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NBME Practice Exams: Newest Changes to the Self-Assessment Forms

Comings and going with the NBMEs

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by Alec Palmerton, MD in Uncategorized

If you’ve been looking to take an NBME practice exam lately, you may have seen that there have been changes to the available forms. Although there is been no official announcement from the National Board of Medical Examiners® (NBME®) Self-Assessment Services, the website now demonstrates that NBME Form 11 has been retired, and has been replaced by the new NBME Form 18. Based on posts on message boards, it appears the exam was released on March 3, 2016, which seems to be the date on which previous NBME exams have been released.

The available forms for Comprehensive Basic Science are now as follows (it has never been clear why there hasn’t been a Form 14):

NBME Self-Assessment Services Purchase Screen

Form 18
Form 17
Form 16
Form 15
Form 13
Form 12

All forms are available as standard-paced and self-paced, which allows for more time. Note that you can also purchase expanded feedback, which allows you to see incorrect answers for an additional $10 ($60, rather than the $50 for standard Comprehensive Basic Science tests).

Support the website below for guidance on how to use your NBME self-examinations most effectively.

When should you take your first NBME practice exam?

I highly recommend that you take an NBME early in your studies, ideally at least several weeks before you begin your dedicated study period. I recommend taking it with expanded feedback to students that I tutor, because it gives you the ability to see why you are getting questions wrong (hint: many of the questions that students miss have nothing to do with their knowledge, per se, but rather smaller mistakes which, compounded over many questions, can have a substantial impact on your score).

Which NBME exam is the hardest?

This is a complicated question, as there is probably not a single right answer. Based off of how many questions it takes to reach a passing score, you could argue that NBME 16 is the easiest, since they sent my analysis of my students have taken the test, you need to get the most questions correct just to achieve a passing score (in other words, each question is worth the least). Similarly, NBME 13, which requires the fewest number of questions to reach a passing score, would be the hardest.

“I heard that NBME ____ is the hardest. Should I wait until the end to take it?”

Again, each exam is scaled differently, so even if a particular exam is demonstrably more difficult than another (see above), this is accounted for in the scoring rubric. As such, I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape trying to game the system to try to figure out which exam is the most difficult.

Which exam should you start with?

Honestly, I don’t put it on a stock in which exam you start with. If you have to choose, I would start with the lowest number, since those will be the oldest, and while they will still likely be an accurate assessment of your score, it allows you to save the more recent NBMEs which may reflect more recent changes to the exam, like the changes beginning in summer 2016, which you can read about here.

Where can I sign up for my NBME practice exam?

Here’s a link to the NBME Self-Assessment Services website. You must register, after which you can purchase your self-assessment.

For the answers to many more of your questions, read NBME Practice Exams: Ultimate Guide for the USMLEs and Shelf Exams

4 Comments
  1. Sam says:

    Dear Alec,

    Hi, I have got no word to thank you enough for such a wonderful blog.
    I got your Step 1 and 2 Anki cards a couple of month ago and was using them until recently. My current issue is regarding NBME results that freaked me out and I have neither a clear explanation for it nor a solution. I took my 1st NBME (13) 2 weeks ago and got 251 then a week later I took NBME 15 and got 258. Today, I got 247 for NBME 16. I really am freaked out for 11 score decline in a week. (considering the fact you mentioned above about the results of NBME 16 should be generally higher). I tried to associate it to whatever I could but have no idea what is going on as nothing has changed. During the past 2 weeks I was taking UW test mixed, timed (half of the questions I was taking were for 2nd time). My exam date is October 5th and with this results I think I am pursuing a wrong strategy. I can guess how busy you are but I would really appreciate it if you could let me have your comments regarding this frustrating issue.

    1. Yousmle says:

      Thanks so much for your kind message. Hard to know, but sometimes people for whatever reason have a drop in their score just because they have a bad day. I’d take at least another NBME before your exam, and if you’re scoring in the range you’re hoping, I’d take your test. Again, without seeing the questions themselves with you, it’s hard to know why you might be missing them, but I wouldn’t read too much into a single exam.

      1. Sam says:

        Thanks so much for your prompt reply. Actually it was not an ideal day with a couple of fire alarms in the building but I am not sure if that was the only reason. As you said, I won’t rely on this too much and will take form 17 next week and see how that one goes.

        1. Yousmle says:

          Sounds great!

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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.

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