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Study Tips for Third Year Med School Success

Are you on rotations third year of medical school and wondering how to study to score well on your shelf exams? Here are 5 study tips for success on your rotations:

Plan a Schedule 

This is one of the most crucial things to do for a high shelf exam score. Once you have an idea of your hours at the hospital for the rotation, figure out what time you can carve out each day to study. Does your rotation not start until 9am? Consider waking up at 6am (or earlier if you are a morning bird) to get in a few hours of studying before your rotation starts. Are you on surgery with hours from 4:30am-7pm? Look for some down time during the day (lunch, breaks between surgeries) when you can squeeze in some reading or UWorld questions.

You should have goals set for what to accomplish each day, such as reading 30-40 pages of Case Files plus finishing 20 Uworld questions. Ensure that your study schedule leaves you with enough time to finish whatever review book(s) you are using and all of the UWorld questions for your specialty. You should also leave some catch-up time every week for those inevitable days when you are too busy to finish your study goals.

Choose your study resources wisely

 Do you learn better from questions or from reading? Those who prefer questions often use review books like Pre-Test, while those who prefer reading use Case Files or First Aid. For certain specialties, there are more specific books that you should also consider using (ex: Pestana for surgery, Step up to Medicine for IM). Be careful not to use too many resources; often getting through 1-2 high-yield review books will be all that you have time for. This should still be sufficient to do well on your shelf exam.

Use UWorld Effectively

Tailor how you use UWorld to how many questions they have for each specialty. For specialties with only a few hundred questions, such as surgery, you should have plenty of time to read the full answer explanation, wrong answer explanations, and educational objective for each question. For specialties with a lot of questions, such as internal medicine, you may only have time to read the answer explanation and education objective (plus your wrong answer explanation if you got the question wrong). Consider choosing only one system at a time when you are doing internal medicine questions to reinforce concepts and better categorize information in your brain.

Learn from your patients and residents / attendings

Is your patient being treated for a myocardial infarction? Or does your patient have Marfan’s syndrome? Use your patients to reinforce knowledge that you need to learn for your shelf exams. Look for the typical physical exam, imaging, and lab findings that they should have, review what each medication they are on and how it is being used, and understand what the treatment plan is for the patient. Along with this, ask your residents and attendings to review different topics with you and/or quiz you on them to show off your knowledge and improve your weaker areas.

Take a practice NBME Subject Exam

You should consider taking a practice NBME exam for each specialty 1-2 weeks before you take your shelf (or even earlier if you are on a long rotation). This will be great practice for the real exam, giving you an idea as to the type of questions asked and how to pace yourself given the time allotted per question. Your score will help you to determine how well your studying has been going and how much more needs to be done before sitting for your real shelf exam.