USMLE Step 1 and 2 Prep Platform Reviews: Amboss
To save you time we summarized critical reviews for Step 1 and Step 2 studies with Amboss.
AMBOSS is a company that began in Germany (in their own words: the story of AMBOSS is “a story full of cheese and sausage.”) with a group of medical students studying for tests. They wished during their studying that they had a combined question bank and reference tool, and so they decided to create one. The product expanded remarkably quickly in Germany, with >90% of German medical students now using it; it has popularity in Germany similar to that of UWorld in the United States.
Amboss combines a large question bank with an equally comprehensive Library feature that contains point-by-point breakdowns of the topics covered by questions. These are similar to the answer explanations in UWorld, but better organized and accessible at any time – an effective solution to that annoying problem of “shoot, I know I saw a diagram I really liked in one of those practice tests, but I don’t have the time to comb through 100 questions looking for it.” The library also contains embedded videos from Osmosis as well as proprietary images and diagrams.
The software is also considerately designed towards medical student budgets: while the price of the Q-bank + library is around the same as UWorld ($345 for a one-year subscription), you can also buy a library-only subscription for $45/year or $5/month – a great lower-price option if you just want to stay fresh but don’t need to keep going through questions.
So, let’s talk features.
Amboss’ question bank is very comprehensive and interactive. More than just a multiple choice question bank, the student can actually choose how deeply they want to delve into the topic. Each question contains several features and students can chose to “highlight relevant terms” which highlights the most important clues in the vignette. By doing this, students can compare the parts of the vignette they highlighted to what Amboss recommends should be highlighted. This can be helpful for students who struggle with picking out the most important parts of a section.
The question bank itself contains appropriately complex questions, and often has more answer choices than in UWorld: the average seems to be about six choices, but eight is not uncommon. The questions come with two in-test “hint” options: Highlight and Attending Tip. The former option highlights the most relevant portions of the question stem, while the latter provides additional information directed at the correct answer. These are double-edged swords, as they are useful options but will no doubt be tempting to use when you’re trying to train up for the actual test – and using hints that won’t be there on the real thing will not train you for test day.
Students can also choose to look at the “attending tip” in each question, which is a high-yield point about the vignette that the student should learn. The explanation Amboss provides about the correct answer is thorough, and includes pictures if necessary. For instance, a vignette about a thyroglossal cyst had a picture of a congenital neck mass embedded within the explanations as well as picture of an incorrect answer choice (cystic hygroma). This is helpful because the students can see how the two different neck masses can present; not only is it useful for the shelf, but seeing the pictures can be helpful for the wards. Additionally, within the explanations, there are many words that the student can “hover over” with his or her pointer that reveals additional information about that specific word/topic. This is very useful and efficient because the student doesn’t have to search the internet or textbook for explanations about a particular concept. There is a difficulty meter tells you how many students get questions right/wrong.
Library for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK
The library is a feature with content about the basic sciences (step 1), clinical knowledge (CK), clinical skills (Step 2 CS), and chalk talk. Each of the libraries for this section includes a comprehensive outline of the specific topics covered. For example, the basic sciences section has topics that are outlined by discipline or by system. Within the disciplines, if a student chooses to review anatomy and histology (the first discipline), they are directed to an outline with various topics, such as “1.1 G6PD deficiency….1.2 General Histology….1.3 Gastrointestinal….1.4 Cardiovascular….etc”. Then within each topic, the content is further broken down. For instance, for the cardiovascular discipline, the topics include “1.4.1 Heart… 1.4.2 Thoracic Cavity….1.4.3 Cerebrovascular system….1.4.4 Pathology and Examination.” Then within each of those topics, there is another outline. For instance, for 1.4.1 Heart—the outline is “overview, gross anatomy, microscopic anatomy, embryology, clinical significance.” The student can then click through each one of these and read the content in full length, or he or she can click on the “high-yield” button which will only include the high-yield content. The formatting of the content within each section is in paragraph form, rather than bullet form. The ability to “hover” over certain words for additional explanations is also present. There are tables and images (made by AMBOSS) embedded within the text. The content is displayed on a white background with black and gray font, which in my opinion is actually a bit dull. It is good for content review but I prefer something more attention-getting for lengthy study sessions.
The analysis feature is useful because it shows the session timeline, results, progress, and study recommendations. The analysis can be based on a study objective, which can be USMLE 2CK, a specific shelf, USMLE 1, or a particular step 1 topic—for which the lists are exhaustive. The analysis also shows how long the student took to answer a question, which can be helpful to students struggling to finish blocks on time. There is an option to look at the study summary, which can be for the entire length of having an AMBOSS account, for the previous 6 weeks, or for the previous 2 weeks. Based on this summary, the study can receive study recommendations. I did not do enough questions to have an example of a recommendation to comment on this more specifically.
There are feedback forms all throughout the platform so that users can comment on both good and bad things about a particular feature. This is appealing to me because it keeps the content active and if there is ever an issue with the accuracy of an explanation, the student can immediately report it and Amboss will look into it further.
Our overall feelings on AMBOSS
Amboss is an excellent resource. The only downside is that it is not as firmly established in the U.S. as is UWorld. We know that UWorld has a healthy overlap with test topics on the USMLE exams from years of anecdotal experience, while we, unfortunately, don’t have that empiric data from AMBOSS yet. However, we’ve seen of this product has been thoughtfully and thoroughly designed, and we recommend it wholeheartedly.
For additional questions on how to use Amboss properly for your Step 1 and Step 2 studies, feel free to contact one of our experienced USMLE tutors.