Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Review: Is it Worth It?

Visual learners will absolutely love the graphic-rich course contents of Kaplan; it might make the difference between passing and failing.
Written by: Kristine Thorndyke
Reviewed by: Harshi Dhingra, MD
kaplan nclex logo

Editor's Ranking

4.5/5

This post contains affiliate links (at no extra cost to you). Please read our disclosure for more information.

If you’re looking for the down-low on Kaplan USMLE prep, you’re in the right place. In this Kaplan USMLE Step 1 review, we’ll cover the waterfront: Kaplan cost versus other USMLE test prep leaders, materials provided, the platform, etc.

Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Prep Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Prep
4.5
$1999
Pros:
  • Customized, individualized prep approach based on diagnostic test
  • Plenty of rich graphics for visual learners
  • Tons of practice questions (3,300 to be exact)
  • A wealth of exclusive Kaplan prep literature (7 physical books + e-books)
Cons:
  • More expensive than most other Step 1 prep course offerings
  • No money-back guarantee
  • Shorter content access period than many competitors
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

About Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Course

Given its 4.7/5-star rating on TrustPilot based on 4,000+ reviews from med school hopefuls, Kaplan is a proven industry leader in USMLE test prep. It also made it as #1 in our list for the Best USMLE Prep Courses for 2024.

However, along with this high status and brand-name recognition comes cost; the company’s USMLE Step 1 prep is notably more expensive than many of its competitors. A 6-month USMLE Step 1 on demand course from Kaplan will set you back $1,999 versus competitor Boardvitals’ 6 month course for only $449. That said, there is more to this course than just a high price tag, which I’ll discuss in-depth in this review.

The test prep process for Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 courses can be broken down into the following phases:

Initial Diagnostic Test

This phase is intended to diagnose your areas of strengths and weaknesses so that Kaplan can customize your prep strategy.

Coursework

This will be the “meat” of your prep work. The lessons are broken up by category (immunology, anatomy, etc.) Depending on the course type you select, coursework will consist either of live instruction or of pre-packaged modules, respectively. The coursework can be sub-divided as follows:

kaplan usmle course video

Sub-topic warm-up quizzes

Typically about 5 questions long, these quizzes test your baseline knowledge of the sub-topic at hand.

Video lessons

For the OnDemand version of the course, each sub-topic has its own pre-recorded video lesson. LiveOnline students have access to all the same lessons plus live instruction from an expert.

Sub-topic post quizzes

A new feature is quizzes after each sub-topic. This is nice for students who want to review sub-topics rather than wait until the end of the lesson.

End-of-lesson quizzes

Similar in format and subject matter to the warm up quizzes (although not repetitive), these 5-10 questions test your absorption of the content introduced in the lesson.

Practice questions

To drill home the content, Kaplan provides students studying for Step 1 with 3,300 proprietary questions. The QBank practice questions are where you can really dive deep into analyzing and reviewing where your weaknesses are using the analytics.  

Pricing Options

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Kaplan offers different USMLE Step 1 formats to select from.

Kaplan USMLE Step 1 OnDemand

  • Price: $1,999 (6-months access) – $2,999 (12-months access)
  • Summary: The Kaplan USMLE Step 1 OnDemand (6 month) course is the most affordable option in terms of Kaplan’s comprehensive Step 1 prep offerings. It covers all aspects of the exam – not just the subjects themselves, but also test-taking strategies that you won’t get with purely Qbank prep options.
  • Preppers who enroll in the OnDemand course get:
    • Initial diagnostic test to assess strengths and weaknesses
    • 220 hours of recorded lectures
    • 2,600 warm-up and recap questions
    • 3,300 QBank practice questions
    • USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes 2024: 7-Book Set Proprietary Edition
    • 2 full-length practice tests (simulated)

Kaplan USMLE Step 1 LiveOnline

kaplan usmle live online course
  • Price: $4,399
  • Summary: The Kaplan USMLE Step 1 LiveOnline course is the flagship live prep package that Kaplan offers. The biggest benefit over the OnDemand format is the ability to learn in real time from a subject-matter expert. The live element produces a more interactive, personalized experience that might be lacking in the other versions of Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 courses.
  • Test preppers who enroll in the LiveOnline course get everything included in the OnDemand package listed above plus:
    • 270 hours of live instruction from medical industry/healthcare experts
    • Private Facebook community membership
    • Complimentary group professional advising

Kaplan USMLE Course Step 1 In-Center With Live Instruction Course

  • Price: $9,999
  • Summary: The Kaplan USMLE Course Step 1 In-Center With Live Instruction course is the penultimate Kaplan course reminiscent of a bygone era: a face-to-face setup in a brick-and-mortar NYC classroom.
  • Test preppers who enroll in the In-Center With Live Instruction course get all the bells and whistles of the other courses plus:
    • Lectures with seasoned medical school faculty
    • One-on-one medical advising
    • “Critical thinking and advancement workshops” weekly
    • Visa support (for foreign students)

Related: The Best Anki Deck for USMLE Step 1

Curriculum Review

I’ve explained a bit about how the course works and what it’s going to cost. Now let’s get down to brass tacks: what does Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 prep course actually cover content-wise?

