how to study for shelf exams for your rotations

How To Study For Shelf Exams For Your Rotations Effectively [How To Get Honors]

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Are you on your clinical rotations and having a shelf exam that’s coming up soon? If you are and you’re wondering how to study for shelf exams, this post is for you!

It’s not hard to understand why starting a new clinical rotation basically feels like learning a new language. In the midst of trying to figure out all the clinical knowledge and be impressive on your own presentations, you’re also forced to study for a shelf exam that you know is going to come at the very end.

So it’s very natural for a third or fourth year medical student to be very stressed.

That’s why in this post, I really want to share with you simple and proven approaches on how to study for shelf exams. These have been very effective for most of the students I’ve worked with back when they had the exact same question as you do now: How to study for shelf exams?

But hold on a second! If you want this post in a video format, you can check out my YouTube video below! Make sure to subscribe for weekly content if you enjoy this one! And if you want more video content on tips and tricks on how to study for shelf exams in med school and crushing your rotations, check out this playlist here!

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

Use Only One Resource For Each Topic

One of the questions my students usually ask is: Which resources do I use and how should I use them to study for shelf exams effectively and efficiently?

The first thing I’ll tell you is to stick to just one resource.

Which resource? The choice is really up to you.

Believe me, sticking to just one resource will prove to be a huge game-changer.

If you’re still undecided and looking for some guidance or direction on how to study for shelf exams, depending on what rotation you’re on, then I definitely recommend checking out some of our other blog posts here on TheMDJourney.

You may also be interested in the videos below where I tell you the top resources to use for very specific rotations.

Once you’ve figured out your favorite resource depending on your preferred style of learning, I recommend that you commit to only that one as it really helps simplify the number of pages or videos you have to go through.

This will help you focus on the content you’re learning rather than having to be distracted by the many different types of materials for studying for your shelf exam.

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

Focus On Practice Questions

Once you have chosen one resource, you can now move on to number two, which is to focus on your practice questions from day one.

It’s similar to having one resource, really.

In this case, I recommend you to have just one question bank to use.

Granted that there are rotations here and there that have their own preferred question banks, most people tend to use UWorld for their clinical rotations and studying for their shelf exams.

For OB-GYN, you may use the uWISE question bank as it also does a really good job. 

Once you figure out the question bank you want to use, make sure that resource is the only thing you’re really referencing.

Before I tell you how to use these resources to study for your shelf exam, definitely check out The Crushing Clinicals course that breaks down every single rotation you’ll have as a third and fourth year medical student, how to do well, how to impress your attendings as well as provide more resources and techniques on how to study for them.Crushing-Clinicals-Video-Course

Plan Out A Schedule For Rotations And Studying

Once you’ve decided on the resources that are going to be best for your learning style, the next thing you need to do is to look at how much time you’re going to be spending on your rotation.

In that way, you can understand how quickly you need to be able to get through all of the texts and question banks.

Here’s a good example. Imagine you had a four-week block for your family medicine rotation

That means you have roughly about three to three and a half weeks to get through all of your texts and questions while giving yourself a few extra days for not doing anything due to a lack of motivation. Or you can use those extra days to practice questions from the NBME or study more for your shelf exam.

The way my personal preference goes and the way I like to teach a lot of my students is that to really crush your shelf exam, your biggest focus should be on getting through your UWorld questions as quickly as possible.

FYI. If you want to know what I do to be more efficient on my rotations, check out this article.

how to study for shelf exams for your rotations

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

How To Manage The Time

Using the approach from above, if you did have four weeks, you need to ask yourself, “How can I get through all of my UWorld questions in 75% of the time?”

If you’re using a four-week rotation, you have three weeks. And if you are using an eight-week rotation, you then have six weeks.

Commit to studying for your shelf exam 75% of the time and give yourself an extra 25% as a buffer room — just in case you get behind or you review your weaknesses and questions you’ve missed.

Plus, using the 75% rule will also give you an extra buffer to be able to review on that last week or last two weeks.

How Many Questions To Answer

Now the next question is how many items should you answer on your UWorld or your question bank in order to effectively study for your shelf exam?

Once you understand roughly how many weeks represents 75% of your rotation, you may want to consider:

  • How many days off per week do you want to give yourself?
  • Are there days you want to give yourself as buffer in case you’re lazy and unmotivated?
  • What if there’s a rotation that just happens to take very long, like a call day on surgery or internal medicine?

