USMLE Step 1: Best (and Worst) Qbanks- UWorld, Kaplan, Amboss, BoardVitals (2021)

How do you know which USMLE Step 1 Qbank to buy?

The world of test prep is vast and confusing. There are dozens of USMLE Step 1 Qbanks to choose from. And it’s not just about finding a question bank with the most questions. There are many factors to consider when deciding which Step 1 Qbank to buy.

That’s why we created this guide to help you with your decision. We’ve compiled the best USMLE Step 1 Qbanks with detailed reviews.

You’ll find reviews for:

Also, see our Step 2 CK Qbank review for your comprehensive run down!

What's the Format of the United States Medical Licensing Exam - Step 1?

Step 1 is a one-day exam consisting of 8 hours. It’s divided into seven blocks comprising 60 minutes each with a 15-minute introduction and 45 minutes total break time. Each block contains no more than 40 questions and the whole exam has 280 questions maximum.

This exam has received much scrutiny over the past few years as questions regarding the relevance of it for residency success have arisen. Opponents of the exam claim that other factors are likely much more important than your exam scores. Some also point to the financial conflict of interest the NBME holds in regards to the USMLE exam as a reason to reconsider the current organizational structure.

How Do the USMLE Step 1 Question Banks Compare?

“How do I know which qbank is best for me?”

Whether you’re looking for a more affordable option, a product with specific features, or a resource that covers the material comprehensively, there’s are many options.

Here are the pros and cons of the most popular USMLE Step 1 question banks.

Review of 11 Top Step 1 Q-banks

Q-Bank#of QuestionsFree TrialPrice (complete breakdown below)Progress TrackerSelf-assessmentsCustomer Service
Kaplan3,300100 sample questions$129 to $399YesAvailableEmail or Phone
UWorld2,90010-question free sample test$269 tp $719YesAvailableEmail or Phone
BoardVitals3,100Set of 25 sample questions$69 to $189YesAvailableEmail or Phone
AMBOSS2,150+5-Day$48 to $299 (plus monthly subscription)YesAvailableEmail or Contact Form
Lecturio2,150+1000 questions and up to 20 hours of video lectures$83.97 to YesAvailableContact Form
USMLE-Rx2,300+360+ content for 5 days$59.40 to $269.40YesAvailableEmail or Contact Form
USMLE-Easy11,000 (all Steps)Trial available only for institutions$39 to $169YesAvailableEmail or Phone
Osmosis8,000 (all Steps)Available for institutions only$159 to $239YesAvailableChatbot
FirecrackerNot mentionedAvailable$99 to $149Not mentionedAvailableEmail or Phone
Archer Review1,000+Available19 to $29YesAvailableEmail or Contact Form
Medbullets1,000+Available$98 to $175YesAvailableEmail or Phone

NOTE: This information may change. If you notice any discrepancies please don’t hesitate to contact us!

There are lots of different Question banks on the market! You can go with a free trial or buy one with special features that fit you best. Here are some of the unique differences from the top Step 1 Qbanks.

Where Can I Find Free USMLE Step 1 Questions?

Free question sets and free trials give students access to thousands of test questions before opening their wallets (or purses). You can utilize the list below for sample questions and free trials. You may also try the NBME Free 120 for a selection of board exam questions.

Kaplan offers 100 sample questions in its free trial. This will cover all the main topics and give you an idea about your level of proficiency. Plus, it is available with the free diagnostic test as well.

UWorld does not offer an extensive free trial. You may try out the 10-question free sample test for any product, including their Step 1 question set.

BoardVitals is available with the free trial, which is based on 25 sample questions. This is a great opportunity to test all the features of their Qbank.

AMBOSS offers a free trial session which is of 5 days to experience their product. It is not limited by the number of questions, which is much more generous than the companies above. Many students vote this as the closest comparison to UWorld in quality.

Lecturio free trial gives you access to almost 1000 USMLE Step 1 style questions, about 250 videos spaning on almost 20 hours of video lectures, spaced repetition quiz, and book matcher.

USMLE-Rx provides you free access to a 5-day trial of select Rx360+ content. During the trial, you will receive full access to the complete Rx Bricks library. After the trial ends, you will retain access to all of the free Rx Bricks (over 150 Bricks in all). Free Bricks include the entire General Microbiology and Cellular and Molecular Biology collections, and all Bricks created by MeSAGE (the Medical Student Alliance for Global Education). No payment information necessary; your unique email will activate the trial upon confirmation.

