Stavros Matsoukas – 262 – USMLE Step 2CK Experience



Stavros Matsoukas
International Medical Student
Status of Career: Undergraduate
Medical school: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Preparation Time: 03/31/2017 – 01/24/2019
Minus 5 months due to sickness and rescheduling
Minus 5 months due to last year in Medical School
Exam Date: 01/24/201
Step 2 CK Score: 262
Material (Roughly):
– 3,000 Pages Reading
– 3,000 Pages Notes
– 11,000 QnAs
STEP 2 CK SCORE: 262 (> 1 SD, 85.5 Percentile)
Dear IMGs from all over the world
Which resources did I use
-OBGYN Study Plan
-Pediatrics Study Plan
-Internal Medicine
-Interpretation of Literature
How did I use my resources and Discipline-Targeted Approach
UWorld for STEP 2 CK
-How to study UW 2
-How to make notes
Important clues, generally for STEP 2 CK and Test-taking strategies
– How important are CMS Tests and NBMEs and in what way
What was my biggest challenge
How was my experience on the exam day
How to register for the exam
My Study Plan and Suggested Study Timeline
Frequently Asked Questions, that haven’t been answered so far
-Last Month Routine
-What to Study for the last month (At least what I did)
-How do you manage LONG stems
-When time becomes valuable
My scores
Contact Information
Dear IMGs from all over the world,
After a long time of preparation and anxiety, I would like to describe my experience about STEP 2 CK
preparation and give some advice to all those people who are preparing for this exam. I will also try to
answer all the questions that I you‘ve asked me.
Which resources did I use?
-Kaplan Books (OBGYN, Pediatrics, Surgery, Psychiatry; NOT Internal Medicine)
-Master The Boards for STEP 2 CK
-Master The Boards for STEP 3
-First Aid STEP 2 CK Q-Book
-Kaplan Q-Book
-Did NOT do First Aid Book for STEP 2 CK
-Pathoma (very specific subjects, as a review to refresh some concepts)
-Goljian Pathology (read a few pages only)
-First Aid for STEP 1 (Read all at some point, but again, the most important subjects to consider
reviewing from there are: Pharmacology Chapter from basic sciences, Pharmacology part from each
organ chapter, Immunology tables, especially the immunodeficiency and autoantibodies charts, fungi,
parasites, microbiology tables, microbiology pharmacology, maybe some pathology subjects, but don’t
lose time with details, BIOSTATISTICS, Psychiatry, Neurology; Try to avoid losing time on
How did I use my resources and Discipline-Targeted Approach
OBGYN Study Plan
I read Kaplan book first, with Kaplan lecture videos. Then I read MTB 3 and tried to note everything I
could and have some concepts or whole chapters (e.g. menopause) noted completely on MTB 3. It’s
totally impossible to transfer everything from Kaplan book to MTB 3. My advice to you is to read Kaplan
first, then MTB 3 and then you can decide for each chapter individually. Continue with UW2 and UW3.
They are both extremely valuable for your preparation and success.
Pediatrics Study Plan
I applied the abovementioned technique for studying pediatrics, as well. Interestingly enough, I found
very detailed the ENT and Ophthalmology chapters, but UW2 covers all of those concepts completely, so
don’t get stresses when reading these chapters. Also, I found the immunology chapter not helpful at all;
instead I did those concepts from FA for STEP 1 and UW2. Also, UW2 and UW3 are extremely important.
Kaplan book is a very well written one, and I think it’s underestimated in our community. But the most
important thing that I should point out is that the best part is the one with the clinical vignettes. All the
information you need is right there. I also found Kaplan lectures very helpful here, understanding some
concepts and pointing out some details. For example, through these vignettes and videos you will find
out that there is a detailed approach to neck trauma, based on the location of the lesion, which is a
concept that I didn’t find in UW2 or UW3. I personally read the first part, and then I did the part with the
clinical vignettes. Whenever I wanted to revise surgery I only reviewed this part. Trauma chapter is
excellent, and in combination with UW Surgery questions gives you whatever you want. From my point
of view, the most powerful parts from Kaplan Surgery are Trauma and Breast Surgery. UW2 and UW3
should once again constitute integral parts of your arsenal.
