Best Anatomy Books for USMLE Step 1 Preparation

Introduction

Anatomy is a very important and widely tested subject in the USMLE Step 1 Test. Many people find the exam questions of USMLE Step 1 very tough as they are not always covered in First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and USMLE World (aka UWorld). Anatomy on the USMLE is divided into the following parts:

  • Gross Anatomy
  • Embryology
  • Histology
  • Neuro-Anatomy

In this article we will dive deep into the pros and cons of the different books used for preparing Gross Anatomy for USMLE Step 1

Best Anatomy Books for USMLE Step 1

Anatomy is usually the Achilles’ heel of USMLE test takers as most widely used books like First Aid USMLE and Kaplan USMLE Step 1: Anatomy have very little if any information on this topic. For example First Aid USMLE has no independent section on Anatomy (see index images below). The are separate sections for most other subjects, however, Anatomy a widely tested subject is under-represented in the most widely used book for USMLE Step 1 preparation.

First Aid USMLE Index 1

First Aid USMLE Step 1 Index 2

While there is anatomy at the beginning of the Systemic/Organ System part of First Aid USMLE it is very superficial and does not go to the depth that the USMLE Step 1 test demands for Anatomy. Hence after scoring over 270 on my USMLE i felt that creating an article highlighting the best resources to use for Anatomy preparation for USMLE Step 1 will be very helpful for future test takers.

To this end the review/ratings I have given for Anatomy Books for USMLE Step 1 are based on my personal experience and the following criteria:

  • Gross Anatomy Coverage
  • Clinical Anatomy Coverage
  • Practice Questions included in the book ?
  • Images Included (Including but not limited to : Gross Images, Sections of Viscera, X-Ray, MRI, CT Scan, Angiography, Venography) 
  • How High Yield the book is ? 

Essentials of Anatomy for USMLE Step 1

Selecting the right study resource for USMLE Step 1 is like selecting the right weapon to use while going to war. USMLE Step 1 preparation is very different from Med School Anatomy preparation for the Anatomy Boards. Anatomy preparation for Medical College is very different as it is centered on preparing topics which are frequently asked by the college/university on Anatomy. In the USMLE Step 1 Anatomy has a deep clinical tie-in. Questions are asked with radiographic images and clinical vignettes.

For example,

Coronary anatomy in medical college may be tested by asking “What is the most common blood supply of the inferior wall of the left ventricle ?” and the answer would be posterior interventricular artery which is a branch of right coronary Artery.

Whereas, in the USMLE the question maybe phrased as: “A 50 year old man, chronic smoker, comes to the hospital with crushing chest pain radiating to left arm. ECG shows an inferior wall myocardial infarction. Then a coronary angiography image maybe given which would include a blockage in the posterior interventricular artery. A question may subsequently be asked: Identify the artery blocked. Also, which artery is the most common source of the blocked artery ?”. Then the answer would be posterior interventricular artery is blocked and right coronary artery is the most common source from where it arises.

Do you understand the difference in the question style ? The USMLE does not ask direct questions but there are tie-ins with clinical vignettes, radiographic images and a much deeper understanding of the subject. The essentials of Anatomy for USMLE are: Gross Anatomy, Clinical Anatomy, Radiographic Images and Questions to tie this all together and practice USMLE style.

Best Anatomy Books for USMLE Step 1 Preparation

Book Name

Gross Anatomy

Clinical Anatomy

Questions Included ?

My Rating

BRS Gross Anatomy(Editor’s Choice)

Covered extensively for all organ systems. This is one of the main reasons I recommend BRS Gross Anatomy for USMLE Step 1. This book also has a lot of very high yield X – Rays, CT Scans & MRIs. Many angles of radiographic images which are in this book are not given in any other USMLE Anatomy book.

