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How to Study for USMLE Step 3: Best Books for Step 3 Prep

  • by Dr. Brian Radvansky
  • Mar 29, 2022

We all study differently, and each method has its pros and cons. Computers can convey information efficiently, but they can also be easily distracting. You might be trying to absorb some intricate details of ear anatomy just to find yourself surfing another website about the koala life cycle 20 minutes later. Or you may be unable to concentrate on the videos you use for studying, and they just play aimlessly in the background like elevator music.

If you are like me, when preparing for a huge USMLE exam, you absolutely need a book. Not an article or a website or an electronic medium, no – but a plain, old, heavy, “throw it in your bookbag” book. Whether or not you employ a question bank or video series (we suggest you do!), I find there’s something about being able to take pen to paper, opening a real book and hearing the pages turn. It’s almost as if the book is whispering to you,“Hey, it’s time to study.” 

Many students will do great without bringing a book into the mix, and that’s fine too – remember, there are no strict rules about how to study.  The main thing is to do what works best for you.

Because we all have different levels of receptivity to different learning media, a combination of resources (e.g. Qbank, video series, and books) enhances the ability to internalize and recall information. If you’re studying for Step 3, you already know what resources work best for you. The question is, which book(s) should you use to fill the hole in your Step 3 study plan? Let’s take a look at the ones students most frequently add to their Cram Fighter Step 3 study plans. 

Most popular Step 3 study books

Our Study Stats page displays the most popular resources for USMLE Step 3 prep. If we single out the books from the other resources, we have the following:

Title (% of students using this resource)

  • Master the Boards Step 3 (19.5%)
  • First Aid for the USMLE Step 3 (17.4%)
  • Crush Step 3 CCS (3.7%)

As a general rule, one book is really all you need to prepare for Step 3. Many students will do great without bringing a book into the mix, and that’s fine too – remember, there are no strict rules about how to study.  The main thing is to do what works best for you. At the same time, you’ll need more than a book to prepare for Step 3. You’ll have to learn how to .answer multiple choice questions too. Also, CCS cases demand extra special attention, so you’ll need to work through them and not merely read about how to break them down. 

Master the Boards USMLE Step 3

Dr. Conrad Fischer is at it again. One of the most recognizable names in the USMLE test prep world gives us a relatively comprehensive resource to make sure every base is covered. 

Keep in mind that although relatively in-depth, this book is a review book. It is not meant to be a standalone resource, but rather serves as a reference for material that you study in depth elsewhere. Your primary source might be one of the classics like Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, or your day-to-day life as an intern. Some have called the book more of an outline than an in-depth resource. Since Step 3 covers all fields of medicine, a primary source ends up being thousands of pages. As an intern, you likely don’t have the time to digest this bulk of material, so a review book is what you need to bolster your daily knowledge. 

The book’s publishers pride themselves on “teaching to the test.” Master the Boards USMLE Step 3 includes a small section devoted to the CCS part of the exam, even though it’s not a huge focus of the book. Students can take advantage of this section, even if it cannot compare to working through CCS cases.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 3

“First Aid” is another instantly recognizable USMLE prep name. You’d be hard pressed to find a student who took Step 1 without utilizing First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. Is the Step 3 version as good as the one for Step 1? 

Well, this book is not as essential as First Aid for Step 1. Similar to Master the Boards, it covers 4 years of medical school and a part of internship as concisely as possible. First Aid for the USMLE Step 3 is about two-thirds as long as First Aid for Step 1, and it contains a bit less detail. This book provides you with a short but necessary CCS component to the review, similar to what you find in Master the Boards. The book serves as a solid reference and a good foundation on which to annotate.

This book is touted as being written by residents, and edited by faculty and attendings. It has some advantages and disadvantages. Even though residents who recently took Step 3 might have the material fresh in their minds, they would not be able to approach the creation of a resource with the same sharp view that a dedicated USMLE test prep educator might have. In the end, it’s a tradeoff.

First Aid and Master the Boards are equivalent in most ways, so if you are looking for that large bullet-pointed review book, pick whichever author’s style you prefer. If you felt comfortable with Conrad Fischer’s writing when preparing for Step 1 and 2, by all means stick with his line of materials. If you are a First Aid-er through and through, finish strong with their Step 3 book.  

Both of these books have received criticism for being similar to their Step 2 predecessors. Could you get by just reusing what you used for Step 2? Surely you could, but we’d recommend utilizing the most specific and up to date resource you can get. The $40-$50 you spend on the review book is just a fraction of your medical education costs. Do whatever it takes to pass and become a knowledgeable professional.

Crush Step 3 CCS

This book is totally different from the previous two, as it is fully devoted to the CCS portion of the exam. As the CCS portion counts for 25-30% of your grade, being able to approach it with confidence is a necessity. 

The big pro of this book is the number of cases. Crush Step 3 CCS contains 300 pages of CCS cases, more than you will find anywhere else.

The ironic drawback is that it is a book. Even if you learn best using books, knowing how to use software is necessary to get through your CCS cases.  There is no substitute to building familiarity by working through cases. On the other hand, if you need an instruction manual on how to approach a CCS cases, Crush Step 3 CCS is your book. 

As a busy intern, you likely won’t have oodles of time to devote to Step 3 prep, so don’t get bogged down by too many resources. Find the ones that complement each other to reinforce your knowledge and ​​ stick with them!

No matter which books you choose, you can be sure they are full indexed down to the individual page on the Cram Fighter Study Planner. Simply select the books you want to use and let Cram Fighter do the work of mapping out daily tasks to your schedule so you can stay on track as you prep for Step 3. If you haven’t already, sign up for a free trial and create your personalized Step 3 study schedule now!