The Best USMLE Books and Study Plan For USMLE Steps Preparation To Score High

What is the best way to study for USMLE Steps to get the best possible scores?

How to start preparing for USMLE steps? Where is the information for USMLE beginners? What are the most important facebook groups to join while preparing for USMLE?

To answer the above questions, I did some research and found the following information. Please, understand the USMLE process and take your own decision based on your situation.

I reviewed some online experiences of candidates and finally came up with summary of what exactly is a good way to study for USMLE Steps. Here are my findings based on my research. Don’t blindly take my word for it as you are responsible for what you choose to do finally for the score you will get.

Everybody is DIFFERENT. There is no one size that fits all. Don’t copy the plan of someone else. Learn from other candidates’ experiences and come up with a plan that suits YOU and your situation. Dedicate as much time as you can for reading on a daily basis. You may start gradually (like 2 or 3 hours in the first week) and then keep going up until you reach YOUR maximum capacity and keep it at that pace. If you need some time off briefly you can have it but make sure you read consistently.

Make a time frame for your exam, and go with plan. Decide the date of your exam and study accordingly. Solve as many questions as you can on daily basis. QBanks are made to complement learning with text books and you have to plan to do qbanks also twice or thrice before appearing for the exam.

Don’t take too many long breaks (more than three days) during your preparation. Remember that USMLE is a long path and so you should pace yourself and keep calm. Work on your weak areas if in case you are not getting good score in UWorld qbank.  Don’t think UWorld qbank is an assessment tool; keep it as an learning tool. Read its explanations, digest its concepts.

Approximately Step 1 should take 6-9 months and Step 2 CK should take about 4-6 months if you study without gaps or interruptions, for International Medical Graduates. All kinds of outliers exist for all the above suggestions. Everyone should be able to correctly estimate the best strategy that he/she needs to be able to remember all the concepts given in these resources.

I strongly recommend everyone give step 1 before Step 2 CK as some step 1 concepts get tested on step 2 CK again, like lung/cardio phyisolgogy and pathphysiology of various disesase which you are expected to already know by the time you give Step 2 CK. Some do get really good scores even though they take step 2 CK first but that should not be the sole reason that you take step 2 first. Lot of people think that you are fresh from final year medical school with medicine, surgery etc. but in reality that does not matter.

Just do read as many times as YOU need to understand and memorize the material.

Best USMLE Step 1 Material:


  1. Kaplan books/ You can read First Aid For USMLE Step 1 easily after finishing Kaplan books
  2. UWorld QBank, [?may be Kaplan QBank] do UWorld questions again and again and again.
  3. Pathoma for pathology

?High yield neuroanatomy-some recommend and some don’t.

The first 3 resources must be the backbone of your preparation. Start with FA which also has a guide for “How to Study for USMLE.” And, while you are studying, modify your resources as needed. For example, some studied Microbiology from FA and supplemented it with “Clinical Microbiology made ridiculously simple” and so on.

Majority of the questions will be from pathology in USMLE Step 1.

Best USMLE Step 2 CK Material

  1. MTB [Master The Boards by Dr.Fischer] 2 for IM, MTB 3 for the rest, plus ? Kaplan lecture notes

2. UWorld QBank

You can try Ethics from Conrad Fisher’s 100 cases.

MTB is very good as compared to Kaplan books but, lets say, if you are confused about certain topics, just read Kaplan or some other books just to clear your concepts. Otherwise, keep MTB as your main book.

In Step 2 CK, you may expect to see 3-4 EKGs and 3-4 heart sounds questions. Some hear and learn heart sounds from youtube. UW has good EKGs but also look for EKGs on google as well.

USMLE Step 2 CK is not a fact based exam like step 1, it’s mostly conceptual. So, you should understand the concepts.

The real exam questions are a bit lengthy and your mind gets fatigued during the 9 hour exam time. So, develop endurance for sitting for several hours at the same place. Develop patience and be calm. Do not drink too much coffee.

The best thing you can do for this exam is do UW really well and understand all concepts that it is trying to teach you. Do repeated reading.

There isn’t much you can do about ethics. You have to just try to solve the questions the best that you can.

How to assess yourself? The self assesment is based on U.W.S.A and NBME-4 and NBME-4 is closest to the actual exam. It will tell your accurate performance  and you can improve by looking at your bars on performance report. If you do NBME offline, you have to multiply the number of correct questions by approximately 1.55 to get the NBME score.

Start MCQs practice from the 1st day of your preparation. Try to do at least some questions from UWorld qbank daily to improve your reflexes of being able to solve MCQs with ease.

Majority of the questions will be from Medicine in USMLE Step 2 CK.

Best USMLE Step 2 CS Material

First Aid for Step 2 CS and some also used Houston notes to pass this step.

One may need 1-3 months of preparation for passing this step. This step can be easily be passed if you practice well with a partner on phone initially [to improve your english speaking skills] and then practice in person with someone who knows about this step process. Practicing with a lay person [non medical person] may not help a lot as they can’t correct your mistakes. This test needs social skills also, along with medical knowledge. Do not underestimate this test even though you got great scores in Step 1 and Step 2 CK. I have seen people getting more than 240 in USMLE step 1 and 2 and failing in USMLE step 2 CS as they probably thought that this exam is also like first two where in you just need to remember theory.

International medical graduates really need to practice with a partner either on phone or in person. See if this “Template for USMLE Step 2 CS” works for you. When I took my step several years ago, I made a master template which really helped me with every case.

Best USMLE Step 3 Material

 Preparation time- around 2-3 months.
For MCQs- MTB3 and UWorld QBank.
For CCS- UWorld and Archer’s videos.
Tests- UWSA and NBME for Step 3.

This exam needs clinical practice to be able to do it really good. But, you can easily pass even if you did not have any US clinical experience if you prepare well [I passed it even before I had any USCE]. Be really thorough with USMLE Step 3 UWorld Q bank. While taking the exam, you may feel that you did not understand half of the questions confidently but still you will make it if you prepared well for CCS cases and practiced well on software.

Practice ‘CCS part’ really good in their software. This part is all about practicing on computer. You will answer most of the MCQs with your Step 2 CK knowledge.

Like’ if interested in IM residency.