Kaplan USMLE Books

One of the most helpful and best-reviewed features of all of the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 courses is the treasure-trove of books/e-books. Regardless of the type of course, all Kaplan preppers get the set of 7 Kaplan prep books developed by industry experts. This book set that comes with the course was featured among our favorite USMLE Step 1 Prep Books for 2024 and retails for $163.96 on Amazon.

kaplan usmle books

These books run the gamut of subject matter, including:

  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry/Medical Genetics
  • Immunology/Microbiology
  • Anatomy
  • Behavioral Science/Social Sciences

In addition to just being filled to the brim with pertinent and critical info, they also contain a healthy dose of illustrations (tables, charts, infographics, etc.) that helped me, as a visual learner, to grasp tougher concepts.

Call me old-school or whatever, but I really appreciate an actual physical book that pushes all the sensory buttons – the textile feel of paper, the smell of freshly minted ink, the physical weight of a book. If, like me, you prefer physical copies of your study materials, you’ll want to consider Kaplan versus other Step 1 courses that are purely online.

TL;DR, the Cliffnotes:

  • Kaplan’s expertly-produced lecture books are both comprehensive and easy to absorb ($163.96 value)
  • Lots of illustrations to accompany text
  • Option for e-books as well

Kaplan USMLE Practice Tests

Taking multiple simulated Step 1 tests will put you in the right mental space to head into the actual exam feeling confident – as if you’ve done it all before.

To that end, Kaplan offers 2 full-length simulated practice tests based on the actual content of the real exam. Additionally, although they aren’t practice tests per se, the 3,000+ QBank questions mimic those you’ll find on the exam. In my experience, the more practice questions under my belt, the more confident I feel on test day.

kaplan usmle step 1 qbank

The Qbank allows for personalization – choosing among question types, difficulty, and timing

*Pro tip: When running through the practice questions, take the time to read the explanations offered for the correct answer; you can apply the logical work-throughs in these QBank explanations to other questions.

In addition to providing the scientific reasoning behind the correct answer, the ultra-helpful explainers in the QBank practice questions focus on these test-taking strategies, which, again, I found very practically beneficial for prepping to pass the actual test. If you look below at an image of an actual Qbank quiz I created, you’ll see a slew of detailed guidance for each question, including detailed analysis as well as page references to help make reviewing content easier. Expert-written explanations are a huge value add for this course and make studying more effective.

kaplan usmle qbank practice questions

Above is an example of a Qbank quiz questions I answered incorrectly. Kaplan provides a short ReKap of the main concepts being tested as well as a detailed answer explanation.

TL;DR the Cliffnotes:

  • Kaplan’s expertly-produced full-length practice exams, which it updates regularly, are extremely helpful for building confidence.
  • Kaplan’s trademark 3,000+ QBank questions + analysis are perhaps the most standout feature compared to other Step 1 courses.

Kaplan Video/Written Content

For all versions of the USMLE Step 1 course, students gain access to hundreds of hours of recorded lessons. Rather than just dry lectures in the traditional university style, these take the form of PowerPoint slides with a rich accompaniment of visual stimuli to reinforce the content as the instructor speaks over them.

kaplan usmle lessons

Most of the time, the instructor’s spoken word will include a visual representation of the material in some form for an all-out educational assault on the senses.  

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can’t emphasize enough the enormous benefit of this type of content packaging for my learning style – and, I suspect, based on the data, for yours as well:

“Humans are visual creatures. Most of us process information based on what we see. 65 percent of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network.”

We’ve come a long way from depending on our vision to hunt woolly mammoths and pick the non-poisonous berries in the Paleolithic Era of yesteryear (now we have grocery stores), but most of us still need our eyes to paint a picture for our brain to optimally process information.

Platform Review

Let’s take a look at Kaplan’s platform and assign a quality rating to help you better understand what you’ll get if you decide to enroll in this course:

  • Usability: 4.8/5 stars. Unsurprisingly given the resources the company has at hand, Kaplan has clearly invested a great deal of effort into creating a “clean,” user-friendly interface that blows a lot of its competitors out of the water. The navigation is easy, the course contents are logically subdivided, and the user experience is silky-smooth.
  • App/Mobile: 4.5/5 stars. Like the desktop interface, the mobile app is intuitive in terms of organization of contents and navigation, so getting to where you want to go is easy. The app, when I used it consistently, was prone to glitching out at times, but the same is likely true for other USMLE test prep apps out there and “comes with the territory.”
kaplan app platform
  • Content Access Period: 3/5 stars. Other USMLE Step 1 prep courses tend to offer longer periods of access (12 months or, in some cases, a lifetime) while the access period for Kaplan’s materials may be as little as 4 months depending on the courses you select.

Student Reviews

Taking a hard look at the previous experiences of (unbiased) test preppers can paint a picture of what benefits, and possible drawbacks, you might expect from a course.

