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Class of 2021: Use your voucher to take the Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment


Students at computer screen studying

What is the CBSSA?

Class of 2021: As you prepare for Step 1, the Mentoring and Advising Program (MAP) staff members are here to support you. You should have already received your Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment (CBSSA) voucher from your lead advisor. Please take this assessment no later than October 31. You have breaks October 6-9 and toward the end of October between Renal and Respiratory and GI and Nutrition courses. We recommend using one of those times to take your CBSSA. This practice exam is approximately five hours long and can be taken on your personal computer at your chosen location. Please share the results with your lead advisor so they can help you develop an individualized study plan for Step 1.

Students sometimes feel anxious about Step 1. We want to remind you that the Mental Health Services team, Jessica Fultz, Dana Lasek, PhD, and Samia Hasan, MD, are available to work with students on issues such as test anxiety that might prevent them from performing well on exams. All of their services are confidential. Learn more about the program and set up an appointment!

Update October 8, 2018:

We asked students who took the CBSSA to share their experience by asking them the following questions.

  • How did you use the results of your first CBSSA to create your study plan?
  • Did you make any changes to how you approached your Step 1 prep after you took the CBSSA?
  • Anything else you would like to share about when you took your CBSSA?

If you have any concerns about Step 1 or the CBSSA, feel free to contact your lead advisor, the learning specialist or Mental Health Services. We are here to support you.

Advice from Student #1

My personal goal for the CBSSA was to get a passing score. I ended up meeting my personal goal, so that was reassuring for me. I took the last form on the list because I figured most of my classmates would start from the top, and I didn’t want to be tempted to compare myself to them. As it turns out, I think some of the forms at the beginning may be scored a bit harder, but I’m not sure. I guess my advice would be to not stress about the numerical score. I feel like the forms are all scored differently, so students shouldn’t compare themselves to others because they may have taken a different form of the exam. Also, I think they are all scored differently. The biggest stressor for me during my entire Step 1 prep was the variation in the scoring of the NBME practice exams. I actually ended up doing 12 points better on Step 1 than my best NBME practice anyway. There is still a lot that the 2nd years haven’t learned yet, and it’s been awhile since they’ve reviewed things from 1st year. Use this opportunity to learn what taking a practice test is like.

I didn’t make any changes to my studying after taking the CBSSA. I only studied for coursework first semester, mixing in some various UWorld questions the weeks we didn’t have exams for review. I didn’t start reviewing/studying for Step 1 until Christmas vacation. I then stopped again for MSK/Derm/Endo/Repro and resumed during our dedicated time to study for step one in the spring.

Advice from Student #2

As the name implies, I approached CBSSA as nothing but a self-assessment tool. Like most medical students, overestimating or/and underestimating our understanding of a particular topic is nothing new. But like most medical students as well, I appreciate objectivity. Having never taken Step 1 before, I used CBSSA as an objective marker of my readiness, strength and weakness. I personally was caught by surprise to look at my performance profile and see how relatively strong I was in subjects I was “sure” I had forgotten like embryology and biochemistry from first year and quite shocked to realize my biggest weakness was cardiovascular system. After all, we had just finished a block of cardiovascular system in weeks and I felt well equipped to perform well on the topic. Needless to say, CBSSA was well timed because it provided me opportunity to focus on my then-thought-to-be strength areas as I moved forward to prepare for Step1.


Of course, there are other friends who had different experiences, i.e. to know they did not do as good as they thought and wanted to do while others were happily surprised by how much they underestimated their performance in different areas. Regardless of which camp anyone lied in, we all got an objective tool helping us self-assess our areas of weaknesses and strengths. CBSSA was an essential tool in guiding me to figure out the best next steps for Step 1 prep!

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

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