USMLE QBank vs. Kaplan QBank: Which one?

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Which one is better, UW or Kaplan? This is one of the most often asked questions I’ve encountered from people and the answer is as always not that straightforward. Each has its pros and cons and thereby is more useful in one situation than another.

The best answer is that if you can afford to use both, then do so. UW is better used as a learning tool and is less effective (but not ineffective) in both assessment and preparing you for the actual exam experience. Kaplan is more effective in assessment and test preparation and not as effective as a learning tool.

Most people tend to find UW much tougher than Kaplan. In fact, there is kind of a shock when people scoring high in Kaplan Q bank suddenly start to score 10 to 20% lower in UW. So how does UW make their question tougher and is this really reflective of the actual situation you will face in the examination?

There are 4 major ways to make an examination tougher. The first method is to test lower yield concepts. Most reviewers cover high yield concepts only and most people have covered high yield materials in their review. So putting lower yield concepts on Qbanks will insure that people do not know the material. I covered high yield and low yield concepts in this article.

The second method is to require higher level of mastery of the concept in order to be able to answer the questions. You have to know multiple details about a particular concept to be able to get the answer. I covered Master, Know and Familiar in USMLE in this article. Most 2 to 3 step thinking question are of this nature.

The third method is requiring the examinee not only to master the topic at hand, but to have the necessary analytical skills to solve it. This is effective initially, but long term, the thought process involved would have been worked out by someone and most examinees will just memorize the actual answer rendering it less effective. An example will be questions on the effects of various neurotransmitter and anti-hypertensive drugs on the ANS esp. heart and smooth muscle. It requires knowledge not only of the direct effect of the drugs, but also any reflex response it generates and its exact mechanism of action. However, that is so thoroughly explained in detail in Pharmacology: lippincott’s illustrated reviews that you don’t really need analysis just memorization to answer that question

The fourth and last method requires misdirection. Certain questions are constructed in such a way that most of the stem seems to point to one answer but one or two phrases in the question stem makes another answer the correct one. This is controversial as very few of the actual USMLE questions are of this nature and having too many of this in practice Qbanks can create the wrong instinct. That is looking for the trick in a straightforward question, which can waste valuable time in the actual examination

So how reflective are these of the actual conditions in the examination? Although, the USMLE does use all four methods to make tougher questions, it does not use it as often as UW does. Therefore, UW is a good learning tool, since it does train you to answer tough questions. But as I said, there is a danger of developing the wrong instinct in the exam. I find myself often looking for trick questions where there are none sometimes without realizing it. Most questions in the USMLE will still be straightforward and easy to answer.

Kaplan Qbank is more realistic in that the proportion of easy and tough questions is more reflective of the USMLE. Also its ratio of high yield to low yield question is also more reflective of the USMLE. That is the reason why Kaplan is better as an assessment tool and for test preparation. Although, that may change too as Kaplan is moving towards providing tougher questions in its Qbank.

In order to do well in this competitive exam, doing Qbanks is essential. But even more important is knowing how to use the Qbanks more effectively in review. I’ll tackle that in more detail in another post. I’ll also tackle the NBME assessment tests and how to use them for effective review. Contrary to popular expectation, studying the NBME questions themselves is not really that helpful in helping you raise your scores.

One more thing before we close. The typical USMLE Question Block is always a mixture of tough and easy questions, long and short ones. This is because there is a time limit imposed per block. However, when doing Qbanks, each block is randomly generated and therefore it is possible and very probable to generate a block that is full of tough questions, or easy ones. Long questions or short ones. Therefore, single blocks in Qbanks are never reflective of your actual capabilities. Until next time

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36 thoughts on “USMLE QBank vs. Kaplan QBank: Which one?

  • August 9, 2008 at 12:23 am

    I just discovered your blog, and have spent the last hour or so going through your posts on the prep4usmle forum as well as your blog. I’m truly inspired. =) I’m a foreign graduate and just recently turned 21, and am going through my first read of Kaplan right now. I’ve signed up for USMLE World and Kaplan Qbank as well as USMLERX. Before reading your posts, I was mix-matching the 3 qbanks to try to get as exposed to as different style of questions as possible. But obviously I’m going to have to change my study plans and method a bit after all the advice you’ve poured, so I thank you greatly!

  • August 9, 2008 at 9:24 am

    To tmoz;

    You are welcome!

  • January 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Would you care to comment on the new Kaplan step 2 CK qbank that was placed on the market in May? In the article above, were you comparing the old kaplan step 2 qbank to USMLE world or were you using the new kaplan qbank for comparison? Thank you.

  • January 12, 2009 at 5:20 am

    Would you care to provide me with a subscription to the new Kaplan Step 2 CK q Bank? :) Thank You.

