6 Best USMLE Step 1 Prep Books (2021-2022)
The United States Medical Licensing Exam (or USMLE) Step 1 is the first out of three exams taken in order to obtain a professional medical license in the United States. This exam aims to test students’ knowledge of the specific principles and mechanisms of scientific concepts and their ability to apply those ideas to medical practices.
The USMLE is typically taken at the end of the 2nd year of medical school and is the first opportunity to present the skills you have learned.
Because this is the first test of your knowledge as a medical student, you want to prove that you have mastered the information and can pass this exam. In order to do that, you need the right tools to help you review and maintain all of the curricula that have been covered so far.
Medical students have a lot of information to memorize and maintain, and this can feel overwhelming. Having the right resources can make all the difference when preparing to take this rigorous test.
Spending time researching and reviewing tons of different books is not something you have time for when preparing for this test. That’s why we’ve done the research for you. Below we map out 6 of the best prep books for USMLE Step 1, with a list of pros and cons for each. Start your study plan here by checking out these great resources.
Table of Contents
- USMLE Step 1 Prep Books – The Official List
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Passing Your USMLE Exam
USMLE Step 1 Prep Books – The Official List
Here are our top choices for USMLE Step 1 Prep Books. All of these books provide detailed information to help you feel as prepared as possible before taking this exam. Use these guides to make the most out of your study time with the best information out there.
1. USMLE Step 1 Qbook
Exam-style questions and test-taking strategies to fully prepare you for the USMLE.
Publisher: Kaplan Medical Test Prep
The USMLE Step 1 Qbook takes our top spot for USMLE prep materials. This Prep book contains commonly seen practice questions and effective test-taking strategies. The book is regularly updated with current information so you can be sure each concept is correct and valid.
It contains 850 practice questions that follow closely to actual questions you may see on the exam. This book exposes you to exam-style questions, but it also walks you through each answer. It thoroughly explains the correct answer and why the other answers are incorrect so you can feel confident with each question.
17 practice sets cover all of the high-yield information in each discipline. The USMLE Step 1 exam has different styles of questions, and this book gives you comprehensive test-taking strategies for each type. It also includes study techniques and best practices to keep you organized and efficient.
The only real downside to this book is that all of this great information leaves little room to take personal notes or annotate as you study. This is a great choice if you want real exposure to what you might see on the actual USMLE Step 1 exam.
- Affordable Price
- In-depth explanations for each question and answer
- Regularly updated for current information
- Thorough, exam-like prep that closely matches the actual test
- The book is packed full, which leaves little room to take personal notes.
2. Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review
A detailed overview written by actual students with insider information.
The Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review prep book is written and reviewed by actual students, residents, and experts. The book is led by Ted O’Connell, who is a best-selling author and family physician. The Crush Step 1 book covers all exam material in a way that is easy to read and understand.
There are plenty of colored images, helpful lists, and reference tables to deepen your understanding. After each chapter, there is a set of review questions so you can be sure you have mastered the information before moving on.
This book won’t just give you a bunch of buzz words to memorize; it gives real test-prep strategies that will help you truly understand what each question is asking you. Students and residents who have helped build this book have scored within the 99th percentile and can help you do the same. This purchase also comes with an ebook for convenient access.
The Crush Step 1 book is a few years out of date and was last updated in 2017, yet students still find the information relevant and useful.
- Straightforward and well-organized information
- Ebook is included with purchase
- Written and reviewed by actual students
- Review questions help you stay focused
- Last updated in 2017
3. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2021
An extensive outline of USMLE exam material for effective study time.
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
The First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 prep book is also written by students who have scored high and is reviewed by expert faculty to ensure accuracy. This book gives you a great outline of content that will likely be found on the actual exam.
Students give insider advice throughout the book to help you study and prepare in the best way possible. 1,300 must-know topics include mnemonics for quick memorization. An abundant amount of color photos and illustrations help you visualize different processes, disorders, and clinical findings.
- Very detailed information
- Consistently updated for accuracy
- Mnemonics help you memorize key concepts
- Affordable price
- No practice questions or test-taking strategies
4. First Aid Cases for the USMLE Step 1
An in-depth review of USMLE cases likely seen on the exam.
