USMLE step 1 books

12 Best USMLE Step 1 Books [BUYING GUIDE]

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke
Reviewed by: Harshi Dhingra, MD

A quick search on what the best USMLE Step 1 books can have you feeling overwhelmed. That’s why we’re here to help! We have put together the books based on their purpose, their subject, and overall student reviews. Feel free to jump straight to the book listed depending on what you’re looking for in your USMLE prep:

12 Best USMLE Step 1 Books

1. Kaplan Step 1 Lecture Notes: Best Overall
2. First Aid: Best Study Guide
3. Kaplan QBook: Best Practice
4. Kaplan MedEssentials: Supplement to Lecture Notes
5. BRS Physiology: Physiology Practice
6. Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology: Best Pathology Practice
7. Robbins and Cotran Essential Pathology: Pathology Review
8. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease: For 2nd Year Med Students
9. Robbins and Cotran Flashcards: Best Flashcards
10. Pathoma Fundamentals of Pathology: Best Videos
11. Kaplan Integrated Vignettes: Best High Yield Practice
12. Rapid Review Pathology: Best Ebook

Kaplan Step 1 Lecture Notes

Best for a completely comprehensive review of USMLE

Kaplan USMLE Step 1 books come in a 7-book set that spans 2,000 pages that’s aligned with changes to the USMLE. The 7-volumes: Pathology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Biochemistry/Medical Genetics, Immunology/Microbiology, Anatomy, and Behavioral Science/Social Sciences are updated each year by Kaplan faculty. For this reason, we recommend Kaplan’s lecture notes among the best USMLE books for Step 1.

These books are also included in Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 prep courses – read more in our detailed Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Review.

Book Highlights:

  • Reinforced learning with end-of-chapter summaries for super easy review.
  • All the diagrams and charts are in full-color to aid visual learners.
  • Updated annually by Kaplan’s medical lecture faculty.
  • Clinical correlations and bridges between the disciplines are noted throughout the series. 

Top Review

Great material

“Fantastic graphs and pictures, text slightly dry”

Amazon Review

Best Overall
Preclinical Medicine Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2023: USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX-USA Level 1 Preclinical Medicine Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2023: USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX-USA Level 1
$349.99 $137.09

The best set of comprehensive USMLE prep books that's printed in full color.

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03/30/2024 09:30 pm GMT

New to the USMLE? Start Here

First Aid

Best USMLE Study Guide

The First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is pretty much the OG of USMLE Step 1 prep. Updated every year to reflect current USMLE Step 1 testing, this USMLE prep book does a remarkable job outlining the high-yield topics and tips that you’re going to need to do well on the USMLE. Most students who’ve enjoyed this book still utilized a proper Qbank and video lectures such as Lecturio or Kaplan. 

Book Highlights:

  • This book is updated annually using crowdsourced contributions from high-performing USMLE Step 1 test takers – includes recent strategies and experiences from the top scorers on the USMLE.
  • 1300 essential topics that also include mnemonics to help you remember key information.
  • More than 1200 colorful photos and illustrations give visual guides to clinical information, processes, and disorders (which makes this super essential for visual learners). 
  • Rapid Review section can be used as a last-minute study guide for a refresh right before test day.

Top Review

Awesome Resource, I Needed Picmonic to Memorize It

“Just got my First Aid 2021 copy and it’s great, truly the best USMLE Step 1 resource! The only way to use it IMO is along with Picmonic; this book is incredibly dense and hard to cram, so I review it page-by-page with Picmonic. This breaks the pages down into easily consumable sections and mnemonics so I can actually remember what I’m reading. There’s no other way to cram such a huge amount of info into your brain in such a short time! These two resources together are CRUCIAL to how I crushed Step 1 (268) and I’m proud of how well they worked :D”

Amazon Review

Best USMLE Study Guide
First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2024 First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2024
$65.00 $54.09

This is, hands-down, the most popular USMLE Step 1 prep for high-yield practice.

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03/31/2024 12:39 am GMT

Kaplan USMLE Qbook

Best exam-like practice questions for the USMLE

This Kaplan USMLE Qbook is a great resource for students who are looking for extra USMLE practice to go alongside their current USMLE Step 1 review. Although not intended as a standalone USMLE Step 1 review book, these questions are a great supplement to your studies. Most students have found success working through these questions while also utilizing their USMLE Step 1 prep course or home study program. 

