Tag Archives: board books

USMLE Step 1 Series: The 7 Essentials of a Solid Study Strategy

To kick off the USMLE Step 1 advice, we present the big picture overview of studying. Some of the below are well known strategies, but we hope to present some clever caveats that have been compiled by a number of med students along the way. Over the next few weeks, in depth articles will detail more of the little tricks that offer that competitive test taking edge. For now, let’s stick to the basics.

Figure Out Your ACTUAL Strengths and Weaknesses, with Evidence.

Early in the study process, you will be bombarded with different strategies and study practices. The problem will always come back to figuring out what works best for your specific learning style and knowledge base. Before you even decide where to start, you should have a basic idea of big-picture learning goals. After all, it would be silly to dedicate the same amount of time to a topic you despise as one you already know really well. Don’t guess. That’s an easy and common mistake. Get evidence.

The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the same guys who bring you the Step 1 exam, have created a number of helpful exams for this goal called the Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment (CBSSA).  They use Step 1 style questions and provide performance profiles (above) similar to that found on your actual Step 1 assessment. It lays out a visual representation of strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully your med school provides them to you for free (if they don’t, petition for it).

It is recommended that you take an untimed enhanced CBSSA exam early on or even before you start studying. Assessing your Step 1 knowledge before studying, and seeing the score and performance profile early on will definitely sting, but the purpose is to push you in the right direction. It can serve as a strong motivator, and has been shown to increase board scores at certain med schools by 1/4 of a standard deviation.  If desired, take another one about 10 days before the actual exam for comparison and reevaluation of focus. Using a question bank to accomplish this goal is an alternate option, but they are focused on teaching topics, and nothing is as authentic and insightful as an exam coming directly from the NBME.

Get a Plan, and Stick To It.

Once you figure out strengths and weaknesses, creating a study schedule is the next essential step. We’ll cover the various types of plans more extensively in future posts, as there are many out there. The big picture point is that it should keep you focused but remain flexible. This can be a large stress-inducing topic for med students, as gunner plans will require no sleep and IV hydration. Construct something right for you that also maintains sanity.

Get a Copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 reviewIt has been reviewed and highly recommended on this site, and even given away in a contest. This should be at the core of every med student’s study plan, and can be purchased confidently, regardless of your individual study strengths. However, this absolutely cannot be the sole source of information for Step 1 studies. Every commercial question bank and review course will cite some arbitrary number that suggests First Aid doesn’t hold 100% of the needed knowledge. They’re right.

The proper way to use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is as a guide. The sections corresponding to the subject of your focus should be lightly overviewed first. This should then be followed by in-depth learning from a dedicated resource. Some students like returning to review First Aid after that, and/or in the days just before the exam. Either way, it should be used as your starting marker to point you in the right direction, not your end point. Furthermore, it should be annotated thoroughly, which will be discussed with tips in an upcoming post.
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Stock Up on the In-Depth Books NOW

Now that we convinced you that First Aid won’t make you a Step 1 superstar by itself, let’s look at what else to consider. You will find that there are about three million medical books out there. After narrowing down the list to those designed specifically for med students studying for the USMLE Step 1, you will find yourself left with about 43,943 books. Pro-tip: you can’t read them all.

Feuds have started over which books present the highest of yields. You could sink a lot of time into researching every title, and fall prey to the gunners and trolls of the SDN forums, never wanting to hear the term “high yield” ever again. Here at MedStudentBooks, we like to keep things simple. Below is a list of recommended titles to support various Step 1 topics. As always, we highly recommend using the titles you already know and love to jog your memory. But if you don’t have a favorite, the following is a list of highly recommended titles from the MedStudentBooks team, surveyed med students, and med school administrators that you should consider first:

MedStudentBooks Recommended Step 1 Resources
Lippincott’s Biochemistry (full review here)
Q&A Review of Biochemistry
Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple (full review here)
Q&A Review of Microbiology and Immunology
Lippincott’s Microcards
BRS Physiology (full review here)
BRS Behavioral Science
BRS Pathology or Goljan’s Rapid Review Pathology (full review here)
Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology (question book) (full review here)
MedMaps for Pathophysiology for true visual learners
Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease (full review here)
High-Yield Gross Anatomy with your favorite atlas for reminders
High-Yield Neuroanatomy with this gem

Clearly you should not seek out every book on this list. In fact, purchasing too many books can stress you out if you have a large pile of materials you feel you must get through, without the time to actually do it. These are just top recommendations for the subjects with which med students tend to need extra help.   The key is to figure out what topics need to be strengthened as mentioned above, and focus on them from the above list appropriately. We’ll go over general question and case books in another post.

