What are the best resources for USMLE STEP 1? How to Study and Prepare for STEP1? In this article, I will answer these two questions and share with you a USMLE STEP 1 study guide to show you the most popular resources and materials that helped me score +260.
How to Choose the Best Resources for USMLE STEP 1?
Before we dive into the different books and resources, you need to understand that the choice of study resources is highly individual. A student who will prepare for the USMLE STEP 1 exam in 3 months will not use the same resources as a student who has one year to prepare for the STEP 1exam.
A student might feel very confident with one subject that they would want to go directly to First Aid and UWorld, while another student might need to spend more time reviewing STEP 1 books and watching STEP 1 lecture videos before they start solving questions.
To know what resources are best for you, start by asking yourself some simple questions: Do you have a solid knowledge of the STEP 1 materials? Are you a fresh graduate? How long was it since you studied the basic sciences? Was your medical school in English or your native language? Were you an average student or a top-class student? How high do you want to score? How much time do you have to prepare for the step 1 exam?
Once you have a clear idea about these questions, you can tailor your STEP 1 study plan based on your needs.
First Aid STEP1: Is it enough for the USMLE STEP1?
First Aid STEP 1 is a great review book. However, it will not provide you with explanations to form a solid understanding of the complicated STEP 1 concepts. First Aid STEP 1 is basically a pack of all the information you need for the USMLE STEP 1, condensed into 860 pages. You can think of it as a collection of all the high-yield topics that are tested on the exam, collected and presented to you in this book.
The first half of the First Aid STEP 1 covers the general principles tested on the USMLE Step 1 exam (behavioral science, statistics, microbiology, immunology, biochemistry, general pathology, general pharmacology).
In contrast, the second half of the First Aid STEP 1 is divided system-wise, where the book takes one system, and it covers it from its anatomy and embryology, continuing to its physiology and pathology, and ending with the pharmacology related to that system.
First Aid STEP 1 is always updated to reflect the newest tested materials on the STEP 1 exam. That’s why I recommend reading the latest version of the First Aid STEP 1 before taking your exam.
??: Here is the link for the latest version:
The First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2021
You will realize that the First Aid STEP 1 is best with topics that need memorization, comparing and contrasting, and plenty of mnemonics such as Microbiology. On the other hand, subjects like physiology and biochemistry, that need a deep understanding and knowledge of the mechanisms, need to be read from other resources before going to First Aid STEP 1 (unless you have a solid understanding of these topics from your medical school). So one strategy is to use resources other than First Aid STEP 1 to have a general idea about the topic, and then memorize the take-home points from First Aid STEP 1.
Some students prefer to use First Aid STEP 1 after they finish their first read of other STEP 1 materials while others like to incorporate First Aid STEP 1 with studying other STEP 1 resources. We will write a separate blog post about the best strategy to use First Aid STEP 1 and other resources.
Best Anatomy Resources for USMLE STEP 1
Kaplan STEP 1 Book: Anatomy
The Kaplan STEP1 lecture notes and videos are useful resources to understand anatomy for STEP1. The book is 652 pages, and it is divided into three main sections: Early embryology and histology, Gross anatomy, which is further divided by system, and neuroscience. The neuroscience part of the Kaplan book is really good. This book can be used as a resource to build your base in Anatomy before you go to First Aid STEP 1 and UWorld.
USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2021: Anatomy:
If you have a weakness in neuroanatomy, especially in the spinal cord and brain stem anatomy, you can rely on other resources in addition to Kaplan STEP 1. I used High Yield for neuroanatomy, a 200 pages comprehensive book of neuroanatomy https://amzn.to/3xl3iCW
You can watch videos in the areas that you need better understanding rather than watching the whole series of videos of certain STEP 1 resource. I watched a few Kaplan videos and Dr. Najeeb’s lectures for spinal cord and brain stem anatomy. They were so helpful that I can still remember them many years after.
Anatomy Images and Atlas
Studying anatomy without clear, colored, and labeled images can be a torture. While you can always use Google images to accompany your favorite book, the Netter interactive atlas of human anatomy is an amazing resource that I used in my preparation. It is so elegant, and it covers everything you need for the USMLE Step 1. You don’t need to go through the whole Atlas but rather use it as a visual supplement to other resources you are using. For example, if you are studying the anatomy of the GI tract from the Kaplan books or First Aid, you can open the Atlas on the GI images to facilitate learning.
