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Best USMLE Prep Books (Steps 1-2-3)

A full analysis of the best study books to help you pass the USMLE steps 1, 2 and 3

The USMLE is a comprehensive and detailed three-part exam that tests your knowledge, ethics and worthiness for medical licensure in the United States. You will need to complete all three grueling steps to demonstrate that you possess the principles and knowledge to provide safe and effective patient care. And just like with the MCAT before med school, you’ll likely need prep resources to crush this series of tests. So let’s look at some of the best study books to help you pass each step of the USMLE.

Outline: The Best USMLE Books of 2024

As this is a pretty lengthy guide that covers a number of books and USMLE steps, here is a helpful jump-to table of contents for your convenience:

➡ Looking for More Study Materials? Check Out Our List of Best USMLE Prep Courses Here

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Summary: Best USMLE Step 1 Prep Books

Our experts have purchased, reviewed and rated the best prep books for Step 1 of the USMLE. Here is our list of the best books following their evaluation:

  1. Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes: 7-Book Set
  2. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1
  3. Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review

Read on to learn more about each of the above books.

#1 | Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes: 7-Book Set

Offering a complete and in-depth look at the Step 1 exam, the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes set is a volume of high-quality study materials. This series includes over 2,700 pages of content, and covers every single skill and bit of knowledge you’ll need on the exam, each augmented with color diagrams and charts.

It includes full volumes on Anatomy, Behavioral Science and Social Sciences, Biochemistry and Microbiology, Pathology, Pharmacology and Physiology.

kaplan usmle step 1 book

These are supplemented with bridges between the disciplines, which I found to be very helpful in understanding how the separate skills work together. Each chapter gives you a summary study guide at the end so you can reinforce the key takeaways.

In the end, it’s built to give you the most complete picture and understanding of the exam possible. While this volume of books may seem overwhelming, there is simply no better or more comprehensive resource out there.

RELATED: Read our review of the Kaplan USMLE courses

#2 | First Aid For The USMLE Step 1

This guide takes a unique approach to test prep resources: Rather than being written by instructors or academics who have designed the test, it’s written by students who have actually nailed the exam, then reviewed by top faculty to make sure everything is accurate.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is nothing short of indispensable for those looking to get hold of a detailed blueprint of the content on the exam. The book is incredibly approachable and written in the language of the student preparing for the test.

first aid usmle book

The book features over 1,300 topics and samples representing everything you have to know to ace the exam, including mnemonics to help you remember these key concepts; over 1,000 color illustrations that give you a visual guide to the clinical information (for visual learners like me, this was a big plus), processes and disorders you need to understand; and a rapid review section that gives you detailed reference tables that associate diseases with the treatments, pathophysiology and clinical findings related to them.

#3 | Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review

This book takes a combined approach to its presentation. Where some books are written by academics and others by students, Crush Step 1: The Ultimate USMLE Step 1 Review is written by students, current residents and medical experts in concert to provide you with the most complete guide to the USMLE out there.

The team is led by Dr. Ted O’Connell, a bestselling author and medical expert who knows the skills and concepts for this test through and through. It’s a comprehensive and laser-focused resource designed to be the most effective review tool possible.

crush step 1 usmle book

It includes review questions for each chapter that will test your mastery of the core concepts and your ability to retain the dense information. This book also provides a wealth of strategies to prepare for the exams. These strategies were instrumental in helping me understand the core idea beneath a question rather than rote memorization.

Also Worth Reading: Check out our review of the Pass Program USMLE Course

Summary: Best USMLE Step 2 Prep Books

Our experts have purchased, reviewed and rated the best prep books for Step 2 of the USMLE. Here is our list of the best books following their evaluation:

  1. Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CK Lecture Notes: 5-Book Set
  2. First Aid For The USMLE Step 2 CK
  3. USMLE Step 2 Secrets

Read on to learn more about each USMLE Step 2 book listed above.

#1 | Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CK Lecture Notes: 5-Book Set

This 5-book set helps you take your knowledge and skills to the next level to match the complexity and difficulty of the exam.

Published by Kaplan, a company that for over four decades has been a leading producer of test prep for over 90 exams at every educational level, Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CK Lecture Notes is an official five-book set offering a complete volume for the Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Surgery and Psychiatry/Epidemiology/Patient Safety sections of the exam.

kaplan usmle step 2 books

This work is composed of over 450 pages that are full color and mimic the look and feel of the exam, and are revised each year by Kaplan faculty to ensure the most up-to-date content. The structure is focused on highlighting the most high-yield topics and putting them in context, while at the same time creating a bridge between the basic science and each specialty area.

#2 | First Aid For The USMLE Step 2 CK

Just like the Step 1 version of this book, First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK is written by students who have aced the exam, and is then reviewed by experts to ensure its accuracy. The book includes a concise summary of over 1,000 common topics to allow you a fast, efficient and effective study process.

