IFOM vs USMLE: Are They the Same?

Almost every medical student in the USA knows the unforgettable acronym USMLE Step 1-3 Exams – the dreaded exam which plays one of the most important factors in selection to residency. For those who do not know, the USMLE is comprised of a basic sciences exam (typically taken after 2nd year) and the clinical skills exam (taken after 4th year) and your scores depend heavily on whether or not you will be matched.

The National Board of Medical Examiners, NBME, created the USMLE and all three steps of the USMLE exam must be passed before a physician with an M.D. degree is eligible to apply for a  license to practice medicine in the United States. In 2009, the NBME created the International Foundations of Medicine (IFOM) exam and started out as a pilot exam. The IFOM consists of a BSE – Basic Science Exam and a CSE – Clinical Sciences exam. Many of the questions are modeled off of the USMLE exam and are much cheaper than the USMLE. Students can use the IFOM exam for the following reasons:

  • For your applications for post-graduate training programs. Although not required, it makes you look more competitive among other candidates.
  • See how you compare among other using an international standard.
  • Familiarize yourself with the types of questions that are used on exams like the USMLE.

Can taking the IFOM exam replace the USMLE?

No, if you wish to practice residency in the USA, you will have to take the USMLE regardless. The IFOM merely is an international standard exam that helps with comparabilities between the two exams.

Your medical school must be a part of the IFOM program in order to administer the exam. Or, if there is a Prometric Center near you, you can take the exam and only you will know your score.

If your school is not part of the IFOM program, you can take it individually at a Prometric Center at international locations. They are not offering the IFOM exam in every country, but you can look here to see if you can take it in your country: https://securereg3.prometric.com/siteselection.aspx

Just type in your city name and see what testing locations come up closest to you.

How similar are the IFOM and the USMLE?

The good news is that if you take the IFOM exam, you can interpret your scores if to the related USMLE Step 1 score. The Score Interpretation Guide from the NBME website (http://www.nbme.org/pdf/ifom/BSE_2013_SIG_English.pdf) can help you see how your IFOM score compares to a Step 1 score.

See the comparisons from IFOM Clinical Skills exam to a USMLE Step 2 score. www.nbme.org/ifomcse2015

How much is the IFOM exam?

The IFOM is much cheaper than the USMLE exam, at $200 for BSE and $300 for CSE.

Where can I take the USMLE abroad?

You do not have to be in the USA in order to take the Step 1 or Step 2 exam. Many countries are offering the USMLE exams. You can see the complete list here: http://www.ecfmg.org/fees/usmle-surcharge.html.

The most up to date locations are on the Prometric Center (The agency that administers the tests) https://www.prometric.com/en-us/for-test-takers/pages/locate-a-test-center.aspx?Type=locate

Overall, the IFOM is helpful if you have the time and money to take this exam before taking the USMLE Step 1 or Step 2. You will have a good idea of how well you will score before you spend more $$ in taking the USMLE.


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  1. Hello i have a question:
    if i took the ifom exam at a medical school registered to the ifom program can i use the results to apply to other schools that accept ifom scores ??