Upcoming USMLE® Scoring Changes [Pass/Fail]

In February 2019, the USMLE® announced a handful of changes for Step 1, some of which will likely impact your residency plans. Historically, there has been a strong emphasis on USMLE® Step 1 scores on residency placements. This created extra stress for many medical students, which takes focus away from getting the experience you need to be prepared for practice in the medical field. Therefore, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB®) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME®) introduced this change.

But don’t worry – the changes will still fit states’ medical licensing board’s requirements for exam results that are used to determine medical licensure eligibility. The time leading up to this change will also provide you the chance to adjust your planning for your USMLE exams.

Key changes you should be prepared for:

  • Step 1 exam scores will be reported only as pass/fail (no earlier than January 2022)
  • Only four attempts will be allowed for each Step or Step Component (no earlier than January 2021)
  • All examinees must successfully pass Step 1 as a prerequisite for taking Step 2 CS (no earlier than March 2021)*

** Since these changes were announced, the USMLE® has also suspended Step 2 CS until further notice due to COVID-19. Check the* USMLE®’s website for the most up-to-date information regarding these and other changes/updates.

If you’re an IMG, these changes to the USMLE® Step 1 will affect how you might stand out in the residency process. Previously, high Step 1 scores were one way you could stand apart from US applicants because you may not have the same opportunity to receive US-based recommendations or experience. What’s another other way to stand out in the application process? Show research, volunteering, and leadership experience. Unfortunately, these experiences will be hard to be involved in given the COVID-19 pandemic. You will need to get creative since you don’t know what opportunities, or COVID-19, will look like in early 2022. Also, COVID-19 will still make it extremely difficult to do an away rotation.

Don’t deter, though. While these changes may impact your residency preparation, you can still set yourself up for success in the future.