Home » Master the Boards Step 2 – Are Review Books Worth It in 2023?

Master the Boards Step 2 – Are Review Books Worth It in 2023?

13 min


A medical school student in a library holding several Step 2 CK review books.


The USMLE Step 2 CK exam is an important exam during your medical career. With the recent change of Step 1 to the Pass/Fail system, it can be expected that more emphasis will be placed on a good Step 2 CK score. Another important change to the Step 2 CK exam is that the passing score increased from 209 to 214 as of July 1, 2022. You can find more information on the Step 2 CK percentiles here, and a downloadable Step 2 CK study schedule here.


If you have taken Step 1, then you know that the “gold standard” resources for this exam are known as UFAPS acronym, which stands for UWorld, First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy. However, choosing which resources to use for Step 2 CK isn’t such an easy decision. This is because review books for Step 2 CK are generally denser and longer. It makes sense because this exam not only tests your foundational knowledge and your ability to identify the disease in the clinical vignetteץ It also requires you to have a good understanding of the treatment algorithm. 


So, are review books worth it for Step 2 CK studying in 2023? The answer is: it depends.


Resources for USMLE Step 2 CK


There are many study resources available for the Step 2 CK exam and some examples can be found here. In addition to q-banks, there are many others including books, podcasts (Divine Intervention), and educational videos (Osmosis, Boards & Beyond). However, if you were to pick one resource, it would have to be UWorld. It is the most high-yield and trustable resource that is used by students everywhere. It is important to understand that UWorld is more than just a q-bank – it is also a review book in itself. It contains flashcard features, and has self-assessment exams. If you learn how to use UWorld correctly, this could easily be your one-stop shop for a great score on your Step 2 CK.


Review Books for Step 2 CK


If you are looking for review books to add to your study routine, there are many resources on the market. Some of these include: Master The Boards USMLE Step 2 CK, First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK, Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CK Lecture Notes, Step-Up to USMLE Step 2 CK, USMLE Step 2 Secrets, and Brochert’s Crush Step 2 – The Ultimate USMLE Step 2 Review. For a more detailed breakdown of some of these resources, we have written a review for the ones we recommend.


Pros and Cons of Review Books for Step 2 




Review books can be great resources for those who have large knowledge gaps. They can also be useful for those who like their information to all be organized in one place. You can choose from a variety of review books. Some are more comprehensive, and some are more high-yield and concise. You can expect that most will have flow charts and diagrams detailing treatment/management algorithms that will be tested on the Step 2 CK exam. 


In order to get the most out of doing practice questions, it is recommended that you first establish a solid foundational knowledge. At EMP, we often encounter students who have large content gaps and don’t know where to start. In this case, the individualized study plans that we create for our clients may have review books weaved into them. 


If you have a decent amount of time dedicated to preparing for your Step 2 CK exam, then review books may be a good study resource for you. By purchasing study books early on, you can use them alongside your clinical rotations as you study for your Shelf exams as well. Imagine doing a question from the UWorld Step 2 CK question bank and it asks you for the best next step in management. So you look at the answer choices and all of them seem feasible to you. Perhaps you vaguely remember seeing these answer choices before, but have no idea of the order they fit in the management algorithm. Having the book opened on your table can allow you to quickly find certain topics you are struggling with. The good thing about review books is that they are generally well-organized and can serve as a great reference tool. In addition, the colorful and visually appealing charts in these books can help you further solidify your memory.




The USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams are designed differently and test different things. You may find that UFAPS was great for Step 1 because there is an emphasis on basic science fundamentals like pathology, biochemistry, and pharmacology. For this reason, study books are great for content review. The Step 2 CK exam mainly tests your clinical knowledge and your ability to think critically. Not only does the exam require you to recognize the disease in the clinical vignette, but you also need to know how to take it a step further and understand how to manage the patient. The best way to develop this type of thinking is to be exposed to as many different clinical scenarios as possible. This is where q-bank resources are superior to review books. In doing and reviewing your practice q-bank questions, you are forced to connect the dots between different concepts across various organ systems. You also gain a deeper understanding of the management algorithms. 


Speaking of algorithms, UWorld has the most updated clinical algorithms and their questions are written to reflect these constant changes. Whereas in a review book, you may find that some algorithms can be outdated. This can potentially be a problem when you are utilizing these resources as a supplement to your learning. 


Most people preparing to take the Step 2 CK exam are in the third year of their medical school, meaning that they have to attend clinical rotations. Depending on your rotation and your preceptor, you may be expected to be working throughout the day. When you get home, you may be too tired to absorb information from the long texts in a review book. It may often be too overwhelming to focus on what you should be targeting in your content review. This may take time away from you using your precious time for doing practice questions.


In 2021, a research study done on a single medical school investigating how students prepared for the USMLE Step 2 CK exam was published, giving some insight into what the optimal preparation strategies were. 100% of the students used the UWorld Step 2 CK q-bank and was rated to be of the highest importance. Other resources like review books were also widely used by the students, but average rating of importance was lower. It is important to keep in mind that the survey only reflects a small sample size at a single institution. 


It Depends on Your Situation


So, are review books worth it in 2023? The answer is that it depends on your situation, what type of learner you are, your study timeline, and how you are using these review books. If you are starting your Step 2 CK preparation early (which we recommend), then review books can help you with building clinical foundation and do well on your Shelf exams. After all, studying for Shelf exams is studying for your Step 2 CK exam. If you are passively reading these review books, then they may not be as effective as actively using them to reinforce your understanding of your missed (incorrect) q-bank questions. If you’re a visual learner, simply reading review books may not help you absorb the information as well as video content can. 


Therefore, the first step is to understand your unique situation. If you have any questions or would like more professional guidance on how to tailor a study schedule that works for you, Step 2 CK tutoring is a great option! Schedule your complimentary consultation today to hear more about what we can do to help you succeed!

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