For many students preparing for USMLE Step 1, the available NBME CBSSA (Comprehensive Basic Science Self Assessment) exams are the bedrock of their preparation. Currently, the available NBME CBSSA forms are Form 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 and are considered the best and most accurate way to assess one’s predicted performance on the USMLE Step 1.
However, as of March 24th*, 2021, the NBME will be retiring all of the old CBSSA NBME forms and replacing them with 6 new NBME forms. Per the NBME, these test forms will need to be started and completed no later than 90 days after purchase, thus if they are purchased just before the deadline then June 22nd would be the last day to use them.
The replacement forms are all being rolled out on March 24th, 2021. NBME CBSSA Form 25, Form 26, Form 27, Form 28, Form 29, and Form 30 will be released and the retirement of the old NBME forms will commence. This is a big deal for nearly every student preparing for Step 1.
Here at Elite Medical Prep, we strongly recommend that graduates complete at least 3 or 4 of the NBME CBSSA exams prior to taking their real USMLE Step 1.
Although the old NBMEs contain ‘retired’ questions, we have found through feedback from our many hundreds of learners, that these questions are often a very accurate representation of the types of questions they faced on their USMLE Step 1 test day.
Furthermore, the scores on NBME exams are calibrated to match real scores on USMLE Step 1 (NBME and USMLE are essentially the same entity), meaning there is no better predictive tool available.
As such, many students carefully consider the way that they use these exams.
Because setting up a detailed schedule is important for successfully covering all the testable material, scholars are often asking their tutors how should they schedule and spread out the NBME practice exams.
In the past, some of the NBME forms were known to be particularly challenging, and often apprentices avoided taking it too close to test day in order to decrease the negative psychological impact of feeling one did ‘poorly’ on a practice exam right before the real thing.
At Elite Medical Prep, we strongly recommend thoroughly reviewing the answers to these questions by using the enhanced feedback system available for nearly all these tests.
Now that there will be several more new exams, a subset of students preparing to take USMLE Step 1 in the months of March-May will have the advantage of taking the old forms (before they are ‘retired’) and practicing with the new exams as well.
Making use of these additional NBME CBSSA Forms (#25, #26, #27, #28, #29, and #30) could be a really important benefit for those students who know how to extract the most learning from these questions.
One of the key areas that our tutors spend time with their students is to show them how to most effectively review their NBME practice exam.
Strong students studying for the USMLE don’t simply answer the question and move on. Rather, successful and effective people will consider why each of the possible answer choices listed is right or wrong. Often tutors spend time showing their students how the question may be slightly edited or reconstructed to reflect one of the other answers.
What Should You do With The Old NBME CBSSA Exams?
Now that the switchover date is upon us, many students still remain confused or unsure regarding what to do with the old exams. The default response for some students will be to purchase all the available exams right before the deadline, and then figure it out afterward.
In our view, this is acceptable though unnecessary because students risk having too many exams. We have found students can overload on practice exams and in the fog of practicing for test day, they lose sight of the value of carefully reviewing the exams after they are taken. Score prediction is incredibly important, but it is not meaningful unless a student has time to take corrective action based on the score report and the feedback.
That is why, again, we do NOT recommend taking a practice exam within 2-3 days of your actual exam date.
In general, our recommended response to this retirement and release remains that students should try to purchase 2-3 practice exams before the switchover date. The exams that students choose to purchase should have good predictive score value.
Which ones of the Retiring NBME CBSSA Forms should you choose?
Among the remaining soon-to-be retired NBME CBSSA Forms, we are agnostic as to which ones should be chosen. Dr. Kenneth Rubin has been leading our team of tutors in dissecting the NBME practice forms, going back all the way to the first ever released NBME practice exam, CBSSA Form 1.
The takeaway is that while the wording can change slightly over the years, the content of the exam differs little because the fundamental science of medicine has been largely the same from the perspective of a student preparing for Step 1.
Therefore, NBME Form 13 is just as valid as NBME Form 20 or 21 in providing a score prediction.
We are still gathering information
Keep in mind, that we do not know the predictive ability of the soon to be released new NBME CBSSA Forms–Forms 25-30. Our preliminary guess is that by mid-May there should be enough information available via our existing students and via information in forums such as Reddit, to provide a good idea of the quality of score prediction for the new forms.
Therefore, those students taking their exams in mid to late June, through the end of July should have the benefit of lots of good quality score prediction and practice material.
As soon as these new NBME CBSSA exams are released, our team of tutors at Elite Medical Prep will analyze the new exams and make sure to elicit feedback from our students. We will be sharing those insights to help students better understand how to prepare for the challenge represented by the USMLE Step 1.