Via Rolsin:

kaplan usmle review

Of course, not everyone is a fan. Via Reddit user SNOWDROP59:

Quora user Harsh Patel compares Kaplan to a popular prep resource, First Aid, in response to a question regarding which one is ideal:

Who Needs This Course

The following groups benefit most. If you fit into one of these categories, you should seriously consider the upsides of Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 course:

  • Visual learners. As we mentioned earlier, the lesson content heavily features graphics, charts, and other illustrations to put the content into perspective. If, like me, you learn best when you have an accompanying graphic, Kaplan is the cream of the test prep crop.
  • Preppers who appreciate physical copies of books.
  • Anyone who wants to learn with live instruction rather than pre-recorded lessons or pre-packaged courses.

Kaplan USMLE Course Alternatives

Here, we run down some of the biggest competitors to Kaplan in head-to-head matchups.

Med School Bootcamp

med school bootcamp review

If Kaplan’s on-demand USMLE course is too pricey for you, then Med School Bootcamp’s USMLE Step 1 course is an amazing alternative. The videos are around 5-20 minutes long and cover high-yield content. Additionally, they offer board-style questions as well as full videos on how to go about solving them.

I recommend this course for those looking for an on-demand format who are less interested in needing any face-to-face interaction with instructors.

Best On Demand
Med School Bootcamp | Ace Med School & Pass Step 1 Med School Bootcamp | Ace Med School & Pass Step 1
4.0
$49

Use code: TPN10 at checkout for 10% off all Bootcamp courses

Pros:
  • High-quality, digestible video lessons
  • Affordable subscription-based or year-long options
  • Thorough answer explanations for both correct and incorrect solutions
Cons:
  • No physical books or workbooks
  • Little student support or instructor assistance
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Pass Program

pass program usmle course

Offering Step 1 and Step 2 courses, Pass Program is a more affordable option to Kaplan that also has in-person options! Coming in at $5,499 for an in-person USMLE Step 1 prep course with housing included, this is about half the cost of the Kaplan in-person USMLE prep course offering.

That said, if you’re not interested in an in-person course in Houston, they still offer 5-week live online courses that meet Monday-Friday from 8-4PM for a pretty affordable $2,499.

Best Budget-Friendly Live Online
PASS Program | USMLE Step 1 and 2 Prep Course PASS Program | USMLE Step 1 and 2 Prep Course
3.0
$2,499

Live online and on-site USMLE Step 1 and 2 courses for students looking for that classroom feel.

Pros:
  • Effective in-person instruction
  • Private tutoring options
  • Intense prep schedule for USMLE prep immersion
Cons:
  • No mobile app
  • Course platform and video library feels outdated
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

USMLE Success Academy vs Kaplan

USMLE Success Academy hosts live in-person learning in Chicago, a benefit for those who want the “real classroom” experience. According to its own figures, 98% of students who take its courses pass their exams.

With its in-person courses under $2,500, its live online courses under $2,000, and its on demand courses under $1,000, USMLE Success Academy is also significantly more bank-account-friendly than Kaplan.

Budget-Friendly In-Person
USMLE Success Academy USMLE Success Academy
$2,497

With affordable in-person Chicago courses as well as live online courses, USMLE Success Academy has a proven track of students succeeding on Step 1.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Kaplan USMLE Step 1 FAQs

Is Kaplan worth it for the USMLE?

Yes. As far as test prep resources go, Kaplan is generally well-reviewed and regarded as a premier prep provider.

How much does the Kaplan USMLE prep course cost?

Depending on the type of course, prices range from $1,999 to $9,999.

How many live classroom hours does Kaplan USMLE include?

The LiveOnline version features 270 hours of live instruction.

What is the Kaplan Step 1 diagnostic exam?

The diagnostic exam is the initial test that preppers take to assess their current knowledge/preparedness level before starting the course.  

Are Kaplan questions harder than the Step 1?

No. The QBank questions that Kaplan uses are modeled on the actual Step 1 questions, so they are neither harder nor easier.

The Bottom line on Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Course

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Below you’ll find the core takeaways to consider when deciding on the right Step 1 course to suit your needs:

  • What’s my budget? Other prep providers are cheaper than Kaplan, sometimes significantly so.
  • What’s my learning style? Visual learners will absolutely love the graphic-rich course contents of Kaplan; it might make the difference between passing and failing.
  • Do I need physical books? Unlike most other prep providers, all of Kaplan’s courses include both hard copies and e-book versions of its authoritative texts.
  • Am I looking for a money-back guarantee? Kaplan offers no money-back guarantee of success on the USMLE Step 1, so if that’s what you’re in the market for, you might look elsewhere.
Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Prep Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Prep
4.5
$1999
Pros:
  • Customized, individualized prep approach based on diagnostic test
  • Plenty of rich graphics for visual learners
  • Tons of practice questions (3,300 to be exact)
  • A wealth of exclusive Kaplan prep literature (7 physical books + e-books)
Cons:
  • More expensive than most other Step 1 prep course offerings
  • No money-back guarantee
  • Shorter content access period than many competitors
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

BLACK FRIDAY & CYBER MONDAY SAVINGS