Basically, UW2 has everything you need. In addition, I highly recommend that you review the following,
in order to prepare for everything. Some of the following have concepts, or important details that may
not be present at UW2.
1. MTB 2 CK (esp. the pharmacology)
2. First Aid for STEP 1 (esp. pharmacology)
3. MTB 3 (I would suggest that you do only the QnAs; some of them are good and difficult, so use them
to train your brain)
4. If you haven’t watched Kaplan lectures with Alina Gonzalez-Mayo I recommend that you do it; her
lectures are extremely helpful in understanding basic concepts.
5. UW2
6. UW3
Internal Medicine
Most important source is UW 2 and UW 3.
I read MTB2 CK and I tried to note as much as I could from STEP 1. MTB 2 CK is good, but just for the
beginning. It points out high yield concepts that you’re going to see in UW 2 and you need to clarify the
in your mind very well.
UW 2 will provide a stepwise management for both diagnosis and treatment of each disease, as well as
pathophysiology and clinical picture information needed to be remembered in order to pursue a high
UW 3 examines the same concepts, but from a different perspective. They ask you more about diagnosis
and treatment approach, and you may encounter more details in management, compared to UW2. They
also like to ask a lot of questions about the prognosis of a disease.
What Kaplan Lectures to watch if you have time: Barone (hematology), Castro, Frank (Emergency
Medicine, Infectious Diseases).
1. First Aid for STEP 1
2. UW2
3. UW3
4. Kaplan Psychiatry book, relative chapter
Interpretation of Literature
-Kaplan Psychiatry Book, relative chapter
UWorld for STEP 2 CK
Obviously, this is the most important resource for the exam, as indicated by hundreds of examinees that
have taken this exam. It has consolidated, high yield knowledge coming from published research. They
also provide a lot of algorithms for diagnostic and therapeutic stepwise management in a clinical setting.
How to study UW 2:
I recommend the system–based management. Before I do any chapter, I reviewed all the other
resources I was using, for example, MTB 2 CK, First Aid for STEP 1, and made sure I did a robust revision.
Even after this, there were too many facts and questions that I didn’t know. Don’t panic. You’re doing
this QBank to build solid knowledge and a clinical thinking to guide your stepwise management. At this
point I feel that an important question you should ask yourself when struggling with a management
vignette at STEP 2 CK, is the following: ‘’Will my selected option change the management of the
patient?’’ Or: ‘’Will this have a mortality benefit?’’ If not, then that’s probably not the right answer, and
you should consider reviewing the stem and choosing another one. Indeed, there are always questions
that it takes a small detail to choose between 2 answer choices.
How to make notes?
Organization is key here. Had I know what I know now before I begin my preparation, I would have
organized my notes a little bit better. Some concepts are mixed with others. For example not all
pulmonary embolism or atelectasis questions may be encountered on the same block and one after
another. So, my point here is to indicate that when making notes, try NOT to continue on the same page
making notes for a different disease. Instead, leave all the rest of that sheet as a free space, and once
you encounter again Pulmonary Embolism or Atelectasis, continue from where you stopped. This can
furthermore be enriched by knowledge you have from other resources, like MTB 2 CK, MTB 3, STEP UP,
Pathoma, Goljian, First Aid, or literally any other source. Making notes that way will help you have all
the knowledge of every disease at one specifying place and not having to search to another 4-5 places.
This will save you time and help you build better memory. You may also add the notes from UW 3.
As previously mentioned, this QBank takes the same cases and asks questions of a very different
spectrum; yet high yield and important ones. For example, while UW2 would ask you to put a patient
with essential tremor on propranolol, UW3 will require you to know when to start the medication, so
you will need to be able to look at very specific indications in order to decide if you’re going to prescribe
medications or if you’re going to just follow up the patient with subsequent appointments. Sometimes it
gets really frustrating, especially after having done all these questions, to be still wrong or to be asked
things you have no idea about. Again, don’t worry. Since you’re doing one QBank more and you’re
taking your studying one step further, you’re in the right place for pursuing excellence. Keep it up!
I did this QBank clearly for exercise purposes. I found interesting enough the following blocks: Pediatrics,
OBGYN, Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Infectious Diseases, Renal, and Pulmonary. This Question Bank
asks a lot of rare diseases and a lot of questions that are out of the spectrum of the exam. However I did
an older version, and, as such, I don’t know if my saying is affected due to that or not. If you have time
and patience, you can do it. Otherwise, I would say don’t even bother, or you may at least do the
abovementioned blocks if you wish.
