Shelf Exams

Best Resources For Shelf Exams & Effective Tips To Crush It

Improve your exam scores by utilizing the best resources for shelf exams available. Learn how to study effectively and crush your exams with ease.

Jun 22, 2024

Shelf Exams

Best Resources For Shelf Exams & Effective Tips To Crush It

Improve your exam scores by utilizing the best resources for shelf exams available. Learn how to study effectively and crush your exams with ease.

Jun 22, 2024

Shelf Exams

Best Resources For Shelf Exams & Effective Tips To Crush It

Improve your exam scores by utilizing the best resources for shelf exams available. Learn how to study effectively and crush your exams with ease.

Jun 22, 2024

Books Stacked on Eachother - Best Resources For Shelf Exams
Books Stacked on Eachother - Best Resources For Shelf Exams
Books Stacked on Eachother - Best Resources For Shelf Exams

Are you wondering how long are shelf exams and need tips and guides on studying for medical school shelf exams? As a medical student, preparing for shelf exams can be daunting. Luckily, excellent resources are available to help you navigate the complexities of shelf exams. Let’s explore the best resources to help you ace your shelf exams!

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Table of Contents

When Do You Take The Shelf Exams?

Person Writing on Book - Best Resources For Shelf Exams

Medical students take shelf exams during clinical rotations during their third year of medical school. Shelf exams often occur between USMLE Step 1, which students take after their second year of medical school, and USMLE Step 2, which students take in their fourth year of medical school.

The exams are thoughtfully structured, with each exam focusing on a specific foundational subject. This means you won’t be overwhelmed with multiple exams in a day. 

  • You can pace and take exams as you finish your clinical rotations. 

  • You might take two subject exams in one week; the following week, you might only take one. 

  • You will take the shelf exams on the last day of the corresponding rotation, giving you a clear timeline to plan your studies.

Given that these tests occur during your rotations, the best way to study for shelf exams is to fit small study sessions into your other medical responsibilities to ensure you’re prepared when test day comes.

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Are Shelf Exams Mandatory?

Girl Writing on Tablet - Best Resources For Shelf Exams

While the shelf exam is not required by all medical school programs and it’s not a requirement of obtaining a US medical license, shelf exams remain a popular way to test medical students on the knowledge acquired during their clinical rotations. Depending on your medical school program, the results of your shelf exam may or may not determine whether you pass your clinical clerkships.

Shelf Exam Impact on Residency Applications

Shelf exam results are also not required for your residency application, and the programs you’re applying for will not see your exam results. That being said, your exam results may be considered when grading your overall clinical clerkship results.

In the case of failure of a shelf exam, you will be required to retake the exam, and a grade of Conditional Pass or Conditional High Pass will appear on your transcript. If you fail one of your shelf exams, it could affect your MSPE at the end of your rotation. The final grade of your clinical clerkship is something residency programs will see and may determine your acceptance.

Maximizing Your Chances

If your medical school program utilizes shelf exams, it’s best to get as high a grade on these exams as possible so your final clinical clerkship grade is as high as possible. If you score well on your shelf exams, they can complement your OSCE or NAC OSCE when you prepare your residency applications.

Tackling the Shelf Exam

The exam is graded on a national average, curved to a mean of 70 with a standard deviation of 8, so it is difficult to ace it. The tips you learned for how to study in medical school and the knowledge you gained during your clinical rotations will help you tackle it.

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Best Resources For Shelf Exams

Different Books on Shelves - Best Resources For Shelf Exams

1. Question Banks

UWorld Step 2 CK. 

If preparing for shelf or Step 2 review, consider the UWorld Step 2 CK question bank. With 2200 extremely high-yield questions, this resource is essential for exam preparation.


Another excellent resource is AMBOSS, which offers a good QBank and a comprehensive library of information to help you succeed in your clinical rotations.


For those focusing on the OBGYN shelf exam, UWise is a set of about 500 high-yield OBGYN questions produced by the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics (APGO).

Rosh Review

The Rosh Review Shelf Exam bank is another valuable resource. It has over 3,500 questions (500 per specialty) to help you prepare effectively for your shelf exams.

2. Textbooks

Unlike the USMLE Step 1, no single option like First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 exists for the shelf exams. Instead, different rotations have key textbooks to build into your study plan.

Internal Medicine

The internal medicine shelf exam covers the most content of the shelf examinations, and for this test, you will spend most of your time working through questions. If you are looking for good reference material, the Step Up to Medicine book is expansive and succinctly presents content organized by each body system. 


The surgical shelf exam doesn’t require you to know about many surgical procedures, but it does focus heavily on the medical management of surgical patients. Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes is a great summary of high-yield facts and a useful starting point for the study. You may have also heard of the book Surgical Recall, a more detailed resource for those planning to go into surgery. Otherwise, Surgical Recall isn’t high-yield for the surgery shelf exam.


