What Happens if I Fail the USMLE?

Failure is the number one fear among medical students…especially since it can literally be a matter of life and death. This fear really starts to set in when it comes time to taking the USMLE. While it’s true we are no strangers to test-taking and medical assessments, the USMLE is not a commonplace exam and should never be taken as such.
In both 2014 and 2015, about 23,700 foreign medical graduates took the USMLE® Step 1 exam, and 78% passed. This means that 22% of first time test-takers had another year of studying before entering residency.

After failing one of the USMLE®’s, you will inevitably suffer from the Kubler-Ross model of grief. This includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They can occur in any order, and each can occur multiple times. It is normal to be upset and experience any of these emotions. For the most part, these emotions are completely normal, but always seek professional help should they become debilitating in any way. Here are important tips to keep in mind if you should need to retake an exam.

  • Share the burden

    When we fail it is natural to want to hide what has happened out of pride or embarrassment. But that emotional weight is not something you want to keep inside. Rather, you should share what has happened with friends and loved ones. Talking things out lets you dissipate the issue and get past it. Plus, your friends and family will be able to provide emotional support and keep things in perspective.

  • Rev back up

    Once you have gotten over the initial shock, the next best step in management is actually to sit down and assess what you did to study. Then setup an appointment with a Kaplan med-advisor or your school’s advisor to see how you can improve upon that. Was it a problem with your test taking, was it anxiety, or was it simply just not taking enough time to learn “chest pain, shortness of breath, hypotension, confusion…”?

  • Change it up

    Remember, doing the same thing the second time around isn’t going to work if it did not work the first time. Admitting when you are wrong is one of the hardest things to do in life. So if you did not do questions the first time; on round two, do every question possible!

  • Don’t lose faith

    The reason we fall down is so we can learn to stand up again. Learning from a repeat attempt and improving can be a sign of a strong character and is something program directors will value.

  • Don’t make excuses

    One mistake many applicants make is explaining repeat attempts on their personal statement. Unless Godzilla attacked on the day of your exam, there is no need to explain what happened. A stellar, rocking repeat score will speak for itself. But be warned, you will likely have to explain what happened in your interview. Keep it concise, positive, and honest.

  • Persistence is key

    As Calvin Coolidge says, “Nothing in this world can take the place or persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”