How to Prepare for the USMLE: Review Books

“I need crutches, stat!”

That’s how I feel right now, getting ready for this test. I want someone to have done all of the work, laid out a plan of attack, shown me exactly what I need to know, and have it be easy. All of this exists, of course. I could have signed up for a Kaplan or Falcon course. I would have lived in a hotel for 6 weeks, listened to great lecturers, been fed information in outline format, and taken 2,000+ preperatory questions. It was all laid out.

But it costs several thousand dollars. You may be the type to write that expense off as an investment in your future, but I’m not. I see $6000 as a monument to my laziness because I know I can probably put together a program of my own, it’s just going to be work. I see $6000 as a trip around the world in celebration of doing things the hard way and still coming out on top.

The first piece of real work is picking the best crutch, and for this I turn to what will be my staple: First Aid for the USMLE ($45). Why? Well, the most frustrating thing about this entire process is that I get one crack at it. This is n=1 with zero degrees of freedom and I can draw no real conclusions. I’m left to scrounge for anecdotes, and the reverberating truth about the USMLE Step 1 is that the First Aid book seems to earn a few thousand thumbs-up each year. So we begin there.

In the back of this book is a list of several review books that have been described, reviewed and graded by previous test takers on an A/B/C level. So for two days of my winter break, I drove to the local medical school bookstore and pull every single top-rated book from the shelves. I pulled four books for Physology, Pharm , Path, Micro and so on. I take one subject and read the chapter devoted to it in each book to compare styles of writing. I consider length (shorter is better), number of review questions available in the book and online, and my personal impression. It takes six hours over two days. I’m tired, but I’m happy with the results.

Gross and Developmental AnatomyAnatomy/Embryo/Neuro

Anatomy is a strong subject for me and one of my favorites. I have always written off Embryo, but I figure I’ll give it a fair shake if I can find the time. I have the Anatomy BRS by Chung from first year, but this book gets poor reviews because of its length, so I shop around. I’m able to narrow it down between Rapid Review: Gross and Developmental Anatomy ($35) and High Yield EmbryologyUSMLE Road Map: Gross Anatomy ($25). Road Map is shorter, and the illustrations are so interesting and unique that I’m thinking about the anatomy in new ways, but I can’t ignore the abundance of clinical correlates in the Rapid Review and how much fun it is to read, so I buy it.

As for Embryo, I don’t have the strongest feelings. I pick up all of the books and read through them. I ultimately choose the High Yield Embryology ($25) because it has the highest rating in the First Aid and it has lots and lots of pictures. I’ll probably give myself onefull day to review Embryo, and if I’m going to have to do it, I’d like to be entertained. Neurology is sort of a thorn in my side. I understand the tracts and the geography, but I’m never quit sure where Neuroanatomy ends and Neurphysiology begins. Should I be covering this in Physio, Path, Histo? I throw up my arms and buy the highest-rated book: High Yield Neuroanatomy ($25).

Lipincott BiochemistryBiochem/Molecular Biology

Biochem is another subject where I feel strong, but I’m told that everyone gets kicked in the head on this section. I’m going to be careful. I have the Lipincott’s Illustrated Review of Biochemistry ($45) from first year and it has a high rating, so I’m sticking with it. SGU (when I took the class) did a poor job of preparing my for the molecular genetics, so I’ve decided to pick up a second book for this alone: High Yield Cell and Molecular BiologyHigh Yield Cell and Molecular Biology ($27). After reading a chapter, I think this book will cover my needs. The High Yield series is growing on me.

Histology

Screw Histology. Anything I know about this subject, I’m going to pick up from Physiology or Pathology. I refuse to give this topic its own review book. Immediately after this, I begin spitting on the ground whenever anyone metions Histo.

Physiology

Physiology is one of my favorite subjects. I didn’t use a textbook when I took this course and instead used the amazing handouts that were prepared by our teachers. For a good review of things though, my notes won’t do, and since there seems to be an absolute consensus that Costanza’s Pathology BRS ($37) is the best book on the market. I buy it without batting an eye.

Microbiology/Immunology

These two courses are weak spots for me. When I should have been learning them, I was instead learning Pathology so I have a lot of catching up to do. I hadn’t realized this yet, but not feeling confident in a subject makes buying a review book harder since you don’t recognize which books are hitting all of the important topics. I hem and haw between Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple ($24) and the Rapid Review: Microbioogy and Immunology ($35). Both books get high marks on reviews, but I end up going with Rapid Review because it has an Immuno section, online access to Student Consult, and some of the silliness of Ridiculously Simple annoys me

Pathology/Pathophysiology

SGU did a fantastic job of making these courses life or death for me. I’ve spent a lot of time with them and don’t feel so intimidated that I can’t enjoy myself. In the course, we used Robbins Basic Pathology (amazing), Robbins and Coltran Review of Pathology ($42), WebPath (free online site), and the Merck Manual. I have more than enough information from these courses and that’s a problem. I need to keep things simple, so while I plan on doing all of the questions from the Review of Pathology and from WebPath, I also decide to buy the Pathology BRS by Schneider ($35). It gets glowing review from everyone that uses it, and that’s good enough for me.

