Med School

How to Crush the Shelf

3 min read
UPDATE (3.29.2019): Textbook links updated!

With so many study aids and books out there for each clerkship, how do we sift through the noise and find what works best for us? If we had an infinite amount of time, we could read all the textbooks cover-to-cover, but unfortunately this is med school and there’s never enough time. With shelf studying, stick to as FEW resources as possible so you can finish them and not feel overwhelmed. I’ve compiled the high-yield resources that worked best for me. Please note that these recommendations may not work for everyone, but feel free to use my guide as a starting point.

Be sure to also check out my tips on surviving clerkships in third year, tips for studying effectively, and my ultimate medical school survival guide for comprehensive resources.

Before we get started, just know that your first shelf will likely be your worst shelf. And that you’ll do better each time 🙂 Good luck studying!

For each shelf, make sure to do practice NBME exams! Many shelf questions will be pulled from these practice exams verbatim. 


  • UWorld medicine questions should make up the bulk of your studying. Yes I know we all had PTSD from Step 1 studying, but there’s 1600+ questions to get through. Learn the fundamental topics like chest pain, hypertension, diabetes, etc REALLY WELL. Don’t sweat the really obscure/random diseases that no one’s heard of. The real shelf will just throw other random diseases at you. Start this early to avoid burnout towards the end!
  • MKSAP for Students is another great supplementary qbank to UWorld. It’s easier than UWorld, and can be finished in a few days if you go ham. I saved this for the last 2 weeks so I could have a good refresher on all topics without suffering from mental fatigue.
  • UpToDate is great on the wards, but also contains a treasure trove of amazing diagrams and charts. The latest algorithms for hypertension management, JNC diabetes guidelines, etc will be found here. I recommend printing out the high-yield charts or saving them on a computer/phone to study from.
  • Other materials: I’ve heard good things about Step Up to Medicine and Case Files Internal Medicine but never had time to open them.


  • APGO is an amazing free online resource. Their best feature is the amazing qbank with answers. They also have really great summaries and video tutorials for topics you’re struggling with.
  • Case Files Obstetrics and Gynecology is a good textbook for the obstetrics portion, but it’s not comprehensive.
  • UWorld OB/GYN questions are not as great as APGO, but there’s only a few so they’re easy to get through.
  • I actually dug through my old Step 1 study aids and reviewed from First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and Pathoma for lots of the gynecological diseases/cancers.
  • Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology is pretty dense, so I just skimmed through chapters in topics that I struggled with (mainly gynecological diseases).


  • BRS Pediatrics is the peds bible. You won’t need any other book. It’s pretty thick but it’s SO ORGANIZED and easy to get through. Start EARLY. I’m pretty sure everything that can be tested on the shelf will be found in this book. Highly worth investing your time in.
  • Pediatrics PreTest Self-Assessment And Review is the best qbank book. It’ll be easier than the shelf but it covers all of the topics.
  • Like in OB/GYN, UWorld isn’t as helpful here, but you should still get through all of the questions.
  • Other materials: If you can’t get through BRS, but still want a textbook, Case Files Pediatrics is a quicker alternative (albeit not as comprehensive).


  • First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship will cover almost all you will need to know. Be sure to focus on the drugs and DSM-5 criteria. And know the nuances between disorders really well (ie major depressive disorder vs adjustment disorder).
  • Lange Q&A Psychiatry is the best qbank book.
  • Don’t rely too much on UWorld here.


  • UWorld is crucial here. You’ll need to get through both the surgery and medicine questions because there’s actually a lot of medicine on the shelf. Pace yourself!
  • Surgery: A Case Based Clinical Review is the most comprehensive textbook. It’s very organized and is actually fun to read. It’s MUCH better than the popular NMS Surgery Casebook. It’s long so try to start this early.
  • Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes is great for the wards as a quick reference, but it doesn’t cover everything.
  • Surgical Recall will help you in the OR if you’re getting pimped, but NOT for the shelf. Surgical technique is not tested.

2 comments on “How to Crush the Shelf

  1. I have a long way to go before the shelf, but I’m going to save this blog post, haha! Such great information!!
    Xo, Reyanda @

  2. Yeah it can seem overwhelming now but hopefully it’ll be useful to you soon! Good luck with preclinicals 🙂

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