Important clues, generally for STEP 2 CK and Test-taking strategies
1. When struggling with a management vignette at STEP 2 CK, think the following: ‘’Will my
selected option change the management of the patient?’’ Or: ‘’Will this have a mortality
benefit?’’ If not, then that’s probably not the right answer, and you should consider reviewing
the stem and choosing another one. Indeed, there are always questions that it takes a small
detail to choose between 2 answer choices.
2. When struggling with a stem try to give an answer before reading the answer choices. Then see
the answer choices and begin to rule out as many as possible. Finally use your differential
diagnosis skills to pick between the last 2-3 options.
3. How to build differential diagnosis skills is another concept:
I found out that one of the best ways to train this skill is to write the given explanation for the
wrong answer(s). For example, the vignette may be written in such a way that you need to
differentiate between aspiration pneumonia and pulmonary embolism or CHF Exacerbation and
COPD Exacerbation. The way that the vignette is written is what will make the differential
diagnosis difficult, even for diseases that you couldn’t think of. So, you should note why the
right choice is A and why choice B is wrong. After a few months of doing this, you will finally
realize the virtue you created for yourself. It’s all yours, well done!!!
I did them on April/May 2019.
CMS tests are difficult from the perspective that they present a lot of clinical pictures in a very atypical
way or they give conflicting evidence pointing to two different diagnoses, thus trying to make your
differential diagnosis a nightmare. But as I said, building up differential skills is supposed to be no easy
task. Your brain has to bleed through the process but it’s only a matter of time (in our case just a few
months) for it to adjust to the applied task. It’s totally possible. Remember that the real examination
gives atypical cases and conflicting evidence for a difficult differential as well.
NBMEs were more straightforward in general but again they had difficult questions as well as many
weird ones. You will understand what I’m saying once you do them. But generally they present decent
Sample QnAs are available on usmle website both as pdf and as an online test (differ only in
approximately 10 questions). They are easy, straightforward and decently presented, provide answers
without explanations and enable you to calculate your score as a percentage.
How important are CMS Tests and NBMEs and in what way?
First of all they offer a lot of concepts (and in many variations) that will be asked on the real exam, for
example I found a pretty high number and variation of questions regarding TIAs and carotid stenosis,
and its management. Secondly they prepare you for the test since you can take advantage of them to
build test-taking skills and enhance your endurance and timing. Ultimately, they constitute another
robust QBank altogether, making them an appealing source of learning for international students
aspiring to pursue a high score on the exam.
However, I can’t say that they’re predictive, and if you’re doing them offline it’s very difficult to calculate
your score. I tried to do this seeking in posts of other students that had approximately the same number
of wrongs with me. On top of that, it’s difficult to find the correct answers if you’re doing them offline,
and even more difficult to find the explanations.
It was not difficult but not easy, too. No drug ad/research questions, with many QnAs being repeated. I
did many wrongs that I shouldn’t have done (18), but I felt that many areas were unrepresented. It’s
logical since it had only 160 stems. I didn’t do UWSA 2.
What was my biggest challenge?
The worst think that happened to me during this process is that I got sick 2-3 days before my
examination day, subsequently I was hospitalized for a whole week and consequently I lost my
examination. It was something not infectious with only acute phase, excellent prognosis and no residual
defects or disease remnants, but it was enough to make me completely unable to take the exam. Please
don’t ask me what it was, it doesn’t matter. I had to submit a waiver request to explain what happened,
providing the doctors’ opinion, and I finally got a 300$ discount when I registered again for the exam,
since my request was approved. It takes quite a while for such a request to be reviewed and approved.
First of all, the eligibility period has to end. Then, after 4 weeks the prometric center sends a letter to
ecfmg saying that you did not go to your exam. Then it takes approximately 10-15 working days for them
to review your request and give you a final answer. They did it approximately 3-4 weeks prior to the
expected (i.e. faster than expected) but until everything became ready for scheduling (for the 2nd time) it
took 5 more months until I finally took my exam. So, I was supposed to take my exam on August 23rd
2018, and I finally managed to take it on January 24th, 2019.
