4 Significant Differences Between NBME and USMLE Step 1

USMLE Step 1 is a significant exam that students sit for towards the end of the semester in their second year of school. It is a substantial determinant in different areas, including your residency programs and specialty choices. For this reason, students spend sleepless nights getting ready for the test.

With the fear of failure and competition from peers, getting set for the exam can be overwhelming. However, you can get the hang of it by sitting for NBME subject exams which is an excellent way to gauge how well prepared you are for the USMLE. Since the two tests have striking similarities, most students tend to overlook the differences in the exams. Below are the major differences between NBME and USMLE Step 1.

  1.     Exam length

The USMLE exam content has a sum of 280 questions – 7 blocks each with 40 queries. The entire test lasts up to 8hours, which is equivalent to a whole workday. However, the NBME exam has four sections, each with a time frame of 75 minutes. Each unit has 50 questions, and the entire test takes only 4 hours. Building the stamina or having the experience of an 8-hour test may require you to complete at least two NBME tests. 

Most students measure themselves with a single 4-hour test which unfortunately overestimates their performance. The brain is usually fresh and works best during the onset hours of the exam, and suffers exhaustion after seven hours. A 4-hour test may not be rigorous enough to give you the feel or experience of an 8-hour test.

  1.     The setting of the test

Little to no formality is required while sitting for your NBME test. You can sit for the exam in your study room at home while sitting in whatever posture you want. No unique apparel is necessary as you can be in your pajamas and still ace the assessment.

The plenty of food or snacks at your disposal make the environment even friendlier and easy for you. However, the experience is very different at the Prometric Center. There, you follow the rules of the testing center, including carrying essential documentation, placing your finger for scanning.

Unlike an NBME exam which can be done from the comfort of your room, there is an asset in the actual location for USMLE tests. These changes can be unsettling for your brain, which works best under no supervision or control. Expect distractions such as coughing, sneezing or typing in the exam room since you have no control of your surroundings. Creating uncomfortable situations to test yourself will simulate the natural exam environment.

  1.     Exam scores and feedback

NBME tests give you feedback on your performance, including the areas you outdid yourself and those that were poorly done. The test also highlights the questions you missed or failed to attempt. However, this is different for USMLE Step 1, taking several weeks before getting your final score. The feeling might be frustrating and result in anxiety during your waiting period.

However, viewing things from a different perspective may help make the wait worthwhile. Instead of feeling awful about answering 280 questions and getting no feedback, look at it as a time to recollect yourself. Sitting for the USMLE exam for 8 hours can be overwhelming.

For this reason, your mind will be burned out or exhausted. Processing the test results can be an added stressor. The several weeks of waiting will help you relax and get in your right headspace.

  1.     Higher stakes on Step 1 exam

Although $60 is incurred to do the NBME, some students still tend to slack, knowing it is not the exam. With another $60, you can still sit for the same exam. For this reason, some students fail to put in the needed effort. However, you only have one chance with your Step 1 test.

If you take the exam with mediocrity, be sure to expect the same results as there is no second chance. Therefore, strive to treat your NBME practice just as you would your actual exam. Take the set in an environment with no distractions and leave your mobile device in a different room.

Your NBME test should closely mimic the Step1 exam for you to build enough brainpower and confidence for the actual test.