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If you are in your third or fourth year of medical school, you're deep in the excitement of core rotations ... and shelf exams. We know you're tired and longing for a little more sleep, so to help you stay motivated, here are four great reasons why shelf exams will help you on journey to becoming a doctor.

1. Shelf exams matter for your clerkship grade.

This seems obvious but it’s important to take a step back and see how much shelf exams matter for your clerkship grade. Every school uses your shelf exam score differently to calculate your overall clerkship grade. Some take the score at face value and then translate that into a percentage of your grade. Others use internal school-based curves to alter your score and then translate that into a percentage of your grade. The percentage of your clerkship grade to which the shelf exam corresponds also varies based on your school. Whatever the case may be for you, shelf exam scores matter for a percentage of your grade, and not only that! The knowledge you muster through studying for shelf exams also translates well into other aspects that feed into your overall grade, e.g. OSCE exams, preceptor evaluations, etc.

2. Shelf exams help you prepare for Step 2 CK.

If you are doing it right, each shelf exam should be treated like a mini Step 2 CK. You should be studying for each shelf as if you were taking the corresponding section of Step 2. The resources are also similar, you use UWorld, a review book, First Aid for Step 1, and practice tests just as if you were preparing for Step 2 CK. In addition you might add in a few extra subject-specific books or other resources, but otherwise the resources are extremely similar. What this means is that you are essentially studying for Step 2 you entire third year. Doing well on shelf exams = doing well on Step 2 CK.

3. Shelf exams make you a better doctor.

By learning each specialty you rotate through well, you are secretly not only just studying to pass an exam, you are also becoming a great well-rounded physician. No matter which specialty you are going into, having a well-rounded knowledge of medicine will make you a better doctor for your patients, and is something that sets physicians apart. Studying hard for your shelf exams gives you the scaffolding for performing well in the clinics and wards, as well as building lasting knowledge that will help you in your career as a physician for many years to come.

4. Shelf exams help you get into residency.

By doing all three of the points mentioned above, shelf exams are the root to getting into a great residency. Doing well on shelf exams will let you honor clerkships, doing well on shelf exams will get you a high Step 2 CK score, and doing well on shelf exams will make you a better doctor, as well as a rock star on the wards. These things go a long way for your residency application, for your audition rotations, and for your letters of recommendation. People notice when you know your stuff, and by standing out you will be the one they want at their program.


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Ryan Kelsch

Ryan Kelsch

Ryan is a third year medical student currently attending Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where He studied molecular and cellular biology and tutored extensively organic and inorganic chemistry as a private tutor. Ryan scored a 263 on USMLE Step 1 and a 790 on COMLEX Level 1 and is currently ranked 3rd in his class of over 200. He wishes to pass his success down to his students. It would be his honor to serve his students in whatever needs they have.
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