Book Highlights

  • 850 high-yield exam-like questions.
  • 17 high-yield exam-like practice sets for major practice areas.
  • These practice questions are unique and are not published anywhere else.
  • You can find answer explanations for each correct and incorrect answer choice.

Top Review

Best question bank to use in combination with UWORLD

I also started off with the first aid question bank (USMLE Rx), but found the questions in Kaplan to be better. USMLE Rx has a lot of buzz words, which may be better during your first two medical school years when exams often times include buzz word descriptions, but the USMLE (still haven’t taken it yet, but from NBME questions and others opinions) tends to stay away from buzzwords and goes more into descriptions, which Kaplan does. Kaplan also has more third order questions, which means you’ll get used to answering questions that are a little bit more difficult than the actual exam. The book is filled with a great intro going over the USMLE and test taking strategies, and gives excellent responses to why each question in it is either right or wrong, and why the wrong answers are wrong. If you are looking for a qbank to study for the boards, Kaplan over USMLE Rx.

Kaplan MedEssentials

Best visual aid to pair with Kaplan Lecture Notes

If you are planning on purchasing the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes books, then this is great supplement, as it is going to summarize main concepts and includes some of the same illustrations. This USMLE Step 1 book is used by most students as a visual aid for a quick summary review after going through their own USMLE comprehensive content review. It should be noted that this book is not a standalone Step 1 study tool and simply should be viewed as a study aid for those who need more visuals in their prep.

Book Highlights: 

  • 12 pages of amazing full-color medical photographs.
  • Includes illustrated tables and bolded terms for easy summary/memorization.
  • Can be used in sync with Kaplan Step 1 Book Set because they use the same illustrations.
  • Condenses high-yield topics into a single volume.  

Top Review

Nice format 

“if FA is a book of paragraphs, this is a book of charts & tables. So if you have already read the annotated FA and need a book you can use to memorize the summary version of it, then this is the one you can go for. Better picture/chars/tables than FA but I think it lacks some details. Also I think this is particularly useful for those who used Kaplan Step 1 resources – Kaplan lec notes, lecture cuz they use the same pictures.”

Best Supplement to Kaplan Lecture Notes
MedEssentials for the USMLE Step 1 MedEssentials for the USMLE Step 1
$59.99 $51.92

 Visually mapped basic science concepts that pair perfectly with the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes Book Set.

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04/01/2024 06:19 am GMT

BRS Physiology

Best Physiology practice for the USMLE 

This is part of the Board Review Series for Physiology. Appropriate for first and second year med students, this book reviews all important Physiology topics covered in classes. This means you can be utilizing these summaries and illustrations by Dr. Linda Costanzo for class as well as last-minute USMLE Step 1 prep

Book Highlights

  • 350 new and revised clinical multiple-choice questions and answers
  • 120 full-color figures and diagrams as well as 50 tables
  • Includes new appendixes for Key Physiology Topics for USMLE Step I, Key Physiology Equations for USMLE Step I, and Normal Blood Values
  • Outline format makes for simple and effective Physiology review

Top Review

Solid review before Physiology shelf exam 

“This book was essential for me during my studies (cramming) for the Physiology Shelf exam first semester of MS1. I used this as a sole source for my studying, and did a close read with annotations over the course of a week and got 95th percentile, which I was only getting class average grades for physiology all throughout the semester. So I attest my awesome score on this to this book. Super good resource, questions at the end of each chapter and the full test at the end are great for figuring out how well you understand the material. HIGHLY SUGGEST YOU BUY THIS & BRS BIOCHEMISTRY!”

Best Physiology Practice
BRS Physiology (Board Review Series) BRS Physiology (Board Review Series)
$59.99 $56.99

This book doubles as a review for your Physiology class as well as provides 350 clinical vignette-style, multiple-choice questions to help you prep for Step 1.

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05/15/2024 03:21 pm GMT

Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology

Best Pathology practice for the USMLE Step 1

Robbins and Cotran is going to be mentioned a few times in this list because of its authority in medical education. Robbins and Cotran has put a lot of work into the enhanced ebook versions of all their new editions, so you’ll be able to interact with the illustrations as well as navigate and search content across devices. 