USMLE-Easy offers an institutional free trial with more than 11,000 practice questions (for all 3 Step exams) that mimic the style and content of actual board exams. You can create a study plan based on your skills report. They offer you adaptive learning technology to save time and focus on trouble spots along with a dashboard.

Osmosis offers a 1 week free trial on your institutional email address. They will provide you complete access in this trial period without asking for a credit card. Many students tend to rank this qbank below some of the ones mentioned above. However, others rave about the additional content and videos provided.

Firecracker by Lippincott gives you a 7-day free trial with complete access to the USMLE Step 1 material. This material focuses more on flashcard-style testing techniques and promotes an integrated spaced-repetition process.

Archer Review is offering a 1-month free subscription to test their product.

Medbullets gives a 90-day trial period of all the premium features for free.

Track Your Step 1 Study Progress

All of the Qbank software companies offer extensive tracking reports of your past work. Tests are analyzed by discipline, medical specialty, Qbank type (Step 1 vs Step 2 CK vs Step 3), and other important factors. Data can be displayed in many ways and give valuable feedback to students.

They will generally all show you your performance, percentage ranking (not percentile as the USLME is scored), and display how many students selected each answer option. This gives a learner an idea of where they stand in relation to others.

Different charts and graphs help to represent the student’s standing in easily understandable depictions. This makes it easy for students to see which areas they need the most improvement in.

These data can also be used to help medical learners create study plans and focus on weaker areas and knowledge gaps.

Feedback and Customer Service

Kaplan is available with the help link within each question. By reporting a question as potentially inaccurate, the message is sent to the physician who manages that question. They may email an answer back for clarification. You can also try to reach them at customer.care@kaplan.com or call 1-800-KAP-TEST.

UWorld offers a FAQs link along with the 24/7 customer service via support@uworld.com. On every question, feedback is always encouraged.

BoardVitals will clarify all the questions of students through customer service, which is available 24/7. They can be reached by emailing support@boardvitals.com or calling 1-877-221-1529.

AMBOSS customer support help is available through their Contact page. You may also reach out to hello@amboss.com for assistance.

Lecturio customer support is available via email service via their Contact page. Feedback can also be given within the Qbank using a small window that appears on a side of the screen

In USMLE-Rx, you can contact customer support via their Contact page or by emailing info@usmle-rx.com.

USMLE-Easy phone accessibility at 1-888-307-5984 and email inquiries may be sent to customersuccess@mheducation.com.

The Osmosis Contact page doesn’t have a contact form or email listed on it. The chatbot widget was the only way we could find to contact anyone.

Firecracker doesn’t make it easy to find their contact information. But after a little digging, we were able to locate their information. You can reach them at customerservice@lww.com or call 1-800-638-3030.

Archer Review allows you to interact with physicians via the student dashboard for personalized feedback. You can get access to customer support by visiting the Contact Us page or via support@archerreview.com.

Medbullets allow you to give feedback directly on the web page or through their email, info@orthobullets.com. They can also be contacted by phone at 917-647-5276.

What Content is Covered in Step 1 Qbanks?

All quality Step 1 Qbanks go through a rigorous review process. Multiple active physicians within each specialty will work together to create USMLE-style questions relevant to updated medical knowledge. The exact process varies between companies but often goes through several revisions to ensure accuracy.

Some of the main subjects covered in the USMLE Step 1 are:

 

A complete list can be found in the USMLE Content Outline and the NBME Content Outline.

Kaplan presents the questions in a format for stimulating the actual exam. Hence, it is available with both tutor and timed modes. Every single question is available with references and detailed explanations.

UWorld is quite similar to the actual test, where it is available with three different modes such as Tutor, Timed, and Timed tutor. The content is generally considered by students to be the closest to the real test. However, besides anecdotal evidence, there is no way to assess this assumption.

BoardVitals Content will display all examination blocks in Review or Timed mode. This will help the user to understand the importance of time management during exam time. With the help of Review Mode, you can see all your correct answers with an explanation.

