unsure if i should retake the boards....

i took step I back in june and failed it by a very close margin. i had to take this last block off and have been studying for the past five weeks or so (using brs books and first aid). i am scheduled to re-take in a week or so and am getting cold feet. my school has a “3 strikes and your out” rule and i’m truly afraid of getting booted out of school should i fail it again (and again). i have never been a stellar standardized test taker and i don’t know how i’ll know if i’m ready to retake this exam. i took a practice nbme a week ago and barely broke 400. i’ve been doing qbank questions (keeping in mind this is my second time round doing it) and i’m average a 69%. i have friends who failed as well and some of them retook and failed a second time. i do NOT want to take this exam if there is any doubt that i will pass. i could take the next block off, which will essentially prevent me from graduating on time. people tell me i’m crazy for considering taking the next block off but i’m truly scared. thoughts? how do i know that i’m ready. i can’t bear the thought of failing a second time.

Probably the best counsel would come from administrators at your school. A 69% on Q-bank is a very comfortable passing margin, but as you note, it’s not the first time you’re seeing the questions (at least I think that’s what you mean). As a result I can appreciate that you wouldn’t want to have a false sense of security.
I am not sure anyone here can really give you knowledgeable counsel about this one. There are so few of us who are at third year or beyond. In contrast, your school’s dean’s office has seen several people through this very dilemma each year and so they should have some good advice for you.
I am willing to bet that they are going to tell you that people who only failed by a few points almost invariably passed on their second try. I do believe they will have encouraging data for you, and so I urge you to see what they have to say.
Good luck!

Hi Kelly,

Do not make another attempt at USMLE unless you feel that you are ready. It is much better to drop a year than face dismissal for academic reasons if you fail. If you feel ready and have prepared well, by all means take another shot. Your 69% on Q-Bank is within passing range but don’t rush yourself if you don’t feel ready.

You have taken the test and you know what is involved. If you feel like you are ready, take the exam and stay with your class. If not, opt to do more review and take the exam later. The important thing for you is to graduate not your graduation date.

Take a very good inventory of your readiness and opt for the safest course. I had a very close friend who did have to leave medical school because he failed Step I three times. He was disappointed that he wouldn’t graduate with the class that he entered with so he rushed. Please, please take your time and feel thoroughly prepared. If you failed a second time, imagine the pressure on you to pass on that third time.

On the other hand, try very hard to separate “cold feet” and “pre-test jitters” from just not being ready to take a a second attempt. If you can do this, then you know the answer to your question. You HAVE to overcome your standardized test “jitters” as no matter what you end up doing, you will still have standardized tests. I know that you can do this because you have future patients who need you.

As soon as you have gotten over this USMLE Step I hump, opt for trying to practice being standardized test saavy. At the end of your third year rotations, you have to take shelf exams that are standardized and USMLE Step II is in your future. You can do all of these with practice, prep and a positive attitude.

Do your “gut check”. Do your knowledge inventory and come up with a date to get this test behind you. Even more important, do not focus beyond taking and passing this test. I know that you are going to make a good decision.


I hate to hear that you are in such a tough situation. However, the advice provided by Mary & Nat above is extremely sound. In fact, I have nothing more of value to ad - unusual, huh? I just wanted to wish the best of luck & success.
Do your best, but if you do not feel adequately prepared, then opt for the delayed graduation. Lots of folks take an extra year & still go on to be physicians. There’s too much riding on the line for you to take risks only for a date.
I think Mary’s suggestion of askingthe school for advice & counsel is a wonderful one. Take advantage of the resources they offer. When a med school elects to admit you, they have chosen to commit a ton of resources to your making it through. As a general rule, for those who they perceive as working/carrying their share of the load, the schools will bend over backwards to assist them. Again, take maximum advantage of this…it’s why you pay them all of that tuition.
Again, best of luck & success. Please know that you can vent here at any time you need.