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BoardVitals USMLE Review
A comprehensive review of the BoardVitals USMLE Steps 1, 2 and 3 prep courses, practice tests and review questions
Each step of the USMLE is daunting, and many students prepare by using resources such as those offered by BoardVitals. Founded more than a decade ago, BoardVitals is a physician run company that offers a prep program focused on practice work, with customized practice tests compiled from the most recent review questions available. They have helped over 400,000 practitioners prep, but is their course with extensive question banks and in-depth explanations the right one for you? In this detailed review, we will help you determine the answer to that question, and more.
Since this is a lengthy and detailed review, we’ve provided helpful jump-to links above to quickly navigate this article. Hopefully by the end, you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether BoardVitals is the right choice to help you prepare for the USMLE (spolier alert: we’re not big fans).
BoardVitals USMLE Plans & Pricing
For each of the three steps of the USMLE, BoardVitals offers prep plans in three levels. The plans and their pricing are as follows:
CRAM. With this level, you will have access to somewhere between 1,250 and 3,200 practice questions, depending on which of the three steps of the exam you are preparing for. Questions are accompanied by detailed explanations and rationales for the answers. Each question is targeted specifically to the blueprint of the USMLE exam and allows you access to an Apple or Android app so you can study on the go, anytime and anywhere.
You can customize tests by subject and length, initiate a timed option, track your progress and discover where you would rank nationally if you took the test today. With the Cram prep course, you will have access to all of your study materials for one month, at a cost of approximately $210 for Step 1, and $109-$159 for Steps 2 and 3.
PREPARE. Advertised as the most popular of the plans, this one offers everything you get at the Cram level plus a 100% guarantee that you will pass your exam.
In addition, it adds access to the ‘Ask a Clinician’ feature where you can directly contact a clinical expert with any questions you might have. Finally, it offers a six-month grace period between when you purchase the plan and when you start using it. This level also provides you with longer access to course content, giving you three months of access. The price for the Prepare level of study is about $280 for Step 1 and $170-$220 for Steps 2 and 3.
MASTER. The Master level is the highest tier of preparatory resources. It offers the full range of access that the Prepare level does, but it doubles your access to six months, offering even more prep time to ace your exams. At Step 1 this cost weighs in at just around $460, while at Steps 2 and 3 it costs between $250-$350.
Also, if charity is something that matters to you, take note that BoardVitals donates a vaccine to a child in need for each new prep course customer.
Pricing and course options current as of date of publication.
Our Evaluation Of BoardVitals USMLE Prep Materials
In many ways, BoardVitals is the gold standard for USMLE prep resources, particularly practice questions. Let’s take a look at the practice questions and exams, video content, and other features of this comprehensive course.
Practice Questions and Explanations
With a crazy number of review questions that are constantly updated to reflect the latest versions of the test, you will never be lacking for practice material with BoardVitals.
In fact, this is the foundation of their prep package. The detailed explanations that accompany each practice problem are clear and concise. I found these explanations to be quite good, as they not only provided the explanations, but the reasoning and arguments behind them.
Some questions are partnered with short video clips which serve as mini lessons to target key areas.
These videos start with a physician on the screen who introduces the question, then a text visual of the question and answer choices appears on the screen.
The instructor goes on to discuss the question further and provide explanations for the answer choices. While I didn’t find it to be the most engaging delivery of the material, it effectively covered the content nonetheless.
With all that said, our team prefers the practice questions and explanations from Kaplan and Pass Program.
BoardVitals gives you the ability to completely customize your learning process by choosing the practice questions you want to focus on. Within the flexible platform, I was able to select categories specific to my needs.
For me this was one of my favorite elements of the practice tests. It eliminated a lot of wasted time, as I was able to focus on areas where I needed improvement and avoid spending time on areas where I felt a had a good grasp on the material.
The other component that I liked was the ability to take a timed practice exam to simulate real testing conditions. With this, I was able to get a feel for how long I could expect to spend on each question, and felt pretty confident when game day arrived.
Additional features of the practice quizzes (that I found myself utilizing a lot) were the highlight, note, strike-through, and flag features. With the click of a button, I was able to easily access notes I had taken and questions I had flagged for review.
This made it really easy to revisit marked questions so I could spend some extra time studying the subjects where I needed it most.
Your USMLE course can be easily accessed from BoardVitals’ all-inclusive mobile app. This mobile app for both Apple and Android devices, makes it easier than ever to study on the go. I didn’t expect much out of the mobile app, but I found myself using it a lot.
It is super easy to navigate, and I was surprised to learn that my favorite features of the practice quizzes (ability to make notes, flag questions for later, and more) were available on the mobile app as well. Best of all, I was able to download quizzes on the mobile app so I could squeeze in some quality study time even when not connected to the internet.