Pharmacology

Again, one of my weaker subjects and I’m a little bit nervous about it. I’m comfortable with the concepts, but memorizing name after name with it’s idiosnycratic side effects and routes of administration has me sweating. I need some support here, but I also need to keep it simple. I own Lipincott’s Illustrated Pharmacology ($45) from when I took the course and while I didn’t like it as a stand-alone text, it should do fine for review. I also like the layout and portability of Pharmacology for the Boards and Wards ($35) and decide to pick that up as well. Both books have very high ratings and useful tables.

Biostatistics/Behavioral Science

Not my strongest subjects or my weakest, word on the street is that people blow these sections off and it burns them on the test. I have some notes from when I took this class, but it was 3rd term, the same term where I blew off school to work on research and dissections, so I need some help. After looking through both the High Yield Biostatistics ($25) and Behavioral Science ($25), I’m thrilled with how short they are, their ratings, and their readability (one chapter each, in the store). I’m sure that these will do.

So those are the review books that I bought for the USMLE Step 1. The tab, after tax, came to $380. Normally, I’d wince. But for this test, I’m not cutting corners or using old editions. Maybe it’s a dumb move, but it makes me feel better.

Return to USMLE Step 1 page.

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33 Responses to How to Prepare for the USMLE: Review Books

  1. nosugrefneb says:

    It sounds silly, but memorize First Aid. I have a bunch of friends who did this almost exclusively along with Kaplan questions, and they did amazing. The rest of my friends (and me) “wasted” a lot of time with all the other books, and we didn’t do so hot. It sounds strange to focus so much on one book, but I’d start with FA and then work your way into the others.

    • aru93 says:

      I think u re totally right !! Even ive started studyung n i feel aftr uve passed 1st n 2nd yr in med scool.. Those theory bks studies once were enuf !! For usmle even i find FA n kaplan qbank only the best …. Coz i think its smart studying that is more important !!… Really …

  2. drhaisook says:

    I agree with nosugrefneb. You’re wasting your time with all those books. It’s a real distraction. The main books you need are: Kaplan Lecture Notes, and First Aid book, plus Kaplan Lecture Videos if you could get them. With these 3, you’re off to a really good start.

    I’m a non-US med student preparing for Step 1, btw.

  3. Thanks nosugrefneb and drhaisook. More than a few books I know, but I have a lot of time to prepare and I’ll admit to buying a few of them just because they looked fun to read. When it’s all over, I’ll be sure to say which ones I did and did not think were worth the time.

  4. [...] your goals. Have a plan. Set a Schedule. Buy your books. Pick a QBank. Don’t crack. Have [...]

  5. jakes says:

    So which books in the end did you find helpful?

  6. Eva says:

    Which First aid do you guys think is better, 2006 or 2007?
    I’ve finished reading through 2006, but if 2007 is better……
    Plus have they corrected the majority of the mistakes in 2007?

  7. deb rose says:

    What is the difference between Kaplan Notes and Kaplan Medessentials??

  8. samh audi says:

    hi friend, i am Sameh Audi from Egypt. i am a medical student.
    I wish to be friend . I look forward to study USMLE STEP 1
    ,so i think to form strong bond for that.
    Approximately i agree with you about books review.
    But i buy high-yield for gross anatomy 3rd edition 2008 and i need to inform me about that if you have information.
    thanks for reply.

  9. carson says:

    does anyone know where to get the kaplan notes? i mean for non-us medstudent

  10. Nick says:

    so any consensus on the best approach to Neuroscience?

  11. SEEMA says:

    Need help with review books selection

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  15. romell says:

    I wish somebody could help me which books are now best for 2010.My goal is to take it this year..I have enough time on my hands since i’m at home on an H4 visa. i really wanna do on the high percentile. But i’m confused on what book to buy with my budget. My wife is the only one working(H1B visa). The Kaplan 8 book series are a tad expensive for me right now since the set cost more than 500$. but if it’d the best for the buck then i’ll get it.

  16. romell bautista says:

    I wish somebody could help me which books are now best for 2010.My goal is to take it this year..I have enough time on my hands since i’m at home on an H4 visa. i really wanna do on the high percentile. But i’m confused on what book to buy with my budget. My wife is the only one working(H1B visa). The Kaplan 8 book series are a tad expensive for me right now since the set cost more than 500$. But if it’s the best for the buck then i’ll get it.

  17. Kaplan2 says:

    Sir,

    I am selling my (8) Kaplan Step1 2010 Lecture Notes, which are not used, for a discount price of $300. Please contact me at usmlekaplan934@gmail.com if you are interested.

  18. Furhan says:

    I had a quick question, why didn’t u use the Goljan’s Rapid Review for Pathology?

    people are generally mixed whether studying w/ RR for path or BRS. my cousin took the boards and recommended BRS over RR b/c she felt that Goljan was too scattered. what’s ur opinion of this?

  19. gull says:

    I am foreign medical graduate,I am green card holder,I want to give USMLE Step 1. Could anybody help me or guide me where and how i should start for step 1 as i have basically problem with money I will really appreciate your help.
    plz.guide me step by step where/what and how i start prep.for USMLE with less money.
    thanx.

  20. Dorie Kofler says:

    the idea charge very in order to web site?

  21. Pawan Sapkota says:

    M a medicl studnt from Nepal.. I wanna make d prep for d usmle frm time right onward..so plz, how c’ld i access d kaplan series here in Nepal??

  22. vaibhav pandey says:

    anybody intrested in step1 preperation,need a study partner.we can study through skype.if anybody interested plz contact me or leave ur comnt.i m doing mbbs in india

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