Question Banks vs. Videos: Active vs. Passive Learning 

active learning question banks

The use of technology and online resources has become increasingly popular in medical education.  Practice questions from online question banks and educational videos are some of the primary tools used to prepare medical students for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and other board exams. Of the two, which one is the more effective study tool in helping medical students achieve higher exam scores? 

The Cureus Research Study 

A recent study published in The Cureus Journal of Medical Science suggests that question banks are the more effective method to studying for exams “Educational Videos Versus Question Banks: Maximizing Medical Student Performance on the United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 Exam,” a study performed by Karina R. Clemmons, Jasna Vuk, and Diane M. Jarrett, included medical students from two cohorts who were randomly assigned to either a video group or a question bank group. Both groups had access to the same amount of study time and resources. 

The results of the study supported the idea that the quantity of practice questions answered, positively correlated with higher Step 1 scores while the number of educational videos watched had a negative correlation with Step 1 scores. The study suggests that active studying is a far more effective method than passively watching videos. Medical students should be encouraged to make the most effective use of their study time by limiting passive learning and choosing to incorporate practice questions from question banks into their routine. 

Active vs. Passive Learning 

One possible reason for the greater effectiveness of question banks is that they provide students with a more active learning experience. Unlike educational videos, question banks require students to actively engage with the material and apply their knowledge to answer questions. This may help students retain and apply knowledge more effectively. 

Additionally, question banks provide a more comprehensive review of the material covered on the USMLE Step 1 exam. Educational videos may not cover all the necessary topics in sufficient detail, while question banks are designed to test students on a wide range of topics and provide detailed explanations for correct and incorrect answers. 

Although education videos tend to be the most popular e-learning method, passive listening, and watching may not provide the same learning benefits as active study techniques like practicing with questions. Students who are having difficulty in school may not feel prepared to test themselves using practice questions, and therefore, opt to watch educational videos first. However, this lack of practical application of concepts does not aid in the long-term retention of the material. 

Choosing the Right Question Bank 

In the field of medicine, incorporating a question bank that comprises high-quality questions can significantly benefit students by stimulating cognitive retrieval practice and enhancing critical thinking skills. Be it questions developed by faculty members or those available in a commercial question bank, the quality of questions available in a question bank plays a crucial role in preparing students for both in-class exams and board exams. The questions must be well-constructed, undergo constructive peer-review, and must prompt students to think critically and analyze the content. 

With experience in evidence-based medical education across 70 specialty areas, BoardVitals board review question banks are expertly vetted and consistently updated to mimic what students will encounter on the real exam day. BoardVitals can develop an educational package to help your students achieve their academic goals and be better prepared for their board exams. 

While educational videos have their benefits, question banks may provide a more active and comprehensive learning experience for medical students preparing for the USMLE Step 1 and other exams. It is important for medical students to use a variety of resources and study methods to maximize their performance on the exam. 

The writing staff at BoardVitals is passionate about medicine, healthcare, and education. We’ve trained over 1.5 million physicians and work with more than 300 top teaching institutions. Learn more about our board review and continuing education products at

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