Do not be that med student who waits until the day before they are scheduled to start reviewing a topic to buy the associated book. You should not dedicate any brain power on bookstore trips or figuring out why the postal service didn’t deliver your Amazon order in the middle of your studying. Added stress is not welcomed. Figure out what books you need from your self-assessment, and purchase them early.

Use a Question Bank to Complement Your Studies and Track Progress

Your med school may host an obligatory Kaplan lunch talk, or notify you of a USMLERx “scholarship” (?). Maybe you’ve heard some rumors about a new and upcoming question bank weapon for gunners. Like books, there are several options out there, but this choice is even simpler than books: use USMLE World.

USMLE World Step 1 Question Bank

Much like First Aid, this is not a question of learning style. If you’re a visual learner, use UWorld. If you’re an auditory learner, use UWorld. If you work for Kaplan…  use UWorld. We’ve previously mentioned that we’re not a fan of their company policies or prices, but the high quality of their question bank is undeniable, which is why they are the gold standard. Unless your exam is scheduled within the next 8 weeks, get a 3 month subscription. We’ll discuss question bank strategies and alternatives in upcoming posts, but for now rest assured that you don’t need to worry about other companies unless you’ve blown through UWorld and come out hungry for more. Again, the price is unfortunately high, but it is an absolute necessity.
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Learn by Rote Memory Over Time

So far we’ve covered basic science subjects that are largely conceptual. Unfortunately, Step 1 (and the rest of your career) will require straight up no-thinking-through-it memorization. By this point in med school, you’ve probably created lists that you’ve stared at for so long that you not only remember the factoid, but the irregularities of the paper as well. This will most likely come up for Step 1 in pharmacology and microbiology. It is an unfortunate necessity, however it can be improved slightly. Just remember that large amounts of rote memorization are best retained with spaced repetition. In other words, you should identify the long lists somewhat early, and continue to review them in short bursts throughout your study schedule instead of dedicating large chunks of time without returning to the information.

(Try to) Relax

A lot of us really neglect this one, and it can have devastating effects on productivity and exam scores. We’ll be discussing burnout in greater detail soon, but you should start thinking of things that keep you sane now. Step 1 sucks, but you are awesome.
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First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 Errata Posted

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 reviewFor those interested in making corrections to information in your copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012, the official FA errata is now posted to the FirstAidTeam.com website.  You can check out the webpage to learn more about the process, or RSS subscribe for updates. If you’d like to bypass the site and just go straight to the errata, the document can be found here (pdf).

Contribute to First AidKeep in mind that you can send in a correction for any mistake you find by clicking on the “Contribute” button on the right side of their site or this post (both bring you to the same place on their site). While they promise $20 Amazon gift cards for new information, someone else has probably already beaten you to any given correction. Nonetheless, making any submission will get your name printed in the preceding version of Step 1.

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Déjà Review: USMLE Step 2 CK – Perfect for Some

Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CKStudents preparing to study for the USMLE Step 2 CK  should be well accustomed to the type of question encountered on the boards and shelf exams, and should have a decent sense of their own study habits and strengths. This is immensely important when deciding on a study plan for Step 2. The seemingly infinite clinical knowledge can be overwhelming, and a structured study plan truly helps.

Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CK, now in its second edition, continues to get mixed reviews by students studying for the boards. The format of the book is very straight forward: alternating sections of clinical vignettes, and rapid-fire two-column recall question and answers. The book goes through each of the core clerkship specializations that will be found on the USMLE Step 2 exam, starting with Internal Medicine, and progressing through Surgery, Neurology, Psychiatry, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, and finally Emergency Medicine. It is not a text book, or even a comprehensive review book such as First Aid, and as such should not be relied upon to learn new concepts. Its strength is purely in aiding with recall and making buzz word connections, and it does that very well.