Each section is combined with key facts and specialized mnemonics to help you contextualize and master the content. The review section has been completely updated to facilitate your last-minute study needs, while each step in the diagnosis and management of a given condition is given expert coverage.

first aid step 2 usmle book

This work contains hundreds of photographs in full color with advanced tips and tricks for test-taking to help you understand the root of each question and approach the test with complete confidence every step of the way. It’s also one of the most approachable works out there.

#3 | USMLE Step 2 Secrets

This review source is designed to be a concise, easy-to-use and highly effective quick reference guide to the areas of knowledge and skills you’ll need on Step 2 of the exam.

Written by bestselling medical expert Ted O’Connell, MD, USMLE Step 2 Secrets is your one-stop guide for success on the exam. It’s presented in a proven Q&A format to give you the confidence and preparation you need to master the diagnosis, treatment and management knowledge the USMLE exam requires.

usmle step 2 secrets

This book seeks to give you the best return on investment by being concise, engaging, simple to read and effective all in one.

It offers essential questions and answers that precisely mimic those you’ll see on the exam while retaining a portable size, which allowed me to easily take it along to study anywhere. The color figures, tables and sidebars help to provide visual references.

Summary: Best USMLE Step 3 Prep Books

Our experts have purchased, reviewed and rated the best prep books for Step 3 of the USMLE. Here is our list of the best books following their evaluation:

  1. Kaplan USMLE Step 3 Lecture Notes
  2. First Aid For The USMLE Step 3
  3. Master The Boards USMLE Step 3

Read on to learn more about each of the above books.

#1 | Kaplan USMLE Step 3 Lecture Notes

Published by Kaplan, the two-volume USMLE Step 3 Lecture Notes is an official set of lecture notes that use case studies to review the specific concepts and skills for the exam while placing them in a real-world context. Each book will not only drill you on concepts, but it will also deepen the understanding you have of them.

kaplan usmle step 3 books

The books contain over 250 cases that provide in-depth coverage of every discipline you’ll need to master, including the most commonly seen conditions you’ll deal with and the basic science you are most likely to see.

You’ll also find patient management advice, information on population health and examples of patient safety issues. The book assumes mastery of the Step 1 and Step 2 portions of the exam, so it’s custom-built to work with its predecessor volumes in the series.

#2 | First Aid For The USMLE Step 3

Written by students who have mastered the exam, First Aid for the USMLE Step 3 is also reviewed by medical experts for accuracy. It is designed to be the logical conclusion to volumes 1 and 2 in the series and provides thousands of facts and samples combined with mnemonic devices to help you master and retain the important Step 3 concepts.

They’re bolstered by mini case reviews that are designed to help you with that portion of the exam and are meant to be a high-yield study prep resource.

first aid usmle step 3 book

The book contains 100 cases for review, with concise and high-yield information that highlights information relevant to the board. It increases the emphasis on diagnosis, management and integrated pathophysiology, and even adds flashcards and full-color imagery.

I liked that the flashcard feature allowed me to take advantage of quick study intervals when I was on the go. Finally, it offers test-taking tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you master the process of taking the test with confidence.

#3 | Master The Boards USMLE Step 3

Written by Conrad Fischer, MD, Master the Boards USMLE Step 3 is a unique and highly effective resource that offers targeted review concepts and exclusive tips for mastering the case concepts on this section of the boards.

This book is full of expert tips and is completely updated with current content to make sure you don’t encounter a single surprise on the day of the test. It’s built start to finish to help sharpen your recall, identify the most likely answers from the possibilities and understand the most highly tested concepts.

master the boards usmle book

It offers a step-by-step approach to the management and diagnosis of conditions, concise safety notes for patients and hundreds of color images to provide diagnostic examples. Finally, you’ll get expert tips and tricks for test-taking so that you can strategize the process. The whole goal of this book is to help you avoid surprises on exam day.

Preparing For The USMLE Exams

Hopefully this list of best USMLE prep books has been helpful in your evaluation of which book best fits your needs.

All three steps of the USMLE exam are incredibly difficult, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whether you plan to self study with books, or take a full course with classes, make sure you really commit. And if books alone won’t be enough to get you fully prepared (as is often the case with the USMLE), check our list of best USMLE prep courses here.

Prep courses are often the most effective means of preparing since they also include other study materials, such as video lessons, live classes, and flashcards.


How much do USMLE prep books cost?

USMLE prep books cost anywhere from $20 to $160, depending on what step and individual book you are considering.

Which USMLE prep book is the best?

After reviewing over 10 different USMLE prep options, our team thinks the books from Kaplan and First Aid are clearly the best.