USMLE Step 1 Pass/Fail: When should you take the exam?

The USMLE Step 1 exam will become Pass/Fail beginning on January 26, 2022. No numerical scores will be reported for any applicant who takes the exam on or after that date. Scores for applicants who take the exam prior to January 26, 2022, on the other hand, will be reported numerically on the USMLE transcript.

If you’re preparing for Step 1, you might be contemplating when to schedule your exam. You may also be wondering how this change will impact your application. Keep reading for insights on different approaches to navigating the USMLE Step 1 becoming Pass/Fail.

Will applying with a Pass/Fail score negatively impact chances of Matching?

It’s unlikely that applying with a “Pass” instead of a numerical score will hurt your chances of Matching, especially if your application is otherwise strong. This means your application includes specialty-specific US Clinical Experience and accompanying Letters of Recommendation, a specialty-specific Personal Statement, and ultimately an average or above average Step 2 score.

Should applicants take the exam before or after it becomes Pass/Fail?

Essentially, this is an individual decision that depends on many factors. Do you have adequate time to study before January 26, 2022? Is your predicted score high? Then, you might consider taking the exam before it becomes Pass/Fail.

Alternatively, you might be uncertain that you’ll be well-prepared for the exam before January 26, 2022. Or, your predicted score may not be satisfactory. In this case, it might be best to wait.

Will applicants with high scores that are reported numerically receive preference from programs?

Each residency program sets its own requirements, preferences, and guidelines for reviewing applications. During the 2022-2023 cycle there will be a mix of applicants applying with numerical and Pass/Fail scores. As such, it is possible that programs will continue to use Step 1 scores as a benchmark requirement. It is also possible that programs will look to other aspects of the application to guide their review process. This is, again, why it is crucial to focus on your application as a whole. Ensure your CV and supplemental documents reflect your specialty-specific experiences and strengths.


We hope this content has provided some insight to help you determine when to schedule your USMLE Step 1 exam. If you have questions about the change to Pass/Fail, or anything else Match related, don’t hesitate to email us at


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