How was my experience on the exam day
After the identification and fingerprint checking I started the test ASAP. I was a little bit nervous, but it’s
ok to feel that way just before examinations of such importance. During the tutorial I checked only for
proper headphone functioning, so that I could have a total hour for break time. At this point, I highly
encourage you to see my video on YouTube regarding my STEP 2 CK experience, with more details,
regarding the examination process:
As for the content of the exam I have two important points to discuss:
First of all, I contend that UW is the most important resource for this exam and that it allows you to
develop a robust clinical knowledge and a stepwise clinical way of thinking, so that you can meet the
requirements of the test.
Secondly, I found that many of the concepts and diseases were unrepresented in the test, and I was
expecting to see bigger variety. Instead, many diseases were repeated for 2-4 times and there were too
many questions regarding hospital management, which I didn’t see on UW 2. Luckily, UW3 had enough
of these questions so I regard that having it done was a pivotal point of my preparation.
How to register for the exam
The process is essentially the same as for STEP 1. If you‘ve already done STEP 1 you do NOT need to send
again an offline part of your application. You just need to complete the online part, in which you also
define the eligibility period. Just for the record, you should anticipate approximately 2 weeks from your
registration for an email to be sent to your Medical School for verification of status. Once verification is
done, it takes a week or maybe less for your permit to be available through OASIS. Once your permit
becomes available, you can schedule your exam.
My Study Plan and Suggested Study Timeline
1. I began with Kaplan Pediatrics, with Kaplan Lectures. Then I did Kaplan OBGYN with Kaplan
Lectures. The reason I started with these two subjects is that there were totally unfamiliar to
me, so I wanted to have enough time to digest the knowledge.
2. Then I began doing MTBs. Having done STEP 1 a few months ago, I realized that the one part of
Internal Medicine was already on my mind, i.e. the pathophysiology one. Then I had to learn the
stepwise way of thinking for both Diagnosis and Treatment. Kaplan IM Book is useless to this. I
began doing MTB 2 CK and I realized that it is a good book for the beginning. I enriched the book
with many notes from Pathoma, Goljian and FA for STEP 1, to the point that there was no more
space to write even a word. I found the QnAs of this book very helpful. Once done with this, I
began doing UW 2, which took me about 2 months to complete and a lot of notes. While doing
this I reviewed Psychiatry and I did Kaplan Surgery with Lectures. The second part of the Kaplan
Surgery book with the case studies is extremely helpful. After I was done with UW 2 I felt that I
wanted to do more vignettes for training. I did Kaplan QBank which had many rare and
unrepresentative questions, but it also covered some important concepts, like neck trauma and
location-based approach in neck trauma. I then did UW 3 (2014 edition) which took me 1 month
to complete and approximately half the notes of UW2. Once done with it I found the 2016
edition available offline. I did it again. I found some conflicting questions between these two
editions (No more than 10). I did the 2016 version in a block-based manner, organizing 9-hour
tests. Simultaneously I made sure I did all the QnAs of Kaplan QBook and FA QBook. Revising the
UW 2 Notes every day, on top of the previous, made it even more complicated and rigorous. As
for the Kaplan IM Lectures, I highly recommend that you do the Emergency Medicine and
Infectious chapters, as well as Dr. Castro’s Lectures.
3. Last but not least, after all of these were done and I was confident enough, I started doing the
CMS Tests and NBMEs.
4. After it I did the sample Questions and scored 115/120.
5. I did UW2 for the 4th time only QnAs; not notes. It took me 2 weeks because I was really tired
and I was feeling exhausted and not able to concentrate.
6. I continued for one week doing some extra notes from UW2 and reviewing the most high yield
7. I took UWSA 1 on June 31st and scored 273 (98 percentile, 89 percentage, 18 wrongs)
8. I did one last revision of everything and scheduled to take the exam on August 24th
9. I got sick and lost the exam.
10. I started over, found the courage and repeated everything at least once. It was tiring.
P.S.: Don’t get stressed about time. Everyone has his or her own rhythms and other duties as well. Try to
find what rhythm fits best to your program and ambitions, try to maintain a normal lifestyle and not to
completely ruin your personal life and get isolated as I did, because this may make you more pessimistic.
Ultimately, try to do what you think is great work, because that’s what will bring you satisfaction at the
end of the day.