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
The First Aid Cases for the USMLE Step 1 provides a colored guide to specific patient cases you might be presented with while taking the USMLE exam. You can find active-learning questions throughout this book to reinforce key concepts and ensure you understand the material.
Hundreds of high-yield clinical images and illustrations help you visualize each concept. Each chapter follows simultaneously with the First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 prep book, so having both resources would be a great way to cover all of the USMLE information.
The First Aid Cases for the USMLE Step 1 includes 350 cases to help you prepare for commonly tested concepts. These cases are updated and reviewed for current and correct information. Active learning questions and answers help reinforce each concept and prepare you for commonly asked test questions.
It is organized with figures and tables for easy review, and the information is thorough and to the point. Immunology is one area that students say is lacking in this book, and additional information might be needed to feel fully prepared.
- Complements the First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 prep book
- Includes commonly asked questions and answers
- 300+ concept-clarifying images and illustrations
- Lacking complete Immunology information
- Last updated in 2018
5. USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2020
A set of seven books with discipline-specific guides in each.
Publisher: Kaplan Medical Test Prep
The USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes prep books give a comprehensive review that focuses on each discipline’s commonly seen topics. This is actually a set of 7 books that are separated into each individual discipline. These books will deepen your understanding and help you focus on the most important areas of study.
Each book provides colorful diagrams and a clear review of information to keep you organized and on-task. This set is updated annually, so you know you are getting the most up-to-date information. Each chapter comes with a summary guide that allows for easy review.
The outline format provides a clear organization that will help you stay effective and make the most of your study time. With seven volumes, the set is priced high, but the information is worth it. The only thing these books are lacking are targeted practice questions, yet the information covers all of the exam material you might see when testing.
- Organized into separate books by discipline
- Updated annually
- Outlines and chapter summary guides help you stay focused
- High price
- No practice questions
6. USMLE Step 1 Preparation Secrets Study Guide
Easy to understand guide to concepts, procedures, principles, and vocabulary.
Publisher: Mometrix Media LLC
The USMLE Step 1 Preparation Secrets Study Guide gives a detailed overview of everything needed to get you prepared for taking the USMLE. It includes an examination of general principles and a breakdown of all body systems.
This book will provide you with all of the concepts, procedures, principles, and vocabulary that the Federation of the State Medical Board requires for this exam. The layout of this book is logical and organized without any confusing or dense academic language.
The main complaint about this prep guide is the lack of illustrations. There are very few images, tables, and figures that can make this a tough book for visual learners.
- Easy to understand
- Thorough coverage of exam information
- Well organized
- No illustrations
- Higher price
- Last updated in 2016
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Know Which Book to Choose?
The right resources may differ depending on your needs. What you want to do first is figure out what your needs are. Think about the areas you are currently struggling in or areas you want to improve and look for resources that capitalize on those areas.
You also might want to consider what type of learner you are. If you need a lot of visuals, then steer clear from resources that lack images or tables. It is also good practice to have different types of resources available. Maybe you don’t feel prepared with just one of these prep books; you might want to invest in two or three.
Your ultimate goal is to find the resource that is going to make you feel fully prepared with both the concepts and the practice questions.
Do I Need the Most Up to Date Information?
If you want to be completely sure that you have the correct information across all topics, then your best bet would be to go with the most updated resources. But, most updates only contain small changes, and most are comparable to editions that are a couple of years behind.
How Long Does it Take to Prepare?
This answer will differ for everyone. The best way to determine this for yourself is to make a study plan.
How many hours are you willing to study for a day? How many days a week do you want to commit to studying? How confident do you feel with the exam information? What areas do you need to focus on?
Answering these questions will help you come up with a timeline. Start with a plan and alter it if needed as you go. The most important part is to start somewhere and adapt along the way.
Passing Your USMLE Exam
The USMLE Step 1 QBook gets our vote for the best prep book. It gives you the best idea of what the actual exam questions will look like and walks you through each answer. Choosing any of these resources will leave you more prepared than you started out and can help make study time more efficient.
It’s always a great idea to look for other resources as well. The USMLE website has online practice tests, prep guides, and important information that you should check out before scheduling your test.
These resources can help you make the most of your time while preparing for this first step of your journey towards licensing. The more prepared you are, the better you will perform when the time comes. Keep practicing, and good luck!