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Interpreting results from the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE®) tests can be difficult. The Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), and Step 3 tests provide their results in three-digit and two-digit form. In contrast, the Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) is graded as a pass-fail test. All of the tests provide students with an assessment of their performance on that section. Students who can properly interpret their USMLE® results can understand how they compare to their peers.
USMLE® results from Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 3 are reported as three-digit and two-digit scores. The three-digit score required to pass the tests changes yearly. As of April 2011, a Step 1 passing score was 188, a Step 2 CK passing score was 189, and a Step 3 passing score was 187. Most scores range from 140 to 260. For US students, average first-time test-takers obtain a score between 200 and 220, with a standard deviation of approximately 20.
The two-digit score included with the USMLE® results is calculated from the three-digit score. These numbers are determined in such a way that a passing score is always a 75. The highest possible two-digit score is 100. Although at first glance it would appear that the two-digit score represents percentiles, this is not the case. A score of 75 does not mean that a student scored better than 75% of all other test-takers: instead, it only signifies that the student answered the minimum number of questions correctly in order to pass.
The Step 2 CS test is graded as either pass or fail. No numerical scores are given to evaluate test-taker performance. As with the other tests, the score report for this examination includes a breakdown of how well the student performed in different areas as compared to other test-takers.
The USMLE® results are either made available on the Internet or are sent to students via mail. The score report includes information about the numerical scores, and also evaluates how well students performed on different sections of the test. For example, a Step 1 score report would assess how well a student did in anatomy, and would compare his performance to that of other test-takers. This sub-analysis provides information about the strengths and weaknesses of the test-taker's medical knowledge.
For those training to become medical doctors, USMLE® results are very important. Not only is passing these tests required in order to practice medicine independently, but many people also use the scores from these tests to assess a student’s ability to succeed. The Step 1 and Step 2 CK scores are often critical in the process of obtaining a residency appointment after graduation from medical school. Some programs have official Step 1 score cutoff points, whereas others use the score as a screening tool to identify desirable students. Information about whether one’s score is good enough to obtain a competitive residency is available online at the National Residency Matching Program® official website.
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