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Kaplan USMLE Review (Steps 1-2-3)
Our comprehensive review of the Kaplan USMLE prep course (Steps 1, 2 and 3)
Not many aspiring doctors want to take a lot of risk when it comes to prepping for the USMLE given the high stakes nature of the exam. As such, thousands of med school students turn to Kaplan every year due to the company’s long history of USMLE prep and high pass rates. But does a track record of success necessarily mean this course is the best option for you, especially when less expensive alternatives exist? We take a close look at the Kaplan USMLE prep course and answer just that question in this detailed review guide.
For each step of the USMLE, Kaplan offers two course formats – On Demand and Live Online. There is also an instructor led, live on-site class offered in New York, but given the much greater popularity of the On Demand and Live Online classes, this review will focus on those course options.
The On Demand course is Kaplan’s most flexible option, aimed at students with busy schedules or those who just like to drive their own studies. It is a complete self-study course and you can log in from anywhere, at any time. This package includes access to video lessons, Qbank practice questions, answer explanations, print and e-books, and full-length simulated exams. The number of practice questions and lecture hours generally vary with each step of the exam, but all of these features are included within each package to one extent or another. If you want specific numbers, check out our handy table at the top of this review for the details.
Now in terms of price, the On Demand packages run for right around $2,000 for Step 1, $1,200 for Step 2, and $800 for Step 3. In looking at how these prices stack up against other USMLE prep providers, these costs are on the high side as far as on demand, self-study packages go. If you are on a budget, you will be able to find cheaper prices for courses, such as the Lecturio on demand package.
The Live Online courses generally offer the same features and materials as the On Demand packages, but include the all-important live class component. These courses are more expensive though, and cost approximately $4,400, $4,000 and $1,700 for Steps 1, 2 and 3, respectively. However, each of these packages comes with some crazy levels of live class work. To be specific, you get 270+ hours of live class time with the Step 1 package, 210+ hours with Step 2, and 100+ hours with Step 3. This is a ton of instruction time with top rated faculty, thus justifying the cost.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Our Rating of the Kaplan USMLE Coursework
After taking the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 prep course, I would use two main words to describe it: comprehensive and guided. It is clear from the moment you log in to your Kaplan account that you will not need to hunt for work to do or wonder what to study next. Kaplan offers one of the most tried and tested USMLE prep curriculums in the space, and all of your work is set out right in front of you, to be tackled step-by-step. The study plan they provide is clear as day, and walks you through everything you need to study in the right order.
The course starts with a quick series of intro videos and a diagnostic exam. The videos basically just welcome you to the course, explain how whichever step of the USMLE you are on works, gives a few test strategies, and so on. Fairly basic and straightforward stuff. You then take a diagnostic test, which is shorter than a real exam and sets your baseline knowledge, as well as identifies your weaknesses.
From there, you dive right into the lesson work. The coursework is generally organized by USMLE topic (such as anatomy, pathology and immunology, among others, for Step 1). Then within each topic, there are several subtopics (such as neuroscience under the primary anatomy subject). You get the idea. These subtopics form the basis of your study modules, and generally follow a repeated pattern. For each subtopic you start with an assigned reading from one of Kaplan’s USMLE books (more on these below).
After your reading is finished, you then work a number of “warmup” questions to test your basic knowledge on the subtopic. These are usually just 5 question quizzes, and I found them to go pretty fast. The questions are simpler than exam-like questions and some even have upwards of 8 multiple-choice answers to choose from, so they are clearly not replications of exam questions. But by and large, they do a good job assessing your knowledge of the subject, and you get an explanation for each question after you’re done.
Once you wrap up your warmup exercise, you dive right into a series of video lessons and quizzes. The video lessons each cover even more narrow subject matter, and generally range in length from just a few minutes to upwards of an hour. The lengths of these video lectures are all over the map and just depend on the topic. But no matter how long the particular video lesson is, they are all extremely informative.
The videos almost exclusively take the form of a PowerPoint video. Meaning your lecturer gives their lesson verbally over a series of slides onscreen. As they speak, slides roll across the screen and they occasionally make notes in red or blue ink directly on the slides. Rarely, some of the videos will cut to an instructor on camera, but these are far and few between. Much more often, these videos just feature the relevant slides onscreen and your instructor lectures right over them.
These slides are not just text though – they are usually filled with graphics, tables and illustrations of processes and systems. In my opinion, this is a huge help in keeping the lectures engaging. If these were just text-based slides, the videos would be a snooze-fest. Luckily though, more slides than not focus on some key graphic. This is a huge benefit to visual learners.
I personally found these on demand videos to be highly informative and extremely well-crafted, but not the most exciting. The videos just lack any real ‘wow’ factor. The production value is a little underwhelming and the picture quality is kind of dated. But then again, we’re taking about USMLE prep here, so the potential for these videos being that interesting is quite limited. And at the end of the day, the content within the videos is rock solid.
