Step 1 Self-Assessment: How to Interpret Your Score

Sophie Moran - Jan 28, 2021
A laptop screen shows a 3-digit self-assessment score.

Update: The USMLE®  Step 1 exam switches to a Pass/Fail exam as of January 26, 2022. This means you are no longer dependent on the previous three-digit score. You can learn more about how to study for the new Step 1 exam with Dr. Ryan Colaço here. Read the official USMLE announcement here.

One of the features of the AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment that appeals most to medical students is the 3-digit predicted score. The purpose of the predicted score is to give you an idea of where you currently stand in your preparation and to be a jumping-off point for your remaining studies. Just remember that you must complete all four blocks of the self-assessment to receive a 3-digit score. 

How the 3-digit score is calculated

The score you’ll receive after completing the AMBOSS Step 1 Self Assessment is calculated using the performance of Self-Assessment-takers that are within weeks of their actual USMLE® Step 1 exam date as a reference to calibrate the scores. In addition, we use a statistical method called “item response theory” which estimates the proficiency of each individual exam-taker and the specific questions she or he answered for score calculation. This means that getting a relatively easy question wrong will have a greater negative impact on the score than getting a very challenging question wrong.

The scores of the reference cohort are checked against data from actual USMLE Step 1 exam-takers. The minimum, maximum, and mean scores are all assessed in the reference cohort as well as in the entire cohort of AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment participants to ensure their accuracy.

Releasing the scores

This year, the score reports will be sent to students who completed the self-assessment on the 3rd of March. We know you’ll be eager to get your hands on your score as soon as possible and we’re determined to give it to you while making sure it’s as accurate as it can possibly be. To do this, we must wait for all participants to complete the self-assessment. This way, all the necessary criteria of the test-takers will be included which means we can provide you with an accurate score.

How timing impacts the score 

While the 3-digit predicted score can be a useful indicator of your current preparedness for the real Step 1 exam, timing is an important factor to consider when assessing your score. 

If you’re months away from the real thing, then chances are the score you get in the self-assessment won’t reflect the score you’ll ultimately receive. It’s important to keep this in mind and not become disheartened if the score isn’t what you hoped it would be. This is simply the jumping-off point for the remainder of your study period. 

Students in many different phases of their Step 1 studies agree: “I took [the AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment] pretty early on and it was useful to pinpoint my weak areas… I would definitely recommend doing the AMBOSS Self-Assessment, especially early on in Step 1 prep,” said Clifford, who attends Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.  

If you are within two weeks of test day, then the AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment is best used to familiarize yourself with the interface and the timed nature of the exam. The goal here is to hone your test-taking and time management strategies. You can read a more detailed guide of how to use the AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment at the various stages of the study cycle here.

How to use the score report to improve your studies 

The score report you receive after completing the self-assessment is one of the most useful tools available for structuring the rest of your study period. Along with your score, it provides you with a detailed analysis of your performance, your national percentile ranking, as well as offering personalized study recommendations based on your strengths and weaknesses.  

These personalized study recommendations are one of the most beneficial features. Based on your performance in the self-assessment, they will identify the high-yield areas that you should focus on. The topics are matched to corresponding Qbank sessions, so you can jump straight in and become an expert in the areas you struggled with during the self-assessment. 

As last year’s self-assessment-taker, Andrew Nguyen, LECOM class of 2022 said: “The 2020 Self-Assessment was a great practice exam to gauge where I was in my knowledge base for Step 1... I enjoyed that I was able to see the areas that I needed to improve on with custom questions prepared tailored to my weaknesses.” 

What to do if you get a score you don’t expect

Many students look at self-assessments as a predictive tool that can be used to set expectations for the real thing. After all, it’s only natural to link the score you’ll be receiving from AMBOSS with the USMLE 3-digit score that will eventually make its way into your residency applications. While there is some value in this approach, it has its pitfalls.

In the case of a low self-assessment score, it can be easy to become dejected or disappointed. While this is understandable, such a reaction can weaken confidence and motivation. If these feelings take root, they can have an impact greater on performance than any seemingly objective measurement of performance. That’s why it’s important to place things in greater context: a self-assessment is an imperfect tool that should be used to inform your future efforts.

Likewise, it can be easy to become complacent after receiving a score that is higher than your initial expectations. In this case, perhaps the test-taker’s studies have been more rigorous and comprehensive than they had initially thought. Alternatively, medical students often have high standards for themselves and may chronically underestimate their strengths. No matter the reason, the core insight remains the same: the score you’ll receive from the real thing is the only one that matters, so there is no room to relax or celebrate until you’ve taken the actual Step 1 exam.

Miss this year's AMBOSS Step 1 Self-Assessment Week? More opportunities to practice your test-taking skills are coming! Sign up and we'll let you know when they're available.