AMBOSS is has a very different aesthetic than the others in its tutor mode. It also uses its content library of text and videos to guide students when answering questions inaccurately.

Lecturio will offer you USMLE style questions, their explanations along other resources to prepare for the Step 1 exam.

USMLE-Rx has a q-bank along with self-assessment exams, first aid facts, and explanation videos. Following along in a copy of First Aid is usually recommended. 

USMLE-Easy has q-banks with adequate explanation to self-evaluate. We were unable to test this system out due to limitations on free trials for students.

Osmosis believes in interactive learning so they provide video lectures, USMLE style questions, flashcards, and high-yield notes. The learning material is very unique but many students claim the question banks are lower yield than some of the other resources mentioned.

Firecracker provides you questions useful for the exams with flashcards and topic summaries. It focuses more on the flashcard aspect of learning than USMLE simulated exams. However, it’s still a resource to consider trying out.

Archer Review offers high yield q-banks and basic concept-building clinical scenarios.

Medbullets have 1000+ high yield topics, q-banks, and articles. They also offer 500+ educational videos but flashcards and teaching cases are coming soon.

How Much do Step 1 Qbanks Cost?

A question bank for the Step 1 can run you $9-270/month (Archer, Lecturio vs UWorld)! However, purchasing multiple-month or annual packages will save you a lot of dough. We recommend trying the free trials listed above first to see which format and features you like best. 

Before purchasing a Step 1 Qbank, determine:

Kaplan offers the question banks for different medical exams. This is including USMLE Step 1. This Step 1 Bank is based on 3300 questions available for 1 month at the cost of $129. It can also be purchased in 3-month ($199), 6-months ($249), 12-month ($299), 18-month ($349), and 24-month ($399) increments. In comparison with some other q-bank products, Kaplan offers reasonable long-term options. 

UWorld specializes in providing some effective question banks that cover all the topics available on USMLE exams. This q-bank is available at the cost of $269 for 30 days. You can also purchase their 90-day ($369), 180-day ($419), 360-day ($519), and 730-day ($719) package. The larger packages also include 1-2 Self-Assessments depending on the deal.

BoardVitals question banks are subscription-based and available at $69 for 1-month, $119 for a 3-month, and $189 for a 6-month plan. It’s interesting to note that they do not, at this time, offer longer-term arrangements like some of their competitors.

AMBOSS has changed its pricing strategy a lot in recent years. They now offer a one-time payment of $79 (1-month) to $299 (1-year) plus a $9.99/month subscription fee. They do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, which many of their competitors do not have.

Lecturio is offering you full access to q-banks for $27.99/month (when purchasing a 3-month deal) to 8.99/month for 4 years. They also have a 1-year and 2-year plan if the other options are not the right fit for your timeline.

USMLE-Rx complete access, consisting of Rx Bricks, Step 1 Qmax, Flash Facts, and express videos is available from $59.40 for 1 month to $269.40 for 2-years. You can also subscribe to the above-mentioned individual tools for $129 (Rx Bricks), $209.40 (Step 1 Qmax), $149 (Flash Facts), $199 (Explore videos).

USMLE-Easy subscription costs $39 for 1 week, $79 for 1 month, and $169 for 3 months. They do not seem to offer longer-terms for students, but institutional subscriptions can be purchased by your school for discounts.

Osmosis costs around $179 for 6 months, $199 for 1 year, and $279 for 2 years. This gives access to their qbanks, video library, and other interesting features.

Firecracker doesn’t appear to list their prices on their website. According to other sources, it offers its subscription for $99 for 2 months and $149 for 6 months.

Archer Review is offering complete access to its q-banks starting from $19 for 2 months to $29 for 3 months. Its generous 30-day free trial makes this one resource to try out if you have some time before your exams.

Medbullets offers a free trial for 90 days along with packages of $98 for 6 months or $175 for 12 months.

Should I Use Medical Mnemonics for Step 1?

Mnemonics are a fantastic way to remember information. Typically, mnemonics encode important information with retrieval cues that may be verbal (eg: acronyms) or visual images (eg: story method, memory palace). Turning abstract or tedious information into fun and easy-to-remember mnemonics is a great way to commit to memory!

 

Osmosis has a robust mnemonics system in its videos. This offers a whimsical way of learning through mnemonics and mind maps for many of the subjects they cover.

