Step 2CK Experience as an International Medical Graduate (IMG)

Step 2CK as an IMG Step 2CK as an IMG

This is a guest blog post featuring advice on Step 2CK preparation from the International Medical Graduate’s (IMG) perspective.


These words resonated through my mind while I was preparing for Step 2 CK and just like in the novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I wished that my CK books had these words inscribed on their covers “in large, friendly letters” just like in the electronic guide that is described in the book.

(If you have not read the aforementioned book by Douglas Adams, it is a very fun book, full of satire and humor in the format of a very badly constructed sci-fi story.)

But I digress; the purpose of this post is to tell you all about my exam prep, as an International Medical Graduate, and experience as briefly and accurately as possible.

I am an IMG. Length of preparation was 5-6 months and I started studying approximately 1-2 months after taking Step 1.
These are the materials I used in the order I used them (although there was some overlap):

1. Kaplan lecture notes and videos (old 2007 videos)
– These videos are low yield and outdated, the only ones I consider worth watching are gynecology/obstetrics and surgery. I watched them at 1.5 speed. I do not know if these videos are updated now, but may be worth checking out if you have plenty of time to study, try to contact somebody that has purchased the new ones see if they are worth it. I read newer lecture notes, they are well written but lengthy.

  1. Doctors in Training (DIT) (old videos, 2011 I think)

– I used DIT for step 1 and thought it was worth the boredom. On the contrary I did not find these 2011 videos too helpful or high yield to be honest. Repeating topics once again from Kaplan I think it did help, but in general I would suggest avoiding these videos altogether except for subjects you may feel weak in. The newer videos may be worth it, as with Kaplan talk to somebody that has taken a newer course.

  1. Master the Boards (MTB) 2 and 3

– These are good. They may be overhyped a little bit and are not a panacea but I believe they are an excellent companion for uworld. I think they work best if you read them before tackling uworld and then keep reviewing them while working on the qbank(s).

  1. Kaplan qbank

– Low yield qbank, felt more difficult than uworld. Questions are longer and I believe they help you practice time management. I found it worthwhile though because it helped a great deal for me for time management. I would only recommend doing it BEFORE uworld and only if you have enough time for it. Scored 68% on it, I started it subject-wise after finishing the corresponding lecture notes and videos, and then when I was done with all subjects I did it random timed.

  1. Uworld qbank

– Felt relatively easy compared to Kaplan’s. Did it all in random timed 44 question blocks, scored 78%. Explanations are for the most part excellent, I suggest reading ALL of them regardless if you had the question right or not. I also kept a notebook where I wrote down high yield stuff from the qbank and reviewed it before the test (tables, algorithms and such).

For both qbanks I did 2 blocks per day back to back during the morning and then used the rest of the day for reading the explanations.


These are key I think, they help you gauge and fine tune your prep and if you get good scores they give you a great confidence boost, don’t use them to predict your score, specially for Step 2 CK, however you should be able to comfortably pass all of them (try to get a score in the 230-250 range).
I like doing them towards the end of my prep after I have covered almost all of the material and have the qbanks nearly finished. These are the ones I used:

KapSim Test 1: 71% (I don’t remember exactly when I did it, I was maybe halfway through uworld)

NBME 6: 254 (1 month before the test)

NBME 7: 248 (9 days before the test)

UWSA: 265 (2 weeks before the test)

FRED (free 150): 90-something percent (2-3 days before the test).

Real score: 265!

Towards the end of my prep I read the subjects I felt weak in MTB 3, I thought it was helpful somewhat. I also did like 3 or 4 blocks of wrong questions in uworld but that was it, I am not a fan of doing qbanks over and over.

Exam Day:

Blocks 1-3: I felt relieved to see questions were similar to uworld but with weird questions every now and then. Felt good overall.
Blocks 4-5: Were kind of awful, felt quite difficult and broke my confidence a little bit.
Block 6: Felt a little better, but was still trying to recover from blocks 4 and 5.
Blocks 7-8: Were a mix of easy and tough questions. I think I missed a couple of “easy” ones on these blocks. This may be normal and do not be too hard on yourself (like I was), you have been answering questions for the past 7 hours. The mind can only take so much!

I only got 1 abstract and no drug ads, I think it was in block 7 and I left it for the end with 8 minutes left. I recommend to always do drug ads and abstracts after answering all of the other questions in the block. The abstract was difficult for me and probably got it all wrong. I would say to not worry too much about these types of questions, qbanks are good prep for this and in my opinion may even not have a huge impact on your final score.

Exam day went kind of in a blur; it felt as if I was almost automatically answering questions. Try to be careful when reading questions and do not linger on any for more than 1-1.5 minutes. Overall I think I was able to review half of my marked questions because for most blocks I only had on average 5 minutes to spare, even less in some.

Do not worry if you are not able to review all of your marked! I also tend to mark a lot of them.

As you can see I used similar sources as many other IMGs studying for Step 2CK.
I believe there is no “secret” source or formula for scoring well on this test; I do believe however that hard work pays off. I came out of the test with a bad feeling, which I shouldn’t because I knew I did my best, but you know how our mind can play tricks with ourselves.
I also made the mistake of comparing my feeling to the one I had for step 1. I suggest you do not do this; they are two very different tests and should be treated as such, even if step 2 does build upon the knowledge of step 1.

Exam felt tough but at the same time doable for the most part, topics felt familiar although sometimes asked in unfamiliar ways, do not let this throw you off, just keep going.

I read a lot of exam experiences in order to set this study plan and I wrote this hoping it will helpful to other IMGs on their USMLE journey. The most important thing is to trust in your preparation and most of all in yourself!

This blog post was submitted and edited by Dr. F, MD.