Identifying and Supporting Students to Prevent USMLE Step 1 Failures When Testing Follows Clerkships: Insights From 9 Schools

Aubrie Swan Sein*, Michelle Daniel, Amy Fleming, Gail Morrison, Jennifer G. Christner, Karin Esposito, Arnyce R. Pock, Colleen O. Grochowski, John L. Dalrymple, Sally A. Santen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Several schools have moved the United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 exam after core clerkships, and others are considering this change. Delaying Step 1 may improve Step 1 performance and lower Step 1 failure rates. Schools considering moving Step 1 are particularly concerned about late identification of struggling students and late Step failures, which can be particularly problematic due to reduced time to remediate and accumulated debt if remediation is ultimately unsuccessful. In the literature published to date, little attention has been given to these students. In this article, authors from 9 medical schools with a postclerkship Step 1 exam share their experiences. The authors describe curricular policies, early warning and identification strategies, and interventions to enhance success for all students and struggling students in particular. Such learners can be identified by understanding challenges that place them "at risk"and by tracking performance outcomes, particularly on other standardized assessments. All learners can benefit from early coaching and advising, mechanisms to ensure early feedback on performance, commercial study tools, learning specialists or resources to enhance learning skills, and wellness programs. Some students may need intensive tutoring, neuropsychological testing and exam accommodations, board preparation courses, deceleration pathways, and options to postpone Step 1. In rare instances, a student may need a compassionate off-ramp from medical school. With the National Board of Medical Examiner's announcement that Step 1 scoring will change to pass/fail as early as January 2022, residency program directors might use failing Step 1 scores to screen out candidates. Institutions altering the timing of Step 1 can benefit from practical guidance by those who have made the change, to both prevent Step 1 failures and minimize adverse effects on those who fail.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1338-1345
Number of pages8
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


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