However, the lack of teaching can be frustrating for students who do not already know or remember the material. DejaReview Step 2 CK shouldn’t replace question banks either. There are no answer explanations or experience in testing. Furthermore, the book is often times seen as unhelpful to students who do not learn well with recall type resources.

It is due to these reasons that there exists a split in outlook about this book. People who excel at rapid recall questions can easily carry this in a wide white coat pocket during the months preceding the USMLE Step 2 CK exam, for high yield on-the-go studying. It is a very strong review text that complements First Aid and USMLE World question banks, but it is not for everyone. Learning style really matters with this book, which is why there are such mixed feelings about it. If you are unsure of your learning style, it is recommended that you check out the format of the book before purchase. Try to browse through a copy at your medical library, or if you want to decide sooner, head over to Amazon, which gives a few of the question type pages found in the book. As far as price, Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CK gives a lot of bang in its 300+ pages for a low cost, so finding out it is not for you won’t set you back too far. Check out the links below to see what I mean.


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Must Have Cardiology: Lilly Pathophysiology of Heart Disease

Lilly's Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: A Collaborative Project of Medical Students and FacultyDid you ever wish your course materials had less research-driven material that was bogged down in details? Did you ever wish that relevant information wasn’t presented in a complex and sophisticated manner such that you could spend more time learning and not sorting through the hot mess that is a syllabus?

Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: A Collaborative Project of Medical Students and Faculty solves both commonly-heard complaints with a well-organized and informative text that will be essential for your Cardiology or Physiology course. The book was written by Dr. Leonard Lilly, a Harvard cardiologist, who understood the pains of the first two years of medical school. He gathered 79 medical students who provided insights on how to present and teach pertinent information to medical students. The book itself has received many accolades from around the world and may already be required at your medical school.

There are quite a few benefits to using this book. The content is set up in a way that allows you to read the book, well… like a book (I know it’s hard to imagine in med school). It starts with pertinent information that med students will need to know in order to understand each subsequent chapter. The material in the Fifth Edition covers: 1. Basic Cardiac Structure and Function, 2. The Cardiac Cycle: Mechanisms of Heart Sounds and Murmurs, 3. Diagnostic Imaging and Cardiac Catheterization, 4. The Electrocardiogram, 5. Atherosclerosis, 6. Ischemic Heart Disease, 7. Acute Coronary Syndromes, 8. Valvular Heart Disease, 9. Heart Failure, 10. The Cardiomyopathies, 11. Mechanisms of Cardiac Arrhythmias, 12. Clinical Aspects of Cardiac Arrhythmias, 13. Hypertension, 14. Diseases of the Pericardium, 15. Diseases of the Peripheral Vasculature, 16. Congenital Heart Disease, 17. Cardiovascular Drugs.

If you choose to use Lilly as a supplemental resource, it is structured in a way that allows you to easily reference sections that integrate disease processes with normal physiologic processes. For example, Chapter 2 has a 6 page excerpt with descripitions of all normal heart sounds, as well as pathological causes and explanations of abnormal heart sounds. If a disease is explained later in the book, Lilly places the appropriate chapter number to point you in the right direction.

Lilly Pathophysiology of Heart Disease Fourth Edition

There are a few disadvantages to this review book. Lilly admits that Pathophysiology of Heart Disease is not meant to be a resource for in-depth questions prompted by the burning minds of future cardiologists. For example, although the book goes to great lengths to describing the mechanics behind an EKG, it falls short of providing the best explanation and a more exhaustive list for pathologies seen in different EKGs. However, to make up for the lack of detail inherent in a review book on cardiology for a med student, Lilly does provide additional readings that he cites at the end of each chapter.

Nevertheless, Lilly is a must-have to help you sort through the massive amounts of information thrown at medical students during Cardiology. It breaks everything down into concise, but understandable text that is rarely found in medical education. The Fifth Edition of Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease can be found at the below links. If you want to save some money, the fourth edition (above) covered practically everything needed for my Cardiology course. Regardless of the edition that you choose, Lilly will not disappoint!


