Comprehensive Basic Science Exam: take one

On my birthday this year, September 8, I took the Comprehensive Basic Science Exam (CBSE), designed by the National Board of Medical Examiners® (NBME). Myself and other potential oral surgery candidates were the first to ever take this test which, according to AAMOS, was designed to measure, “understanding of the basic sciences and provide an enhanced mechanism for OMS training programs to evaluate applicants for 2013-2014 residency positions”.

It was one of the most difficult exams I have ever taken. The degree of difficulty, however, is multifaceted. Being that this was the first time the exam was administered, there were no past exams, flash cards or dedicated review material from which to study, like you would for NBDE part I. Instead, it was a jumbled mess of dental students logging into online forums asking, “What are you studying? Is it going to be like the USMLE Step 1?”

Well, after taking the exam, I realized that it is not “like” the USMLE Step 1. It is almost exactly the same as the USMLE Step 1. The test was a 184-question version of Step 1, which tests material that directly relates to medical school curriculum. It was heavily weighted on pathology, pharmacology and systems physiology. There was less emphasis on biochemistry compared to the NBDE Part I. Questions were case-based format, where you “have a patient with…” and you have to use laboratory values and your knowledge of anatomy/physiology, microbiology, pathology and pharmacology to come up with an answer. A table is given with the “normal” ranges of lab values, so you do not need to memorize these; however, you will need to understand how to interpret them.

So how would I study if I had to take it again? I would prepare the same way that any medical school student would prepare for the USMLE Step 1. There are First Aid Guides, Q-banks, USMLE World, Doctors In Training and other study materials related to the USMLE Step 1 available. I would recommend spending as much time as possible going through practice questions, as the format is different from that of Part I.

A point of confusion among test takers was how the exam would be scored. The report is given as a numerical score out of 100, which would be directly related to your USMLE Step 1 score if you had taken the exam. The only comparison to other dental students is the mean (53.9), range (34 to 95), and a standard deviation (10.4).

If you are interested in oral surgery and plan to take this exam, study very hard. Know that there will be a substantial amount of material that is not taught in the dental curriculum. Currently, the exam is only offered once a year, but it has been rumored that a second exam might be offered in April 2013.

Did you take the exam? If so, what’s your best advice for future test-takers?

~Tyler Rumple, District 10 trustee, Washington ’14

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Comments (2)

  1. db

    Im a student in a Caribbean medical school, the NBME comp exam has to be cleared before we can write the USMLE step 1 (our school requires a minimum score of 72, which approximately is the minimum passing score of 188 on the USMLE). You’re correct that the exam is heavy on physiology, pathology, and pharmacology (and another P, pathophysiology). The questions are very integrated. Most people would agree that you cannot succeed without knowing First Aid for USMLE step 1. It has good mneumonics and a good list of recommended review books to target your weak subjects quickly. An underrated book is MedEssentials for the USMLE step 1 by Kaplan. Kaplan also conducts live review courses and has great videos to supplement the Medessentials book. Getting started with those two books will take you a long way.


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