USMLE prep

I just tried to scroll through old posts to find previous recommendations on how to prep for USMLE step I(what books, courses, strategies) but couldn’t find much. So - would people who have gone through this upcoming experience be willing to share their experiences?
Many thanks,

Caveat: My Step 1 score was a few points below the national average
First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is essential. I suggest owning it now and using it as an adjunct in studying your 2d year courses - wish I had done that.
I used Kaplan’s QBank - I purchased a one-month subscription but if you are intent on doing really well, you might consider the three-month subscription instead. (I was cheap, and also realistic in that I scheduled my exam a month after school finished, and I knew there was no way I’d be studying Step One stuff before 2d year was over.)
One advantage of the 3-month subscription is that you’ve got a bigger bank of questions to work from. I started out with topic review - e.g. gastroenterology - and would study, then do a set of questions. But in some of the “lesser” areas, my topic review of questions used up almost all the questions in a given area, so that when I later wanted to do simulated exams with mixed questions from all disciplines, some of the topics weren’t well-represented.
The other thing is that repeating questions on Q=bank could fake you into thinking you’re doing better than you are - another argument for the bigger bank of questions that comes with the 3-month version.
Q-bank features really good explanations of the right and wrong answers. Just reading all of these after doing a block of questions helps you review a lot.
I did not take a review course and frankly didn’t hear anything from those who did take the course that made me regret my decision. By the end of 2d year of med school you should have the independent learning thing pretty well down pat. Sitting in a room having people shove stuff down your throat seems a ghastly approach to prepping for this test IMHO.
just like the MCAT, the more questions you do during your prep, the better off you are. Q-bank is especially great in that the computer format is IDENTICAL to the real thing so if you’ve done some mock exams on Q-bank you’ll feel very comfortable in the test center.
If I remember correctly I also used “underground clinical vignettes” as a sort of review prior to my exhaustive review of each discipline. They’re quick and easy reading and help to get you thinking.
HTH. Step 1 was almost 18 months ago and Step 2 is already a distant memory 3 months ago yippee! One thing’s for sure, test-taking gets to be just an ordinary chore as you slog through med school.

Since I’m a little closer to this thing than Mary (well, pretty much one year closer to be exact) so things are a tad fresher in my mind. Especially the pain part. That’s very fresh. Ouch.
I can’t agree more with Mary about QBank. I did the three month subscription thanks to our school. UTMB has been having trouble with step I scores for a couple of years so they bought all of us the 3 month version. Everyone I spoke with said they used it extensively. We ended up with a 96% pass rate and an average 224 (both the school record). While we have pretty substantial prevalence of OCD in our class, I’m convinced QBank was a huge part of it.
I read the following cover to cover:
BRS pathology and physiology
First Aid
Clinical Micro MRS
Lippincott’s Biochem
Road Map Pharmacology
I also reviewed pretty good chunks of:
BRS histology
Lippincott Pharmacology
Lang’s board review pharmacology (the ‘baby Katzung’)
Lang’s immunology and microbiology review
Step Up
I think QBank, both BRS path and phys and First Aid were the highest yield (in order). I’d definitely recommend them.
I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon among my classmates after taking this thing. We all seemed to have depleted our entire life’s reserve of studying. Where I was studying 12 to 14 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week for Step I, I can’t sit still studying for more than an hour or so now. I’m literally studied out! Fortunately, the type of studying I’ve been doing in my clerkships has changed dramatically. It is much more problem oriented and patient based.
Good luck!
Take care,

Hi there,

I used Q-Bank when it was first available. My school offered the Lecture Prep at very low cost but since I was obligated to sit fo USMLE early in order to begin a Pathology fellowship, I opted for Q-Bank. It was a good decision.

Beware of trying to memorize Q-Bank because memorization will kill you on this test. As Mary said, just doing the questions and reviewing why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong is good prep. You also have the advantage of practicing the test under the same conditions that you will be taking the test. The other advantage of Q-Bank is that it allows you to take integrated tests as opposed to the Lecture Prep which is done by subject. The actual exam is integrated.