BRS Gross Anatomy does not cover the clinical side of things in great detail and many widely tested topics like thoracocentesis, episiotomy, perineal tears are missing. Practice Questions are BRS Gross Anatomy ‘s strength. The book has 550 board style questions. The questions range from gross anatomy to embryology tie-ins and MRIs, CT-Scans & XRays. BRS Gross Anatomy is the go to book for practice questions for Anatomy for USMLE Step 1 I would rate this book as an EXCELLENT resource for preparing Anatomy for USMLE Step 1. While BRS Gross Anatomy lacks in Clinical Anatomy it tops the list of best books for Anatomy for USMLE because of the practice questions & the high yield nature of the material in the book.

High Yield Gross Anatomy

(Editor’s Choice)

High Yield Gross Anatomy has a lot of schematic images as well as radiographic images which are important for USMLE Step 1 exam. In addition the vast majority of regular gross anatomy asked in USMLE Step 1 is covered in High Yield Gross Anatomy Clinical Anatomy is where High Yield Gross Anatomy scores in comparison to most other books for USMLE preparation. The book has a lot of clinical vignettes in USMLE style. After each chapter there is a section on Clinical Anatomy. High Yield Gross Anatomy has no practice questions. That is one of the drawbacks of this book. Based on personal experience and on the basis of content in the book I would rate High Yield Gross Anatomy has EXCELLENT for USMLE Step 1 Preparation. The images and clinical anatomy is very high quality.

Kaplan Anatomy 

Kaplan Anatomy has a average gross anatomy coverage. It is significantly less than what would be expected of a student hoping to ace the USMLE. Clinical anatomy in Kaplan Anatomy is only basic and it does not even remotely cover the extent to which it is tested on the USMLE Step 1. Kaplan Anatomy book does not have any practice questions. Based on my opinion i would rate this as BELOW AVERAGE. The book has very basic information and should not be relied upon to get a good score on USMLE Step 1. While other books of the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes Set are high quality, unfortunately the same cannot be said about Kaplan Anatomy.

Road Map Gross Anatomy

Average gross anatomy coverage. Good for only a brief review. Lacks clinical anatomy. Very superficially covered. Does not have any practice questions. I would rate ​

Road Map Anatomy

as BELOW AVERAGE  for Anatomy preparation for USMLE Step 1

Clinical Anatomy Made Ridiculously Simple

Gross Anatomy is average and does not include everything that is needed for USMLE As the name suggest Clinical Anatomy is explained well in Clinical Anatomy Made Ridiculously Simple Clinical Anatomy Made Ridiculously Simple has no practice questions Overall all this book is AVERAGE. If you want a fast Clinical Anatomy read then you can check this book out.

BRS Gross Anatomy – Editor’s Top Pick

BRS Gross Anatomy is a pretty lengthy book. 504 pages to be precise. It is divided into 8 sections, each having text and practice questions:

  1. Introduction
  2. Upper Limb
  3. Lower Limb
  4. Thorax
  5. Abdomen
  6. Perineum & Pelvis
  7. Back
  8. Head & Neck

In addition to these sections, it also has a comprehensive test of 100 questions with explanations. The book is part of the Board Review Series and true to it’s name, it is a review book exclusively oriented towards board prep. It does not waste time in explaining topics in a round about fashion as a regular text book would, but instead jumps directly to the point. Topics are presented in a lucid, bullet – point style. Following are some of the noteworthy points about the book: #1 Tables:BRS Gross Anatomy includes a lot of high quality tables in every chapter which include to the point information of topics such as musculature presented in “Muscle Name”, “Origin”, “Insertion”, “Nerve Supply” and “Action” format. This style of data presentation aids rapid review. Following is an example of one such table:

BRS ANATOMY - Muscles - Upper Limb

#2 Schematic Images:Another key feature of BRS Gross Anatomy is the schematic diagrams which are very high yield. Visualizing an image helps memorize topics much better than rote memorization. Many topics can be remembered very quickly by using these images. In this way BRS Anatomy also serves as a quasi – atlas of sorts for USMLE Anatomy prep. For example have a look at the following image on Upper Limb Arterial Supply:

BRS Anatomy - Upper Limb Vasculature

(C) USMLEExperiences.Review

#3 Great Radiological Images:Radiological images is a place where BRS Gross Anatomy tops the other test anatomy prep books hands down. Every possible angle and every possible view of the different types of radiological images is included in the book. The book has images for:

  • X – Rays
  • CT Scans
  • MRIs
  • Angiographies
  • Venographies

Additionally these radiological images are also included in the practice questions to further strengthen concepts. Some of the radiological images are very high yield and are not given any where else in other USMLE prep books. That makes this book very VERY valuable.

