How to Master the CCS Part of the USMLE Step 3

How to Master the CCS Part of the USMLE Step 3

For many of us, by the time USMLE Step 3 rolls around, we are in full-fledged chill out mode. Why? Because life begins after USMLE Step 1, careers begin after Step 2CK/CS, and Step 3 is as perfunctory as having to write thank you cards for someone who gave you socks for the holidays.

However, the significance of the USMLE Step 3 exam should not be underestimated. In fact, failing the Step 3 can prevent you from getting a residency or if you are already in residency cause negative attention to you as a trainee.

The biggest mistake students make with the USMLE Step 3 exam is forgetting about the CCS component. The CCS or Computer-based Case Simulations is literally a videogame version of a patient encounter. As per the USMLE® website here is the description of the CCS: “Free-text entry of patient orders is the primary means for interacting with the format. Buttons and checkboxes are used for advancing the clock, changing the patient’s location, reviewing previously displayed information, and obtaining updates on the patient.”

Here are 5 tips to help you succeed on the USMLE Step 3 CCS:


  • 1. Watch the demonstration of Primum CCS software

    The first step in becoming familiar with the CCS portion of the USMLE Step 3 is by familiarizing yourself with the software and structure of the test. As with many standardized tests, knowing how to take the exam is just as important as knowing what is on the exam. Visit the Practice Materials portion of the USMLE website for a detailed breakdown of the test format and an animated demonstration of Primum CCS software.

  • 2. Practice the 6 USMLE® CCS cases

    It’s important to know that the CCS portion of the USMLE Step 3 will present six cases. Although you can’t be sure of the exact content which will appear on the exam, you can practice enough so that you learn to detect patterns in the way test-makers think. This will help you avoid common pitfalls on the test and prevent you from spending unnecessary time going back and forth on Test Day.

  • 3. Practice cases with a fellow student

    Another way to enhance your performance on Test Day is to practice with a fellow student. Not only will you benefit from your collective knowledge, you’ll learn from their test-taking strengths and weaknesses as well. Plus, the video game structure of the CCS lends itself to communal study. Throughout their education, students have a tendency to prepare for normal tests and finals as a group, but life-altering exams in isolation. Make sure you’re utilizing all your resources possible to ensure maximum performance on the exam.

  • 4. Consider 3rd party CCS software

    Though the USMLE website is a credible source of information on the CCS software, don’t hesitate to try third-party options as well. While all will give you an idea of how the exam operates, they all offer slightly different features. In fact, USMLE World claims to offer the only truly interactive Clinical Case Simulation Software. Do your research and find software that works best for you.

  • 5. Use the CCS tips and hints in Master the Boards Step 3

    While it’s certainly important to do your own research, don’t neglect the standard sources of information as exam questions are more likely to be modeled after a more universal source. The common text used for CCS prep on the USMLE Step 3 is Master the Boards Step 3. It’s available in both print and digital formats for your convenience and to fit your preferences.

For additional practice and maximum score, take advantage of our free USMLE prep resources.