Student-to-Student: Best Study Resources for USMLE Step 2 CK

Want advice about the best Step 2 CK? resources This article by Marc N. Katz, an internal medicine intern interested in pursuing a fellowship in cardiology, is all about his favorite USMLE Step 2 resources.

Question Bank Resources

Get your USMLE Step 2 CK prep off to the right start. The purpose of doing USMLE Step 2 CK practice questions is to find your weaknesses in order to guide your study process and to get you inside the head of question writers. Hopefully, you figured this out already since you most likely already took Step 1. However, I found studying for Step 2 CK to be more difficult than Step 1 because of the other obligations that MS3 requires. So, my USMLE Step 2 prep had to be well-planned and efficient.

Question banks are also a great on-the-go study tool. Long subway ride to your friend’s apartment? Do a question set on the train. Bored in-between lectures? Do some practice questions. Lost your resident and don’t feel like going back to the floor? Practice questions. Practice questions? Practice questions! Here are the practice questions I used. 

I’m often asked, “Which is the best question bank to use, Uworld or Kaplan Step 2 CK?”

USMLE World

Uworld remains the gold standard when it comes to practice questions and is often among the main Step 2 CK resources that medical students use. There is no way around it. You can read the message boards on Student Doctor Network and they all reiterate what I’ve learned; that UWorld Step 2 CK study materials are the end-all be-all when it comes to essential study resources for Step 2 CK. Some students will argue that UWorld and a review book are the only study resources you need for the best Step 2 CK materials, and for the most part that is true. I completed UWorld in its entirety once. Then I completed all of the questions I got wrong (which was nearly half of them). Then I continued to do full question sets until test day so I ended up doing UWorld two and a half times. I highly suggest it.

Kaplan

Kaplan Step 2 CK qbank is the other major question bank out there, and sometimes considered one of the best USMLE Step 2 resources as well. I used to do Kaplan Step 2 questions with my friend who preferred not to ‘waste’ UWorld when he studied for his clinical clerkship exams. Just like Step 1, a major advantage of Kaplan to UWorld is that they tell you exactly where this topic or subject is located in the most popular review books. I enjoyed using Kaplan USMLE Step 2 books but chose not to invest more money in another review book when I could borrow PreTest books instead. That being said, I haven’t heard negative things about Kaplan Step 2 CK.

PreTest

I took Step 2 during the second week of my first elective rotation in cardiology. So the bulk of my serious Step 2 studying was done during my 8-week surgery core and subsequent 4-week surgery elective. I took a practice test and I did terribly. Like embarrassingly bad. And my worst subject was surgery. I had completed all of the UWorld surgery questions and ran through them all a second time. I wasn’t being lazy either. I read through and studied the answers to each question but I wasn’t making any progress.

My friend suggested I try pre-test and I loved it. It was one of the best resources for Step 2 CK. Pre-test gives you over a thousand questions for each clerkship exam. In some regards, they go into far too much detail than you actually need your Step 2 CK materials to do, and they do cover a much wider scope of subjects than UWorld alone, but that’s exactly why I used it. You can finish all of the UWorld or Kaplan questions for the smaller subjects like psych and pediatrics quite quickly. These books expose you to a lot more pathology that other qbanks don’t. I highly suggest using this resource for in-between lectures, after you finish a specific section of UWorld, or if you just want more high-quality practice questions. Just beware that they are not NBME format. So I would shy away from them when it comes closer to test day

Practice Test Resources

The purpose of practice tests is to find your strengths and to exploit them in order to maximize your score, and find your weaknesses to improve. That’s the point of doing practice questions and that’s the point of doing a practice exam. It’s a dirty USMLE Step 2 secret. For instance, after I started dedicating more and more time to studying my weakest subject, surgery, my score began to creep up. I found that the number of questions I got wrong in other subjects continued to stay relatively stable but I was able to decrease the number of surgery questions I got wrong from 20, then to 12, then to 8, and on my last practice test, I literally got zero surgery questions wrong. 