Book Highlights: 

  • 1,500 vignette-style questions in print, plus 500 online questions covering even more challenging concepts. 
  • Questions written in USMLE style and includes a final 75-question USMLE exam.
  • Answers and in-depth explanations at the end of each chapter for quick review.
  • Also available in Ebook with your purchase, so you can access from different devices.

Top Review

They should rename this book, “Vignette Mastery”.

“They should rename this book, “Vignette Mastery”. Do every question you possibly can and walk away with a wealth of knowledge that lectures and reference texts could never achieve.”

Amazon Review

Best Pathology Practice
Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology (Robbins Pathology) Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology (Robbins Pathology)

Get extra Pathology practice with Robbins and Cotran's Review of Pathology, which includes extensive vignette-style questions to reinforce clinical applications and incorporate key patient care and diagnostic strategies.

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05/19/2024 04:54 am GMT

Robbins and Cotran Essential Pathology

Best for Pathology review 

Whereas the Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology is for testing yourself on Pathology principles, this book by Robbins and Cotran is intended as a more comprehensive review of Pathology. This is going to help you with your coursework and exams and will provide you with a deeper foundation of Pathology, if you’re going into your USMLE prep feeling a bit lacking in this area. 

Book Highlights

  • 500+ images and tables for disorders and concepts
  • Assessments and case studies can be accessed digitally with online consult 
  • Integrated multimedia format (cases, MCQs, and images)
  • Self-assessment questions

Top Review

Concise and well-written

“The ebook access code gives you access to the assessments and case studies on inkling. The book seems to have been rewritten and not just trimmed down. All essential details are concisely laid out. Great for a quick review for MS, or for an in-depth study when combined with the big Rubin. If you are looking for more histology details, add Rosai to the combo!”

Best Pathology Review
Robbins Essential Pathology Robbins Essential Pathology
$74.99 $46.65

This one by Robbins focuses more on review of Pathology concepts rather than practice.

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05/15/2024 05:22 pm GMT

Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease

Best comprehensive understanding of Pathologic principles 

This is the last Pathology book we’re going to recommend from Robbins and Cotron, promise! We just wanted to include this Pathologic Basis of Disease because it’s the most comprehensive in terms of providing you with easy-to-read textbook style basic and clinical content. This is best for 2nd year medical students. Included are revised charts and tables. 

Book Highlights

  • “Key concepts” summary is after each section for quick review.
  • Ebook included for access of text, figures, and references across multiple devices
  • More than 1,000 high-quality photographs and full-color illustrations
  • Special attention placed on readability of text

Top Review

Beautifully printed

“This is my bible. Beautifully printed.”

Amazon Review

Best for 2nd Year Med Students
Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease (Robbins Pathology) Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease (Robbins Pathology)

Best for 2nd year med students needing additional help in coursework, with the benefit of USMLE prep as well.

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05/19/2024 07:29 am GMT

Robbins and Cotran Flashcards

Best flashcards 

These pathology flashcards include 700 cases. Each card gives a clinical scenario with a histological, gross, or radiographic image. On the other side of each flashcard is the answer. These flashcards are an easy change of pace to textbook USMLE study and also come with a handy ring so that you can keep all the flashcards together when on-the-go.

Book Highlights:

  • Two clinical vignettes per card.
  • Two to five questions on each card with answers and explanations on the other side.
  • Offers a break from routine in USMLE prep. 
  • Each card has a hole in it and it’s connected by a ring for on-the-go study.

Top Review

Wonderful flashcards

“These flash cards are absolutely amazing! I am so impressed with how the cards are formatted. I love how there are clinical scenarios that connect all of the key concepts in pathology, biochemistry, physiology, immunology, microbiology, and many more concepts together. I would highly recommend these flash cards and the textbook to all medical students. The book flows with the cards very nicely!”

Amazon Review

Best USMLE Flashcards
Robbins and Cotran Pathology Flash Cards: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access Robbins and Cotran Pathology Flash Cards: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access

Over 700 cases that can be used to study for the USMLE on-the-go.

