Best USMLE Step 1 Prep Books and Other Resources (2022)

The USMLE Step 1 is arguably one of the most intimidating professional licensing examinations. 280 rigorous questions, drawn seemingly at random from an immense pool of testable information, render the exam over seven hours long and necessitate weeks to months of focused preparation.

For many students, Step 1 represents the culmination of at least two years of determined studying in pre-clinical medical school coursework. Tens of thousands of Anki card reviews, hundreds of textbook pages carefully read, and countless sleepless nights are only a few of the hurdles overcome by students on their path to taking the exam.

This article outlines the best prep books and other resources for anyone preparing to take the USMLE Step 1 exam. Study hard, stay humble, budget time to maintain your health and well-being, and may good fortune be on your side. Our team may earn a small commission from purchases made using the below links at no additional cost to you.

  • Academic Advisors and Upperclassmen
  • A SMART Plan
  • First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 Exam
  • Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Book Set
  • Pathoma
  • Board Review Series
  • Deja Review
  • Boards and Beyond
  • Sketchy Medical
  • Pixorize
  • UWorld
  • Amboss
  • USMLE-Rx

Your foremost, and perhaps most important, resource for USMLE Step 1 prep are the people at your medical school. Your academic advisors and upperclassmen know which books, study tools, and question banks will serve you best on the path to acing Step 1.

They can provide you with deeper and more tailored insight than any online sources (including this article).

Variance in the curriculum of each medical school and institutional partnerships with exam prep companies mean that you can potentially save time, money, and gray hairs by finding out what worked best for your peers (and what resources your school has already purchased for you, or has made available at a discounted price).

Schedule an appointment with your advisors as soon as possible, even if your Step 1 date is a year or two down the road. It is never too early to begin planning your ascent of Mount Everest [Step 1], and equipping yourself as best as possible, as early as possible, is a surefire path to success.

Talk with your peers about which tools helped them succeed on the exam, and how they structured their study time during the dedicated study period.

Your second most important resource is a SMART plan: one that establishes Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based goals for your study period.

This is a critically important navigation tool that you should develop with the aid of your academic advisors. Long hours of studying during the weeks to months leading up to your Step 1 test date should be carefully calibrated to maximize your learning.

Without a SMART plan, you may not be optimally prepared for the challenges of test day. Burnout, poor content retention, and elevated stress levels due to cramming are only a few of the potential problems that could result.

A SMART plan means budgeting time not only for studying, but also maintaining robust physical, mental, and spiritual health. On test day, a clear mind is just as important for your success as mastery of the material.

Without a compass and map, the fate of a ship lost at sea is delegated to chance alone, a scary proposition that any seasoned sailor would strive to avoid.

There are a few USMLE Step 1 prep books that you should consider keeping on your radar.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is the gold-standard tool used by countless medical students preparing to take the Step 1 exam.

The book is intended to be read longitudinally, throughout (and as an accompaniment to) the pre-clinical medical school curriculum, such that by the dedicated Step 1 study period it can serve as a well-worn tool for rapid content review.

Nearly all of the relevant content on the Step 1 exam is covered to some degree in First Aid. If you know the contents of the book cover-to-cover, and have acquired a deeper understanding of key concepts beyond the abridged presentation that they receive in First Aid, then you should be well-prepared to take the exam.

While reading First Aid throughout the pre-clinical years, many students take notes in the margins of each page, embellishing upon the otherwise relatively concise content of the book. This is helpful not only for learning the material the first time around, but also when reviewing it during the dedicated study period leading up to the Step 1 exam.

The authors of First Aid have written a few other books that can also be helpful for preparing for Step 1. First Aid: Questions and Answers for the USMLE Step 1 presents exam content in a case-based question-and-answer style format. Though last published in 2012, much of the content is still very relevant.

First Aid for the Basic Sciences: General Principles and Organ Systems cover key topics at a higher level of detail than the main First Aid title.

After purchasing each of these books, I realized that I did not have time to read each of them in its entirety, though I would have found it helpful to do so. You will discover that the greatest limitation to preparing for Step 1 is likely not the number of resources, but the amount of time, at your disposal.

This means that you should carefully select Step 1 books and other resources before investing your limited (and very valuable) study time.

Naturally, other Step 1 prep books bear much of the same content as First Aid. It is their presentation style, design, and comprehensiveness that offer competitive advantages to some learners.

The 7-book Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes are relatively more explanatory than First Aid. Structured chapters offer both calibrated content exposure to support first-time learning and later review. The end-of-chapter questions cover the topics in sufficient detail.