After your video lesson (or sometimes series of videos) on a given subtopic, you are given a quiz. These quizzes are usually just 5 to 10 questions in length and test what you just learned. The question style is very similar to the warmup questions, and do not replicate exam-like questions. As such, they go quickly because they are simpler. You then review your answers, learn from the explanations, and move onto the next subject. And that is generally how the study plan goes, topic by topic.
Beyond the instructional lesson work, Kaplan also gives you access to a number of exam-like practice questions through their Qbank. To be specific, for Step 1 you get 3,300 questions, for Step 2 you get 2,900, and for Step 3 you get around 900. This is a LOT of practice work for each respective step. Looking at Step 1 alone, this puts Kaplan right up there with SmashUSMLE and BoardVitals for the most practice work in the USMLE prep industry.
And in terms of question quality, Kaplan’s questions are some of the best I have seen. They very closely resemble the USMLE official questions you will see on test day. The structure, content and stye of the Kaplan questions are dead on from my perspective. And accompanying each of these thousands of questions, Kaplan provides some really detailed explanations.
Their question explanations thoroughly cover the underlying issue, a little content review, and an analysis of each answer choice. These text explanations actually contrast with the warmup and quiz question explanations. Those explanations are very thin, while I found the practice questions in the Qbank to have much better explanations. I’m not sure why that is, but I would like to see Kaplan give the same level of attention to the quiz and warmup question explanations as they do the others.
All in all, I was a huge fan of the Kaplan curriculum, and found the coursework to be incredibly effective. The study plan is well-designed, comprehensively covering every topic on the exam. I do have a bone to pick with the quality of the on demand video lessons, and thought the warmup and quiz question explanations were a little thin, but I otherwise was very impressed with the Kaplan course.
Kaplan USMLE Live Online Classes
Up to this point, everything I have described has been mostly relevant to the On Demand course – so you may be wondering about the Live Online classes. For those students taking the Live Online course like I did, you not only get access to the on demand video lessons, practice work and other study resources referenced above, but you will also attend live classes. In my opinion, these virtual classes (along with the books) are the highlight of the course, and are rivaled only by the live classes of the PASS Program.
Class sessions are held nearly daily, and they are jam packed with content. Over the course of a couple hundred hours of class time (I took the Step 1 course), a team of instructors will rotate in and out. It seems like Kaplan generally tries to find subject matter experts to teach to each given topic of the exam.
I really liked almost all of my instructors. I say “almost” because there were one or two on the boring side – nothing against their knowledge of the material, they were both clearly incredibly bright – but they just didn’t move the needle for me from the engagement side. However, the rest of the instructors (i.e. the vast majority) were incredible. They were all obvious masters of their subjects and great communicators to boot. USMLE material can be dry, and these instructors managed to make it about as enjoyable as it could be.
During your class sessions, the instructors will frequently poll the class on questions, so you can’t be asleep at the wheel. This forces you to pay attention and follow along. In addition, you can always ask questions, which will be fielded by a dedicated doctor/instructor working the chat function. This is a cool feature that I used a handful of times.
The one thing I’ll say is that the classes are long. I mean they were only a few hours in length, but the instructors pack in a ton of material and strategies. So by the end of the session, your brain is fried. But I personally like that feeling – I know I’m learning something when my brain feels like mush at the end. And you know you’re getting your money’s worth too.
Kaplan USMLE Books
The second highlight of the Kaplan course, at least for me, is the set of prep books you get when you sign up. Step 1 students get a 7-volume set, Step 2 students get a 5-volume set, and Step 3 students get a 2-volume set.
These books are detailed, well-written and chock full of graphics, tables and images. To start, I love the style and organization of these books. They are written in a to-the-point, outline style format. They are concise, fact-driven and easily understandable. I love textbooks that are neatly organized (it helps me learn and retain material), and these books are just that. There are no long, rambling sections or treatise-like passages. These books are just clean and neatly organized.
Also, visual learners will love the graphics that accompany these books. It seems like every other page has some sort of image, exhibit, table, or graphic. These illustrations really help to demonstrate key points and visual processes and organ systems.
I honestly can’t say enough good things about these books. If you are a text-based learner, I truly think these prep books are the best in the USMLE prep space.
Kaplan USMLE Practice Tests
If you take Kaplan’s Step 1 or Step 2 CK USMLE prep courses (On Demand or Live Online), you will get access to 2 full-length exams. These simulated exams are intended to mimic a real test-day experience and place you under exam-like conditions. The exams are generally given as a midterm and final as part of your prep course.
I found these tests to be fairly accurate depictions of the official exam. Like the questions in the Qbank, the questions were very representative of what you’ll see on exam day, and I had no issues with them. Overall, I think Kaplan does a fine job replicating the real Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams, right down to the interface.