  • June 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Plz i wanted some help considering pathology, I’ve got Dr. Goljan Rapid Review,,
    I’ve also got his audio files.
    The question is…..can I do the audio only or I need to do the book also!

    I really appreciate ur help!

  • June 20, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Hi Dr. Mina,

    Actually the audio files is good for learning pathology. However, it is very difficult to memorize from lectures. So you have a choice of using the book or his notes for memorization.


  • June 26, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    hi.. thanks for this information, im using NCLEX RN qbank by the way.
    just like to ask if u dont mind, i really feel stupid when im taking the
    nclex q bank. my average is just 50%plus, is it really that hard for my result
    to be that low? i dont think so, lol. thank you very much.
    i really dont know where should i ask this, since ur name is ask doc,
    might as well ask u and give it a try. lol

  • June 26, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    oops, i mean “KAPLAN” RN.. lol

  • July 9, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Hi fez,

    Sorry about the late reply. Are you sure I am the right person to ask about the NCLEX exam? All my current posts are about the USMLE exam. However, if the NCLEX exam is anything like the USMLE exam, then my advise may count. So if the Kaplan NCLEX qbank is anything like USMLE, they will have an average listed for each block. Make sure you are above average to be sure of passing the exam. The higher from the average you are, the more likely you will score high. Remember it is not so much your absolute score, but your score relative to the average scores for those q’s

    Hope that helps.


  • August 20, 2009 at 7:05 am

    To the person who posted using my callsign,

    Please do not use my callsign when posting questions or comments. It will confuse the other readers. Please repost your question with a different callsign and I will answer it.

    Askdoc – “the original one”

  • January 10, 2010 at 4:41 am

    hi Askdoc just want to ask you what Q bank AND STUDY MATERIALS did you use for step 3? how many weeks did you prepare?and how did you use the Q BANK IN YOUR PREPARATION?DID YOU USE IT EVERY AFTER system such as after studying hematology? Im in residency right now and have at least 2-3 hrs per day to study for 2mos..Im on 2nd reading of MASTER The Boards..I dont have time to do Kaplan step 2..I believe kaplan step 2 notes is in MASTER the Boards already w/ more emphasis on management..On your CCS how did you study for it?THANKS A LOT!!!!

  • January 11, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Hi DoctorD,

    OK, for the record, I got a 90 only for my Step III. What killed me primarily was the CCS. All my other subjects were in the far right with only CCS down on left the straddling the border. I used both UW and Kaplan qbank for my prep and believe me, unlike Step 1 and Step 2 CK, they are very different from what I actually encountered in Step 3, by the way. Even the NBME for Step 3 cannot be relied on as it tests you only on the theoretical part of the exam, not the CCS and the CCS occupies 25% of your score. As to Kaplan Step 2 Notes, they are good only because 20% of Step 3 still deals with pathophysiology or mechanisms of disease. 55% deals with treatment and management. 25% is CCS. Personally, I used Washington Manual for the treatment part and supplemented with Medical Current Treatment and Diagnosis. They are good in teaching you the clinical aspect of management. Being in residency gives you a tremendous advantage as a lot of questions border on practical things you do in the hospital. From basic orders, answering calls, etc.

    As to the CCS, you really need to practice the software. I went through about 20 cases using the accompanying software from USMLE, but in the actual exam, I still struggled with the software. It seems 20 cases is small compared with the 2,000 to 4,000 q’s you practice with UW and Kaplan qbanks. Anyway, what I would change in my review is practice CCS more so the software becomes 2nd nature. Next, create more management protocols to insure best method of working up a patient. Hope that helps.


  • January 17, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Hi AskDoc thank you for replying to my initial post..Anyways, have anotherquestion re:Q banks–How and when do you use it?after 1st or 2nd reading of your study resources or after every system for example after reading CARDIOLOGY..if you just guide me thru this..

    Thanks a lotin advance!!


  • January 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    BTW, reading your post here re: UW vs Kaplan Q bank it seems that you favor kapaln..What do you think?Am i right?since UW seems to be difficult because they test you including low yield subjects/topics and kaplan q bank represents BULK of high yield testable topics..what is your comment on my opinion?

    thanks again!!!

  • February 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    hi ask doc…if u dont mind wil u pls help me with my usmle step2 ck prep strategy..i have a month and a half for my test.i did the kaplan books and am revising them now. along with my revisions im doing offline uworld questions subject wise. i finsihed obg,gyn and psychiatry. i was planning on revising the other subjs also from kaplan material while doing the uworld questions. and then i thought ill do one nbme form just to see where i stand and register for an online qbank since the one im using nowis offline and i dont know how current it is.and i also heard that the step2ck interface not sure if thats true and i dont really know wat it means for my test. do u think its a good plan? wil i have enough time for it? when i register for an online qbank should i do uworld or kaplan qbank or usmleconsult? i hope u dont mind me asking you so many questions. im kinda stressed about the test. please do find the time and reply.thank you in advance.