The Kaplan set can be combined with First Aid for deeper content review. Though I did not have time to read the entire Kaplan set, if I had purchased it at the start of the first pre-clinical year, the readable narrative style of the books would have been excellent accompaniments to my medical school coursework.

Even during the dedicated period I found myself using portions of each book to “brush up” on concepts that I had not yet mastered.

To this end, there are two other sets of highly valuable “rapid review” books that many students use for Step 1 preparation.

Pathoma by Husain Sattar is a useful resource for reviewing pathology concepts. Many students read the first three chapters of the book, which are relatively short, and watch the accompanying video lectures. The high-yield content covered by Pathoma make it a very valuable resource for Step 1 preparation.

The Board Review Series (BRS) of books offers brief bullet-point-style content review and, more importantly, numerous USMLE-style questions with sufficiently comprehensive explanations.

Many students use BRS Physiology, in particular, to review core physiology concepts prior to the exam. Personally, I found all of the BRS books helpful including BRS Anatomy, BRS Neuroanatomy, BRS Microbiology, BRS Cell Biology, a few others.

To save money, you don’t necessarily need to purchase the latest edition of each book. Older editions often have a similar quality (and relevance) of content (though more recently developed concepts and medications may not be covered).

This stands for all of the books mentioned in this article. I purchased older editions of the BRS books to save money and still found them very relevant and helpful.

The Deja Review series of books are useful primarily for rapid content review. Each page presents content in a brief question-and-answer format such that numerous Q-and-A’s can be covered in a relatively short period of time.

For example, Deja Review Microbiology and Immunology has a section dedicated to antibiotics that covers important aspects of the drugs (including indications and side effects). I found that the Q-and-A format of the material really helps it to “stick.”

Note, however, that these books should be used exclusively for content review and not first-time learning.

Deja Review USMLE Step 1 covers bits and pieces of many topics that could be present on the exam.

For students that prefer video-based, instead of book-based, learning resources, Boards and Beyond and Sketchy Medical are arguably among the best available.

Boards and Beyond consists of numerous brief (5 to 30 minutes) lectures on nearly every topic covered on the Step 1 exam. The content is more high-yield than that of traditional medical school lectures. In addition, it can be reviewed efficiently with the Light-Year Anki deck, a free third-party tool developed specifically as an accompaniment to Boards and Beyond.

Sketchy Medical is a relatively new, but highly valuable, video-based learning resource. The resource consists of numerous “memory palaces” that are introduced via engaging videos and greatly aid the long-term retention of medical knowledge.

Many of your peers may not recall the fine details of medical school lecture slides dedicated to diabetes drug, but the vivid and usually humorous scenes of Sketchy will “stick” in the Mind’s Eye for months or even years.

Sketchy Medical has expanded in recent years from microbiology and pharmacology to biochemistry, pathology, and other topics, such that it is now a comprehensive study tool.

Pixorize is one of Sketchy Medical’s competitors, and some students may prefer it for its structure. The videos are generally shorter.

Whereas multiple related topics are often covered in a single Sketchy video, Pixorize dedicates a video to each topic in particular. While this means that there are more memory palaces to cover, they are less detailed and perhaps easier to learn and retain.

During the Step 1 dedicated period, Boards and Beyond, Sketchy, and Pixorize are useful for strengthening specific areas of content weakness. Ideally one would already have learned from these resources in their entirety during the pre-clinical years (though I know how challenging it can be to fit in the time).

Beyond book- and video-based learning resources, question banks are an indispensible Step 1 study resource.

Perhaps the best-known USMLE Step 1 question bank is UWorld. The comprehensiveness of UWorld questions render them useful for both learning and content review.

Some students start the UWorld question bank during the pre-clinical years and try to complete it a second time during the dedicated period. Other students save the question bank for the dedicated period.

The questions are not meant to be “burned through,” but rather approached with curiosity. Some students only complete one or two 40-question blocks per day.

While a 40-question block takes a full hour to complete, it can take two- or even three-times as long to review. Detailed explanations for each question are intended to support learning and content mastery.

A few alternatives to UWorld are Amboss and USMLE-Rx. Similarly to Uworld, these resources offer numerous Step 1-relevant questions. For some students, choosing between these question banks is a matter of balancing cost and personal preference.

Your academic advisors should be your go-to resource when it comes time for you to decide where to invest your money and time. Develop a SMART plan, study with intent, and when exam day comes, take the test with the confidence that you have put forth your best effort to prepare. Best wishes for your journey.

Enjoy our content? Consider following us on twitter or subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Read about the latest research in the field of immunology or the latest immuno-biotech news from ImmunoFrontiers.