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NBME Self-Assessment Frequently Asked Questions

Dr. Brian Radvansky contributed to this post, and we regularly keep this information up to date. 

NBME FAQ! Man, that’s a lot of capital letters. We often vilify the National Board of Medical Examiners for building hurdles for us to scale. Along with their right-hand man, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the NBME constructs everyone’s favorite tests, USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3.

Luckily, we are not shoved off into the miasma of these tests without a little guidance. NBME self-assessments allow us to peer into the soul of the exam, and get a taste of what to expect. Sadly, NBME practice tests are a bit less user-friendly than our beloved UWorld, so we have compiled this simple FAQ to get you pointed in the right direction.

NBME vs UWSA: When & How to Use Practice Tests for USMLE Step 1

One of the most common questions I get as a USMLE tutor is:

"What is the difference between the NBME Comprehensive Basic Science Self Assessments (often referred to as just NBMEs) and the UWorld Self Assessments (UWSAs)?"

For starters, the NBME and UWSA are both practice tests that students take to help them prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam, to gauge their study progress, and to predict their final score.

There are six NBMEs that are available for purchase for $60 each (and in 2020 an additional five that are available for free). There are two UWSAs that are included in your UWorld subscription if you buy at least a 180 day subscription.

NBMEs consist of four sections of 50 questions while the UWSAs contain four sections of 40 questions. The actual USMLE Step 1 exam is made up of 7 blocks of a maximum of 40 questions per block. 

How to Use NBMEs to Study for Step 2 CK
Dr. Taylor Purvis by Dr. Taylor Purvis on Dec 15, 2020 in USMLE Step 2 CK, nbme

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already made it past the first big exam hurdle in your medical school career: USMLE Step 1.

Congratulations! Your thoughts are likely now turning to Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) and Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS). 

NBME Free 120: Everything You Need to Know + Question Explanations
Ali Elsaadi by Ali Elsaadi on May 13, 2020 in Med School, nbme

So, it’s your final week of Step 1 studying. Congratulations! Are you wondering what should you do in that final week of studying? One resource I am a big fan of having my students use in the final week of Step 1 studying is the NBME Free 120 questions. But before we get into why it's extremely helpful in that last week, let's discuss what it is.

When Your USMLE Step 1 NBME Scores Say No, But Your Calendar Says Yes
Med School Tutors by Med School Tutors on Mar 12, 2020 in USMLE, USMLE Step 1, nbme

Lauryn Falcone and Dr. Eli Freiman contributed to this post. 

For most students, the anticipation leading up to their first NBME practice test is the same. Most wonder: Am I truly prepared? What happens if my score prediction is much lower than my goal Step 1 score?

Frequently, the answers to these questions may initially feel negative (it’s common for students to receive an early NBME score or two that’s below their ideal score). Many students see this as an opportunity for improvement, but what happens if the NBME scores don’t continue to rise? What happens if you truly aren’t scoring where you want on NBMEs before your step 1 test day?

Don’t worry. Everyone experiences score plateaus on practice tests, and there are numerous reasons for this. There is no way for an exam to adequately test you on your specific growing body of knowledge, so there will be huge amounts of variability from exam to exam.

You could be at a 250 level but get a 235 – that’s how much variability you could have by nature of being tested on a finite, specific body of knowledge. You could also have a bad testing day, or just have not been up to taking a practice NBME when you just want to get the real one over with.

Often, we underperform on exam practices because they aren’t as important as the real test. Most students will interpret stagnation on NBMEs as a sign that they haven’t been studying the right information or that they are inefficiently studying – this is usually not the case. You’ve still been learning! 

That said, we have some tips to help you break through score plateaus for your NBME practice exams. Read on for more on how to break through NBME practice test score stagnation!

USMLE Step 1-Style Question Breakdown Webinar ~ Powered by TrueLearn

We have been running a USMLE-style question breakdown webinar series this summer, and were getting requests to bring back another installment this month. Our friends at TrueLearn rose to the occasion to provide us with USMLE Step 1-style questions from their SmartBank for our tutors to dissect in real time during the webinar.

Hosted by our exceptional USMLE tutors, Drs. Fred Bertino and Sana Majid, and TrueLearn's Director of Academic Success, Sherry Smith, this webinar focused on providing guidance and high-yield techniques for how to approach a brand-new set of USMLE Step 1-style questions and maximize your score. We covered tips on questions that require dissecting long vignettes, interpreting labs, selecting answer choices presented in a table, and more! We also answered attendees' questions during our live Q&A following the webinar, and that's all captured here:


If you'd like to utilize TrueLearn's SmartBank for your Step 1 studies, enter promo code MST50 at checkout for 50% off the purchase of any USMLE Step 1 SmartBank subscription at TrueLearn.com! (Click here to automatically apply this offer to your shopping cart.)

If you're ready to work with a tutor like Fred or Sana to maximize your studies, take out the guesswork, and get your best score, call us or email us at any time to be matched with your tutor! 212.327.0098 or HQ@medschooltutors.com.

Here's more information on the essential elements for succeeding on Step 1, and best practices for utilizing NBMEs in your prep. Lastly, here's one of our top posts breaking down what scoring a 260 on Step 1 really means.

Why Your NBME Scores Can Dip Before Test Day (And What to Do About It)

No one will argue that NBME self-assessment examinations are a crucial component of preparing for the USMLE exams. These assessments allow students to simulate test-taking conditions using the same interface that they will encounter on test day with the same style of questions. Therefore, these practice tests offer a great benchmark for how students are progressing by providing them a current step 1 score prediction. Most students expect to have a linear progression in their practice test scores throughout their study period, with the final practice test being their highest score ever. In reality, does not always happen. In fact, sometimes the final NBME score can drop leading up to test day. Read on to learn why this is and what you can do about it!

The ABCs of NBME Self-Assessments
Ali Elsaadi by Ali Elsaadi on Mar 20, 2019 in USMLE, nbme, Advice and Tips

Although there are a few ways people take the NBME self-assessments, there’s one method that stands above the rest. In short, take it how you would take the actual USMLE Step 1. Sounds easy enough, but what steps should you take to treat this exam like THE Step?

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your NBMES:

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Forget (NB)ME Not: Why Reusing NBMEs is Something to Remember

We recently discussed the do’s and don'ts of using UWorld, the quintessential study tool, multiple times. In this post, we will discuss if and when it may be appropriate to reuse the key assessment tool, NBME self-assessment examinations. The following questions and answers can help you determine if you should retake a practice exam.

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