HealthFebruary 12, 2020

How to navigate medical school study resources

By: Brian Wu, MD, PhD

According to a survey conducted by Wolters Kluwer in conjunction with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), medical students’ investment in study resources increased by 14% in 2018. This increase reflects a number of trends, from the rising competition for residency slots to digital technologies that make medical school study resources more accessible than ever.

But how do you know which tools you need? Here’s how to decide where your smartest investments in study resources lie.

Why do you need medical school study resources?

From textbooks and lectures to your labs, the sheer volume of information you’ll need to take in during your medical education can be overwhelming. The good news? Medical school study resources can help you organize the information you need to learn so that you can succeed.

For example, question banks package the information you need to know in a convenient, digestible format. In fact, the Wolters Kluwer-AMSA survey found that over half of medical students listed these banks among their top three study tools. They can give you a feel for the kinds of questions you’ll encounter on the USMLE along with the answers to those questions and, most importantly, explanations as to why they’re correct. Resources like this can help you study more efficiently and navigate the many demands on your time.

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Factors to consider when choosing a resource

As useful as well-chosen resources can be, the number available to you can be daunting—not to mention expensive. So when you’re deciding what resources to invest in, consider the following factors to help make the choice that’s best for you.


According to the Wolters Kluwer-AMSA survey, on average, medical students spent $749 on study resources in 2018, up from $658 in 2017. That’s a big chunk of change. If you’re on a budget, then knowing how much you’re able to spend on study resources can help you narrow down your options.

Value of the resource

Another important aspect to assess is the value of the resource. Can this resource help you do better in classes or on important tests like the USMLE? Find out which resources are backed up by research and have proven to be useful to other medical students.

Ease of use

Also, consider how easy the resource is to use. Firecracker, for example, is an AI-based “digital tutor” designed to track your course progress and adapt to your academic development. It assigns you tasks that help strengthen areas of weakness targeted specifically to you. More generic resources can’t always provide this individualized attention and may lead you to waste time figuring out the best way to use them.


Your medical career will take place in distinct phases, and some resources are more appropriate for a particular stage in your medical training than others. The USMLE Step 1, for instance, is usually taken after you’ve completed your second year of medical school—so when you reach this stage in your training, start searching for resources geared toward passing this test. This is an important step in your medical career, which likely explains why the Wolters Kluwer-AMSA survey found that of the extra money medical students invested in study resources in 2018, 60% went toward board prep.

Learning style

Are you a visual learner? Or do you prefer to hear the information you’re studying? Maybe you like to read and write instead. Knowing how you learn best can give you an idea of what kind of product will make the greatest use of your study time.

So when you’re looking at study resources, don’t let the choices available overwhelm you. Remember, this variety makes it possible for you to find the right combination of support you need, tailored to your individual strengths and weaknesses as a student.

Brian Wu, MD, PhD
Lippincott Medicine
Lippincott is a leading international medical publisher of professional health information for practitioners, faculty, residents, students, and healthcare institutions with a full suite of essential medical products, from books and journals to digital solutions.