A Review Of Study Resources For The Big USMLE Step 1

A day rarely passes by without coming across yet another resource that is widely renowned for helping medical students do well on the USMLE Step 1.

As soon as I get a chance, I jump onto one of those forums (SDN, usmleforum, etc.) to find out what people think. More often than not, I am left more indecisive than before, confused about who I should trust and whether it will be worth my time adopting a brand new resource to improve my chances for a good score on Step 1.

However, looking forward to taking the exam in nearly six months from now, I have compiled a list of resources and would like to share what I think about them in as objective a manner as possible. So strap yourselves in for the ride! 

First Aid

I’m not going to beat the dead horse with this one. First Aid is a must for you to do well on the exam. It is a comprehensive resource that compiles all content from the first two years of medical school in one book. On the downside, it consists of lists and outlines rather than explanations. While there are mnemonics to help you remember the details, sometimes you may need mnemonics to remember the endless list of mnemonics.


In my opinion, Kaplan is a great resource for students who would like to clarify or polish their basic understanding of certain topics. The books contain detailed descriptions of all the main subject areas. On the other hand, the question banks contain nitpicky, yet still helpful questions and especially explanations that you can jot down in your notes for later reference.

BRS Physiology

Along with the Kaplan books, Board Review Series books are a great, concise resource to internalize all the high yield physiology points and review them when crunched for time. There are also BRS books for subjects other than physiology, but their useful is more debatable.


This is yet another source for practice questions. In its essence it is made directly from First Aid and meant to be used as an alternate method to remember all the content from First Aid. Most students tend to use these questions as they go along in their medical school courses.


Dr. Sattar is the modern-day god of pathology. He has basically compressed all the organ system pathology topics into a concise, easy to understand set of videos and a book. Just as you need to know First Aid cold, you need to have Pathoma down cold as well.

Golijan Rapid Review and Audio Lectures

Dr. Golijan is the ancient-day god of pathology with substantial relevance in today’s day and age as well. He has a 700-some page book of the most high yield pathology topics along with a multitude of interconnections with other subjects, including physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology, to name a few. In addition, there are audio recordings of his lectures amounting to 40 hours of pathology where he emphasizes the highest yield concepts from his book (not bad when you’re trying to burn off some calories in the gym).


If you are a visual learner like myself, Sketchy will save your soul when it comes to microbiology and pharmacology (and now pathology as well). It consists of video sketches that cover individual topics through the use of easy to remember mnemonics. When it comes time to remember all the details about the numerous pathogens, pharm drugs, and pathology correlates, you will thank Sketchy for saving you from cramming your brains out.


This is the greatest question set that you will ever find in your preparation for Step 1. Based on talking to people who have taken the exam, you can’t do these questions enough. If you have time, do them more than once. The explanations are golden and will prepare you for the exam as well as make you shine for third and fourth year rotations on the wards.

In addition to the resources mentioned, there are a bunch of other books and question banks that have been shown to be helpful for students. At the end of the day, you need to find a balance and make sure to not get resource-overloaded. First Aid, Pathoma, and Uworld should form the bedrock of your prep materials, with everything else peppered on top depending on need, time, and utility based on your individual study approach.

Must Read: Picmonic: the Secret to USMLE Success?

Featured Image: Wikimedia

7674 Total Views 24 Views Today

Yash Pandya

Yash Pandya is a science writer at The "Almost" Doctor's Channel. He is a rising third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Emergency Medicine with minors in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Yash plans on attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Fall 2016 with guaranteed admission. In addition to the usual humdrum of academic involvement, Yash loves to play Ping Pong, catch up on the latest "Big Bang Theory," and travel. Having lived in India for half his lifetime, Yash aspires to expand his horizons into international healthcare by practicing medicine globally.