Monday, January 12, 2009

Which USMLE Step 1 Qbank: Kaplan or USMLE World?

After my last post discussing tips for using Kaplan Qbank for USMLE Step 1, I realized that a major dilemma I had before even using the qbanks was: Which qbank should I use to prepare for USMLE Step 1?

The qbanks I looked at all had fairly similar features: 2000+ questions, data / trending to let you track your performance, FRED-like software that simulates the FRED software used during the exam, and more. With all these features looking the same, how does one choose between them?

Prep for the USMLE with Kaplan Medical! Enroll Today

Well, my first thought was to ask friends and upperclassmen who had taken the exam already and had used qbanks. Not a bad idea, but I soon realized that most people had used one qbank, liked it, and didn't have time to use another one. Since the qbanks were pretty much the same, the Kaplan users would recommend Kaplan, the USMLE World users would recommend USMLE World, the USMLE Rx users would recommend USMLE Rx, and so on. However, since very few people had ever tried out the other products how could they truly give good advice about which one was better?

Another way to approach the problem was try to figure out who had scored well, and then use whatever product they used. There are two problems with this though. First, people aren't always willing to tell you their scores, so how would you know if the advice is coming from someone who truly benefited from the software or not? Second, if someone scores well, you cannot tell if they did so because the qbank really helped them, or because they are just that smart and would have scored well regardless of which qbank they had used.

After thinking through all this, I ended up buying both Kaplan and USMLE World. I structured my time so that I would definitely get through at least one of them (in my case, Kaplan), and then tried to get through as much of the other on as I could in the time I had left before my Step 1 exam date. Because I actually used both qbanks, I think my perspective is relatively unique.

So, which one did I like better? Honestly, both products were good and lived up to their advertised features. The main differences I noticed were:
 interface and question style. 

Interface: While both employ a FRED-like system, Kaplan's interface is Web/Flash-based. It looks more polished than USMLE World, but sometimes the highlighting / strike through functions can be a bit buggy. The USMLE World program requires a separate program that you download onto your desktop and then use outside your browser. It looks less like the actual FRED software in terms of user interface, but functions more reliably if you want to highlight or annotate.

Question Style: This is the main difference between the two qbanks. The Kaplan qbank tends to have more esoteric questions. Either the questions focused on relatively rare diseases, or the question would focus on very small details about commonly tested diseases. Depending on your study style, this could be either a positive or negative. I liked the fact that such exposure broadened my knowledge base as well as forced me to learn things that I thought I knew well to an even greater degree, but sometimes I knew the degree of detail was much more than I needed to know for USMLE Step 1. The USMLE World questions were "easier" and more straightforward. The style was more similar to what was on the actual exam, although I felt the questions were a bit longer than the real test. That being said, I don't think I broadened my knowledge base as much with USMLE World since it did not cover those rare diseases as much.

If you're interested in checking out either product, Kaplan costs $109 for 1 month, $149 for 2 months, and $189 for 3 months. USMLE World costs $99 for 30 days, $135 for 60 days, and $185 for 90 days. You can get both for up to 6 months for more money, but honestly you will not really use it effectively for more than a 3 month time span (and really, just 1 month). To try Kaplan, check out their 10 question sample USMLE Qbank Challenge:

Prep for the USMLE with Kaplan Medical! Enroll Today

For USMLE World, go to their website: USMLE World Step 1 Qbank.

Do you have any more questions about specific features of either Kaplan Qbank for USMLE Step 1 or USMLE World Step 1? If you already have taken the test and used these products, what was your experience?
Updated 2015-12-18


  1. Was the content of the questions similar? Meaning did Kaplan feel some topics were important that USMLE World did not?

  2. Which would you recommend and why?

  3. I'll do you one better!!
    USMLE consult has Qbanks for Steps 1 2 and 3 and has a choice for every practice exam whenther you wan to use FRED1 or FRED2 (the new interface for the step) and has almost three thousand questions!! It has the best explanations of any of the q-banks quoting text books and using the best up to date images from tones of sources. I have used all of the q-banks acceot USMLErx and this is by far the best.
    Goodluck to everyone!!

  4. I just finished step 1 yesterday. I did some Kaplan, but mostly USMLE world. When I went back to home I just wanted to find something that could symbolize USMLE world and kiss it. Not only the content of the real thing is very similar to USMLE world, but I am certain I went over at least 6-7 questions that were almost exactly as ones I had on USMLE world, save for simple differences in the wording and options.

  5. Medfreak, I think many people would support your sentiment. I think the question comes down to whether people want a qbank to help expand their knowledge base, or simply as one to simulate the real exam. Congrats on finishing!

  6. Thanks for the review of the two qbanks, as I will soon be purchasing one. It was helpful in making the decision for USMLE World. Hope all is well!

  7. I have yet not tried USMLE World Q-bank.
    I purchased Kaplan Q-bank for two months.
    It has several good features. there are so many questions with good explanations. Some very rare and unusual points have been discussed. I have yet to see how far it is helpful in real exam.



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