Know All About USMLE - New Fees, Format, Scoring 2024 Update

Understand what USMLE is and how medical students and graduates outside the USA can also make a career in the US Medical Sector.  The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step exam program for medical licensure in the US. 

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) are the sponsors of this exam. To become licensed to practice medicine in the USA, doctors with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree must pass the USMLE.

Similarly, the International Medical Graduates (IMGs) are also required to obtain a certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) to be eligible for USMLE.

General Overview of the USMLE

All graduates of American medical schools as well as those from abroad must pass USMLE to obtain a medical license in the US. There are three steps to the exams:

Step 1 - Evaluate basic medical knowledge acquired in the first years of medical school.

Step 2CK -  Assesses the candidate's clinical medicine knowledge

Step 3 - Evaluate how clinical information is applied to patient management

Earlier USMLE also included a clinical skills section called USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills which was discontinued during the Covid-19 pandemic. U.S. medical students normally complete Steps 1 and 2 during medical school, and Step 3 is often taken after the first year of residency

The USMLE Step 3 exam is only available in the United States, although the Step 1 and Step 2 CK tests are available at Prometric test centers worldwide.

The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) are the sponsors of the USMLE. Originally, they created it to give state medical boards in the US a uniform test for all applicants seeking licenses. 

However, over time, residency programs have also made considerable use of it to screen residents for selection during the National Resident Matching Program and forecast residency performance.

Physicians with a D.O. degree are exempt from taking the USMLE to get a license or graduate, despite estimates indicating that at least 60% of osteopathic medical students took at least one exam in 2020. 

By passing Parts I, II, and III of the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners' COMLEX exam, they are granted a medical license.

Brief & Simplified Overview of the USMLE Exam Sections

Let’s begin by understanding the USMLE by delving deep into what each section is composed of. Read on!

USMLE Step 1

A standardized test called the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 evaluates a medical student's grasp of fundamental science ideas and how they relate to clinical practice. Students usually take the exam during their second year of medical school. It is one of the three requirements for medical licensing in the United States.

Over eight hours, 280 multiple-choice questions make up the USMLE Step 1. This computer-based exam determines whether graduates or medical students can apply key ideas from the basic sciences to the practice of medicine. 

The exam lasts eight hours and has 280 multiple-choice questions broken up into seven blocks of 40 questions each. 

Step 1 is intended to assess the application of the basic science information acquired during the medical school years through clinical vignettes. 

In addition to interdisciplinary fields including genetics, aging, immunology, nutrition, and molecular and cell biology, this covers anatomy, behavioral sciences, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology.

In addition, the issues related to empathy, medical ethics, and epidemiology are also included. 

Every exam is created individually for every student; although the overall percentage of questions from a given subject is the same, some students claim that some subjects are either overemphasized or underemphasized.

On February 12, 2020, it was revealed that USMLE Step 1 would switch to a Pass/Fail scoring method, with an effective date of no sooner than January 2022.

Scores are now reported as pass/fail as of February 2022 instead of on a three-digit scale as they were in the past. The duration is 8 hours and the fee is around US $660 as of December 2023.

USMLE Step 2

The nine-hour multiple-choice segment of the second stage of the US Medical Licensure Examination is called USMLE-Step 2-CK ("Clinical Knowledge"). It uses a standard multiple-choice test to evaluate clinical knowledge. The emphasis is far more on the clinical application of medical knowledge than it is on the USMLE Step 1. 

It evaluates the capacity to use clinical science understanding, medical knowledge, and abilities that are necessary for providing patient care under supervision. American medical students typically take the USMLE Step 2 in their fourth year of study.

The test is given online in a single, nine-hour computer session. There are eight one-hour question blocks, a fifteen-minute tutorial, and a forty-five-minute break during the session.

It is optional to participate in the 15-minute tutorial that starts the exam. Only the test taker may choose to use the allotted 45 minutes for breaks in between portions. 

The break time includes both the time saved by finishing a test block early and the time wasted on tutorials. The exam is given at Prometric testing locations.

