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The Cost of Preparing for the USMLE Step 1


Students studying

Second year medical students are gearing up for what has been coined the most important test in their medical career.  The USMLE Step 1 is typically taken after the second year of medical school and in many cases required by medical schools to have taken the exam before they can begin their third year clinical education.  The exam is responsible for setting the tone or perspective as to whether or not medical students will be viable applicants for those competitive specialties.

Medical students are hearing advice on how to study for Step 1 from all directions.  Like all standardized exams, finding the right fit can be a challenge.  Businesses take advantage of medical student’s test anxiety by flooding the market with study products all guaranteed to “boost your test score!”  As a money conscious student, you want to get the best bang for your buck.  Not to mention, the desire to have every weapon in your study regimen is tamed by your cheapness.

So, let’s examine the cost of studying for Step 1.

Students may be looking at First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, regarded as a requirement for Step 1 by many students as it covers material over the first two years of medical school.  Each year, First Aid releases new editions that contain updated pictures and facts. So, the budget battle is between purchasing the new edition that may not come out until January or February or purchase the previous edition at a discount and hope that you don’t miss out on anything.  Most students will say that you are probably ok with the previous version.  This is key for students who are wanting to get a jump start on studying for Step 1 as early as the fall semester of second year.  The cost is minimal at $45.

Uworld Q Bank is regarded by most students as the highest rated question bank for Step 1.  One of the reasons they are so highly regarded is that they mimic Step 1’s multi-step questions.  Bottom line, according to many students, Uworld is a must.  The uworld site says there are over 2,000 questions in this qbank, and you can get a 60 day subscription for $179.  Learn more by visiting their website here.  There are 2 Uworld Self Assessment Exams available that supposedly mimic the real exam.  Purchasing both uworld self assessment exams is $60, giving you 2-weeks access to each test.  In total, a student can invest $239.

There is another Q-bank offered through Usmle-rx.  Before a student goes out and throw money at everything, you need to first determine if you’ve got the time to do multiple qbanks (which some students highly suggest), and you want to save uworld for last, then the recommendation is to use usmle-rx.  Usmle-rx has 2,267 questions, and is a pretty good deal.  A three month subscription costs $149 and a six month subscription costs $199.  You can get a $30 discount for joining the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) before you make the purchase (joining AMSA is free and literally takes 2 minutes).  Check out more at their site here.

As I understand it, Pharmacology is a huge part of step 1, and while first aid contains a lot of pharm, it is a good idea to get another source.  The consensus is Lange Pharmacology Flash Cards, due to their straightforward simplicity.  The front of the card has a short clinical vignette, and the back contains similar drugs, mechanism of action, clinical uses, and other information.  They cost around $30 and can be found on amazon for about $30.

There are several microcards suggested.  These include the Lipponcott’s Microcards that can be found on amazon for around $40.
Last but certainly not least, is pathoma.  When selecting a pathology review course, most reviewers come down to either pathoma or goljan rapid review pathology.  For $85 you get 21 month access to all the pathoma videos online, as well as the pathoma textbook.  Learn more at the pathoma site.

Preparing and taking Step 1 can be a sizable investment and being cheap can limit your success.  So, a bit of advice, spend the money.  Just be smart about it.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Jose Espada

Jose Rivera Espada is the director of financial aid at IU School of Medicine, a nine-campus allopathic medical school in Indiana. Jose’s experience includes working as an assistant director of financial aid at Butler University and a financial aid coun...