Shelf Exams

16 Effective Tips For Prepping And Taking Family Medicine Shelf

Taking the Family Medicine Shelf exam soon? Don't stress! Check out these 16 tips to help you prepare and ace the test with confidence.

May 27, 2024

Shelf Exams

16 Effective Tips For Prepping And Taking Family Medicine Shelf

Taking the Family Medicine Shelf exam soon? Don't stress! Check out these 16 tips to help you prepare and ace the test with confidence.

May 27, 2024

Shelf Exams

16 Effective Tips For Prepping And Taking Family Medicine Shelf

Taking the Family Medicine Shelf exam soon? Don't stress! Check out these 16 tips to help you prepare and ace the test with confidence.

May 27, 2024

a doctor holding phone - Family Medicine Shelf
a doctor holding phone - Family Medicine Shelf
a doctor holding phone - Family Medicine Shelf

When preparing for the Family Medicine Shelf exam, many students wonder, how long are shelf exams? This blog will discuss the length of Family Medicine Shelf exams and share some tips for maximizing your study time. We aim to help you feel confident and prepared when exam day arrives. Let's dive in and explore how you can master the Family Medicine Shelf exam!

Table of Contents

Family Medicine Shelf Exam Format

MCQs for Family Medicine Shelf

The Family Medicine Shelf Exam is a standardized assessment created by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to evaluate the clinical knowledge and decision-making skills of medical students in family medicine. 

Content Covered in Family Medicine Shelf Exam

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions covering a wide range of topics relevant to family medicine, including preventive care, management of chronic diseases and acute conditions, and patient education. It aims to ensure that students are prepared for the diverse and holistic nature of family medicine practice.

Shelf Exam Duration and Structure

Shelf exams are typically 110 questions long and last 2 hours, 45 minutes each (1.5 minutes per question). The Family Medicine Modular exam has some variations:

  • Core only 90 questions lasting 2 hours, 15 minutes

  • Core + Chronic Care 100 questions lasting 2 hours, 30 minutes

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What Topics Are Tested In Family Medicine Shelf?

people in class for tips on Family Medicine Shelf

1. Management of Common Conditions

The Family Medicine Shelf will test your ability to differentiate between the problems a family physician would manage independently in a clinic setting, such as managing medication for a patient with diabetes and hypertension. You must recognize when a patient requires a specialist and when they can be managed in a primary care setting.

2. Recognition of Unstable Patients

The exam will expect you to be able to recognize an unstable patient who requires transfer to an inpatient setting. This is crucial knowledge for a family physician, as recognizing the need for escalation of care is essential in ensuring patient safety.

3. Disease Prevention and Screening

A significant focus of family medicine is on disease prevention and screenings. Questions on the exam might include vaccine schedules, current guidelines for screening exams like colonoscopies and mammograms, lifestyle modifications for preventing complications, and pharmacologic interventions for disease prevention. It is essential to stay updated on these guidelines to perform well on the exam.

Family Medicine Shelf Exam Resources You’ll Need

students looking at topics for Family Medicine Shelf


OnlineMedEd is a fantastic resource that offers high-yield videos covering various essential topics for the Family Medicine Shelf Exam. These videos are specifically curated for family medicine, making them a crucial tool in your preparation. The site provides detailed notes for each video, aiding in quick review sessions before the exam. 

Case Files Family Medicine

I highly recommend carrying Case Files Family Medicine in your bag. This book enables you to study during downtime in the clinic and offers valuable insights into clinical problems and related information. By connecting content to real-life experiences, this resource enhances your learning process. Reviewing cases associated with clinical problems you haven't encountered is crucial to ensure comprehensive preparation. 

Step Up to Medicine

Step Up to Medicine is a must-have book for the Internal Medicine Shelf Exam, as it covers general internal medicine and emphasizes inpatient care. The section dedicated to ambulatory care patients is particularly relevant to the Family Medicine Shelf. Investing in this book benefits your Internal Medicine and Surgery Shelves, providing comprehensive coverage to aid in your exam preparedness. 


While UWorld benefits all Shelf Exams, it may present some challenges for the Family Medicine Shelf. This is due to lacking a filter option for family medicine-specific questions. Utilizing topics from pediatrics, OB/GYN, and internal medicine can still prove helpful. For a more structured approach, consider utilizing other resources alongside UWorld for optimal preparation.

PreTest Family Medicine

PreTest Family Medicine, a print book, offers 500 high-yield questions on ambulatory medicine. This resource is excellent for the Family Medicine Shelf Exam, providing an opportunity for in-depth question practice. It's advisable to work through all the questions at least once before your exam to gauge your readiness adequately.

AAFP Website Question Bank

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) provides a useful Qbank on its website, designed for the family medicine boards but equally beneficial for the Family Medicine Shelf Exam. Accessible through student membership, this Qbank offers questions similar to those on the exam, enhancing your preparation. Starting with these questions and transitioning to UWorld later can be a strategic study approach.

Emma Holiday's Clerkship Review Videos

Emma Holiday's clerkship review videos offer concise coverage of high-yield topics for Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Surgery relevant to the Family Medicine Shelf. Viewing these videos alongside reviewing the corresponding PowerPoint slides can significantly boost your understanding of crucial concepts. While these videos are not exhaustive resources, they are valuable supplements to your preparation efforts.

8 Effective Tips For Studying For Family Medicine Shelf Exam

woman on bed practicing - Family Medicine Shelf

1. Have a Plan

Having a plan is crucial when preparing for the Family Medicine Shelf Exam. With so much ground to cover, you’ll need a clear plan of attack to succeed. Starting early is key - from day one of your rotation, you should be thinking about the exam. Take an hour or so to map out your study schedule to ensure you set a realistic schedule that accounts for your clinical and personal commitments so you don’t fall behind.

