Step 3 Exam Content

Overview

Step 3 assesses whether you can apply medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science essential for the unsupervised practice of medicine, with emphasis on patient management in ambulatory settings. It is the final examination in the USMLE sequence leading to a license to practice medicine without supervision. The examination material is prepared by examination committees broadly representing the medical profession. The committees comprise recognized experts in their fields, including both academic and non-academic practitioners, as well as members of state medical licensing boards. Step 3 content reflects a data-based model of generalist medical practice in the United States. The test items and cases reflect the clinical situations that a general, as-yet undifferentiated, physician might encounter within the context of a specific setting. Step 3 provides a final assessment of physicians assuming independent responsibility for delivering general medical care.

The Step 3 examination devotes attention to the importance of assessing the knowledge and skills of physicians who are assuming independent responsibility for providing general medical care to patients. The first day of the Step 3 examination is referred to as Foundations of Independent Practice (FIP), and the second day is referred to as Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM).

Day 1: Step 3 Foundations of Independent Practice (FIP)

This test day focuses on assessment of knowledge of basic medical and scientific principles essential for effective health care. Content areas covered include application of foundational sciences; understanding of biostatistics and epidemiology/population health, and interpretation of the medical literature; and application of social sciences, including communication and interpersonal skills, medical ethics, systems-based practice, and patient safety.

The test day also includes content assessing knowledge of diagnosis and management, particularly focused on knowledge of history and physical examination, diagnosis, and use of diagnostic studies. This test day consists solely of multiple-choice questions and includes some of the newer item formats, such as those based on scientific abstracts and pharmaceutical advertisements.

Day 2: Step 3 Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)

This test day focuses on assessment of the ability to apply comprehensive knowledge of health and disease in the context of patient management and the evolving manifestation of disease over time. Content areas covered include assessment of knowledge of diagnosis and management, particularly focused on prognosis and outcome, health maintenance and screening, therapeutics, and medical decision making. Knowledge of history and physical examination, diagnosis, and use of diagnostic studies also is assessed. This test day includes multiple-choice questions and computer-based case simulations.

Exam Format

Step 3 is a two-day examination. The first day of testing includes 232 multiple-choice items divided into 6 blocks of 38-39 items; 60 minutes are allotted for completion of each block of test items. There are approximately 7 hours in the test session on the first day, including 45 minutes of break time and a 5-minute optional tutorial. Note that the amount of time available for breaks may be increased by finishing a block of test items or the optional tutorial before the allotted time expires.

There are approximately 9 hours in the test session on the second day. This day of testing includes a 5-minute optional tutorial followed by 180 multiple-choice items, divided into 6 blocks of 30 items; 45 minutes are allotted for completion of each block of test items. The second day also includes a 7-minute CCS tutorial. This is followed by 13 case simulations, each of which is allotted a maximum of 10 or 20 minutes of real time. A minimum of 45 minutes is available for break time. There is an optional survey at the end of the second day, which can be completed if time allows.