Link for the Netter Interactive Atlas of Human Anatomy: https://amzn.to/3azaVMo
Other good resources for anatomy images (I recommend picking one and use it throughout your studying):
Gray’s Anatomy for Students Fourth edition:
Gray’s Atlas of Anatomy (Gray’s Anatomy) 3rd Edition
Atlas of Human Anatomy (Netter Basic Science) 7th Edition (Book)
Should I read expansive books for embryology and histology?
While there are certainly some good books to cover these subjects, especially from the BRS series and the High-Yield series, I didn’t feel the need to waste the limited time reading extensive books about them. They are definitely important topics for the exam, but for me, the few pages in the Kaplan books with the First Aid STEP 1 and UWorld were enough to cover everything important for the exam purposes. I would only recommend going to a dedicated reference to clarify an ambiguous topic that you couldn’t understand well from the First Aid STEP 1 or Uworld.
Here are links if you wanted to check other resources
High-Yield Embryology (High-Yield Series) Fifth Edition
BRS Embryology (Board Review Series) Sixth Edition
BRS Cell Biology and Histology (Board Review Series) 8th Edition
|The BRS (Board Review Series) of physiology||Kaplan book – Physiology|
|One of the most preferred sources to understand physiology.It covers the important aspects of exams with practice questions at the end of eachchapter to consolidate the information you have read.||It comes with explanatory videos from Kaplan.No review questions at the end of each chapter.|
|It could sometimes be challenging if you don’t have any prior knowledge of physiology from your medical school.||It is longer but easier to read for beginners If you are starting from scratch.|
|300 pages||688 pages|
|You can pair the BRS book with Kaplan videos to get the best out of both worlds. I found the Kaplan book to be comprehensive as well if you would prefer to study in the same order of the videos.|
Best Biochemistry Resources for USMLE STEP 1
Unfortunately, molecular biology and biochemistry for STEP1 are one of the subjects that are hard to read directly from the First Aid STEP 1 without proper explanation. Therefore, it is highly recommended to read it from additional resources prior to studying it from First Aid STEP 1 or UWorld (unless you have a solid understanding of these topics from your medical school).
There is almost a consensus on the best initial biochemistry resource to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam: Kaplan. As we know, biochemistry is huge, with many enzymes and metabolic pathways. Therefore, it is essential to know what to focus on when you study. Reading the biochemistry Kaplan book alone might not be enough to recognize what is important. However, the videos are full of golden tips and are recommended to highlight the crucial information for the exam day. After the first round of biochemistry Kaplan lecture notes, you can go to the next stage with First Aid STEP 1 and UWorld.
The biochemistry Kaplan book (692 pages) also covers genetics and the information in this book is more than enough for your genetics preparation when combined with First Aid STEP 1 and UWorld.
USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2021: Biochemistry and Medical Genetics:
Best Microbiology Resources for USMLE STEP 1
The good news is that microbiology is one of the subjects that is very well covered in your First Aid with plenty of mnemonics that will make studying microbiology easier for you. However, if microbiology is not your forte or you learned it a long time ago, you might want to consider other resources to refresh your information.
|Clinical microbiology made ridiculously simple||Lippincott’s Microcards for microbiology|
|A great book for those who want to build|
a good base in microbiology. However,
it is longer than other resources (400 pages)
|I found these microcards very useful and organized|
to review microbiology effectively. The book contains
312 flashcards. Every card depicts one microorganism
with the most relevant information you need to remember
about it. It will save you time rather than making your own
deck of flashcards.
|Sketchy videos||Kaplan Microbiology|
|An increasingly popular tool that students use|
nowadays to study microbiology.
While it is definitely amazing to remember the
important things for the exam in
one sketch, you have to consider the element
of time that it needs to watch +100
sketchy videos. It is highly recommended for audiovisual students.
|I used the Kaplan book of Immunology and microbiology|
only for the first section (the immunology part).
