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The 5 W’s of Using USMLE-Rx or Kaplan’s Qbank

Medical school is full of uncertainty when it comes to knowing what you should be doing. Turning to peers can often be a dead-end; for every brilliant classmate who swears by the newest, flashiest, digital resource, there is another who will shoot down them down and sing the praises of the old standbys.

Where do Kaplan’s Qbank and USMLE-Rx fit into this spectrum?

Are they second-rate resources that shouldn’t have a place during your study time?

Or are they invaluable adjuncts that can bolster your knowledge and help you achieve both in class and on Step 1? 

As we all know, UWorld reigns supreme when it comes to question blocks. It has the most well-written questions, the most stable interface, and unparalleled explanations. It should be the primary learning tool that you use during your Step 1 prep. Period.

Now, not everyone will agree with this, but I believe that such a powerful resource is best saved until you get closer to your exam. Think of it like this. Your classwork education will turn your once fallow mind into a bed of rich soil. You shouldn’t throw seeds (UWorld) into the garden before it’s at its most fertile, when you can truly distinguish what information is important and worth knowing.

Alongside classwork, Kaplan’s Qbank and USMLE-Rx can help fertilize the garden of your mind. There is unmistakable value in answering questions and applying the knowledge that you’ve been amassing. This is what we call active learning, and it’s a necessity in medical school. This is exactly where these other questions banks can serve as your allies.

Read our comprehensive review of USMLE-Rx’s offerings here.

Who should be using one of these Qbanks during basic science years?

All students can and should use these resources, as long as they don’t interfere with classwork! Remember, the key to medical school success is to be excellent at whatever you are doing right now. Do not let your classwork suffer in order to answer more questions. Don’t worry about getting “ahead” of your curriculum, but rather, work to fortify the knowledge of the subject matter you are currently learning in school.

What are we talking about?

Question banks! Haven’t you been reading?

Where do I focus my efforts?

Pick one of these two Qbanks, and use it as a gentle auxiliary study tool to your medical coursework. Focus your efforts on class! I cannot emphasize enough that these banks are supplemental, and should not get in the way of classroom studying and success. Work on questions that overlap with your classroom material.

When do I start?

Depending on how your curriculum is set up, you may not find too much value in these questions until some point in M2 year. You can certainly attack some basic anatomy and physiology questions during M1, but the bulk of pharmacology and pathophysiology will have to wait until you start to cover these topics. If you are part of a systems-based curriculum, simply focus on the system you are currently learning.

Why should I bother?

Active learning. There is no substitute! Using these resources will help you to do better in class and help you get into the habit of answering USMLE-style questions. And, answering USMLE questions is going to become wildly important before you know it. Also, as good as your med school is, you will not learn everything there is to know, and Qbanks will help to fill in the cracks.

How should I go about including these Qbanks in my studies?

Like prescribing a new medication to an elderly patient, start low and go slow. If you’ve got some extra time after doing your necessary coursework studying, then feel free to find some questions in the subject you are studying, and answer them in tutor mode (timing can wait till your dedicated USMLE study period before your exam).

Even though you are only peripherally doing questions, you must build the habit of giving them your full attention now, and pulling as much value and knowledge from both the question and the explanation as possible. Don’t coast through and do questions just for the sake of doing questions. There really isn’t a need to average more than a few questions per day, but if you’ve got more time, feel free to do a few more. When you find yourself a few months out from your dedicated study period, then you can ramp up to some longer length blocks and cover multiple subjects in the same block. Then, once your dedicated study period begins, set these other Qbanks aside, and make the switch to holy grail of USMLE prep: UWorld.

I asked one of my most valuable mentors how to approach Step 1 studying at the beginning of my M2 year. He asked, “Are people carrying First Aid under their arm and downloading UWorld? Don’t be that guy.” There is no need to run yourself into the ground annotating First Aid and trying to squeeze in as many questions as possible. The amount of questions you do will be an exponential curve, starting with a few here and there, and ending with ~100 per day just before the test.

Be excellent at what you are doing right now, rock your classes, do some questions to strengthen your knowledge base, and save something up for your dedicated study period. Use UWorld to its full ability when the time comes, and rely on these other question banks in the meantime.