Do you get confused about which resources are best for you to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam?
Your confusion is justified. There are a lot of USMLE resources out there, and a beginner may jumble because they all look the same with minor differences.
Don’t panic. I have got you covered.
In this article, I will help you choose the right and only essential resources that will help you beat the Step 1 exam. Well, you will need study resources, Qbanks, and pre-exam tests at all. So let’s delve into them one by one.
An excellent study resource is a crucial factor in determining your Step 1 scores. You will find a heck lot of study resources in the market, but only a few of them are compulsory.
First Aid for Step 1
There is no question of preparing for and passing your Step 1 exam without First Aid. It is not just a book; it is the Bible of preclinical subjects. It is a highly-dense volume of more than 6000 high-yield facts for the USMLE Step 1 exam.
You must note that it does not teach you those subjects. You have to learn and understand them from your course texts, lectures, and slides. Once you’ve laid a strong understanding of these foundational subjects, you can study from First Aid to enhance your concepts.
First Aid gives you every fact (in the form of bullet points) from a topic that can be taken as a question on your exam.
This book, along with its video lectures, from Dr. Abdul-Sattar Hussain (M.D), is an excellent source to learn pathology concepts. What is good about it is that it gives you a conceptual understanding of different pathology topics, and Dr. also mentions high-yield facts along his way.
I usually recommend studying pathoma during the third year, along with your class lectures. Once you’ve gone through the lectures, give the text a read. Revise again for better retention.
Kaplan Video Lectures
Well, these are not essential but may complement your preparation if you don’t have certain concepts of preclinical subjects.
Kaplan has an extensive collection of more than 200 hours of video lectures, covering almost every topic from every preclinical subject. What makes it stand out among others is its engaging and informative way of teaching medical concepts. Kaplan lecture notes will be an excellent complement to the video lectures.
Kaplan lectures are available in one-person, live online, and on-demand format. I recommend you to take live online lectures, which give you a sense of realistic class lectures. In on-demand format, you can 1.5× increase the speed to save you some time.
What I don’t appreciate about the Kaplan lecture series is that it may overload you with tons of information, which is not useful for Step 1, and that it is a little expensive to afford.
Qbank is also a fantastic tool to improve your concepts. The primary purpose of a Qbank is to simulate the real exam and teach you the skills to apply your knowledge reserve for high-level reasoning while solving the questions.
UWorld (USMLE World) is the pioneer Qbank and an essential resource for your Step 1 preparation.
It has more than 2900 (new questions added each year) high-yield, exam-type questions that give you an idea about the real exam. It enhances your skills to dissect the question stem, interconnect various subjects, apply your knowledge to figure out the correct answer.
Its outstanding feature is that it explains why an answer is correct or why it is not. The detailed review of every question makes it an excellent learning tool for USMLE Step 1.
I recommend using UWorld as random, times blocks. It simulates the real exam. By doing UWorld in system-wise blocks, you already get a hint that the answer must be from the particular organ system. This may take a toll on your exam day, where you get random questions from different organ systems.
Once you’ve gone two to three passes UWorld, you may be fed up and not learn anything new by solving UWorld questions. It would be better to have an additional Qbank to keep your interest in preparation.
USMLE-Rx offers high-yield questions, along with an explanation for every answer. It is more or less like UWorld but is less expensive than UWorld. You can also install its mobile application to use it wherever you are.
Flashcards are also an essential resource for Step 1 preparation. Flashcards help you revise the concepts you are weak at or missed while doing UWorld and develop your critical thinking. Nowadays, you can make and revise electronic flashcards whenever and wherever you need to create one. You can either use self-made flashcards (Anki) or pre-made flashcards (by Firecracker).
Making your own Anki flashcards while going through UWorld questions is the best thing to enhance your conceptual learning and reasoning. Whenever you miss a question, make a
flashcard on that concept. Then keep revising it until you’ve fully mastered the concept. It will help you better understand and remember the concept in the future.
Pre-made flashcards from Firecracker are also helpful to many students. These flashcards cover and integrate all the knowledge available in First Aid, pathoma, and UWorld. It is most beneficial to use Firecracker flashcards during your second year.
NBME Self-Assessment Exams
NBME self-assessment exams before the real-time Step 1 exam serve two primary purposes.
Firstly, they let you know where you stand in your preparation and your weak and robust subjects, so that you may direct your effort where it is needed.
Secondly, they simulate the exam questions and help enhance your skills to dissect a question stem, interconnect the subjects, and apply your knowledge to figure out the correct answer.
Your NBME exam scores are highly predictive of your scores in the real-time Step 1 exam. I highly recommend my students to take extensive NBMEs self-assessment exams during their Step 1 preparation.
What About All Other Resources?
I know that there are a lot more Step 1 resources claiming to be the best among all. In my opinion, most of them are just similar to one another, with minor differences in content format. If you are already strong in preclinical subjects, they offer no additional value to the preparation.
Don’t take me wrong. I am not saying them bad. But they are not also essential either.
With that being said, I would like to wish you all the best of luck. May you all score high in your Step 1 exam.