Understanding and getting a handle on medical school review books as early as possible gives you a huge leg up when studying for the Step 1 examination. Having been in medical school for a year now, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t when incorporating review books into my regular study schedule. I’ve listed these four review series as the most common books that I have seen and enjoy, and also the books that bring people the most success in their personal studying.

Getting Started with Review Books

My suggestion is that you look through each of these books that I recommend and choose ONE series to begin with. Choose the one that is the easiest for you to read through and comprehend the material, then stick with that until you’ve mastered it. Once you’ve mastered that review book then move on to the next series that you find to be easy to comprehend. Eventually the goal is to make it through all of these review books series in order to test your knowledge and command of the Step 1 material in as many different angles and positions possible.

What I noticed for myself, and what other students found as well, is that one review series works best for specific subjects. For example, I use High Yield for Anatomy and Neuroscience whereas I spend more time with BRS for Histology and Pathology. The only way to learn it for yourself is to allow time to spend with each of the books in the beginning of a semester or if you have significant time before starting your medical school journey you can do the same. So in summary, there is no book out there that’s the number one best for everyone to study. You have to go through them yourself and make your own decision, but at the end of the day the only factor that will make you successful for the Step 1 examination is your own study schedule and motivation.

Another factor to take into account if you are choosing review books while you’re in school is to pay attention to what review books your professors like to follow. If your Anatomy professor goes off of Lippincott’s then spend most of your time studying that book because more than likely they will base their questions on examinations off of the Lippincott’s style. Overall, don’t be afraid that you’ll pick the wrong book and study the wrong material. The only true way to learn which review books are right for you is to spend time and practice.

First Aid Step 1 Review Book

First Aid is my absolute favorite review book that I recommend to any students asking me where to get started. It is the platform on which I base my knowledge system and note system off of, and from this book is where I go into further research in the other review series. I found a free link for the 2017 PDF version here. If you like to have a paper copy of the book you can buy it from Amazon here.

Organization

The book organizes material into two major categories: general concepts and organ systems. I love this personally because it keeps all of the information you need to know and study into very sharply organized sections so that it doesn’t feel like you’re jumping from concept to concept and looking at a constellation of facts you need to remember.

General Concepts – The subjects related to medicine that are too general to fit into any one specific organ system. They are listed in the following order.

Behavioral Science
Biochemistry
Microbiology
Immunology
Pathology
Pharmacology

Organ Systems – Within each of the organ systems the chatpers are broken down further into the subjects related to each organ system. It goes in the following order: Embryology, Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology.

Cardiovascular
Endocrine
Gastrointestinal
Hematology and Oncology
Musculoskeletal, Skin, and Connective Tissue
Neurology
Psychiatry
Renal
Reproductive
Respiratory

Pros

First Aid makes understanding what you need to know for the exam extremely easy. It acts as the study guide or backbone to helping you understand what will be most commonly seen on the Step 1 exam (otherwise known as High-Yield material). First Aid also provides mneumonics and ways to help you remember concepts for the exam.

Cons

The review book doesn’t provide descriptive detail on various concepts, just the need-to-know information. So if you’re struggling to understand a concept laid out in the First Aid series, you need to do further research in other review books or in your textbook to grasp the material.

I found a free link for the 2017 PDF version here. If you like to have a paper copy of the book you can buy it from Amazon here.

Lippincott’s Review Series

In my experience taking exams provided by professors as well as NBME shelf examinations, Lippincott’s Review Series nails it on the head when it comes to practicing answering the vignette question style. You can purchase the most recent versions of Lippincott’s books, electronic or paper copies, here. I’ve also found apps for the iPad with the practice questions formatted so that you can test your knowledge quickly – something I find useful in the few hours before taking an exam.

Organization

Lippincotts Review Series has multiple books for each of the different subjects in the Basic Sciences needed for the Step 1 examination. If you were to look at the Lippincott’s Review book for Neuroscience, as an example, you would notice that the book is broken down into 22 chapters where it explores the central nervous system, peripherial nervous system and all of the individual components of the brain and brainstem. This is a common method seen is basically all of the review books.

Pros

Lippincotts has some of the best graphics and tables that I have seen out of any of the review series. They are colorful, easy to understand and are also very easy to recall. The question style is also very commonly seen in many of the examinations I’ve personally taken. They also have a large question bank for each of the chapters within each book so you’re definitely going to stay busy using Lippincotts.

Cons

The books are written in a paraphrased manner, exactly as one would expect for a review book, however I have found it personally difficult to stay motivated to sit through and read. I mostly use Lippincotts for practice questions once I’ve done my own personal readings whether it’s from the textbook or watching videos on Youtube.

You can purchase the most recent versions of Lippincott’s books, electronic or paper copies, here. I’ve also found apps for the iPad with the practice questions formatted so that you can test your knowledge quickly – something I find useful in the few hours before taking an exam.

Board Review Series (BRS)

Organization

BRS was written with the idea of being able to test yourself quickly on small facts. The books come with about 10 questions per chapter and organized in the same way you’ll find Lippincott’s books. You can purchase the electronic or paper versions of BRS here.

Pros

BRS is written in bullet format so it’s very easy to do quick recall or test your knowledge with the books, they act as a study guide to help you organize and remember information. This is another book that I have seen professors use as inspiration when creating questions for their exams.

Cons

There are only about 10 practice questions per chapter, which is good when trying to move through material quickly, doesn’t help in the long run when you are practicing question styles before an exam. Furthermore, the books are lacking in tables and graphics that can help information sink in.

You can purchase the electronic or paper versions of BRS here.

High Yield Review Series

Organization

High Yield Review Series are organized in the same fashion as the previous series discussed, Lippincott’s and BRS. When looking at the Embryology book for example, it breaks down chapters starting with prefertilization to week 4 and then the embryology of each organ system. The book is also in a bulleted format like BRS, but has graphics and tables similar to Lippincotts. The review books electronic and paper versions can be purchased here.

Pros

The bulleted writing style of the books works great just like the BRS review books. It is a perfect study guide once you’ve taken an initial grasp of the material and are looking to quickly test your knowledge. The graphics are also very handy in illustrating high-yield points.

Cons

There are no practice questions in the High Yield series. They have example Case Presentations and the writing format with which you can treat like flashcards, but if you are looking to practice multiple vignette styles you are better off with Lippincotts or BRS. While the graphics in the books are helpful, they are lacking in color which proves to mean a lot to me as a student because color helps me associated certain topics. You could try to use it to your beneft however, and treat it like a coloring book where you decide what colors work best.

The High Yield review books electronic and paper versions can be purchased here.

Do you know of any review books you like?

Share your favorite series in the comments below, I’m always excited to learn what works for others!

 

 

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Check out the list for the most popular review books to have on hand when studying for USMLE Step 1. I break down the organization, pros and cons of each of the series. PLUS grab your free daily planner printable!

Kate Maplethorpe

Kate Maplethorpe

Kate is an empathic healer and free spirit currently studying medicine in the British West Indies. She enjoys spending her free time reading tarot for friends and sipping rum punches on beautiful white sand beaches.
Kate Maplethorpe

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