USMLE Gunner

Learn how to get top scores on the USMLE board exams

Category: Step 3

Analysis of the USMLE Percentile Rankings

The USMLE recently released the percentile rankings (PDF) for scores on all three board exams taken between 2017 through 2019 (updated October 14, 2020). The USMLE does not publish percentile rankings with individual scores and only provides this kind of data to the public every 1-2 years.

In the tables below we have kept the data from previous reports, but the graphs and analysis are updated to reflect the latest data.

This information is very interesting because we can see the actual distribution of scores compared to a normalized distribution, or standard bell curve, that we typically assume when calculating a percentile rank for USMLE scores.

USMLE Step 1

Let us get right into the data. The following is the table showing the mean and standard deviation on USMLE Step 1 for US and Canadian students.

USMLE Step 1
Calendar Year Mean Standard Deviation
2011 226 22
2012 227 22
2013 228 21
2014 229 20
2015 229 20
2016 228 21
2017 229 20
2018 230 19
2019 232 19

The are some questions that we will try to answer with this information:

  1. What is the actual distribution of scores? Is it close to a normalized distribution or is it skewed?
  2. What do the different distributions really tell us?
  3. How accurate is our percentile calculator?
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Best Review Books for Step 2 & 3

The following review books and resources are the ones I found most helpful throughout medical school and are kept up to date (last revision January 2020). Reading these can help you learn the topics most likely to be tested on the USMLE Step 2 and 3 exams.

If you are looking for review books for Step 1 you can find them here.

Third and Fourth Years of Medical School – Clinicals and USMLE Step 2 and 3 Prep

After you have completed USMLE Step 1 successfully, Step 2 and 3 are not as difficult and do not typically require as much preparation. As always, I would focus primarily on practice questions in your preparation for the second and final USMLE exams. But, you will need something to study as you go through your clinicals, and the following books are great for that purpose.

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