Practice questions should make up the bulk of your study plan for the pediatrics shelf exam, but some useful supplements could include the books BRS Pediatrics or Case Files Pediatrics. The Case Files series has a resource available for most of the shelf exams and (as the name suggests) helps you learn by presenting patient cases with discussions and relevant learning points.


For the psychiatry shelf exam, you will need to feel comfortable with diagnosing and treating psychiatric conditions. First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship stands in how it concisely covers much of the high-yield material likely to show up on your exam. The Lange Q&A Psychiatry book is a great resource if you have additional questions. Most importantly, make sure your references are updated based on the DSM-5.


There is no single resource you must use for neurology, but some textbook options to supplement questions include Blueprints and Case Files.

Family Medicine

Similarly, you can use various resources to prepare for the family medicine shelf exam, but Case Files is again a useful review book.  


A unique question bank you may consider here is the UWise question bank published by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It presents high-yield content with well-written questions and clear explanations. If you’re looking for a textbook to review, some recommendations include Blueprints and Beckmann and Ling’s Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Emergency Medicine

Though it is not technically a review book, Rosh Review practice questions stand out once again among your options for emergency medicine. Rosh Review is a go-to resource for many medical students in large part because it is one of the few banks that has a dedicated set of questions for this test. It otherwise can be challenging and inefficient to sift through a bank and identify which questions are relevant to the shelf exam. A thorough pass through the Rosh Review Qbank will go far in your preparation for this shelf exam.

3. Video Resources

The University of Texas Shelf review videos and accompanying slides by Emma Holliday are extremely high-yield for Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Surgery, and Medicine. Online Med Ed Videos are also highly recommended for brushing up on areas of weakness for Step 2 CK preparation. Aquifer Pediatrics' series of video cases with relevant teaching points are high-yield for the Pediatrics shelf exam.


Anki Decks and Quizlet are excellent resources for creating flashcards for rotations and USMLE Step 2 CK. These flashcard sets will help you confirm how thorough your own flashcards are and enable you to study more effectively.

4. Practice

Practice NBME Shelf Exams (NBME Clinical Mastery Series) to solidify your exam preparation. These official practice shelf exams are essential for comprehensive preparation before taking the exams.

Whether you are preparing for your Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neurology, Family Medicine, OB/GYN, or Emergency Medicine shelf exams, each resource will provide crucial support in your exam preparation journey. Make sure to leverage these resources to boost your success on the shelf exams.

Effective Study Tips To Crush Your Shelf Exams

Persons Reading in a Group - Best Resources For Shelf Exams

Don’t Delay

Consider incorporating incremental study to better prepare for your shelf exams and clinical interactions. By studying little by little each evening, you can apply the knowledge gained from your shelf books or practice questions when you’re back on the wards the next day.

Identify Knowledge Gaps

Practice questions are crucial to identifying weaknesses in your knowledge. Utilize question banks, review books, and online tools to prep for your shelf exams. By focusing on practice questions and taking note of answer explanations, you can pinpoint conceptual gap areas in your knowledge base.

Remember Your Patients

Get to know your patients on a personal level during each encounter. By establishing a connection with patients, you may find it easier to recall information during exam time.

Maximize Limited Time

During a busy rotation, incremental study might not always be feasible. Learning to use downtime throughout the day can be beneficial, as good intentions to study in the evening often succumb to other demands. While cramming for a shelf exam isn’t recommended, understanding high-yield topics can be helpful. Keeping a running list of high-yield topics and focusing on practice questions can help you fill gaps in your knowledge.

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Tips For Executing Exam Day

Girl Reading a Book - Best Resources For Shelf Exams
  • Prioritize a good night's sleep to ensure peak performance on exam day. Quality of sleep is just as important as quantity.

  • Stick to what you know. Avoid trying anything new on exam day, including routines, sleep habits, food, and stimulants.

  • Consume caffeine strategically and in moderation. Stick to what you know, and don't try new stimulants on exam day.

  • Eat a brain-healthy breakfast and stay hydrated to fuel your mind during the exam.

  • Give yourself extra time to arrive at the exam location in case of emergencies or roadblocks.

  • If you are taking the test online, set up your technology well in advance and sit down early to acclimate and find your focus.

  • If taking the test at home, ensure everyone in your household knows you can't be disturbed during the exam.

  • Stay committed to your study plan and avoid being influenced by others' uncertainties.

  • Avoid engaging with nervous energy from others before the exam to stay calm and collected.

  • Don't get stuck on a question early in the exam; review all questions quickly and build momentum.

  • If you don't know the answer to a question, choose the most probable answer or what you believe the test makers want.

  • Take mental breaks during the exam to avoid silly errors and stay focused

  • Stay hydrated, take deep breaths, and take a moment to recenter if you get stuck on a question.

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