Notice though that I didn’t say Step 3 above. If you’re taking Step 3 prep with Kaplan, you instead get 5 specialty assessments. These assessments are not full-length practice exams, as it would be really hard to replicate such a two-day exam experience. As such, you get shorter assessments which help you prep for the real deal.
Digital Platform and User Interface
The Kaplan digital platform is one of the easiest I have come across to use. The nav bar along the left side is easy to navigate and clearly directs you to your resources. You can jump to your Qbank, dive into a topic lesson or take one of your simulated exams from the dashboard. Or, you can access all of your study resources in one place through the “All Resources” tab. In short, the usability is darn easy.
Additionally, I really liked the look and feel of the Kaplan portal. It is sleek, clean and very professional. Some platforms I have used feel clunky and outdated. Kaplan’s is anything but, and it is clear Kaplan has invested some serious resources into their student portal. If I did have one complaint though, it would be that every time you open a video lesson or quiz, it appears in a new browser tab. This really annoys me, as by the end of studying all day you have about a million tabs open. Small complaint I know, but worthy of note.
Kaplan USMLE Tutoring
If you take one of the Live Online classes, you will get access to 1-on-1 medical advising. This isn’t true tutoring in the common sense of the word, but I thought this was some really good support from Kaplan. Your advisor helps you plan your USMLE studies, talks through issues you’re having (such as topics you’re weak on), and evens answers a few substantive questions and discusses test taking strategies with you.
These little sessions don’t seem to go as far or as deep as true tutoring that I’ve done in the past, but I appreciate having this coaching all the same. It is always nice to have someone that has gone through what you’re going through as a sounding board and support function. So I really like this course feature from that perspective.
Content Access Period
For the On Demand packages, the basic access period is 4 months (3 months for Step 3). Now, these default periods can be increased to lengthier durations, but it will cost you. To bump up to 7 or 12 months of prep time will generally cost a couple hundred extra dollars per incremental increase. That said, I think 4 months will be enough time for most people to study for the USMLE, assuming you have the availability to dedicate some serious hours.
On the other side, the content access period for each Live Online course is generally tied to the length of your course. Your access to your materials will continue for a short period after the class sessions end, but will cut off rather quickly.
The Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Mobile App
Oddly, Kaplan provides a mobile app for its Step 1 students, but not for Step 2 or Step 3 students. I am not sure why they don’t just clone the app for all three steps, or better yet, make it an all-in-one USMLE app, but it is what it is. Sorry Step 2 and Step 3 exam takers.
This Step 1 app gives students access to their Qbank, but not video lectures. That is a bit of a bummer, but I will note that the video lectures are mobile friendly, so you can stream live online classes or watch on demand videos from your phone all the same.
The app does provide a nice platform for working practice questions and reviewing explanations. I like the functionality of the app, and found it to work well. The layout is sharp and everything is easy to read and access. It was also quite quick, which is a nice relief from some of the slower, clunkier apps I’ve used.
Does Kaplan Offer a USMLE Pass Guarantee?
Unfortunately, Kaplan does not have a pass or money back guarantee like that offered by other courses (see SmashUSMLE). For students hunting down the best USMLE prep course for their needs, this may be a little disappointing, but not totally uncommon in the USMLE prep space. It would be nice to see Kaplan at least add a free course repeat guarantee though, especially given the high prices Kaplan students pay.
Verdict: Kaplan USMLE Review Course (Steps 1-2-3)
All things considered, it is clear why thousands of students come back to Kaplan for their USMLE prep year after year. They offer one of the most comprehensive curriculums in the USMLE prep space. I found Kaplan’s study plan to have a cohesiveness and clarity that you just don’t get with other courses, and you know you are getting spoon fed the essential material. In terms of the study resources and tools, this course is highlighted by its live online classes and detailed, outline-style textbooks. To be honest, just about all of their study material is the best in the game. The practice questions are extremely exam-like and I liked the explanations that accompany those questions in the Qbank.
That said, I wasn’t crazy about the quiz and warmup question text explanations, finding them to be a little thin. And I also found the on demand video lectures to be extremely informative and packed with content, but a bit on the boring side. Aside from these minor issues though, I loved my experience prepping for the USMLE with Kaplan. Their USMLE course is rich with study materials and incredibly well-designed by their top flight faculty.
How much does the Kaplan USMLE prep course cost?
The Kaplan USMLE review course costs somewhere between $800 and $4,400, depending on which step you are studying for and which class format you prefer.
How many live classroom hours do I get with Kaplan USMLE prep?
The Kaplan Step 1 Live Online class boasts over 270 hours of live classroom time, while the Step 2 course provides 210 hours, and the Step 3 program is right in the neighborhood of 100 hours.
Is Kaplan USMLE prep worth it?
In our team’s opinion – yes. There is a good reason thousands of students elect to go with Kaplan for their USMLE prep each year. They offer a tried and true curriculum for prepping that we found very few issues with.