How to Study for the Internal Medicine Shelf Exam

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If you recall, I completed my 2 month Internal Medicine (IM) over the summer. I shared about my experiences and what a day in IM looked like (Read: A day in the Life of IM). Since that rotation ended and I got my exam scores back, I decided I’d share what I did to perform well on the IM shelf. If you’re unfamiliar, a “shelf exam” is a test that medical students have to take after completing a clinical rotation.

IM was my first rotation and it was a hard transition because I didn’t know where to start in regards to studying. The first two years of medical school are very structured but during year 3, you’re pretty much on your own. There’s not really much guidance in regards how to study and what resources to use. For this reason I decided to start sharing what I used to study for my shelf exams in hopes that it can help others. Keep in mind, this is what worked for me, so this may not work for you but I hope that regardless you find this post helpful!

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Internal Medicine Shelf Resource #1: ONLINE MEDED

Online MedEd is an online resource of videos for 3rd year medical students to prepare for the USMLE Step 2 exam (aka the second part of our required medical boards and a culmination of all the shelf exams we took throughout 3rd year). Even though it’s designed to be a Step 2 study resource, I have found these videos to be helpful for preparing for shelf exams as well.

Online MedEd review videos are free (all you need to do is make a free account). If you’d like, you can pay extra to have access to their notes, question bank, cases, flashcards and a bunch more resources. I’ve tried their paid features, but for now, the free videos are more than enough for me. The Online MedEd videos are relatively short (about, 5-20 minutes for each) and they give a good overview of topics for the shelf exam. I have friends who watch/ listen to the videos while driving in the car. Personally, I like to watch my videos while annotating the corresponding notes for each video. The notes are an extra fee and I printed them out and spiral bound them at Fedex Kinkos for $6. While the notes are handy, I don’t think they are absolutely necessary. So if you don’t want to pay $$$ to have access to them, you can always make your own notes or just pay attention without annotating anything.

(p.s. if you like my trick for spiral binding my notes, then definitely check out THIS POST where I share my favorite study/ organization hacks for medical school)

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Internal Medicine Shelf Resource #2: UWORLD

If you’re in medical school, then you’re likely already familiar with UWorld, which is one of the most popular question banks for medical school. Personally, I found the UWorld questions to be very helpful for the Internal Medicine shelf exam.  There’s over 1000 of them so you have a bunch of practice. I think I got through most of the questions and I found it to be very high yield for the exam.

Recently UWorld updated it’s interface and it has a new flashcard feature. I didn’t use this during my Internal Medicine rotation but I plan on incorporating this into preparing for future shelf exams.

Internal Medicine Shelf Resource #3: NBME Assessments

The NBME assessments are created by the test makers of the shelf exam. Because they’re made by the ones who make the test, they are very valuable. Additionally, I have found that they do a good job at gauging my progress with studying. The downside is that after you take the test, you can only review the questions you got wrong and you can’t review the ones you got right. On top of that, they don’t give you any answers or explanations to the questions you got wrong. To get around this, I take a picture of each question with my phone after I finish my test. That way, if a question doesn’t appear during the review then I know I got it right but I can still review it from my phone.

Because you don’t get explanations to NBME exams, it may be helpful to have a study buddy to review the answers with for the questions you got wrong. Or you can do what I do and just google the question stem and usually someone has posted the correct answer on an online forum. Keep in mind though that sometimes people are WRONG, so take the answers you find on google with a grain of salt.

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OTHER RESOURCES:

There’s a bunch of other resources that I used but never finished. I’m going to include them here to be thorough but keep in mind I completed less than half of each of these resources so they didn’t contribute much to my overall shelf exam score.

  1. CASE FILES INTERNAL MEDICINE: I did cases during my downtime on the wards, however I only did about 4 or 5 in total. The cases provided a good review but the questions at the end of each chapter are very basic and are nowhere near the level of difficulty of the shelf exam. I stopped using this because I was more invested in UWorld questions and Online MedEd videos.
  2. STEP UP TO MEDICINE: I hate this book. It is boring and I reread the first half of chapter 1 about 10 times before I called it quits. I’m only including it because I kept a pdf of it on my iPhone (thankfully I have 128 GB iPhone storage) and used it as a reference in the hospital. For instance, if I had a patient with leukemia, I would quickly skim the relevant leukemia sections for a quick refresher of the pathophysiology and clinical presentation. Yes you can use UpToDate or another online resource, but sometimes those have too much detail. Step Up To Medicine provides a good summary of what is expected knowledge for a 3rd year student.

 

Thanks so much for reading and I hope this post will give you some guidance on how to tackle your Internal Medicine shelf exam. Keep in mind that there are so many resources but I only shared the ones that I used. If you found this helpful, then look out for future posts on how I prepared for my other shelf exams; I plan on sharing posts like these for all of my clinical rotations!

 

Also if you’re about to start or are currently on your Internal Medicine medicine rotation, then you may find these other Internal Medicine related posts helpful:

A Day in the Life of Internal Medicine as an MS3

My Most Used Cellphone Apps During Internal Medicine

 

xo, Trisha

 

P.S. if you like my desk decor, you can read all about my study space and the DIY gallery wall I put together by clicking HERE 

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