Do I need a USMLE Step 3 prep course? How do I find the right one for me? These are questions that many students struggle to answer while preparing to face the last exam in the USMLE sequence. The fact that you are reading this means that you are committed to doing well on this exam and becoming a resident doctor in the USA. This blog post will help you answer those questions and provide a list of things that a good prep course should offer to help you ace this grueling exam.

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7 min read

What is USMLE Step 3 and why is it challenging? Should you enroll in a USMLE Step 3 prep course? What is the best USMLE Step 3 prep course? Guide for picking the right USMLE Step 3 prep course Conclusion FAQs

What is USMLE Step 3 and why is it challenging?

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 3 is the final examination you need to pass to become a licensed unsupervised, practicing physician in the United States. To be eligible for this exam, you need to have a DO or an MD, have passed USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2, and be ECFMG certified if you are an international medical graduate. You should check the USMLE website for additional information about eligibility and registration. The USMLE step 3 is the final and most comprehensive exam in the series, so it only follows that it is also the most challenging. It is a two-day exam that consists of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and computer-based case simulations prepared by recognized medical experts, academic and non-academic practitioners, and members of different state medical licensing boards. 

There are a few things that make this exam particularly challenging: 

First, there is the format of the exam. The first day of testing is approximately seven hours long, including a forty-five-minute break and a five-minute optional tutorial. You will need to answer 232 multiple-choice questions divided into six blocks on the first day, leaving you with sixty minutes for each block. Some questions will require you to read scientific abstracts and pharmaceutical advertisements. The second day of examination is nine hours long and includes a forty-five-minute break. It is a bit more complicated as it involves 180 multiple choice questions and thirteen case simulations which are allotted ten to twenty minutes of real-time each. 

Then, there is the material that the test examines. The two days do not have to be scheduled back-to-back, and they test different materials:

Should you enroll in a USMLE Step 3 prep course? 

Only you can answer that question. We can tell you that, like with most exams, preparation is the key to success when it comes to the USMLE Step 3 but different people need different things to learn and prepare for an exam as challenging as this one. So, while we can’t answer this question for you, we can help you figure out if a prep course could be the right move for you. Ask yourself the following questions: 

How did you do on USMLE Step 1 and USMLE step 2?  

Consider how well you did on the previous exams in this series and think about how you prepared for them. Did you do as well as you would have liked on both exams? Did you use a USMLE Step 2 prep course? Think about how you felt while you were preparing for the exam. Do you feel like it got overwhelming at some point, and it would have been nice to have someone to help you through it? Be honest with yourself and think critically about what went right during your prep for the first two exams, and then think about what could have gone better.  

How comfortable are you with the material?  

The USMLE Step 3 evaluates you on a lot of material. This exam aims to find out if you are ready to be an unsupervised physician, so you can expect questions about almost everything related to your ability to practice medicine. That’s why it is important to start studying early. One of the best ways to do this is to test yourself using sample questions and see how you do. If you are in the US, you can register for the practice test and look at your results. It’s impossible to be 100% comfortable with all of the material but the more confident you can be, the better.  

How much time do you have to prepare? 

Most students take the USMLE Step 3 after their first year of residency, but of course, this is not the case for everyone. You should consider when you plan on taking the exam. How much time do you have to prepare? Residency is a hectic and challenging time. Think about your day-to-day schedule and the kind of studying that you can accomplish independently. Think about the amount of research and organizing that will need to go into preparing a proper study schedule for this exam. Some people are great at organizing things, making schedules, and sticking to them. Other people need a bit of help because it’s not their forte or because they don’t have the time. If you fall into one of those latter categories, then you should strongly consider registering for a prep course.  

How do you like to study? 

Last but certainly not least, you should think about your preferred study method. Reflect on what methods have worked best for you in the past. Do you prefer memorization, physical application of your knowledge, diagrams, talking things through, etc.? For example, if you are the type of person who understands things better by talking about them with someone, then a prep course where you get to discuss topics with a professional would probably be more beneficial to you than practice questions alone.  

Wondering what kind of USMLE Step 3 questions you will face and what key study steps you need to complete? This infographic is for you:

What is the best USMLE Step 3 prep course?

