When Should You Take Step 2 CK and CS?

Although USMLE Step 1 is perhaps the most important standardized test for residency applications (and still will be, before it becomes pass/fail), you still want to make sure that your USMLE Step 2 CK score is solid and that you pass Step 2 CS.
For Step 2 CS timing, the answer is pretty straightforward: schedule it early, as spots fill up very very quickly. It is offered on some Saturdays, which might help you miss less of a rotation, particularly if you’re planning to do a sub-internship or away rotation in the months around Step 2 CS. Step 2 CS finishes fairly early in the afternoon, so you should be okay booking flights for that same day.
As for Step 2 CK, the timing is a bit more complicated. While there is very little variation in Step 1 timing between students at the same school, Step 2 CK can be taken almost any time throughout the first semester of your fourth year. That level of flexibility can be daunting.
When it comes to deciding when to take Step 2 CK, there are two main factors to consider:
1. How well you did on Step 1
2. How well you can do on Step 2 CK
Step 2 CK scores usually come out about 4 weeks after you sit for your test. When you submit ERAS®, your entire USMLE® transcript (i.e. every available score) will be automatically sent to every program you apply to.
If you think you can do better or similar compared to Step 1, take Step 2 CK in the summer/early fall. Your score will be available before ERAS® opens, so it will automatically be sent with your ERAS® application, which can help your application. It will also be off your plate for the rest of the semester, which is a huge bonus — you will have a ton of other stressors to juggle later in the fall. 
If you feel like you haven’t had enough time to prepare and score similarly or better than on Step 1, then take Step 2 CK later. This way, your score won’t be automatically included in your ERAS® application; you can choose whether to push your scores to programs later when they become available. Programs probably like to see CK scores before interview invites, but it won’t break your application. And after interviews have been completed, a new Step 2 CK score, even if it is low, is probably unlikely to change what they already think of you.
While students generally feel that Step 2 CK scoring is more generous (read: has a larger curve) than Step 1, you’ll still want to take it seriously and carve out some dedicated time to study (ideally at least 2-3 weeks full-time). Consider taking Step 2 CK when you’re not doing a sub-internship or away rotation.
Of note, if you choose to wait to take Step 2 CK after applications are in, realize that you may have to attend interviews during Step 2 studying time so plan accordingly. In the end, the best time to take it is when you’re ready.

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Electronic Residency Application Service® (ERAS®) is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is used under the fair use doctrine. Med School Mentors is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the AAMC.
United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) is a registered trademark of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and is used under the fair use doctrine. Med School Mentors is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the NBME.