MRI Carpal Tunnel - BRS Anatomy

MRI Carpal Tunnel – BRS Anatomy

#4 Questions & Answers:BRS Gross Anatomy has the best question and answer section of any book out there on Anatomy for USMLE. The questions in the book are found at 2 places:

  1. After each chapter there is a topic based question set
  2. At the end of the book there is a comprehensive test which is all encompassioning of all topics

The questions are very helpful in honing in the chapter’s topics and will surely help increase your score.

PROS

CONS

  • Gross Anatomy covered in depth with the help of schematic images, tables and lots of radiographic images
  • Great Practice Questions 
  • Almost all major topics for anatomy boards and USMLE Step 1 covered 
  • Insufficient Clinical Anatomy

High Yield Gross Anatomy– Editor’s Top Pick

High Yield Gross Anatomy is a great book which is 321 pages long. It is divided into 25 chapters. Each chapter has to the point information on the body system. Each chapter is usually arranged in the following way:

  1. Bones & Skeletal system
  2. Musculature
  3. Arteries & Veins
  4. Nerves
  5. Clinical Anatomy
  6. Radiology
  7. Clinical Case(s)

The book does not have any questions and answers section. However, where it scores is the high quality images which are frequently a part of Anatomy test items on the USMLE and the amazing clinical anatomy sections in the book. As the name suggests, this book has a lot of very very high yield content which is very important for the USMLE.

#1 High Yield Images

Anatomy on the USMLE Step 1 test has a lot of images. Image based anatomy questions are almost the norm as far as USMLE Step 1 is concerned and in my experience you will likely see them in atleast 75% of anatomy questions on the test. While First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and UWorld are decent in most aspects of USMLE, there is no separate Anatomy section in FA. It is included in the systemic part/ organ systems part. But it contains very very few images which are likely to be tested in the test. I recommend focusing heavily on images as they can be very tricky in the test. High Yield anatomy has a lot of great images like this correlating the Coronary Anatomy with Coronary Angiographic image. Very High Yield.

High Yield Anatomy - Images

#2 Gross Anatomy

The book also has decent gross anatomy coverage. It is not as exhaustive as BRS Anatomy in terms of Gross Anatomy coverage but it is good enough.

#3 Clinical Anatomy

Where High Yield Anatomy is better than any other USMLE book for Anatomy is Clinical Anatomy. The clinical anatomy coverage of this book is amazingly indepth and a lot of questions i had on the NBME forms and also on the real USMLE could never have been correct, had i not done High Yield Anatomy. If not any other part of the book, you should definitely do at least the Clinical Anatomy part in it. Check out the amazing info the book has to offer in the Thorax section for clinical anatomy:

Thorax Clinical Anatomy - High Yield USMLE

PROS

CONS

  • A lot of high yield images of all kinds including angiographies, CTs, MRIs, X Rays.
  • Clinical Anatomy covered in depth
  • Gross Anatomy covered in depth
  • No practice questions

CONCLUSION

While Anatomy can be a really daunting subject to prepare for USMLE Step 1, using the right books can help ease the process. If you are facing difficulty getting a good score on anatomy or are worried about scoring well on anatomy on the exam i recommend you get BRS Gross Anatomy & High Yield Gross Anatomy. Do both of these along with First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and UWorld. Doing this much should cover everything of what you need to know for anatomy on the USMLE Step 1.