3 Study Principles for Crushing the OB/GYN Shelf Exam

Crush Your Shelf Exam
Crushing the OB/GYN shelf exam is equally about HOW you study as it is WHAT you study. The latter is far easier to communicate, but I hope to convey an overall ethos regarding the best approach to studying medicine.

First, a note on how. Have you ever heard the expression “the best diet is the one you do”? That idea couldn’t be more true regarding studying. Whichever study plan actually gets you studying is the plan to choose. I believe that giving yourself small victories early on reinforces your study behavior and creates a habit that is a little easier to perform each day. Big picture, you are trying to get through a large volume of material and do so efficiently. 

Having designated time off is important, but it is also necessary to make your time off productive. For example, designating an “off day” from OB/GYN Qbank questions gives you that day to look forward to. But if you happen to knock out a few flashcards or read a page on UpToDate, then you will be even more pleased with yourself for going above and beyond. 

Lastly, sleep is critical. With all of the fascinating phenomena that occur during sleep, evidence consistently shows that the primary function of sleep is memory consolidation. What is the shelf exam if not a test of your ability to recall a memory? You are a human being, and there is no way around the biological hacks that will work on you. Prioritize your sleep.


Now for the what. I will provide general principles to follow as well as specific details about which resources to use. These general principles should guide your approach to the specific content.

General Principles:

  1. The holy trinity of shelf exams is physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Focus your studies in these areas.
  2. The menstrual cycle is essential—know it backwards and forwards.
  3. The more Qbank questions you do, the better you will perform.

Schedule (dependent on 4- vs 6-week-long rotation)

OB/GYN tends to be a more time-consuming clerkship than others, so prioritizing a little time to study outside of the clinic/OR will be incredibly helpful.

  • First week of rotation, do 10 Qbank questions per day, and 20 on the weekend
  • Early-middle of rotation (week 2–3), do 20 questions per day, and 30 on the weekend
  • Late-middle of rotation (week 3–4), do 20 questions per day, and 40 on the weekend
  • Last week of rotation, do 40 questions early in the week, then flashcards the remaining days

A note on “days off”: don’t do any questions, and you don’t NEED to do anything else. But… any flashcards you do or supplemental material you explore should be viewed as a big victory, and you are going to want one of those during the study period. Aim to go above and beyond and give yourself a big victory at least once or twice during the rotation.


Study material

I did well studying with a combination of Qbank questions, flashcards, and supplemental material on top of what I learned from my patients.

Your rotation itself
  • You will obviously learn OB/GYN while on your OB/GYN rotation. Use your patients as your teachers.
  • When an interesting patient presents, make a note of it and look up their condition on UpToDate when you get home. Research the topic for no more than 15 minutes. This will help you associate that patient with the disease, and you will be able to retrieve it much more easily.
Question Banks
  • Follow the daily question goal outlined above.
  • Always do timed tests. What often makes a shelf exam difficult is the time constraint. Practice under the same time constraints (20 questions in 30 minutes), and you won’t even think about time on test day. 
  • Do a random assortment of questions. This is more representative of the shelf and can also help you find your knowledge gaps.
  • Track your knowledge gaps. These are the topics for your outside learning. You can do topic-specific questions if you like, but keep in mind this is not what the shelf is going to look like.
  • Review your answers after completing the total question set that day. Don’t review the answers immediately after each question (i.e., tutor mode). You want to simulate the testing experience as much as possible.
  • Reviewing your answers should take about as long as you took to complete the questions themselves.  Remember, it is easy to focus on the ones you get wrong, but it’s even easier to not understand why you got something correct. Challenge yourself when reviewing your tests. Ask yourself how you could change the question to ask something different. Do you really understand the physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology (General Principle #1)?
  • Make flashcards from your review. More on that below.
  • Recommended question banks: APGO Undergraduate Web-based Interactive Self-evaluation (uWISE), Rosh Review, UWorld Step 2 CK, Pre-test.
Flashcards
  • Create flashcards to catalog your knowledge gaps.
  • Anytime you get a question wrong, you should be making a flashcard out of that material in some way.
  • Make two types of flashcards: some should be quick and easy to answer (i.e., most common cause of postpartum hemorrhage = uterine atony), but others should be more general (describe the pathophysiology of hypoglycemia in newborns of mothers with GDM). This way, you are getting the quick associations you need to remember as well as truly testing big-picture topics (General Principle #1).
  • Use a digital platform—the specific platform doesn’t really matter. I used Study Blue, but I know Quizlet and Anki decks are also good options. Remember, which tool you use is less important than just doing flashcards.
  • Practice the flashcards when you have downtime in the first weeks of the rotation, but then focus on going through all of your flashcards in the days leading up to the shelf exam.
Supplemental Material

Be sure to review topics using the ACOG guidelines and UpToDate. But, you can also find great resources on YouTube. These are my favorites:

  • “High Yield OB/GYN Review for STEP 2 CK & Shelf Exam (2 parts)”
  • “Divine Intervention Episode 22 Comprehensive OB/GYN 3rd Year Shelf Review”
  • “USMLE Review – Obstetrics (Labor)”

In summary, there is no real secret to doing well on the OB/GYN shelf exam. The more you study, the better you will perform. The basics really work: do a lot of Qbank questions, refresh yourself periodically with flashcards, and get some sleep. If you follow the schedule above, there is no way you will do poorly on the exam. By going through that volume of material spread out over your rotation, on top of seeing patients clinically, you will absolutely crush your OB/GYN shelf. I would wish you the best of luck, but you won’t need it.


The Crush Your Shelf Exam series shares the experiences, insights, and perspectives of medical students preparing for their shelf exams. The goal of the series is to provide you with actionable information and key takeaways to help you prepare for and excel on your shelf exam.

Be sure to read even more of our test-taking tips:

The Exam Writer’s Strategy That Test Takers Don’t Know About (But Should)

How to Boost Your CREOG Exam or OB/GYN Qualifying Exam Score


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