  • February 25, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Hi sanju,

    First, how many times have you revised Kaplan? Kaplan is good study material for step 2 Ck, but you need to retain and recall at least 80 to 85% of it to get a good score. More if you are aiming for high 90’s.

    Second, how well are you doing answering next best step in management type of questions? If not too good, you may need to write down management and diagnostic algorithms and study them.

    I have listed down the 4 most common reasons why people score poorly in Step 2 CK in my reply to NO’s question under this post Guide to Self-Evaluation in USMLE Prep in this blog

    Read it for more information


  • February 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    hi ask doc..thanks soo much for the reply..i did read the guide to self evaluation. ive revised kaplan material twice. and i think i can recall close to 75 % of the material. i realised i get very confused when i start answering questions and also realised tat it was because i wasnt very clear with the mnagement concepts. i did prepare algorithms for a lot of stuff coz tats how i usually study. im doing the kaplan qbook right now and am scoring a consistent 85%. what i get wrong is usually a concept tat ive never read before or a prob with my recall i.e. i know i read it but just cant a clear idea abt im focussing on doing questions and re-reading stuff tat i cant recall.. its internal med that scares me. since ive not practised a lot of questions i wanted to go ahead and subscribe for a qbank. wat is ur suggestion?which one do u think i should subscribe my planning ok.

  • March 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Hi! I am taking my Step 2 (CK) in May 2010. What should I do Kaplan or UW qbank? If have time to do the both what should be the priority and if I have to do one only then which one or are there better ones too?

  • March 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Hi! I am taking my Step 2 (CK) in May 2010. What should I do Kaplan or UW qbank? If have time to do the both what should be the priority and if I have to do one only then which one or are there better ones too? Please e-mail me the response at

  • March 13, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Hi R,

    Actually both are quite good. But if you have to do only one, then do UW Qbank. But the best is to do both. Use one to study how to answer tough questions (UW is best for this) and the other to simulate actual examination and test if you have actually learned how to answer tough questions


  • March 19, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Hi askdoc,
    I have been reading all your posts since yday. Im an IMG, who graduated in 2008.. I took Step 1 last yr in September after 6 months but was not able to study at all due to health & other personal problems & failed in it. I took Step 2ck recently in February after 4 months of preparation with kaplan notes,F.A, UW & failed in it too.I have really lost hope & was planning to go back to my home country until I came across your blog. I definitely have got back my confidence & plan to give my Step 2 ck again :)
    I feel my main problem lies in all 3- KA,KR & TP :( I thought I’ll start with kaplan as my outline notes & will be going back to that ok? At this point should I be doing qbank side by side or only reading notes until I finish a major portion? Also if kaplan q bank is easier should I start with that? as I did UW last time & found it really hard..
    Plz advise..Ur my only hope..(Also sorry for the long note)..

  • March 24, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Shiea,

    It’s about time I write about common mistakes in studying for Step 2 CK. I have them scattered all around here actually in different comment section. I will compile them and write a full article in a day or two. Wait for it.


  • May 27, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    hi askdoc
    i am taking step 1 soon.. ihave done kaplan books just once and doing first aid for 3rd time and now 2day i did nbme …n i am so tensed now i just got 200 sucha crapp …what should ido now? should i revise all books again n then kaplan q bank or uworld ..helppp me plz thanks

  • May 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Hi docmary,

    U txt a lot, ryt? :) Anyway, first, when you do revision once, did you mean you read it once, or you tried to memorize it once, reading it as many times as needed to memorize them. Revision does not mean read, OK. Some people can remember a lot by just reading something once. Others can’t. So revision must be defined as memorizing it and not just as reading it. If what you mean by revision is as defined by me, then yes revising them all once more should be able to up your score. Doing FA alone will not up your score.


  • July 3, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Hello askdoc,

    I hope you read this in time. I have been studying for the step2ck for a few months now and my exam is july 20th.
    I went through all of UW first time through timed/random mode and ended up with a 62%. I took notes, studied them, and redid all the incorrect questions. I then took NMBE form 1 scored a 530. For 2 weeks after I studied some more and took the UWORD self assesment exam and scored a 620, approx 243 step 2ck score.
    Then I thought to myself, might as well do the kaplan qbank. I hate the style of questions, and I am averaging actually the exact same score as my UW score..
    What should I do? keep going through kaplan, or go through world again?
    my assessments show that I should score at least a 230 on the exam, but this kaplan qbank is telling me otherwise.



  • July 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Hi, Askdoc! Great website.