Test items for Step 2 CK cover the following topics: internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, preventive medicine, psychiatry, surgery, and other topics related to providing care under supervision.

The following details are required to be provided in test questions that represent clinical situations: a diagnosis, a prognosis, an indication of the disease's underlying causes, the next step in medical care, including preventive measures.

It is an integrated examination that often necessitates the interpretation of imaging tests, pictures of microscopic and gross pathologic specimens, laboratory data, tables, and other diagnostic study results.

Step 2 CK assesses the medical knowledge of prospective doctors, with a focus on the theories and mechanisms behind disease as well as the treatments required to treat them.

The three-digit Step 2-CK scores, which range from 1 to 300, are reported. The passing score as of July 1, 2022, is 214.

In the academic year 2020–2021, first-time test-takers from recognized medical schools in the US and Canada had an average CK score of 246 with a standard variation of 15.

The USMLE determines whether to alter the suggested minimum passing score around every four years, which was last changed to 214 in 2022. 

The duration of this exam section is 9 hours and the fee is around US $660 as of December 2023. The fees for Step 1 and Step 2 will increase to US $670 in 2024.

SMLE Step 3

The third and last test in the USMLE series is a prerequisite for licensing as a doctor of medicine (M.D.), even for foreign medical graduates who want to practice in the US.  In general, most state licensing boards require it as a prerequisite.

Seventy-five percent of the questions in the USMLE Step 3 exam are multiple-choice, and the remaining twenty-five percent are clinical case simulations. 

The USMLE website provides a detailed explanation of the exam's topic.

Exams for the USMLE Step 3 are offered online, but they can only be taken at Prometric testing facilities, which prioritize security and identification verification. 

Every time an examinee wants to enter the examination room, they have to present an official photo identity, produce their fingerprints, and pass both the physical and metal detector inspections. 

Medical equipment is among the extremely limited materials that can be used in an exam room; most materials require prior approval. 

Throughout the examination, the examinees are being watched on camera. Examinees get access to the test all year round. Instead of two consecutive days, USMLE Step 3 can now be taken on two non-consecutive days since 2014.

General subjects included in the USMLE Step 3 exam are necessary to comprehend and apply general medicine and family medicine ideas.

The following are examined in the test:
- Normal growth and development, fundamental ideas, and general principles,  the categories of normal states and diseases.
- Framework for a clinical encounter (first work-up, ongoing care, urgent intervention)
- Scientific principles application, a diagnosis made based on the patient's history, physical examination, and test results, and the patient management.

Common clinical scenarios that doctors may come across are known as clinical encounter frames. 

They include non-emergency issues, issues with care continuity, and potentially fatal circumstances that arise in phone calls, clinics, offices, care facilities, and emergency rooms. 

Every test item in each encounter frame corresponds to one of the six duties performed by physicians. For instance, gathering a medical history and doing a physical examination are key components of first-care visits. 

Continued care interactions, on the other hand, focus more on choices related to prognosis and treatment.

Half of Day 1 is dedicated to Foundations of Independent Practice [FIP], with six 60-minute chunks. There are 38 to 39 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in each FIP block. 

There are 232 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in the FIP section of the test as of 2022. The testing day will last almost seven hours in total.

Day 2 consists of 13 computer-based case simulations (CCS) and six 45-minute blocks of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) on advanced clinical medicine (ACM) which consists of thirty items each.

For the physician to sit for the USMLE Step 3 exam, they need to:

- Obtain passing scores on the Clinical Knowledge and Step 1 of the USMLE.
- Own a degree in medicine.
- The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certification is another need for international medical graduates (IMGs).
- Complete every task outlined in the USMLE Bulletin of Information.

The suggested Step 3 minimum passing score was increased from 196 to 198 as of January 1, 2020.

Exam section duration is 7 and 9 hours for Days 1 and 2 respectively, and the fee is US $915 as of December 2023, which will increase to $925 in 2024.

