UFAPS: The Only Thing You Need For Med School? (Study Secrets of USMLE Students)

This is a guide to UFAPS; a collection of the most tried and tested med school resources available.

In this article you’ll find:

  • What UFAPS is and why it’s so good
  • How to use UFAPS for both the USMLE or med school in general (non-US students)
  • If you can/should rely on UFAPS alone as part of your med school strategy

Personally I believe you’ll still need your lecture and seminar notes to survive most of med school. But UFAPS is as close as possible to a one-stop solution for 80% of most courses.

Let’s find out more.

What Is UFAPS?

UFAPS is an acronym used to describe the most recommended study aids for USMLE Step 1:

U: UWorld – a question bank resource

FA: First Aid for USMLE – a review book

P: Pathoma – a book and video series teaching pathology

S: Sketchy – a video series teaching microbiology, pharmacology and other subjects

The USMLE Step 1 is the first major exam US-based med students will face on their way to medical board licencing. It is taken at the end of the preclinical years of study (between years 2 and 3). 

You don’t have to be studying for the USMLE to use UFAPS though! Most of these resources make up the core of my reference materials as an international medical student (IMG). Mainly because they’re that good.

Let’s look at each a little closer first before diving into why you may (or may not) want to use them.


UWorld is a question bank of USMLE-style multiple choice questions based on the main syllabus points of a MBBS preclinical curriculum. It is mostly used by US med students a couple of months out from their Step 1 exams. Many students do a couple of passes (go through all the questions more than once).

Although other question banks exist; USMLE-Rx and Kaplan etc, UWorld is considered to be the gold standard. This is because the questions are said to be the most similar to the final exam.

This resource offers the following benefits:

  • Helps students identify the most high yield facts and concepts in med studies
  • Teaches these concepts with direct feedback and detailed explanations
  • Strengthens test taking skills
  • Simulates the test taking environment (exposing potential difficulties etc)

UWorld is the most expensive resource that makes up UFAPS. As I have no current plans to do the USMLE, I haven’t bought or used it for that reason!

Related: When To Start UWorld (Plus 5 Beginner Tips!)

First Aid

First Aid (For USMLE) is my favorite medical education resource hands down. It’s a review book that summarizes things clearly with excellent visuals and tables. It covers all the major subjects of a MBBS and is divided by systems for the most part (with separate sections on biochemistry, immunology etc). 

My opinion is that you should definitely get a copy of this no matter where in the world you go to med school. It’s cheap, comparatively, and is an essential read before any class test. It’s what I like to call a definitive 80/20 book.

First Aid is put together by US clinicians. Its team is also the one behind the USMLE-Rx Qbank (mentioned previously).


Pathoma is a book and video series created by US-based clinician Dr. Sattar. It’s a review (215 pages) of the most high yield pathology points you’ll encounter in medical education. It’s also another of my personal favorite resources and one I encourage all med students to use when thinking about how to memorize pathology effectively.

I personally think the book isn’t all that necessary if you can only get your hands on the 19-chapter video series. That’s where the real gold is. Sattar’s mnemonics and style of teaching are the best you’ll find.


Sketchy, as far as UFAPS goes, mainly refers to their series Sketchy Microbiology and Pharmacology (there is a pathology series, but it’s too long for my taste). These are story-based cartoon videos that break down the hard memorization into memes and mnemonics. This makes everything much easier to remember.

Related: 20 Funny Medical Mnemonics: Where to Find Them and How to Use Them

Sketchy Micro is a must if you’re learning microbiology. It makes a hard subject fun and something to look forward to. The videos in the series are short too (average 5-10 minutes for most bugs).

Aside from these resources, there are a couple of other things that US students sometimes recommend. Most of this discussion takes place at r/medicalschool – a place I write about a lot! Be sure to check that out for more reviews on UFAPS – keep an eye out for the mention of new materials too.

When To Start Using UFAPS?

US-based med students tend to familiarise themselves with UFAPS early on (year one) before going more in depth with them during dedicated (the class-free period in the run up to their Step 1 exam). 

This is an approach highlighted by a lot of students. Case being; you can save time knowing your way around UFAPS from the beginning…

As an IMG, the way you might want to use UFAPS will be curriculum dependent. You’ll see I used it from the second year of my MBBS onwards. That’s because it matched well with courses like general pathology, biochemistry, physiology etc (check out my Year 3 in review).

When you start depends on your budget too. A one-year subscription to UWorld is only $100 more than a 6-month one. So maybe buy it so that it matches up with the courses you’ll need it for most – when you’re done with preclinical and have moved on to rotations for example.

And of course it’s not necessary to use all the resources on UFAPS! You might find that Pathoma and First Aid gives you all you need.

UFAPS Vs Lecture Notes

UFAPS is certainly amazing for med school but it’s probably not enough to help pass your independent med school exams. You’ll still need to pay close attention to your seminar and lecture notes. The small details and things that certain professors really like to test on.

There is some debate here however. Some US students claim that a UFAPS-only approach is enough to do well in subject specific exams. So long as you know how to use the resources in the first place.

This can involve:

  • Looking at your course syllabus and use UFAPS materials to learn the concepts
  • Doing lots of practice questions to reinforce the concepts
  • Skimming over class lecture notes as a first pass only (to pick up some of the smaller details that could be tested)

And this is exactly my approach and strategy to studying. I use UFAPS as my primary resource, Zanki (the best Anki deck for USMLE Step 1) to actively recall all relevant information and practice questions (books, websites etc) to apply and work out what I don’t know.

So far it’s worked very well.

Despite having no intention to do the USMLE or work in the US as a doctor….


Here are some useful tips on using UFAPS in med school (whether to study for the USMLE or not):

  • Use UFAPS alongside Zanki: this will help you space out your revision and really learn the facts. Zanki is primarily designed for this purpose. To work with UFAPS.
  • Start every day with a set of 40 UWorld questions: this is a more USMLE revision specific tip. It doesn’t have to be 40, but starting the day with regular question practice can help develop your skills and confidence. Did I mention I have a Facebook group that does exactly this?!
  • Review your UWorld questions alongside UFAPS materials: use the questions you got wrong to guide you back to the resources. Annotate the pages with notes from the question to help reinforce it in your mind for next time. Color code if it helps.
  • Choose a test date and work backwards: another USMLE-specific tip. Work out how long it will take to go through each part of UFAPS and schedule it accordingly. Cover all the material and you’ll be in a good position.

Is UWorld Enough for Step 1?

This is a really great article when it comes to considering how to use UFAPS to prepare for the USMLE (or exams in general). The basic premise is that having access to UFAPS alone won’t guarantee success. It comes down to how you use it.

So use it alongside all the other ways of studying medicine effectively and your chances of success should be decent.


  • A list (UFAPS) of resources is no guarantee of success
  • Learn how to interpret questions
  • Use high-quality question banks to practice
  • Focus on different question banks over repeated exposure to the same questions (multiple passes of UWorld for example)

These are all great take-aways.


UFAPS is a fantastic resource for med school and one I’d 100% recommend investing in (apart from maybe UWorld if you don’t intend on taking the USMLE). 

Maybe it’s not the only thing you need for med school but it’s as close as possible to it.

The fact they’ve served me so well? The number one reason they stand proud on my own personal list of med school recommendations.

Image Credit – @enric_moreau at Unsplash