The NBME® Medicine Shelf Exam What You Need to Know

The NBME Medicine Shelf exam assess a student’s mastery and practical application of general medicine knowledge on adult patients. It is typically taken during the third year of medical school, after the medicine clerkship. It is a particularly intensive and difficult exam that covers a broad range of medical information. With that in mind, students should anticipate dedicating more studying time to this exam compared to other Shelfs.

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How to Study for the Medicine Shelf Exam

  • Try scheduling your Medicine and Surgery exams in succession of each other, if possible, as there tends to be some overlap in the topics covered. Students who take Medicine first do tend to be better prepared for Surgery.
  • Cover as many practice questions and different cases as possible, as the Medicine Shelf (like the discipline itself) is extremely broad.
  • Focus on cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive and endocrine disorders, as they make up almost half of the exam’s topics.
  • Study throughout the course of your entire Medicine rotation and make sure to keep your eyes open on the wards. Knowing how to correctly work-up and manage your patients will be beneficial for when you finally take the exam.
  • Approach questions as real diagnostic dilemmas and practice making differentials.
  • Cover the entire internal spectrum of medicine as you prepare: pay attention to common conditions during your clerkship and use your downtime to focus on the more esoteric diseases that you don’t see on the wards.

Taking the Medicine Shelf Exam

Not all medical students are required to take the NBME Medicine Shelf Exam, and it’s not a required exam for obtaining a U.S. doctor’s license. However, most medical schools have a required medicine clerkship, and the most popular way to test students on this particular rotation is by using the NBME’s official Medicine Subject Examination. The exam can be taken on campus at select medical schools or at authorized testing locations, like Prometric test centers.

The Medicine Shelf exam is formatted as an online test consisting of 110 questions which must be answered in 165 minutes. It shares the same interface as the USMLE Step exams, with each question presented as a hypothetical clinical scenario. The exam is graded on a national average, though whether or not you pass your entire clerkship will depend on your individual medical school’s requirements. More specifically, the number of correct answers you get places you in a percentile, which is then measured across national grades.

While students have long relied on traditional textbooks and resources for the exam, they are often too expansive and unwieldy to use when short on time. A more unified and condensed solution is available for more streamlined studying.

Succeed on Your Medicine Rotation with AMBOSS

AMBOSS is both a clinical companion on the wards and a reliable study guide for your NBME® Medicine Shelf exam. Access medicine-specific Articles in the Library when you’re with patients or rounding with your team, as well as 1950+ practice questions in the Qbank that can help you study more in-depth (even offline—check out our mobile apps for Android and iOS).

Prepare for the Medicine Shelf Exam with the Qbank

  • Practice your test-taking skills with 1000+, NBME-style Medicine Shelf questions.
  • Enable highlighting or turn on high-yield mode to spotlight the most important information in any question stem.
  • Find detailed explanations behind every possible answer on a question so that you can better understand why something is right or wrong.
  • See an overview of your progress with a continuous analysis of your session success; you’ll be able to pinpoint—and close—knowledge gaps.
  • Study on-the-go with the Qbank app for iOS or Android. You can squeeze in practice questions in your downtime between rounding, even when you’re offline.

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