Tips for Passing the USMLE Exam

Passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. Here are some general tips to consider:

- Establish a consistent study schedule for focused preparation.
- Use high-quality study materials, question banks, and online resources.
- Prioritize active learning through practice questions to reinforce concepts.
- Aim for understanding rather than memorization of information.
- Create concise notes or flashcards to reinforce key knowledge.
- Take regular breaks to prevent burnout and maintain productivity.
- Incorporate self-assessment exams to track progress and identify weak areas.
- Review performance on practice tests to guide further study efforts.
- Join study groups or online forums to discuss challenging concepts with peers.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle with sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and proper nutrition.

First and foremost, establish a study schedule that allows for consistent and focused preparation.  Utilize high-quality study materials such as review books, question banks, and online resources to cover the breadth of content tested. 

Active learning through practice questions is crucial, as it helps reinforce concepts and familiarizes you with the exam format. Prioritize understanding over memorization, as the USMLE assesses the application of knowledge rather than rote recall. 

Consider creating concise notes or flashcards to reinforce key information. Take regular breaks to prevent burnout, and incorporate self-assessment exams to gauge your progress. 

Review your performance on practice tests to identify weak areas and allocate more study time to those topics. Join study groups or online forums to discuss challenging concepts and gain insights from peers.

Lastly, maintain a healthy lifestyle by prioritizing sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition, as these factors contribute to overall cognitive function and well-being during the exam period.


We hope the information provided was helpful. In conclusion, the USMLE is a pivotal step for American and international medical graduates aiming to practice medicine in the United States. 

Administered in three steps, the USMLE evaluates medical knowledge, clinical skills, and the ability to apply clinical information to patient management. Understanding the structure of each step, such as the recently updated USMLE Step 1 scoring system to pass/fail, is crucial for effective preparation. 

Additionally, medical graduates should be aware of the specific requirements for International Medical Graduates (IMGs), including certification from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). 

Aspiring physicians should strategically approach their studies, utilizing high-quality resources, active learning, and self-assessment to ensure comprehensive preparation. 

It's essential to prioritize understanding over memorization and to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the preparation period. 

By following these tips and thoroughly preparing for each step, medical professionals increase their chances of success in the USMLE, ultimately paving the way for a rewarding career in the US medical sector.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is the USMLE?
The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step exam program for medical licensure in the U.S.

Q2. Who sponsors the USMLE?
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) are the sponsors.

Q3. Who needs to take the USMLE?
Doctors with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and International Medical Graduates (IMGs) seeking to practice in the U.S.

Q4. What are the three steps of the USMLE?
Step 1: Basic medical knowledge;
Step 2CK: Clinical medicine knowledge;
Step 3: Application of clinical information to patient management

Q4. Are D.O. degree holders exempt from the USMLE?
Yes, physicians with a D.O. degree are exempt, but they must pass the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners' COMLEX exam.

Q5. What are the recent changes to USMLE Step 1 scoring?
As of February 2022, Step 1 scores are reported as pass/fail instead of a three-digit scale.

Q6. How long is the USMLE Step 1 exam?
The duration is 8 hours.

Q7. What is the fee for USMLE Step 1 as of December 2023?
The fee is around US $660.

Q8. When do U.S. medical students typically take Steps 1 and 2?
Steps 1 and 2 are usually completed during medical school 
Step 3 is often taken at the end of the first year of residency.

Q9. What does USMLE Step 2CK assess?
Step 2-CK evaluates clinical science understanding, medical knowledge, and skills necessary for providing patient care under supervision.

Q10. What is the passing score for USMLE Step 2CK as of July 1, 2022?
The passing score is 214.

Q11. What is the duration of USMLE Step 2CK?
The exam section lasts 9 hours.

Q12. How long is the USMLE Step 3 exam?
Day 1 is 7 hours, and Day 2 is 9 hours.

Q13. What is the passing score for USMLE Step 3 as of January 1, 2020?
The suggested passing score was increased from 196 to 198.

Q14. What is the fee for USMLE Step 3 as of December 2023, and what will it be in 2024?
The fee is US $915 as of December 2023, increasing to $925 in 2024.