Frequently Asked Questions, that haven’t been answered so far
Last Month Routine:
-Wake up the same time every day (usually 2 hours before you are supposed to be at the prometric
center, i.e. 7:00 am)
-Eat a good breakfast
-Eat healthy food and at logical hours
-Sleep always at the same time, especially the last 10-14 days before the exam (I tried 11:00 pm)
-Try to sleep for 8 hours
-Go for a walk if you feel overwhelmed
-See ONLY important people that give value to your life and make you feel great, forget your problems
and your anxiety and make you laugh, no matter how pressure you had during the day
-Go for jogging (I didn’t do it, but I highly recommend it)
What to Study for the last month (At least what I did)
-UW2 Notes
-UW3 Notes (if no time, do only the important ones)
-Pediatrics, OBGYN, MTB 2 CK, MTB 3, at least the important chapters, or those you that feel weaker at.
-NBMEs, CMS Tests (because they have good concepts)
-I made sure to review UW questions prior to one month before the exam, because it’s definitely a tiring
task to review all those long and tricky vignettes
How do you manage LONG stems?
There are two techniques:
1. Read it all from the beginning to the end (Not Recommended)
2. Read the Question and the answers first, to get an idea of what they’re asking and what to search for,
and then go to the stem from the beginning. This technique is highly recommended and from my point
of view it really works always, and more specifically when your brain is tired from hours and hours of
being tested.
When time becomes valuable…
‘’How did u manage the time during exam? When I solve questions I just have to hurry at the end of
each block, I don’t get time to read questions thoroughly and then I have to pick an answer randomly.
Any advice?’’
Well, I face that problem too, so let’s say you asked the right question and at the right person. I can’t say
I pick randomly when that happens, but I rather try to read fast, to think fast and not to lose time by
staying too long on a question. I had a really hard time at the two blocks that had 38 Questions and a
research/drug ad each. In the one block I did all the questions in the order they were, and I was
extremely pressed during the next 25 questions having only 28 minutes for them. On the other block I
skipped the 3 questions and did the 15 remaining ones, having only 6-7 minutes for the ad. I put one of
those three answers randomly because I didn’t have time and it seemed to me difficult at that point.
Ultimately, this part of my test was as good as all the others, so I can say I did a pretty good job there.
Unfortunately these blocks were the 4th and 5th, just before my 30-minute break, so I was a little bit
tired. That’s why I always say to learn to read fast and build up endurance by organizing 9-hour exams
with low-yield resources, like FA QBook or Kaplan QBook. Another technique to deal with this impostor
called compressing time is to apply the technique for long vignettes described before. Read the
question, have a look at the answers to guide your brain, then read the vignette and try to fish what
they’re asking for! Everybody that I’ve talked to finds time really pressing, especially on STEP 2 CK. You
have to learn to deal with it. If you would like to learn more details about my time management on the
Test Day I suggest that you refer to my YouTube video regarding my STEP 2 CK Examination Day
My scores:
Discipline Score
UWorld 2 82%, 2,306 Questions
UWorld 3 75%, 1,502 Questions
Kaplan QBank 81%, 2,121 Questions
Kaplan QBook 83%, 850 Questions
First Aid QBook 81%, 1003 Questions
Sample Questions 96%, 120 Questions
UWSA 1 89%, 98th Percentile, 18 Wrongs, 160 Questions
CMS Internal Medicine 92%, 200 Questions
CMS Neurology 88.5%, 200 Questions
CMS OBGYN 88.5%, 200 Questions
CMS Pediatrics 88.5%, 200 Questions
CMS Psychiatry Surgery 85.5%, 200 Questions
CMS Surgery 91%, 200 Questions
NBME 1 93.5%, 184 QnAs
NBME 2 92.5%, 184 QnAs
NBME 3 91.5%, 184 QnAs
NBME 4 95%, 184 QnAs
NBME 6 100%, 184 QnAs, Same as NBMEs 1,2,3,4.
NBME 7 93.5%, 184 QnAs
Contact Information
If you have any questions or advices I would be my honor and pleasure to help you. You can
communicate with me in the following:
FB: Stavros Matsoukas (Academic)
YouTube Channel: Stavros Matsoukas MED Tube

October 11, 2019
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