Surviving Step 1: Post-test Waiting

By Walter Wiggins

Congratulations! You’ve just taken Step 1. Or maybe you’re reading this post in advance of taking Step 1… Regardless, this is the attitude you should embody during the post-test waiting period. You’ve worked really hard to get to this point, so you should celebrate. Take some vacation time, if your schedule allows it. Even if it’s just a weekend getaway, you should reward yourself for all of your hard work by getting away from the places you associate with board study and maybe visit the friends and/or family you’ve probably been neglecting a little over the past several weeks. A little social time and relaxation can go a long way toward recharging your work ethic for your first clinical rotation, which most of you will likely begin before receiving your scores. Average reporting time is 3-4 weeks, tending more toward longer reporting times during the summer months (May – July). Keep an eye on the USMLE website for announcements regarding reporting delays, so you won’t worry about your score. We’ll try to post any announcements we see from the NBME on our website, as well.

In the days following the test, you might be tempted to look up the answers to some of the questions from your test that stand out in your mind. Don’t bother! There’s some stress already associated with the post-test waiting period. Don’t add to it by focusing on questions you might have missed. Odds are, the questions that stand out in your mind are the questions about which you were uncertain. Thus, you were more likely to have guessed and, probably, more likely to have guessed wrong. Perseverating on such things will only skew your opinion of your performance and may cause you to worry that you failed or that you didn’t hit your goal score.

Again, I recommend that you take your mind completely off of the test. However, if you cannot manage that or if you really need to debrief yourself in order to stave off anxiety, there are some productive outlets you might want to consider. First of all, you could submit reviews for your study materials. If you used a question bank, you may want to evaluate how well the sample questions represented the scope, style, and difficulty of your actual test questions. You could provide feedback to your preclinical curriculum coordinator(s) regarding their coverage of the material you encountered on the test. Alternatively, you could compile a list of the things you felt required extra effort (especially, if you didn’t feel you prepared well enough in these areas) and share that with the class below you at your school.

Finally, 3-5 weeks after you take your test, the NBME will send you an email around midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning notifying you of your pending score release. Later that morning (around 11am Eastern Time), you will receive a second email with your score report attached. The first thing you will see on the score report attachment is whether you passed. The second thing you will see is your 3-digit score. Finally, you will get a breakdown of you relative performance in the major content areas. This last part is similar to what you may have seen on score reports from self-assessments you took during your study period.

I wish you a low-stress waiting period and good luck! We’ll discuss scores again in two upcoming posts.


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