Although some students liked both sections from this book.
I didn’t find it to be as helpful as other resources for microbiology.
Although it is organized,it was hard to retain information from
it due to the lack of photos, mnemonics and other features available
in other resources. The book is 879 pages.
Best Pharmacology Resources for USMLE STEP 1
I used Kaplan’s book and videos to understand the concepts of pharmacology and the mechanisms of medications. They were beautifully explained there. The book is divided by system, so you can pair it with First Aid. The book is 500 pages but it is well written and goes fast.
Additionally, flashcards can always be a good option to create while studying if you struggle with names.
Lippincott for pharmacology is a very renowned resource for pharmacology. I didn’t personally use it, I felt it was too detailed for the Step 1 exam, but many students found it useful. It is 576 pages long. Link: https://amzn.to/32LfQFC
Best Pathology Resources for USMLE STEP 1: Golgan vs. Pathoma
This is a question asked by many students at the beginning of the preparation for the USMLE Step 1 exam, especially that pathology is one of the most heavily tested areas in the exam and has the biggest share of the exam questions. Most students argue that Pathoma is more than enough for the purposes of the Step 1 exam, while Golgan is a more in-depth review of Pathology. Golgan might be more time-consuming, but it could be worth it in the long run. Personally, I read both books, and these are the main differences between them:
|Rapid Review (Golgan)||Pathoma|
|It comes with audio lectures, for people who prefer to listen while driving or in the gym||It comes with videos for visual people|
|More comprehensive, more advanced||Made to understand the basics of Pathology and to answer exam questions|
|Around 800 pages||Around 218 pages|
|Too detailed||Straight to the point (exam-oriented)|
|Recommended for dedicated people who want to master pathology.||Recommended for students who want to study pathology for the exam’s purposes and are under time pressure.|
You can also use the Kaplan book or the BRS book of Pathology if you like. They are not as high-yield as pathoma and don’t have as many photos and explanations as Golgan. With the availability of better and more focused Pathology resources, there is no need to spend time on other resources.
The Kaplan book is 577 pages.
USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2021: Pathology: https://amzn.to/3dOVp0Y
The BRS book is 464 pages.
BRS Pathology (Board Review Series) 6th Edition: https://amzn.to/3ex2X7k
Best Biostatistics Resources for USMLE STEP 1
Biostatistics is a topic that depends on logic and on understanding the concepts very well to be able to solve the exam questions. Reading abstract concepts from the STEP 1 books might be a little challenging without proper explanation. I found Kaplan videos to be very efficient and effective in simplifying the biostatistics terms and helping you get a good grasp of what you need to know for the exam. With the STEP 1 Kaplan videos, I read both the Kaplan book and the High-Yield book of Biostatics. They are very short, and you can read them easily after understanding the concepts from the videos. Links to the books below:
High-Yield Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Public Health (150 pages) https://amzn.to/3aFgCrU
Kaplan biostatics is in the behavioral science book (less than 50 pages): https://amzn.to/3xhGy6V
Besides, UWorld STEP1 has a separate Qbank, called “Biostatistics Review,” which is available for 25$. Since memorization will not help you much with the research scenarios and the abstract questions on the exam, the more you solve questions, the better you will be in approaching the questions on the exam. Keep in mind that biostatistics questions take more time than other questions to answer on the exam day, so if you want to be faster and save that valuable time, I would recommend answering the UWorld Biostatistics review Qbank. Other students did not find much value of the Biostatistics Review Qbank after solving the UWorld STEP1 Qbank.
Best Ethics and Behavioral Sciences Resources for USMLE STEP 1
For ethics and behavioral sciences, I found the UWorld questions, Kaplan ethics videos, and the “100 cases by Conrad Fischer” enough to know the principles you need while answering ethics questions on the STEP 1 exam. Everything that follows is just common sense. The 100 cases might seem a lot, but the book of Conrad Fischer is very easy to read with practice questions, and you can go through it in a day or two.
Kaplan Medical USMLE Medical Ethics: The 100 Cases You Are Most Likely to See on the Exam (216 pages) https://amzn.to/3xoqlg0
USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2021: Behavioral Science and Social Sciences: https://amzn.to/3xhGy6V
Some students also recommend the ethics YouTube videos from “dirty medicine.”
