The United States Medical Licensure Exam (USMLE) Step 1, commonly called “the Boards,” is a standardized test that assesses a medical student’s ability to apply basic science fundamentals to the practice of medicine. The entire exam has three steps, but this article applies only to Step 1. Students take Step 1 following their second year of medical school. The test is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).
The Step 1 exam is a computer-based test taken in a single day over an eight hour period. It’s a multiple-choice question test that includes seven sections of up to 40 questions each for a total of up to 280 questions. One hour is allotted for each section. That’s an average of one minute and 30 seconds per question. Test takers are allowed 45 total minutes during the test for personal breaks. If you finish any section before the allotted hour is up, you can add that time to your personal break total. Six breaks total are allowed.
There is an optional 15-minute tutorial period at the beginning of the exam. If you choose to skip the tutorial you can add the 15 minutes to your total break time. Be Prepared: During the test, you are only allowed to bring soft foam earplugs into the examination room. Nothing else is allowed – no bags, electronics, phones, or even jackets are allowed.
Be sure to check with the exam monitor prior to entering the test room for complete details. Student or graduates of a medical school in the United States and Canada must apply for the USMLE Step 1 exam with the NBME. Students or graduates of medical schools outside of the US or Canada register with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Tests are administered by appointment year-round.