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05/19/2024 08:34 am GMT

Related: The 4 Best Anki Decks for Step 1

Pathoma Fundamentals of Pathology

Best for video resources

Pathoma’s Fundamentals of Pathology is interesting because you have to purchase the Pathoma Pro subscription to access it.  When you purchase Pathoma Pro, you’ll gain access to over 35 hours worth of exclusive video content that can be accessed across all Apple devices (sorry, Android users). This book packs a powerful punch with 218 full-color pages written in a high yield outline format. 

Book Highlights:

  • Includes a subscription to Dr. Sattar’s online videos (35+ hours). 
  • 350 high-quality color images.
  • High yield outline format covers all important topics in pathology. 

Top Review

Could have ended the Cold War

Pathoma is so high yield that it could have ended the Cold War 20 years early if we’d had it then. Get it.

Student Doctor Forum

Pathoma | USMLE Step 1 and Medical Course Review Pathoma | USMLE Step 1 and Medical Course Review

A USMLE prep subscription with over 35 hours of online video content.

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Kaplan Integrated Vignettes

Best compact USMLE practice book

This cute portable USMLE book by Kaplan still packs 100 clinical vignettes. This is all high yield information for important clinical disorders and will lead you through different diagnoses, simultaneously integrating physiology and pharmacology. 

Book Highlights:

  • Checklist of pathological processes within each organ system.
  • Practice questions for self testing.
  • Each chapter of the book covers a different organ system.

Top Review

Good review

“I am going through the questions and explanations and my only thought is why didn’t I get this sooner?”

Amazon Review

Portable USMLE Prep Book
USMLE Step 1: Integrated Vignettes USMLE Step 1: Integrated Vignettes

A portable USMLE prep book for high yield review.

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05/15/2024 04:19 pm GMT

Lippincott Microcards

Best Microbiology flashcard deck

Here’s a helpful way to learn and review clinical microbiology. This Microbiology review deck was created specifically for students looking for a concise microbiology tool as well as for those studying for the USMLE. Along with the purchase of this deck, you’ll get free access to an interactive question bank!

Flashcard Highlights

  • 142 glossy and durable cards 
  • Free access to interactive question bank with 70 USMLE-style questions and answers
  • Each card offers special features for recall including: Title Bars, Pictures, Flow Charts, Clinical Cases, Pathogenesis Icons, and Study Tips. 
  • Full-color clinical photographs are good for visual learners.

Top Review

Essential for microbiology! 

“I love these flashcards so much. They have been invaluable to me during my first year of medical school. I was annoyed at first at the fact that I couldn’t really annotate on them (because they are the shiny type of card, not paper) but now I am so glad. I have spilled water on them and left them laying around and they are in top shape. The clinical scenarios also helped me a lot.”

Lippincott Microcards: Microbiology Flash Cards Lippincott Microcards: Microbiology Flash Cards
$68.99 $61.11

142 glossy and durable microbiology flashcards that includes free access to an interactive question bank.

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05/15/2024 09:39 pm GMT

Rapid Review Pathology

Best Ebook version for digital access

Rapid Review Pathology, by Dr. Edward Goljan, is known in the medical community for being a top USMLE resource. This updated edition reflects the current USMLE-style questions. When you purchase this book, you’ll get access to the Student Consult Ebook. The beauty of the digital access is that you can search the text, references, figures, and more.  

Key features

  • 500 new and updated USMLE questions.
  • 1,100 full-color photos and diagrams.
  • High yield margin notes by Dr. Goljan for those who need a quick summary.
  • Online access to the Ebook allows you to search for any disease in seconds. 

Top Review

If Robbins and Pathoma had a baby, this would be it

“A friend recommended this to me for use during dedicated Step prep, and I wish I’d gotten it sooner! It’s like Robbins & Pathoma had a baby: detailed yet concise in outline format with high yield phrases in the margins. A must have for Step 1 prep, and certainly wouldn’t hurt to have during preclinical years, too!”

Includes Ebook Access
Rapid Review Pathology Rapid Review Pathology

Purchase includes access to the Ebook which includes search the text features, references, figures, and more.

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05/17/2024 05:54 am GMT

Key Takeaway

With this list, we’re sure you were able to find the book that is the best fit for your study needs. As a quick refresher, if you’re looking for a fully comprehensive USMLE prep set, we recommend the Kaplan 7-book Lecture Series. As an aid, you can also supplement with the First Aid USMLE Step 1.

Good luck on your studying and let us know which books worked for your studying by commenting below!