You can’t just keep taking practice tests to see what score you would get on Step 2. That’s great and you should do that but you have to remember that the purpose of taking a practice test is to evaluate your weaknesses and to strategically focus on them.

NBME

NBME is the gold standard because they are written just like the real test. You have to use these wisely because there are only a limited number. Additionally, I believe that it is worth the ten extra dollars to purchase the expanded feedback to see which questions you got wrong.

USMLE World- Self Assessment

The only reason Uworld USMLE Step 2 CK Practice Questions isn’t above the NBME practice exams is because there is only one USMLE World Self-Assessment (UWSA). Both the NBME’s and the UWSA are only half as long as the real thing but the advantage of the UWSA is that they are like UWorld Step 2 CK question sets. You are given full UWorld style explanations of each question, both the questions you get correct and incorrect. I made this my last practice test because I could utilize these four individual question sets like they were new questions that I was able to review afterwards.

Review Book Resources: Best Book for Step 2 CK

Let’s talk about the Step 2 CK study materials. I encountered a few problems when looking for the best Step 2 CK books. To me, the best Step 2 review book would have everything in it already. Explanations from UWorld, differential diagnosis categorized by both chief complaint and pathophysiology, best initial test, most accurate test, best initial therapy, maintenance therapies, and alternative therapies. I never found that type of book. So go to the bookstore and check them out for yourself to identify the best Step 2 resources for you.

Master the Boards (MTB Step 2)

Students often ask, “Should I use Master the Boards vs. First Aid Step 2?” and I explain that I liked MTB Step 2 for the same reason why I disliked it. Its brevity is nice when you just want a quick and dirty answer. But it leaves you hanging at times when you want more detailed UWorld style explanations (seriously, why can’t someone just put UWorld in a book format). Between UWorld and MTB you are guaranteed to pass Step 2 because they cover all of the high yield stuff but be prepared to annotate it heavily. Bonus tip: use MTB for Step 3 instead of the Step 2 CK version. It’s got a few extra gems in there and it’s really not all that different from its Step 2 cousin. This way you won’t have to start all over again for your next Step.

Then I get asked, “Should I use First Aid Step 2 CK vs Step Up to Medicine?” and I tell them that for Step 1, it was my bible but I didn’t use First Aid Step 2 CK review and I regret that decision. I borrowed the First Aid Step 2 CK Review book a few times from my friends and I liked it. It mimics the Step 1 version quite well. Again, I did not use this as one of my primary study resources, but I would encourage you to check it out.

Step Up to USMLE Step 2 CK

Many ask, “Should I use Step Up to Medicine vs Step Up to Step 2 CK?” to which I share that another one of the Step 2 CK books I used was Step Up to Medicine (SU2M). But I used it for internal medicine only and did not use Step Up to USMLE CK because I disliked SU2M so much. If MTB has too little information then this is the complete opposite side of the spectrum. It has long-winded explanations of every subject in bullet format. Some people liked that but it wasn’t for me.

Lecture Material Resources

Lectures were less valuable to me for USMLE Step 2 CK than for Step 1. I just didn’t have enough time to sit down and watch video lectures. The best step 2 resource for me was to simply review whatever disease my patients had that day. Every once in a while, however, I just didn’t know something and needed someone to spell it out for me. These are the study resources I used for those moments. 

Online MedEd

This is by far one of the best resources for Step 2 that I used. Online MedEd uses a reverse classroom style of teaching with whiteboard-based lectures. Lecture videos range in length and subject matter but are amazing study resources for both Step 2 and for the wards. For instance, one day I was feeling a little lost about fluid management so I went to the library and threw on the fluid management videos. I went back to the floors with a better grasp of what I was doing and didn’t feel like such an idiot. I especially liked the algorithmic way of thinking they employ. I watched every video and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Doctors in Training (DIT)

I loved DIT for Step 1 but it just didn’t do it for me as a Step 2 resource. I didn’t have hours and hours to watch videos every day, nor did I have the energy for it (that’s why I liked OnlineMedEd a little bit more because their videos were short and to the point). What I still loved about DIT was that they remind you of what you may have forgotten. The pre-lecture and post-lecture quizzes are gold. It wasn’t for me but doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least check them out. Not to mention they’re great guys to follow on Twitter.