2. Take the NBME Exams

Taking the NBME exams can be a great way to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and guide your studying for the end of the rotation. Take the first one approximately half to two-thirds of the way through your rotation, and the second one 7-10 days out from the exam to get a sense of how you might score.

3. Incorporate UWorld

UWorld is a fantastic study tool. Add UWorld sessions to your routine about a week into the rotation, doing timed blocks of 40 questions. This will help simulate testing conditions and allow spaced repetition when reviewing the questions.

4. Take the Family Medicine Shelf Exam Later in the Year if Possible

Taking the Family Medicine Shelf Exam later in the year, if your school allows, can improve your odds of success. Having more rotations before the exam can help you tackle the immense breadth of family medicine, making topics like medicine, pediatrics, and OB/GYN easier to manage.

5. Have a Special Focus on Preventative Guidelines

Preventative medicine and vaccination guidelines are vital topics to grasp for the exam. Review these guidelines thoroughly as they are likely to appear on the exam more than once. Failing to prepare for these specific family medicine topics can be frustrating on exam day.

6. Use the Family Medicine Shelf Exam to Learn Dermatology and Musculoskeletal Medicine

The exam is an excellent opportunity to enhance your dermatology and musculoskeletal medicine knowledge. Family medicine provides dermatology and musculoskeletal conditions exposure, including common rashes and physical exam findings. Take the time to review these topics thoroughly.

7. Work in a Few Breaks

It’s essential to take breaks during your study period. Study fatigue is real, and burnout can have negative consequences. Make time for social activities, exercise, and relaxation to maintain a healthy balance.

8. Seek Help from Others, Tutors, or Professionals

Reach out to peers and mentors recently completing the exam for study tips. Consider hiring a professional tutor to help you prepare effectively. Experienced tutors can provide valuable advice to enhance your study routine.

How Difficult Is The Family Medicine Shelf?

man tensed about exam - Family Medicine Shelf

The family medicine shelf exam is considered one of the most challenging exams during your clinical year. This exam covers many topics, including pediatrics, OB/GYN, psychiatry, internal medicine, and surgery. 

In addition to these general categories, family medicine-specific topics such as preventive guidelines, dermatology, and musculoskeletal complaints are also included in the exam. The family medicine shelf exam incorporates a mix of both inpatient and outpatient medicine, making it a comprehensive assessment of your knowledge and skills. 

Broad Scope of the Family Medicine Shelf Exam

One of the unique aspects of the family medicine shelf exam is that it encompasses various medical specialties, making it one of the broadest exams you will encounter during your clinical rotations. Due to its comprehensive nature, you need to be well-prepared across multiple disciplines to excel in this exam. 

The family medicine shelf exam is known for being challenging because it tests your knowledge in diverse areas of medicine, including topics that are not fully covered in other rotation exams. The family medicine shelf exam often occurs after a relatively short rotation compared to other specialties, making preparation even more challenging. 

Excelling in the Family Medicine Shelf Exam

The family medicine shelf exam is tough, but you can excel in this comprehensive assessment with thorough preparation and dedication. With its wide-ranging topics and incorporation of inpatient and outpatient medicine, the family medicine shelf exam is an essential evaluation of your clinical knowledge and skills.

3 Effective Tips for the Family Medicine Shelf Exam

students in an exam - Family Medicine Shelf

1. Building Momentum

During the family medicine shelf exam, taking a first pass through the questions is important to build momentum. Answering the easy questions can help you feel confident and gain momentum as you pass the exam. By marking questions you are unsure of, you can review them during mini-breaks. If you encounter a question that stumps you, consider leaving it blank and returning to it later if you have time.

 2. Mental Breaks 

Taking mental breaks during the exam can help you avoid making errors caused by rushing through the questions. These breaks can help you refocus, reduce anxiety, and improve your performance. Take a few deep breaths, stretch, and clear your mind during the exam to stay sharp and focused.

3. Strategically Guessing 

It can be helpful to guess strategically for questions you are unsure of. Consider choosing the most probable answer based on your knowledge. For example, if you are uncertain of a diagnosis, but know that the most common cause of a condition in a particular population is a specific disease, choose that answer. When faced with management questions, look for clues in the answer choices that may indicate what the test makers are looking for. For example, if a question seems to hint at a certain diagnosis, such as TB, consider choosing an answer that aligns with that diagnosis.

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5 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Studying For Family Medicine Shelf

person trying to become ready for Family Medicine Shelf

1. Neglecting Breadth of Topics

Focusing too narrowly on specific areas while neglecting the wide range of conditions encountered in family medicine can lead to gaps in knowledge. Ensure a broad study approach that includes chronic, acute, and preventive care topics.

2. Ignoring Practice Questions

Skipping practice questions and exams can hinder your ability to familiarize yourself with the exam format and time management. Regularly practice with sample questions to build confidence and identify weak areas.

3. Relying Solely on One Resource

Depending on a single study resource can limit your exposure to different perspectives and information. Use a variety of textbooks, online resources, and question banks for a comprehensive review.

4. Underestimating Preventive Care

Overlooking preventive medicine and patient education, significant components of family medicine, can be detrimental. Ensure to include these aspects in your study plan.

5. Poor Time Management

Ineffective time management during preparation and the exam can result in incomplete material coverage and rushed answers. Create a study schedule and practice pacing yourself during timed practice exams.

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