Best Video Resources for USMLE STEP 1! Do I need to watch lectures while reading the books?
Kaplan lectures and “Boards and beyond” lectures are available for all the step 1 courses. As mentioned above, for some subjects, lectures can be extremely helpful to know what is high-yield for the STEP 1 exam. However, you should keep in mind that watching videos can double or triple the time you need to cover a topic. Therefore, you should choose your videos carefully not to waste the limited time you have to prepare for the exam. From my experience, the Kaplan videos of biochemistry and biostatistics and the Pathoma videos for pathology are very high yield.
Other lectures you can watch are Dr. Najeeb’s lectures (https://www.drnajeeblectures.com/) , which are more like classroom lectures. They are very time-consuming even if you speed it up, but personally, I loved them. I would only recommend them for the topics that you are very weak at.
Best Question banks for USMLE STEP 1! Which Qbank should I invest my money on?
With all the reading you do with your preparation for USMLE Step 1, it is very important to solve questions to get familiar with the STEP 1 exam style and build your test-taking strategies. Answering as many questions as you can is crucial to solidify the information you read or listen to and test yourself on your learning. Some of the Qbanks available are: UWorld STEP 1, Amboss STEP 1, USMLE Rx Qbank, Kaplan STEP 1 Qbank, Pastest.
|+3400 questions||+2650 questions|
|519 $ per year 419$ for six months||388$ per year 289$ for six months|
|The UWorld STEP 1 is the most similar to the real exam.|
It is a major teaching resource with astounding explanations,
diagrams, and tables that come with every question.
|Amboss STEP 1 Qbank categorizes the questions based on difficulty.|
If you are a beginner, you can choose to solve easy questions to
build your knowledge gradually, and if you are close to your exam,
you can elect to solve difficult questions to not waste time with others
that seem common sense to you; A feature that is not available in other
|You can create your own notebook and flashcards very|
easily with one click while studying Uworld
|Anki add-on to connect your flashcards with Amboss’s library.|
|Application available for phone or Ipad||Application available for phone or Ipad|
|+2300 questions||+3300 questions|
|349$ per year 269$ for six months||299$ per year 249$ for six months|
|This Qbank ties every question with the corresponding paragraph|
of the First Aid. After solving many questions, you will find that you
memorized much information from the First Aid without even noticing.
|Kaplan Qbank includes explanations, interactive 3D images|
and small instructional video clips.
|More than 15000 flashcards based on your First Aid.|
More than 80 hours of express videos.
|USMLE-Rx app available||Kaplan Medical mobile app|
In summary, if you have time to solve only one bank, UWorld STEP 1 Qbank is your best bet. USMLE Rx can help if you have difficulties memorizing the First Aid. Amboss STEP 1 Qbank seems to have increasing popularity lately, especially with the great and easy-to-use library that it has. I answered a few questions from Kaplan Qbank and Pastest, but I did not feel they were as high yield as the other STEP 1 Qbanks.
The NBMEs (each is four blocks of 40 questions) and USMLE sample questions (3 blocks of 40 questions) are to test your performance before the exam, in addition to the UWorld STEP 1 self-assessments. We will have a detailed post on assessment tools.
Is it true that UWorld STEP1 and First Aid are enough?
Many students like to start with UWorld STEP 1 as early as possible, while others prefer to answer questions only after studying the subject and feeling comfortable with it. There is no right and wrong here. The advantage of starting with the Qbank early and incorporating it from the beginning with your studies is to get an idea of how the information will be presented on the exam, which helps you direct your study in the right way. On the other hand, answering questions without having any idea about the subject will not give you the maximum benefits you could get from the questions. You will not be able to assess where your gaps are and where you need to focus on because everything is new to you. The best way is to have a gradual shift by starting to build knowledge before proceeding to solving questions and reviewing First Aid. As you approach your exam, this will change, and you will start focusing more on solving as many questions as you can and focusing on First Aid. As we discussed above, if you have a strong foundation from your medical school about the topics covered in STEP1, you can start directly with First Aid and UWorld of STEP 1.