Kaplan Lecture Videos

I got my hands on these, and honestly, the Kaplan Step 2 CK videos were fantastic. Conrad Fischer at his best. If you liked Kaplan for Step 1 then you will like them for Step 2.

Miscellaneous Step 2 Study Resources

The other stuff that doesn’t fit into a pretty category like the stuff I already mentioned, but I do have a few more on my list of the best study resources for Step 2 CK.

The Successful Match: 200 Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match

While this isn’t the best Step 2 CK book, it is pure gold and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone going through the match process. It provides analytical data on the match. The author provides objective data on subjects like what characteristic traits different program directors like to see in their candidates the most in each respective specialty. This book provides advice on everything from writing your personal statement, the most commonly asked interview questions and the best way to answer them, what type of programs you should be applying to, who you should be asking for letters of recommendations from, and so much more. It was my most valuable resource before and during interview season. You won’t regret this investment. In fact, your friends may want to borrow it. Mine did.

UpToDate

Most medical schools provide this for you. It wasn’t specifically one of my USMLE Step 2 resources but it was easily my most often used resource during my third and fourth year of medical school. It’s like Wikipedia for medicine when Wikipedia doesn’t do a good enough job at explaining something. Or when someone points out that Wikipedia “isn’t a reliable resource” or something. Anyway, it’s amazing and I love it. Bonus tip: click the ‘summary and recommendations’ tab to get a quick snapshot of the article you’re checking out.

Picmonic

If you used Picmonic for Step 1 then you should keep using it for Step 2 CK. I talked about Picmonic before and it is still one of the best Step 2 CK resources (and Step 1, for that matter). Every time I thought about brain tumors, tumors of the bone, any vasculitis, developmental disorder, and everything from biochemistry my Picmonic note cards would pop into my head. I’ll probably be that one resident who puts a Picmonic in the presentation slides for morning report. I don’t ‘like’ Picmonic. I love them.

Editor’s Note: Of course this is our favorite suggestion! To check out Picmonic for free, click below:

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Blueprints

Blueprints is like PreTest because they are good for shelf exams but not so much for dedicated Step 2 CK studying. I highly disliked Blueprints because it was so long but others liked it for that exact same reason. Each chapter gives you a few bolded keywords, tables and figures and explains the topic in great detail (again, too much detail in my opinion). The book ends with 100 NBME-style questions with long explanations. I liked PreTest more because of how succinct it was but I have friends who, again, had the complete opposite opinion. To each their own.

Tablet > smartphone

If you don’t have a tablet already I would highly recommend purchasing one. If you are short on cash you do not need to purchase an iPad. There are great tablets to use for med school out there for under $100. Sure they aren’t as pretty but all that you really need them for is accessing UWorld. Yes, you can simply use your smartphone instead of buying another piece of technology but unfortunately, every time you have your phone out people will think you are texting. 

I remember once when I was on my phone doing a UWorld question set while I waited for the operating room to be cleaned and a nurse called me out for ‘texting instead of taking care of my patient’. Said patient was actually sitting next to me in her bed on her phone playing ‘2048’ trying to beat my high score and was failing miserably. Anyway, my patient kindly told the nurse to ‘kindly [mind her own business]’ is some different words. She was one of my favorite patients ever. Moral of the story: if you are on your phone, people will think that you are texting regardless of whether you are using it to cure cancer or are actually texting.

marc-katz
By
Marc is an internal medicine intern interested in pursuing a fellowship in cardiology. He writes on his blog at 
MyKatz where he shares tips and advice on how to succeed in medical school and residency. You can also follow him on Twitter at KittyKatzMD or Like him on Facebook at Marc Katz, MD!

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