By: Jason Paluzzi, MS4

In medical school, a student has two main jobs: study hard and take tests. While we all have different tests and evaluations based on which school we go to, we all inevitably have to run the gauntlets of the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2.

Most medical students seem to agree that First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is the single best resource for that exam. Unfortunately, there isn’t much consensus on the best study tool for Step 2.

One of the commonly recommended, broad-scope resources is USMLE Step 2 Secrets, a question and answer format text meant to be a review of material leading up to the test.

Skyscape has converted this book to mobile app format for on the go studying of clerkship material. In this android medical app review I’ll do an in depth review to see how the book translates over to mobile form.

Like many skyscape apps, the app sits within the skyscape app suite, and opening it brings up the Table of Contents. This is a broad list of subjects such as Pharmacology or Neurology. Opening any of these brings the user to a rather bland screen with a list of questions. Rather than indicate what these questions are about, they are simply numbered. It may have helped to give each question a small title to help the user remember where they left off or to know if they need to access that particular question.

The other way to browse the app is through the Main Index, a complete alphabetical listing of all specific subjects covered in the text, such as Abdominal Pain or Adrenal Tumors. There is a helpful search bar at the top for rapid location of a subject, useful for when you want to quiz yourself on something specific before rounds. When you bring up a specific topic here, you’re treated to the first in a series of questions about the topic.

One thing that immediately jumps out is that the text is quite small. Luckily, you can change text size [first picture has larger text size], but the bright orange text of the questions makes it slightly harder to read. A deeper color would be much appreciated for long term studying. There are up/down arrows for cycling through the questions, and a lightbulb icon for showing the answer (when showing the answer, there is a “?” icon instead). These icons are far too small, even when enlarged to their maximum capacity.

With the impressive screen size of the new lines of phones coming out, there’s really no reason to put a tiny up arrow right next to a tiny down arrow. It is definitely a source of frustration that is unneeded during long study sessions. What’s more, these icons are situated at the beginning and end of the text, rather than in a consistent, organized location.

Another gripe about the question screen is that the back button on Android devices does not always bring the user back up to the list of questions or list of topics. Instead, it cycles backwards through the questions in reverse order from how the user went through them, a redundant feature given the up and down arrows on the touch screen. It makes the app unnecessarily difficult to navigate. I’m unfamiliar with the iPhone interface, but this may have been done because the iPhone lacks the 4 function buttons seen on Android phones. If that’s the case, this functionality can easily be corrected for Android users.

While the specific content of the book and its adherence to test content is beyond the scope of this review, the question and answer style format of the text lends itself very well to mobile studying. Each question acts like a flashcard for the user. However, these aren’t one word answers; each question comes with a broad scope of information that will promote solid understanding of the material. Rather than spitting something out, you’re made to explain what is correct and why. While everybody has their own study style, I found this to be very effective.

There is also a 100 top secrets section; this is simply all-text high yield facts [above picture].

Likes:

-Flashcard format is great for quizzing
-Scope of answers promotes understanding of material

Dislikes/Future Updates I’d Love to See:

-Edition: The app is currently based off the second edition of the book, which is now in its third iteration.
-Icon sizing needs to be much larger. Also, there’s no reason not to have all icons organized at the top/bottom of the page, rather than situated wherever the text ends.
-Navigation of the app can be particularly cumbersome, especially when trying to move up the tree of folders.

Pricing: The Step 2 Secrets app is priced at $31.95 for a standard subscription. This includes free content updates for a year and continued use of the app after the free update period. This pricing is cheaper than the third edition of the book in text format, $35.95 at Amazon, but definitely more expensive than the second edition that you could buy from an upper level student.

Conclusion: Unless you find it difficult to set aside time to sit down and study, I would recommend the text format over the mobile format, due especially to navigation issues. While the flashcard format is great for quizzing yourself, there’s no need to cause yourself the occasional frustration trying to make your way through the app when you want to be learning. What’s more, we’re all on a budget in medical school, this same edition can be obtained far cheaper in book form.

Jason Paluzzi is a third year medical student with interests in neurosurgery, trauma, disaster response, and healthcare for the underserved.  He recieved his undergraduate degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 2008.