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Anatomy and Physiology Study Guide - USMLE Prep

Studying medicine is hard work. It took me countless hours to get to where I am today. According to, on average, it takes students five to six weeks of dedicated study time (8-12 hours a day) of exam prep in order to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). In total, this amounts to more than 500 hours of time spent studying for the exam. Truthfully, there is a large amount of material that the USMLE covers, including gross anatomy, biochemistry, behavior sciences, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, physiology, and pathology and specialization including nutrition, genetics, and aging. A majority of that work is compiled here in this e-book, which contains 438 pages worth of anatomy study guides I created throughout medical school and residency. While each person has a different preferred method of studying in medical school, I have found that medical illustration notes are one of the most popular note-taking methods. In preparation for USMLE, I have created this anatomy and physiology study guide and hope that my countless hours of work can benefit not only me but my fellow medical students.  

Thank you for committing yourself to the lifelong pursuit of studying medicine and anatomy and physiology, for supporting my work, and for generally being awesome! And let me know how the studies are going!



Overview of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) 


Step 1


The first section of the United States Medical Licensing Examination is Step 1, which students will often take during the second year of medical school. Step 1 assesses whether students understand the foundational concepts of the sciences crucial to the practice of medicine. The test places emphasis on specific principles and mechanisms underlying disease, overall health, and modes of therapy. Step one tests if students possess a mastery of sciences that are crucial to the safe practice of medicine and the principles required for maintaining lifelong medical learning. The test is constructed according to an integrated content outline that places science material in two categories, system and process. During this section, med students are encouraged to rely on anatomy study guides and USMLE prep guides in order to prepare for Step 1.



Step 2


The second portion of the USMLE is Step 2, a two-day test that takes place in the fourth year of med school. The first portion of the exam tests students’ Clinical Knowledge or CK and asks students a series of multiple-choice questions on clinical sciences such as international medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, surgery, and pediatrics. The second portion of the test, Clinical Skills or CS, is a practical test that asks students to diagnose and treat actors posing as patients.  



Step 3


Step 3 is the final portion of the USMLE and is usually taken after the med students’ first year of residency. The Step 3 test examines whether or not a student possesses a solid understanding of various areas of medicine and is ready to practice medicine in an unsupervised setting. Similar to Step 2, Step 3 asks that students diagnose and treat actors posing as patients and answer multiple-choice questions and computer simulations of patient care. 




How the United States Medical Licensing Examination is Scored


According to the USMLE Bulletin on Scoring and Score Reporting, the program provides a recommended pass/fail outcome for all USMLE Step examinations, which are based on students’ level of proficiency. In Step 1 and 3 of the USMLE, the correct answers are converted into two numerical scores on a three-digit and two-digit scale. These numerical scores are two separate ways of reporting the same result to schools; however, in regards to the two-digit scale, students must earn a 75 to pass. On average, test-takers must answer 60% of questions correctly in order to receive a score of 75. On Step 2 of the USMLE, students receive no numerical score and earn a pass or fail based solely on their ability to gather data, communicate with a patient, and write an effective patient report.  



Tips for Studying for the USMLE


Understand the Importance of Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination 


Ask any medical school professor, and they will tell you that Step 1 is the most important exam you will take in your life. Although this is not necessarily true for all students, Step 1’s scores will often heavily dictate a student’s future in medicine. A student’s performance during Step 1 will often determine which residency programs they are accepted and whether or not they can enter the specialty they want to pursue. Typically, residency program directors will rely heavily on scores to determine which students will receive an interview offer from their program. While this can certainly add to a med student’s stress regarding Step 1, it is necessary to recognize the significance of Step 1’s scores in determining their medical future. 



Start Studying Immediately After Entering Med School 


Throughout high school and undergrad, many students develop poor studying habits such as cramming and procrastinating. While cramming and procrastinating do not necessarily dictate whether or not a student will fail an exam, they can reduce a student’s chances of passing. Many of the same students who crammed in high school and college are the same students who attend medical school. However, unlike high school and college tests, medical school exams will test students on information that was covered during month-long periods, making cramming nearly impossible. These lengthy, eight-hour tests cover a vast amount of information, meaning early preparation is a necessity. 


As previously stated, the average amount of time spent studying for the USMLE is roughly 500 hours over 5-6 weeks. However, many students choose to begin studying much earlier in order to memorize more material. Additionally, studying USMLE material while taking core classes will help students better understand the material by providing additional context. During the first year of medical school when students are learning the basics of anatomy and physiology, instructors often encourage students to purchase a study guide of the skeletal system and study it in tandem of their class work in order to develop a greater understanding of gross anatomy.



Use the Correct Resources for Your Learning Style


While studying fo the USMLE, students will find a plethora of recommended anatomy and physiology study tools, books, schedules, and more. Not every study recommendation will work for every student, and sorting through all the materials will take up valuable study time. In order to best study for the exam, students must first know what learning style works for them and seek out materials that support it. For example, there are many different skeletal system study guides available online. Some of these guides are for students looking to study in groups, others alone. Some guides are for visual learners, while others are for auditory learners. Suppose a student relies on one guide for two weeks and realizes that the majority of the information is not being absorbed. In that case, this is typically a sign that the material does not fit the student’s learning style. 


Take Advantage of Exam Practice Tests


One of the best ways to ensure an excellent score on the USMLE is to complete practice tests. Practice tests are an excellent way to familiarize oneself with the material and simulate what the actual test will be like. Most med students and instructors recommend the National Board of Medical Examiners’ (NBME) practice tests, as they mimic the specification of the USMLE tests. On average, students can expect their actual USMLE score to be roughly 15-20 points less than the score they receive on practice tests completed in their homes. 

Let me know if you have any questions and best of luck as you continue your studies! 


Thank you for finding your way here to my anatomy study guides!

I suspect you love science, art, medicine, colors, anatomy, and perhaps just life in general. That's awesome!


I unknowingly started Hanson's Anatomy Study Guide my 2nd year in medical school when I started sharing my notes from school online.


It's been a few years since this began, I'm now a resident, and I still can't believe how many messages I get from people around the world who are also navigating the muddy and constantly changing waters of the medical field. It's inspiring to know so many awesome people are out there studying and working to improve and save lives.

Each anatomy study guide I've made is available for download here. I hope they help you understand the beautiful complexity of human anatomy, if even a little more. Please let me know how it's going!

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