A guide to USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK Qbanks like UWorld and Kaplan: which is best and how to use them.
It seems like the moment you pull out your wallet to make a purchase, you’re overwhelmed with options to the point that picking a simple toothbrush can feel like a quiz; and that also applies to USMLE Qbanks (Question Banks) as far as we’re concerned. It might feel like picking the right one is actually your first question block on Step 1! But you’re not alone, and we’re here to help clear your path with a comprehensive yet digestible breakdown of USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK Qbanks and how best to utilize them.
A Beginner’s Guide to Qbanks
Let’s start from scratch: in order to do well on the USMLE, you’ll need to practice a lot of questions. Luckily, example questions have been accumulated across a large number of services called Qbanks.
But how do you choose the Qbank that’s right for you? We think some data always helps: According to our own user stats, the most popular Qbank among Cram Fighter students is UWorld. UWorld is widely considered the ultimate Qbank. It is also one of the most expensive; however, it has results to back up its popularity and a format that is nearly identical to the actual test. Another one of its heavy-hitters is its high-quality explanations, but we’ll cover this more when we get to “reviewing” later in this post.
Other Popular QBanks
USMLE Rx is brought to you by the same people who brought you First Aid, AKA the holy grail Step 1 preparation book that you might even be able to find at your local thrift store. When USMLE Rx is used in conjunction with First Aid, it will help add some necessary meat to the bare bones of First Aid. Some recommend using the USMLE Rx-First Aid team for Step 1, and upgrading to a Qbank like UWorld for the next steps. This may be something to consider even more as Step 1 changes to pass/fail. Some may opt to save the expensive and more difficult UWorld, for example, for Step 2 if they think they will be able to get a passing score with a more basic Qbank for Step 1.
You’ve probably also heard of Kaplan. Kaplan is a comprehensive yet more affordable program that offers many of the features of modern Qbanks like tutor modes and videos, along with formatting that is also strikingly similar to the actual test. Lastly, Amboss. Amboss has historically been used most for Step 2 as it’s widely considered more helpful in that arena than in Step 1.
A Simple Breakdown of Qbanks as of June 2021
Your Qbank Experience
So, you’ve chosen your Qbank–congrats! Now how do you optimize your use of it? Well, you can interact with all of these Qbanks in different capacities, but a good rule of thumb we recommend is to always practice in timed 40-question blocks of mixed content to practice like how you will be tested. Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice perfect! But that doesn’t mean you should worry if you’re making a lot of mistakes. Making mistakes will help you pay closer attention to the questions in practice so you’re prepared to get them right on actual test day.
Something we want to be sure we drive home: your Qbank studying experience will likely change drastically as you go along. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be helpful to know this and keep it in mind in order to continue to stay on track and not get discouraged. For example, you may take the full hour to finish your first block and 2-3 hours to review all those questions, but by the end of your study time it may only take you 30-45 minutes to finish a test and only one hour to review! This comes in all different shapes and sizes for everyone, so it’s important to allow yourself some space to adapt to the mode that best suits you.
How Best to Use Your Qbank
One thing you can be sure that all of these Qbanks do is provide feedback on your performance. This feedback is your friend! For example, UWorld tracks your performance by highlighting your relative strengths and weaknesses; and even compares your performance based on your peers with accessible performance graphs like the one below from UWorld’s “Key Features” video below.
Performance graphs exist across most platforms, as they are vital tools in order to prioritize your studying. Analyses are generally organized by discipline, medical specialty, etc. along with how your peers are scoring comparatively (which can really only take you so far, it’s more important to focus on competing with yourself). With these tools, you can narrow down where you need to practice the most and filter that in conjunction with high-yield modes to maximize your output.
Another important tool Qbanks generally offer is the ability to track when you changed answers from correct to incorrect, or incorrect to correct. Why is this important? Well, you may be someone who has incredible gut instinct. Your first choice is usually correct and in doubting yourself, you lost a point! Or you may be someone who needs a minute to process all the information to select the correct answer. You might not know which one of these you are, and you might be a mixture of both. So in the beginning of your Qbank practice, you should allow yourself the freedom to make as many switches as you need to build enough data in your performance feedback to make an accurate assessment.
As we mentioned earlier in this post, one of UWorld’s greatest strengths is its quality answer explanations. That’s not to say the others fall short in this arena, they all do a superb job! But this is where the free trials come in handy, as you can see which explanation format suits your learning style best. All that being said: you are not taking too much time reviewing. It’s important that you review the whole explanation and not just the correct answer explanation because the majority of what you’ll be reading on a question are incorrect answers–being that the correct answer is only one of five! Plus, each and every incorrect answer features its own clinical pearl. By reading through the incorrect answers, you will discover why two answers might have easily been mixed up and learn how to better differentiate those two diseases or drugs next time.
Your Next Step
Now that you’re well versed in all things Qbank, let us help you incorporate them into your study schedule! One thing we learned in this post is that free trials are your friend; so consider trying each of the Qbanks trials to gain some experience before you buy while also trying Cram Fighter completely free for your 7 day trial! This way, you can feel as confident as we do that we’ll make a good team.