Kaplan offers a medical mnemonics book that makes it easy for the professional to learn mnemonics and remember things efficiently. USMLE-Rx provides medical mnemonics examples that match what they use in First Aid.

AMBOSS also offers mnemonics in its normal q-banks. They have also introduced a system of highlighting the important points automatically. Firecracker also helps students learn with the assistance of visual mnemonics.

Picmonic supplements BoardVitals practice questions in the best ways to help you get even more prepared to take exams. They take mnemonics and combine them with memorable pictures to turn them into videos.

Lecturio, Archer Review, and Medbullets also offer mnemonics to increase student learning efficiency. UWorld’s mnemonics are more limited in scope than some of the previously mentioned companies. USMLE-Easy doesn’t offer mnemonics in its plan currently.

For the most comprehensive medical mnemonics creation and evidence-based learning guidance, try the Medical Mnemonist podcast!

How Do Qbanks Determine What Topics to Cover?

All the available q-banks focus on high yield topics and carry out their educational pedagogy in a multi-step fashion to enhance critical thinking. The exact method for determining which questions are high-yield varies per company. It often involves a combination of using the NBME and USMLE Content Outlines, physician knowledge, and student feedback.

All of the q-banks provide 3D images that are rotatable and help trainee visual learning. Strong mental representations of material are considered one way to differentiate novice and mastery level of material. 

A non-exhaustive review of PubMed and Google Scholar did not turn up significant research regarding comparisons of different companies and student exam scores. Although company-funded research may exist, it must be viewed with appropriate caution.

Which Are the Worst USMLE Q-banks?

We have listed some of the best question banks above, but this is not a comprehensive list. We caution against any Qbank not on this list. Newer or smaller systems are often complicated with errors or duplicate questions to boost their numbers.

Their question vignettes are often outsourced and do not go through a rigorous vetting process. This can lead to factual errors, outdated information, and inadequate answer descriptions. If you have run across these issues and wish to report your experience, let us know! 

Now that you have your resource of choice picked out, it’s time to get to work!

Final Recommendations

Busy medical students often approach their dedicated board exam study time in complicated and inefficient ways. This can include failure to properly schedule their time, using too many resources, or even denying themselves social support and self-care. Doing so can impede learning and increase stress. Here are a few tips to boost your academic performance while staying sane!


  1. Aim for Mastery: It can be tempting to utilize multiple qbanks in order to, theoretically, gain more practice and question insights. However, this is not always wise or necessary. Although you may start off testing a few different Step 1 resources initially, limit these as you get closer to your test date. It’s better to completely master one question bank than gain a mediocre competency level in multiple. Quality over quantity.
  2. Ethics of Medical Education: We prefer ethical companies that offer more robust free trials where possible. Students have enough depth and should be given the chance to adequately assess different materials before purchasing. Of course, completely free resources of low quality aren’t a good choice either. Find the balance that is right for you.
  3. Practice Makes Perfect: Consistently test yourself over a long period of time and be sure to implement spaced repetition training for more difficult subjects.
  4. Competition It is easy for medical learners to get caught up in competing with their peers. After all, the USMLE is a percentile score! But this is a logical fallacy that provides no benefit. In actuality, you have no control over how well (or poorly) others do, and worrying about what you cannot control is a recipe for anxiety. Instead, focus on beating yourself. Finish your exams a little faster and score a little higher as you progress. Set goals for yourself to monitor your progress and know where you need to improve. Try the MedEdge Method as depicted in Read This Before Medical School if you need help setting up plans and self-monitoring strategies.
  5. Don’t Neglect Your Life: Remember to enjoy the little things and spend time with those you are close to. It’s easy to build a social fortress while studying for your exams, but that can prove detrimental. Schedule breaks, make plans to see friends and family, and take time to take care of yourself. The “loss” in study time will be covered by an increase in study efficiency!


With these tools and strategies, we know you will be able to vastly improve your academic standing on your board exams! But also keep in mind that life is more than your grades or exam scores. No one has ever asked their physician what percentile they scored or if they were on the Dean’s List. Yes, there are absolutely benefits to proving your knowledge to residency directors. But, in the end, don’t forget that the doctors that really stand out are those that take care of themselves first so that they may better serve their patients.

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