If that number comes out to somewhere around 40 questions per day, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do 40 questions every single day.

In fact, there will be days when you’re going to be very busy, and 40 questions are going to be pretty difficult to pull off. But there are other days where you’re going to be able to do more than 40.

Aside from putting all your focus on studying for the shelf exam, decide where you’ll want to have some leeway room for adjustment.

Taking The Average

You can actually mess around with the number of questions you have to do on a daily basis as long as your average roughly reaches 40 questions. That’s my simplified way of giving myself a very targeted goal of how many questions I have to do from my question bank every day.

If you’re using another text or video resource to help you study for your shelf exam, the same principle applies.

Count the number of chapters or topics that you want to be able to cover. Divide this by how many days you want to set out for yourself to read before giving yourself that final stretch to review on your weaknesses — review missed questions on UWorld or do practice questions from the NBME

Regardless of what rotation you’re on, by using this approach you should be able to create a sample schedule of your own so that you can effectively study for your shelf exam.

Learn And Make Your Mistakes Early In Your Studying

My final pro tip for you is to understand, for that first 75% of the time, what the goal of your learning phase will be. It’s not necessarily about getting the highest average on UWorld during the practice question sessions.

It’s actually about making the mistakes early and doing the learning as quickly as possible.

In my experience, I find that a lot of students who have come up to me spend an excessive amount of time reading or watching the videos and an equal amount of time doing the practice questions saying, “Well, there’s no way I can do 40 questions in a day. Just takes me too long to review and answer questions.”

Looking into it a little bit more, I realize that these students are actually dealing with the practice questions as if they were going to take the actual exam that day.

And honestly, that’s not how I recommend doing it at all.

The effective way to study for shelf exams is to look at every single question as an opportunity to basically add a little bit of a nuggetpatterns of questions or topics that you need to know — for the final thing.

The best thing you can do is to get that piece of information for your final tests as quickly as possible.

When you’re doing practice questions and gauging how quickly you can answer them, give yourself a timer.

A good way to do it is to look at your UWorld practice questions. It should give you an average of roughly how long it takes you to answer one question.

In your next practice session, try to see if you can answer each question in about half the time

So for example, if you’re spending 60 to 120 seconds on one question, ask yourself, “How can I do this in about 45 to 60 seconds?”

Naturally, there will be questions that are ideally shorter and other questions that may take you a little longer

But you’ll find, on average, regardless if you’re right or wrong, you’re answering the questions quicker – using the explanations and thought processes you should have had when answering.

Even if you get your answers wrong, think about, “How can I quickly get to the explanations and patterns I need to recognize in the clinical vignette?

With this way of thinking, the next time you see a similar question on the shelf exam, you’ll be able to ideally identify them as quickly as possible.

Obviously, keep in mind that your goal for the initial 75% of your rotation is to do well on your actual clinical rotation.

But in regards to studying for yourself, the real goal is to make mistakes as quickly as possible

That way, when you see a particular topic or patterns of symptoms or information showing up in a clinical vignette, you’ll know that these are the things you need to start thinking about and you’ll then be able to answer the question correctly for the final thing. 

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

And that, my friends, is my general approach on how to study effectively for your shelf exam.

It’s basically how to frame your resources as well as how to frame your study schedule in a way that gives you an efficient calendar as well as a buffer room at the very end.

I hope you enjoyed that final approach on how to view the questions. Get into that perspective, and learn how early you can start making mistakes. In that way, you don’t have to do it on the actual exam. 

With that being said, if you still want more help on your shelf exams, resources, or how to do well in your clinical rotations, then definitely check out the Crushing Clinicals course.

Many of my students that have taken it have really found it to be a game-changer. They’ve discovered how efficient and effective they can be as students and are able to impress the right people without giving excessive amounts of effort.

If you want access to our full library of guides and free courses for med students, check out the Med Vault!

This is a completely free library of step-by-step eBooks & video courses that can help you on your medical journey!

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And finally, you may be in medical school and you want tips and strategies that will help you avoid pitfalls and make you become more successful. You know it’s still gonna be hard, but you want to enjoy the process.

Learn how to study better and have better time management and productivity. Check out the Domination Bundle!

I hope you enjoyed this post about how to study for shelf exams for your rotations effectively. If you did, I suggest you go check out these posts below:

Until the next one my friend…

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