You’ve heard whispers around your medical school of a variety of question banks to use during boards, and there are a lot. To be specific, this article is going to hit on the main points of question banks only, not to be confused with the variety of coaching or training programs out there.
As mentioned in the opening article of the USMLE Step 1 Series, choosing a question bank has little dependence on your individual learning style. Before we get into the individual options, it’s important to note that this can be one of the largest detriments to your student loans for the Step 1 exam, outside of the exam itself. While we always encourage smart purchases, this is not a time to be frugal. You should purchase a question bank, and round up on the time compared to your exam (e.g. if you exam is 1.5 months away, get a 2 or 3 month subscription). Never try to “exact fit” a question bank with your pre-determined study time. Overestimate slightly.
This is our top recommendation, without question. When groups of medical students are surveyed about resources, this is consistently rated the highest of the question banks, with around 95% of students who used it rating it “Very Good” or “Excellent” after taking the Step 1. (Evidence for the win!) Buy it.
Review: The interface and question types are the closest approximation to the actual FRED2 format you will find on the actual Step 1 exam. More importantly, the question stems and content are in a similar style. Difficulty overall is slightly higher than the real deal, but at an appropriate level that doesn’t feel ridiculous like some of the other question banks. Answers are comprehensive, high yield, and fulfilling. Performance is tracked by subject and topic, but overall analytics leave something to be desired at times as improvement-graphing is not a feature. While tracking progress can be reassuring during this stressful time, it’s not why students should purchase a question bank. This is a large cost, so as a (repeated) point of disclosure, MedStudentBooks receives absolutely no benefit or compensation from USMLE World.
Usage: You should do questions every day you study, with a heavy focus on the topic you just reviewed. Some questions every day should be general (randomly chosen) questions. This number should increase as you get closer to the exam date. Number of questions should be tailored to individual learning style. However, if you find yourself burning through the question bank quickly and expect to finish it early, we recommend saving approximately 300 for the very last week of studying. Purchasing a second question bank (see below) is only recommended for this scenario for those who really excel by doing questions.
USMLERx comes from the group that makes First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. Questions are true to the exam in content and difficulty, with great answer breakdowns. This corresponding question bank to First Aid does extend past the book’s knowledge and can be used as a true supplement (not just rehashing the exact same content), which is why it represents our runner-up question bank recommendation. When surveyed, about 60% of students who used this question bank rated it as Very Good or Excellent. One money-saving tip is to use the corresponding book First Aid Q & A for the USMLE Step 1 (often referred to as “paper USMLERx”) and/or First Aid Cases for the USMLE Step 1. This last title is actually not a question book, but rather goes over cases with multiple questions that could come up for any given question stem. Unlike question banks, this is usually self-selected by those whose learning style works well. Furthermore, either of these titles can be picked up used or borrowed from friends. Keep a lookout for your medical school hosting a USMLERx “Scholarship” which is code-word for “promotional free qbank subscription that coincidentally creates free advertising.”
Kaplan tends to get extreme opinions. People either love it or hate it. When a class of med students were surveyed, 30% of those who used Kaplan Qbank rated it as Very Good or Excellent. As opposed to the above two options, Kaplan takes a different approach, by asking questions that do NOT approximate the Step 1 exam in style. Questions usually focus on specific factoids, and are sometimes perceived as being detailed minutia. Nevertheless, some people swear this is a helpful method of studying. If you are curious about this option, you can use the above link or below banner ad to check a free trial before purchasing it. Either way, it shouldn’t be your first choice.
What about the NBME?! As we mentioned in the opening article in the Step 1 series, everyone should take an initial Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment (CBSSA) exam to get some hard evidence of performance. While these are great at providing a big picture of strengths and weaknesses, these exams unfortunately do not provide great answer descriptions or aid in learning. The NBME has started rolling out exams with “Enhanced Feedback” but they still don’t match up to any of the above as learning tools, and wind up being more expensive per question.
USMLE Consult: This is the question bank famous for being backed by the Great Goljan. We love Goljan’s teaching, but we don’t have enough evidence on USMLE Consult to say it’s necessarily a strong choice. Without the Goljan stamp of approval, this option would probably fade into the background with many other countless banks.
Exam Master: Many med schools provide this to students for free. The price tag reflects the quality. This has a lot of negative reviews and responses associated with it. Questions are unfocused, unclear, and often times have poor answer explanations. Learn from med students who came before, and avoid dedicating time to this option. If you are interested in free questions, hit up the question banks that come with many new books (check for scratch-off areas on the inside cover) or use the Lippincott free 350 question set.
USMLE Weapon: This Pittsburgh startup gets a curious honorable mention as a rising question bank gaining popularity. While USMLE Weapon has not yet stood the test of time or produced a lot of evidence regarding its perceived value, it has impressive analytics and may yet give USMLE World a run for their money one day. At this point though, MedStudentBooks cannot endorse this option, but we will be following it for future years.