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A High Yield Complement: BRS Physiology

Board Review Series (BRS) PhysiologyBoard Review Series (BRS) Physiology, now in its 5th edition, is the leading resource on physiology concepts crucial for the foundation of medicine as well as those highly tested on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1. This book, written by the esteemed Linda S. Costanzo, Ph.D, provides very clear and concise explanations of essential physiological principles of each organ system as well as those of cellular physiology. This text contains many clinical examples and sample problems to help medical students test their understanding of these concepts and their application in clinical scenarios. Each chapter concludes with a review test, accompanied by explanations and references to sections from which the question arose. To further aid appreciation and long-term retention of these key principles, many full-color illustrations, flow diagrams, and tables as well as a summary page of “Key Physiology Equations for USMLE Step 1” are included. Additionally, each book features a scratch off code which provides access to supplementary online resources, such as a question bank and a comprehensive examination with an image bank, on The Point.

This book provides a clear outline with appropriate breadth and depth of high yield material that is most commonly tested on USMLE Step 1. It is recommended that this book be read in conjunction with corresponding physiology courses throughout med school or as part of review for the boards. Because this book presents the material in a very straightforward manner, it helps to simplify difficult concepts to better understand medical physiology.

Despite the many benefits of using this book as part of any study plan for the USMLE, there are a few drawbacks which should be noted. Many of the questions featured in the chapter Review Tests and Comprehensive Examination are not written in the style of the USMLE Step 1. Rather, most are short questions that are aimed to test the knowledge of key concepts and should not be relied upon to gain familiarity with the format of the USMLE Examinations. The review questions are also simpler than most found in question banks and the exam itself. Lastly, this book is designed to be a review book and as such should be used in conjunction with more comprehensive resources such as textbooks, classroom lectures and syllabi.

The material in this book is organized into seven chapters by organ system, each of which ends with a review test and explanations. The first chapter provides a general overview of Cell Physiology followed by chapters on: Neurophysiology, Cardiovascular Physiology, Respiratory Physiology, Renal and Acid-Base Physiology, Gastrointestinal Physiology, and Endocrine Physiology. This Board Review Series book culminates in a 99 question comprehensive examination which is followed by explanations and page references.

Overall, this book is highly recommended to medical students for learning the physiology of the major organ systems, and especially in conjunction with Tao Le’s First Aid for those who are preparing for the USMLE Step 1. This reasonably priced review text will provide any medical student with a clear understanding of the most frequently tested physiology concepts and to provide a solid foundation for a career in medicine.


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Grab this FREE copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012!

Congratulations to user Buding, an MS-II at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences! He is the winner of the below free copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012. This contest is now closed.

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 review

We’ve gotten so much traffic and positive interest in our First Aid Step 1 2012 review that we just couldn’t hold onto it. For those of you taking Step 1 closer to the spring, this offer is definitely for you.  All you need to do is to leave your e-mail address in the comments section to win a free copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012 (now in full color). You can say whatever you’d like in the comment itself, but the winner of this giveaway will be selected completely at random. We do however request that you click one of the social buttons below, although this is not necessary to win.

Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed or check back on the site over the next few months as we expand our posts dedicated to Step 1 tips, schedules, calculators, and online applications.

As with previous contests, this is open only to US students, and e-mail addresses are never displayed on the site, used outside of contests, or given away (we’re all med students and understand the value of spam-free inboxes). Limit 1 entry per med student. The contest follows our usual rules and will close in one month, on February 15, 2012, so drop your comments by then.  Good luck!

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Sneak Peak at First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 reviewMedStudentBooks.com got a hold of an early copy of the upcoming First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012, and we are proud to offer the first internet review.

The 2011 version of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 was previously reviewed on this site as the must have gold standard of Step 1 board review, and this only builds on it. Reportedly the “world’s bestselling medical review book,” First Aid 2012 continues its long line of teaching with a noticeable update. As the rainbow bar on the cover suggests, First Aid is now in full color. The company also reports approximately 20% new content across the additional pages.

