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Changes to Step 3 examination in 2013

Posted: November 28, 2012

As previously announced, changes to the USMLE Step 3 examination are scheduled to take place no earlier than 2014. The redesigned examination will include assessment of "a comprehensive knowledge of both foundational science and clinical medicine," as well as "a demonstration of evidence-based medicine and quantitative reasoning skills important to patient care and to life-long learning."

Over the next few years, Step 3 examinees will see a gradual increase in test items that assess knowledge of foundational science.  To give examinees a sense for what such an item might look like, an example of a 2-item set is provided below. The second item in the set is an example of how foundational science might be assessed in Step 3.
Example Step 3 item set:

A 74-year-old man comes to the ED with a 2-week history of nosebleeds with associated nausea. He says the blood drips down his throat. He denies recent trauma. Medical history includes hypertension and a stroke 2 years ago. Medications: enteric-coated 81-mg aspirin, simvastatin, and losartan. BMI is 21 kg/m2. The patient is pale. Vital signs: T=36.9°C (98.4°F), P=110/min, R=18/min, and BP=115/85 mm Hg. Pulse ox =93% O2 sat.  PE: dried blood around the right nostril; left nostril is clear. Muscle strength is 4/5 in the left upper extremity. Stool occult blood is positive.

Serum      Blood
  Urea nitrogen 49 mg/dL        Hematocrit 18%
  Creatinine 1.49 mg/dL        Hemoglobin 6.1 g/dL
       WBC 13,100/mm3
       Platelet count 212,000/mm3
       INR 1.3

Which of the following is the priority in management?
(A) Infusion of 0.9% saline
(B) Nasal packing
(C) Referral for colonoscopy
(D) Transfusion of packed red blood cells*

The patient is admitted to the hospital and undergoes transfusion of packed red blood cells. Four hours later, the patient's bleeding recurs. Following cautery and nasal packing, the bleeding ceases. Twelve hours later, the patient develops headache, vomiting, and muscle weakness. He is disoriented and delirious. He appears flushed and uncomfortable. Vital signs: T=38.3°C (100.9°F), P=110/min, R=26/min, and BP=92/60 mm Hg. Physical examination discloses nonpurulent conjunctivitis and a diffuse, erythematous maculopapular rash over the trunk and both lower extremities.

Which of the following is the most likely pathophysiologic mechanism of this patient's current condition? 
(A) Exotoxin-mediated T-cell activation*
(B) Interleukin-mediated inhibition of CD 4+ T-lymphocytes
(C) Lipopolysaccharide-induced cytokine production
(D) Sphingosine kinase activation in inflammatory cells

*Correct answers shown in bold.

In 2012, new item formats that assess an examinee's ability to appropriately interpret information presented both in the form of a research abstract and a pharmaceutical advertisement were introduced into the Step 3 examination. More information about these item formats is provided in the Comprehensive Review of USMLE updates.

In 2013, Step 3 examinees will see an increase in the number of research abstract and pharmaceutical advertisement questions.


Updated practice and informational materials for the Step 3 examination available

Posted: November 19, 2015

Updated practice and informational materials for the Step 3 examination have been posted to the USMLE website. These materials reflect the change in number of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) per block described in a prior announcement.

Examinees who plan to take a Step 3 examination on or after January 18, 2016 should read the materials and practice with the updated sample items and cases. The materials include:

Step 3 – Change in number of items and score delay

Posted: November 18, 2015

Beginning the week of January 18, 2016, the number of items on the Step 3 examination will decrease. There will be a delay in reporting scores for exams administered between January 18 and April 30, 2016. The target date for reporting Step 3 scores for most examinees testing during this time period is May 25, 2016.

Although this change will occur quickly at many test centers, there may be some locations where the transition takes longer to complete. The overall transition period should last approximately six weeks. Please note that:

  • The length of the testing days will not change.
  • Day 1 (Foundations of Independent Practice [FIP]) will continue to be an approximately 7-hour testing session, including time for breaks and tutorials.
  • Day 2 (Advanced Clinical Medicine [ACM]) will continue to be a 9-hour testing session, including time for breaks and tutorials.
  • Day 1 (FIP) will continue to be divided into six 60-minute blocks.
  • Each FIP block will have 38 to 40 multiple-choice questions (MCQs).
  • The total number of MCQs on the FIP portion of the examination will be 233.
  • Day 2 (ACM) will continue to be divided into six 45-minute blocks of MCQs, and 13 computer-based case simulations (CCS).
  • Each ACM MCQ block will have 30 items.
  • The total number of MCQ items on the ACM portion of the examination will be 180.
  • Scores on examination forms taken before and after the change – as well as scores on forms with different numbers of items – will be comparable; the possible variation in the number of items per form will be accounted for in scoring the examination.

Score reports for Step 3 are usually available within four weeks of testing. However, because of the change described above, as well as routine modifications to the test item pool, score reporting for most Step 3 examinations administered from January 18, 2016 through April 30, 2016 will take longer. As noted above, the target date for reporting Step 3 scores for most examinees testing during this time period is May 25, 2016.

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