Top Ten Books for the USMLE Step 1

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3.

Before I plunge into the Top 10 books for Step 1 let me first explain that books were only the second best resource for me while studying for Step 1.  I found question banks to be the most efficient means of studying for Step 1. In order to do well on an 8 hour test, you need to be accustomed to doing hundreds of questions in a day.  Doing well on Step 1 is not just a question of learning the info in the books I list below, but also a question of developing the stamina to say focused on the 349th question of the day….it is like preparing for a marathon. USMLEworld and the Kaplan Q-bank in my opinion are the best resources for preparing for Step 1, but you can not do questions for 1 month straight, you need to spend some time in books. Now for the books…

  • Updated April 2015

1. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1:

I don't know how they do it, but the First Aid people have an unbelievable ability to know exactly what is important to the people who write board questions.  First Aid is reprinted each year. I suggest buying one copy early in med school and study from it while you study for your other classes. Then, purchase the new copy when you are studying for Step 1.  First Aid is not sufficient for Step 1, but it should be required reading for all students as it highlights the stuff that you absolutely must know. Some students also recommend Kaplan's MedEssentials for the USMLE Step 1

2. BRS Pathology:

Another required book for Step 1 is a pathology review book. The two most commonly used books are BRS Pathology and Goljan's Rapid Review Pathology (#3). I prefer the BRS book because it is a no-nonsense text with a few pictures and tables but mostly focused on simple and clear text.  You should browse through both books before deciding which one you will use.

3. Rapid Review Pathology:

The other famous pathology review text for Step 1. This book is written by Dr. Goljan of "Goljan Lectures" fame. (If you do not have these lectures, see my article and links about the subject because they are fantastic). The content is similar to the BRS Pathology text but the delivery is quite different. This text is more visually appealing with colors, images, and many tables. Pick your poison.

4. BRS Physiology:

A broad physiology text is another book that most students use when studying for USMLE Step 1. It is unlikely that you will learn anything new when ready a physiology text. However, a physiology text will help you cement concepts in your mind. A great understanding of physiology will help answer the difficult Step 1 questions. I found that reading the physiology text for one organ system, then the pathology text and First Aid for the same was great preparation for questions on that subject.

5. High Yield Biostatistics:

You can not forget the small categories that are tested on Step 1. Biostat/epidemiology is one of these areas. I am sure I had 10-15 questions on these topics. The High Yield book is quick and easy; you can get through it in just a few hours. Don't go into the test without knowing all forms of bias and all calculations of a two-by-two table.

6. BRS Behavioral Science:

The behavioral sciences will also take up at least 5-10 of your Step 1 questions. These are hard to study for but you must find a way to do it. There are a few books options in this category, the great asset of the BRS book are about 15-20 questions at the end of each chapter. Many students swear by High-Yield Behavioral Science. This book is also very good, more concise, and easy to read. It does not have questions.

7. MicroCards:

Flashcards will give you a nice break from question banks and books. MicroCards have a ton of information. It may seem like some of the information is superfluous, but after taking the exam you will realize that many Step 1 questions ask very specific questions about bacterial anatomy and antibiotic targets.  I will never forget that on my Step 1 they wanted me to know the treatment for sporothrix schenckii.  So, yea, get some microcards.

8. PharmCards:

This is another set of flashcards that you can use in the bus, at night on the bed, during lunch, etc. Like MicroCards, these cards have a ton of information. However, you will be asked some very specific questions. One example I still remember is being asked the mechanism of action of ethosuximide.  Even though it is "Step 1" they will still ask pharm quesions.

9. First Aid Cases for USMLE Step 1:

You will find a common theme here: find something to break up the books and question banks. Though questions and the first 4 books will be your main ammunition to study for Step 1, you can not do that for a whole month. Flash cards and cases will help break things up while still learning and picking up some questions. The First Aid case book is very good and highly recommended by all. I used case books when my mind was tired of memorizing, and I think they helped me pick up a few questions. Most of you are also familiar with Kaplan's USMLE Step 1 QBook in print format, which is another great distraction of texts and computer questions.

10. USMLE Step 1 Secrets:

I did not use this book. I had heard good things during medical school, but it never made it into my bag. Since I wrote this post I have had numerous students write to me and explain that book became a foundation for them. As the book states in its Preface, it is not a stand-alone resource. The book aims to add clinical context to the data you will glean from texts and First Aid. I place it tenth on my list only because I do not know its true power. After reading through the book after-the-fact, I am convinced that I would have used it quite frequently during my study time.


1 comment

  1. Melissa

    Thanks for this great selection of books! We have recently tried to condense what we think are currently the <a href="www.test-study-guides.com/best-usmle-books/">best USMLE prep books</a> for all steps into one list, check it out in case you are interested.

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