    I took CK last year, failed it, I had done just UW and First Aid,and the Kaplan Notes. Then this year I tried Kaplan Q bank, did that a few times and passed. I never could figure out why that happened since everyone I talked to said UW was better than Kaplan, now, reading your blog I understand, you were accurate in your assessment- UW does focus unduly on low yield esoteric minutiae, whereas Kaplan Q are very high yield but seem so ridiculously straightforward that you don’t focus well on them. the entire time I was doing Kaplan I was scared I was doing too well. But the test was much more like Kaplan’s Q bank than UW.

    Keep up the good work.

    Also, I am studying for Step 3 now. what do you think of the Consult Q bank?

  • July 7, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Keep going through Kaplan. I suggest you use NBME assessment test this time. it could be that you are so used to UW style of asking questions you are not getting an accurate reading of your predicted score.


  • July 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Hello Askdoc,

    I have just found out about your blog and am trying to read all your posts on step 2 preparation. I am an IMG of 7 years ago with a terrible step 1 score of 85 which I got 2 years ago. In fact after my step 1 I was so disappointed that gave up taking the rest of the exams, but recently I changed my mind and I am taking my step 2 CK in less than 3 months. First of all I should tell that I am a very slow reader and it took me over 3 months to read the Kaplan Lecture Notes (read them just once for the first time). I have started UW just a few days ago and have gone through only about 250 questions with an average of 54% (highest 63% and lowest 47%). I took timed random tests of all subjects with max 44 qs. I had read in a forum to take 50 qs a day and on the 4-5th day redo all the wrong ones. I did that yesterday and well did 90% on the revise, but it was absolutely a false high score since I remembered the qs so well that I didn’t need to even read some completely.
    I really do not know how the best method is to use the UW. Should I do it once completely, then go through my notes and after that redo the wrong answers?
    Or should I start reviewing my Kaplan and do the UW subject-wise after each review?
    I am going to start to work in a couple of weeks and also should move to a new place, so I am very worried that I would not be able to study enough after I start my job, and with the step 1 score I already have, I really need a 99 to be able to match.
    I will be very grateful if you could lead me in my preparation.

  • July 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Hi nedhas,

    Actually, you should have taken notes when you went through Kaplan Notes and you should go through those notes at least 2x more before you even begin with UW. You need around 58% average in UW just to pass this exam. When I started my UW qbank, I was averaging around 72% before building it up to 80%. That’s how I got my 99. If you are starting at 54%, it is possible for you to pass this exam but chances of even hitting 90’s will be poor. There is no good High yield notes for Step 2 CK and Kaplan Notes is too large to be used for multiple revisions unless you are a fast reader. So I don’t know what remedial measure you can do other than rereading Kaplan notes, this time making high yield notes. (You need to make diagnostic algorithms and treatment plans from Kaplan notes for this.) But 3 months will not be enough.


  • August 28, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I’m one of those average students who tends to get average scores on the exams. I feel like I try really hard but no matter what, my performance is only somewhat mediocre. I took my step 1 and step 2 in the midst of a lot of chaos between med school and hard family times. Now I am taking my step 3 after finishing one year of residency and with no distractions whatsoever. I’m on my third time of reading the Kaplan master the boards for step 3. I feel as though I must do this because it helps me to recall the material. This way I will have a good knowledge basis before I start questions. Then I am signing up for both Kaplan and usmleworld. But when I start out, I always get only around 50 percent right and then improve gradually. But I really want to break 90 on my step 3. I’m an IMG and I already know the competition will be fierce. I really want to get a respectable score this time. What else can I do?

  • August 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I am a 2009 grad. I have done first read Kaplan. At the moment I am starting with qbank questions and also going through the video lectures. I had a break during my study after the first read and now it seems that lectures are just taking too long. I am tempted to drop the lectures and go with first aid but am not sure whether its a worhtwhile strategy. I am preparing for USMLE 1 and going for the 2012 match.


  • September 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Hi HH,

    The most important thing you need to be able to do in Step 3 is to work up patients and manage the cases. It is presumed you can diagnose a case without problem. So just reading facts will not help you get a high score. To know if you “got it”, given lets say a 14 year old girl with amenorrhea, How do you work her up. Then after you get the diagnosis, how will you manage her. If you can do that then, you “got it”


  • September 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Hi Dr Sarah,

    Did you read my status update in my facebook page? If you did not, well you are following the what I call “make sure I fail USMLE Step 1 on my first try” study plan. Please read my blog on how to prep for the USMLE step 1.


  • October 15, 2011 at 9:17 am

    hey doc,
    i got good score in usmleRx q bank
    but after i started Uworld,i m getting low score
    so which qbank is more predictive of actual usmle ques?Rx or UW??

  • April 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm


    I tried signing up for access to the 200 USMLE free flashcards but for some reason, I’m not getting the confirmation email necessary to complete the registration. I’ve tried twice already. Will you pls assist? Thank you.

  • April 23, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Hi Aduragbemi,
    I have manually confirmed your registration. You should be able to sign on already. Also try out the Anatomy Course. At the moment it is still free.


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