There are a good number of benefits that come with the color upgrade. Previous versions stored a small section of pages near the back of the book with certain must-see color images. In 2012 however, they are blended seamlessly around the relevant text, allowing users to go directly from text to image without page references. The color also seems to make a number of the images pop a bit more. Drawn diagrams are easier to encode into memory, and line graphs are easier to trace (although this may be difficult to appreciate in the below image).  There also appears to simply be more color pictures in general, complementing the text more completely than previous versions.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012 sizing

Pages without images still have subdued hues of blue and red around the border. Bolding is now in a dark blue, which seems to conflict with one of the improvements many people liked between the 2010 and 2011 versions: bolder, darker font.  Nevertheless text remains easy to read.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012 QR CodeThe other noticeable addition to the book is the use of QR codes found at the start and end of every chapter, linking the user to updates, errata, “and more.” They all actually appear to be the same QR code throughout the book, and come with a link to the title’s associated question bank. As an aside, that same link is where students can submit errors or recommendations to improve the subsequent version, and get their name printed in it as well. While it is difficult to see the practical use for this electronic QR connection, board-study-psychosis can produce erratic behavior in medical students, and it certainly isn’t a detracting feature.

In general, First Aid Step 1 2012 also does a better job with spacing and sizing, as seen in the above image, although this comes at the expense of smaller margins. As mentioned in the previous 2011 review, most students annotate the book’s blank space.  Because of this, margins have historically been important, although a good amount of white space still remains.  In regard to the physical size of the book itself, it is surprising to see the dimensions to be about equivalent to the 2010 version, despite an additional 50 pages. The downside to this is that the pages are very thin and don’t hold certain inks or highlighting as well as prior versions.

Compare First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012

Overall, it is highly recommended that every second year medical student has access to a personal copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. Unfortunately, it is generally contraindicated to obtain a used copy of this title due to the annotation produced by most users. The color update with a reported 20% increase in content represents an improvement that should not be overlooked for a new copy of a previous version. Therefore, we strongly recommend picking up a new copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012. As we get further into Step 1 season, MedStudentBooks.com will post any discounts or deals on purchasing this title online, and possibly give one away for free. For now, shop around the below links to find the best price, and be sure to look for the color version.


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Best Ob/Gyn Review: Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology

Best Ob/Gyn Book: Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology

Best Og/Byn Review: Blueprints

While this site had previously reported on the vast shortcomings of Blueprints Pediatrics, the writers of Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology, now in its fifth edition, have thankfully delivered one of the best ob/gyn review resources for medical students who are not going into obstetrics and gynecology. The book itself follows the same format and design as the others in the series, but don’t judge the book by its cover.

The major strength of Blueprints Ob/Gyn is that it is specifically streamlined for NBME exams, which means it strips down all the unnecessary detail and presents the core topics that will aid you in rocking the shelf, as well as the ob/gyn questions on Step 2.  One of the tough areas of ob/gyn is learning all new normal anatomy and physiology while currently learning the pathophysiology.  The book does a good job of breaking this up into an easy to read flow, with chapters that have a manageable length.  This includes both big-picture overviews (e.g. things that go wrong in third trimester) as well as drill down topics (e.g. preeclampsia). Furthermore, the book also has its own question sets which further solidify the topics as you go. This book also doubles as a great guide on Family Medicine as well.

Specific chapters include Pregnancy and Prenatal Care, Early Pregnancy Complications, Prenatal Screening/Diagnosis/Treatment, Normal Labor and Delivery, Antepartum Hemorrhage, Complications of Labor and Delivery, Fetal Complications, Hypertension in Pregnancy, Diabetes in Pregnancy, Infectious Diseases, Other Medical Complications in Pregnancy, Postpartum Care, Benign Disorders of the Genital Tract, Endometriosis and Adenomyosis, Pelvic Relaxation, Urinary Incontinence, Puberty and Menopause, Amenorrhea, Hirsutism and Virilism, Contraception and Sterilization, Elective Pregnancy Termination, Infertility and Assisted Reproduction, various Cancers, and Breast Disease.

Keep in mind that this latest fifth edition has very few changes compared to the previous two versions.  If you can pick up the older copies for cheap or free, they will provide the same knowledge.


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