You still have to know the material in the first place before you can “review” for this exam. Do not expect to purchase a bunch of “Review Books” and attempt to “learn” what you need to do well on this exam. You have one shot here unless you fail. If you do poorly on this exam, you are going to be limited in your residency selection. For example, most General Surgery programs will not look at your application unless you have scored above the mean for your year and most competitive programs will not look at anyone with a two-digit score less than 95 no matter what you have done in your coursework.

You best prep is still to study very hard during your class time and “review” once you are done with your classes. This is not MCAT. You don’t want to take this exam more than once. Other than First Aid for USMLE Step I, which I hope you have purchased during the first week of your medical school classes, you don’t need too many other USMLE books.

Jeff, my attention span for study is exactly 50 minutes.(Fortunately, my attention span for operating is much longer than that ) I used to set a kitchen timer for 50 minutes, study, then take a 10-minute break.

The Q-Bank for Step II is not a good as the Step I deal and the Q-Bank for Step III is downright dismal. USMLE Step III is by far the easier of the three exams and takes little preparation beyond sending in a pile of cash.


Wow, it’s really starting to hit me–boards are only about six months away. Less really. I’ve been trying to really learn the material as we do it, and I think I have all the books that people here have recommended (the BRS, First Aid, Step-Up, Etc) and use them some to study as we go (although I’ll admit I have an odd fondness for Robbins and use that where possible). I have my Q-bank subscription. But I’ll admit, I’m pretty much terrified and have some questions:
1. How much time after the end of classes do most people take to review? I have eight weeks between the end of second year classes and the start of third year-- I was hoping to have a little break in there, somewhere, and I have to move. I have my orange paper and I’m ready to schedule, but I haven’t done it yet because I’m feeling so unsure about this issue. I’m afraid of burnout while studying, too.
2. I believe I have all the materials I’ll need in the form of books and such-- but I’m feeling a little clueless about how to organize the studying. Spend a week (or a certain number of days on each system? (There aren’t really enough weeks). How much more depth should I go into then the BRS level? I feel like when I study I go into a lot of depth and get good understanding, but the details fade from my mind pretty quickly; I’m assuming that is what you try to shore up during the review period, but still that’s a lot of stuff to review! We use PBL, so I’m used to organizing my studying around a case, which I think is a great way to LEARN-- but not a really great way to organize study for boards. Hence my insecurity.
People have made great study material recommendations here already-- if anyone has any suggestions about how they organized their study, I’m sure it would be helpful to all of us facing this monster.

I gave myself five weeks. A lot of my class took the Kaplan classroom course and that brought them to six weeks from end of exams to conclusion of Kaplan class. From what I’ve heard, people generally thought that was MORe than enough.
You absolutely want to give yourself a break before starting third year, at least a week if not more. After four weeks of studying I was REALLY sick of it and the last week my efforts were frankly pretty ineffectual.

As far as organizing… this was an endless source of procrastination for me. I made plans for how I’d study, do that for a few days, become dissatisfied with the plan and then blow a few hours writing up a new plan of study.
Eventually what I used for organizing my studying was First Aid. I’d review that in some detail, refer to my other sources for additional information (because First Aid covers some subjects pretty briefly), and then do some questions to reinforce my review.
I think I took the number of days I intended to study, divided the topics into it, and came up with my plan from that, with adjustments made for bigger topics (e.g. pathology is HUGE).
Just as with the MCAT, you want to balance your material review with time to do practice questions. Don’t get bogged down trying to retain every last fact in BRS - that’s not possible. Instead remember that this is a multiple-choice test so recognition, not recall, may be sufficient for a lot of questions. And practice, practice, practice with QBank.

Thanks Mary,
I guess I’ll take about five weeks-- that seems a happy medium, and still gives me some time off.
I know what you mean about procrastinating by spending time rearranging your study schedule-- I can absolutely see that being me! I’ve done that with trying to arrange my domain study scheduling. I’ll try to avoid it. I’ll try to remember one piece of advice I heard-- it doesn’t matter so much HOW you study, just that you do-- most methods will probably work.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share the advice.