Everything You Need to Know about the USMLE Step 3

United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. The exam is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners. USMLE is taken by persons who intend to practice medicine in the United States or might be taken to assess the possibility of practicing medicine in the Unites States. As common with United States exams, all steps of the USMLE require a lot of hard work and studies to be successful. All three steps of the USMLE exam must be passed before a physician with an M.D. degree is eligible to apply for an unrestricted license to practice medicine in the United States. 

Step 3 is the final exam in the USMLE series of examinations. It is part of the licensing requirements for Doctors of Medicine (M.D.) and international medical graduates to practice medicine in the United States. The USMLE Step 3 exam is considered the final step in the series of medical licensure examinations. Generally, it is a pre-requisite of the majority of the state licensing boards.

USMLE Step 3 tests several concepts that are often required to provide general health care to a patient. USMLE Step 3 is a mandatory exam that must be passed in order to obtain license as a practicing physician. Some International Medical Graduates are required to pass USMLE Step 3 in order to obtain an H1 Visa.

Most of the USMLE Step 3 exam (75 percent) consists of multiple choice questions, while the remaining 25 percent are clinical case simulations. A full description of the content of the exam can be found on the USMLE website. USMLE Step 3 exams are delivered online and are available throughout the year to the examinees. The examinee needs to register via a state licensing board for this exam.

Since 2014 USMLE Step 3 can be taken on two non-consecutive days, instead of two consecutive days.

USMLE Step 3 examination tests on general topics that are required to understand and practice concepts of general medicine/ family medicine.

The following components are tested:

Normal conditions and disease categories (normal growth and development, basic concepts, and general principles)

Clinical encounter frame (initial work up, continuing care, urgent intervention)

Physician task (applying scientific concepts, formulating a diagnosis based on history, physical exam, and lab findings, and managing the patient).

Clinical encounter frames are common clinical scenarios physicians may encounter. They range from nonemergency problems, to the continuity of care, to life-threatening emergency situations encountered in emergency departments, clinics, offices, care facilities, inpatient settings, and on the telephone. Each test item, in an encounter frame, represents one of the six physician tasks. For example, initial care encounters emphasize taking a history and performing a physical examination. In contrast, continued care encounters emphasize decisions regarding prognosis and management.

Day 1 (Foundations of Independent Practice [FIP]) will continue to be divided into six 60-minute blocks. Each FIP block will have 38 to 40 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). The total number of MCQs on the FIP portion of the examination will be 233. The total testing day will be approximately 7 hours.

Day 2 (Advanced Clinical Medicine [ACM]) will continue to be divided into six 45-minute blocks of MCQs, and 13 computer-based case simulations (CCS). Each ACM MCQ block will have 30 items. The total number of MCQ items on the ACM portion of the examination will be 180. The second half of day 2 will contain the 13 CCS cases. 

On January 1, 2016 the recommended Step 3 minimum passing score changed to 196. In 2016, there was also a reduction in the number of items on the examination.

Typically, worldwide examinees require two to three months to prepare for this exam, although in the US, examinees who are American medical school graduates commonly prepare for only a few days to a few weeks. Physicians in post-graduate training that plan for fellowships or additional training often are advised to consider more detailed preparation. An examinee is tested on clinical skills, diagnostic acumen, decision making, treatment guidelines and follow up care. Most recently, some changes have been made to USMLE Step 3 multiple choice questions including increased emphasis placed on biostatistics, epidemiology, and population health, literature interpretation, medical ethics, and patient safety.

Since the USMLE Step 3 exam is typically taken after matching into a residency, it does not require a physician to obtain a competitive score and only need to pass to obtain their medical license. However, a competitive score may be needed if they want to apply for a fellowship.

To be eligible to take the USMLE Step 3 exam, the physician must hold a medical degree, and pass the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge exams. International medical graduates (IMGs) must obtain certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). (Prior to December 2009, one could alternatively complete a “Fifth Pathway” program.) The Step 2 CS may also be required. Canadian M.D. graduates are not considered IMGs.

Starting November 2014, fulfillment of specific requirements from individual medical licensing authorities will not be needed.

The Step 2 CS and the Step 3 can only be taken in the United States. There is no additional fee for taking the test in the United States and in Canada. 

For Sample Questions; CLICK HERE

For the textbooks & other materialsE CLICK HERE

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