If you have decided that you need a prep course, we want to make sure that you are getting the ideal one for you. This is not a decision that you should take lightly. We recommend that you follow the steps below to ensure that you are enrolling in a course that will ultimately be helpful to you.

Different students may require different study methods, but there are specific key elements that good prep courses should have. We recommend that you look for a prep course that offers the following: 

Qualified instructors

It may seem obvious but it is actually worth mentioning. You are enrolling in a prep course because you want help, so you should be able to rely on the experts you are paying to teach you. We recommend that you investigate the company or instructor that offers the prep courses you are considering. Are the instructors that will be teaching you qualified to do so? Does the company have good independent reviews, like a good rating on Trustpilot for example? Do they offer other resources on their website? All of these things will help you figure out if the course is actually reliable and worth the money.

Practice tests

One of the best ways to gauge your progress is by being tested on that knowledge. So, you want a prep course that will give you the opportunity to do that. Look for a prep course that includes more than just study sessions. Homework and practice tests are an integral part of learning. They give your instructor a chance to see what sections or subjects you are struggling with so that they can help you improve. Furthermore, they allow you to do the same thing. You might think that you understood something but when you are asked to apply a concept, you realize that it is not as clear as you thought. It would be best for this to happen while you can still get help from your instructor, rather than during the USMLE Step 3.

Looking for more information about the USMLE Step 3? Check out this video:

Personalized feedback

Another essential element of a good prep course is the feedback that you will receive. It is important to select a prep course that will focus on you! You want a prep course that will give you exam strategies and personalized feedback specific to your strengths and limitations. While general knowledge and class averages can help guide you, they will not always help you get better. For an exam as important as the USMLE Step 3, you want to ensure that your needs are attended to, not just general challenges commonly faced by most students.

One on one consultations

One-on-one time with an instructor will help them help you, and good prep courses know this. These sessions give your instructor a chance to identify the learning strategies and tactics that work best for you, an opportunity to focus on helping you without worrying about other students, and provide you with personalized feedback. Furthermore, it gives you the chance to address things that might not be working. Suppose there is a particular topic that you are struggling with. You can easily ask the instructor to go over it multiple times using different methods in a one-on-one session, but you most likely wouldn’t be able to do this in a classroom setting.  

Guide for picking the right USMLE Step 3 prep course

Now that you know what a good prep course should offer, you need to find one that will set you up for success on your USMLE Step 3. Here is a step-by-step guide that you can use to make sure you find the right prep course for you:


The USMLE Step 3 is a grueling two-day exam that tests you on an overwhelming amount of material and requires a lot of preparation. The right prep course can give you a leg up, but only if it provides the right tools. If you decide that a prep course can help you, then take the time to research and find a course within your budget that offers a free consultation, practice tests, homework, one-on-one sessions, and personalized feedback. Take the time to reflect on your previous exams in this sequence, follow the guidelines we have outlined, and find the right USMLE Step 3 prep course for you. 


1. Do I need a USMLE prep course?

It is not required, and some might even consider it unnecessary, but a prep course can give you the tools you need to ace this challenging exam. You will need to consider all relevant factors and decide if one would be right for you. 

2. How long is the USMLE Step 3?

The USMLE Step 3 is divided into two separate days. The first day is seven hours long, and the second day is nine hours. Both days include a forty-five-minute break. 

3. Do the two test dates have to be back-to-back?

No, you do not. You may break up the test dates, but you must schedule both tests simultaneously, in the same Prometric center and the break between the two tests cannot be more than 14 days long.

4. When should I take USMLE Step 3?

Most students take this exam after their first year of residency.

5. Where can I find independent reviews of a prep course?

The most independent reviews come from other people who have used the services. Check websites like Trustpilot or the prep course's social media. 

6. I'm not too fond of one-on-one classes. Do I really need them in a good prep course?

We highly recommend it. One-on-one sessions are the best way to ensure that your instructor focuses on your needs, not just class averages. 

7. What is a good score for USMLE step 3?

A good score is the highest one you can get, but the passing score is 198. 

8. What kinds of questions should I expect?

The USMLE Step 3 consists of multiple-choice questions and computer-based case simulations. The multiple-choice questions may include scientific extracts and pharmaceutical advertisements. 

9. Where can I find study resources if I don't want to enroll in a prep course?

You can visit the USMLE website for sample questions, practice tests, and additional preparation materials. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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