The system offers reports to help you track your progress over the weeks and months of study, and gives you an idea of you how your skills weigh up against the national average.
I liked being able to get a visual benchmark of my performance, and my competitiveness kicked in and gave me increased confidence when I saw that I was answering questions more accurately than many other users.
100% Pass Guarantee
BoardVitals is so certain that their course will get you over the finish line that they offer a 100% pass guarantee. In the unlikely event that you do not pass your exam, they will give you a free subscription to their content for time equal to that which you purchased.
It should be noted that this pass guarantee is available only on the Pass and Master levels of study only. Hopefully you won’t need this assurance, but BoardVitals will honor this offer of extended subscriptions as many times as you need to get the job done.
What We Liked About BoardVitals USMLE Prep
What really sets the BoardVitals plans ahead of many others is just how thorough they are in the resources they present. The sheer size of the question database means you can take 10 or even more practice exams and not see the same question twice. The ability to customize your study plan by specific subjects, number of questions and targeting your weak points is a superb feature, as is the app-based interface that lets you answer questions any time you have a couple of minutes to spare.
The ‘Ask a Clinician’ feature that lets you reach out to a board-licensed clinician for answers to specific issues you’re having is a welcome feature as well. We found the responses to be quick and brief, and overall a nice personal touch for an otherwise digital based learning platform.
Our team really likes that so many visual aids are included in addition to detailed explanations for every question. The video clips, charts, tables, mnemonics and diagrams that are incorporated in the question bank are highly effective learning tools.
With this exam prep, you’re not just memorizing answers; you’re learning why an answer is right or wrong. That alone makes it almost worth the price of admission.
In the end, this is a supremely customizable plan that is thorough and comprehensive. It will be helpful anytime, anywhere, and will allow you to build a plan to attack the USMLE exactly the way you need to in order to apply your own strategies and tools. Used properly, this system can take your prep to the next level.
Finally, the 100% pass guarantee offers peace of mind that can count for a great deal, even when it comes to having the proper outlook and lack of stress when you sit down to take the test.
As solid as the BoardVitals plans are, there are also a few downsides and areas where we feel need mentioning.
Perhaps the biggest of these is the lack of live instruction or interactive tutoring. While we realize that everyone has different learning styles, and some may not care about live interactions with a teacher or classmates, we believe it would add value to their offerings. For those having difficulty with specific sections of the exam, the ability to instantly access a tutor in real time who could guide them through their weak points would be a welcome feature, particularly when one considers the level of expertise that went into developing the program. T
he ‘Ask a Clinician’ feature fills this role to a point, but direct access to an instructor would allow the student to develop a relationship with a specific clinical professional who could more effectively address their individualized needs.
Overall though, we understand that live instruction would be cost prohibitive and we do like their very affordable prices (although the company recently hiked their prices, unfortunately).
The second area that some might see as a drawback is the lack of printed books. Some students like having a hard copy USMLE book for reference. I am one of those learners who likes the feel of turning the pages of a book and flipping through printed matter as I review material, but it isn’t a dealbreaker for me.
Verdict: BoardVitals USMLE Review
In the end, our team finds the BoardVitals USMLE prep course to be a decent option to help you prepare for the USMLE. We think the course is a good fit for any candidate who is self-motivated and learns best “by doing” through practice work.
Though we would like to see some live instruction and printed materials, their vast library of questions, customizable exams, and app-based interface are pretty good.
However, considering the company recently raised their prices by a good amount, our team no longer recommends BoardVitals for USMLE prep. Instead, if you are looking for an affordable, high-value USMLE prep course, we think Achievable is the way to go. BoardVitals just doesn’t offer much bang for your buck anymore.
Step 1 of the exam covers such topics as anatomy, behavioral sciences, biochemistry, epidemiology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, aging genetics, immunology, cell and molecular biology, and nutrition.
Step 2 of the exam is administered over nine hours and is considered by many to be the most difficult stage. It looks at more advanced knowledge and is focused on systems and processes, physician tasks and competencies.
The areas of knowledge required at this level include the immune system, behavioral health, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, the renal system and the reproductive system. The skills you’ll need to have for this step include medical knowledge and scientific concepts, patient care, diagnosis of illness, patient management, communications, professional ethics and safety.
Step 3 involves a two-day process. On Day 1, you’ll look at Foundations of Independent Practice, and on Day 2 you will test Advanced Clinical Medicine knowledge. Some of the same areas of knowledge are tested as in Step 2, but from a more clinical and practice-based perspective.
How much does BoardVitals USMLE cost?
Depending on which of the three steps of the exam you are preparing for, and which level of instruction you choose, you can plan on spending around $110 to about $460.
Are there any live instruction options?
The question bank is entirely online, with no live instruction or tutoring options available.
Is there a Mobile App?
Yes, your course content can be accessed from a mobile app on your Apple or Android device.