. How did you do?
I'm going to be intentionally vague about this, because I hate to deal in numbers with people. I don't want anyone to know my score, and I don't want to know anyone else's. It's impossible to avoid even subconscious comparisons, and a number like that will never tell the whole story of what kind of doctors we'll be.

Suffice it to say I passed. I'll say that I am within one standard deviation of average.

7. How do you feel about how you did?
Very mixed feelings.

My first reaction was a wave of relief. I'm ECSTATIC that I passed and don't have to take it ever again.

At the same time, I'm not happy with my score, but who knows what score would've made me really happy. I mean, obviously a 250 would have, but I was never that kind of student.

I do think my score reflects the kind of studying I did and the way classes went for me. I worked very hard, but I also struggled sometimes. I also had a lot of fun in the past two years that I wouldn't want to give back. I haven't lived a lifestyle of studying that led me to think an outrageously high score was in my future.

I'm thrilled about the amount of improvement from my practice tests.

I can't really sum it up in one sentence yet. Maybe in a few days.
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The point is, I get to continue.

I will be a doctor. In just 2 years myself and my wonderful classmates get an M.D. after our names. I swear I'm not old enough for this.

And no matter what happens next, I promised myself I would go back to this post: When the Scores Say You're Not Enough.

It's strange to read it again knowing that it's all worked out. I feel really blessed for that.

If you have any Step 1 questions (or questions about tests in general, or anything) feel free to ask. 

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