Surviving Step 1: Step 1 Scores, Part 1: So you didn’t pass

By Walter Wiggins

You didn’t pass the USMLE Step 1 exam.  Now what?

First of all, I offer you my condolences. You worked really hard to get to this point and finding out you didn’t pass Step 1 of the USMLE was probably very traumatic. Even if you honestly suspected you might not pass, it is perfectly natural to be upset.

Some people react to this situation by bouncing back quickly and working harder than ever. Others lose their motivation for a few days or even a few weeks. We, here, at the First Aid Team encourage you to bounce back quickly. However, if you find you are experiencing prolonged sadness accompanied by other symptoms of clinical depression, don’t be ashamed…seek professional help. Many medical schools offer counseling to their students. Take advantage of whatever services your school offers.

You’ll likely have to work with your administrators to schedule time to study and retake Step 1. Make sure they are aware of any obstacles (such as clinical depression) that stand in your way. You will need to be at your best if you’re going to be successful on your next attempt.

Before you jump back into your old routine, take a day or two to critically evaluate your study process. Try to figure out what worked and what didn’t. It may be that you simply did not dedicate enough time to your preparation. This is a simple fix.

However, it may also be that the methods you used to study for Step 1 were not effective. Compare your approach to that of others (see here and here for some of our advice). This analysis may help you identify additional resources or techniques you might want to employ before your next attempt.

Go over your score report and identify which topics you really need to review. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to go back over these topics in detail. Your school likely has a predetermined amount of time that you’ll have to take off before you take the test again. Use all of the time they allow you. Don’t rush this, even if you think you just had an off day.

Bottom line: do everything you can to ensure success this time around and approach the test with confidence.

Good luck!


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