How to Study for the OBGYN Shelf Exam

How can you prepare for the OBGYN Shelf Exam?

Obstetrics and gynecology, commonly called OBGYN (sometimes written OB/GYN or OB-GYN), can be an enjoyable rotation. Pregnancy is a unique time in a woman’s life, and the birth of a child is often one of life’s happiest moments. You’ll have the honor of participating in many births and sharing in a bit of that joy.

At the same time, when problems occur in a pregnancy or during a birth, the results can be absolutely devastating. You’ll be a part of the team caring for women and their families as they go through such a crisis.

While you’re participating in clinical activities, you’ll also be preparing for the OBGYN Shelf Exam. Since a significant part of your clerkship grade is generally determined by your grade on this exam, it’s important to prepare for it if you’d like to honor the rotation.

Whether you’re considering going into OBGYN and need to honor this specific rotation, or you’d like to honor as many rotations as possible, make sure that you spend time studying for this exam. Since the Shelf Exams are very similar to Step 2 CK, spending time getting ready for them will also ensure that you’re well-prepared to achieve a high score on that crucial exam, which in turn will set you up for landing a spot in the residency of your choice.

How can you prepare for the OBGYN Shelf Exam? What study resources are best, and how can you set up your study plan?


What are the best resources for studying for the OBGYN Shelf Exam?

Finding time to study for the OBGYN Shelf Exam can be a challenge. You’ll likely have call fairly frequently (something like Q4) for most of the rotation, and OB call is notoriously unpredictable; you never know whether it’s going to be a busy night with several deliveries, or a completely quiet night. In order to carve out time to study, you’ll want to have some study resources in your bag, so you can take advantage of whatever quiet time you manage to find.

Of course, the exam covers both obstetrics and gynecology, but which one is emphasized more heavily? According to the NBME, the two fields are about equally represented on the OBGYN Shelf. You’ll want to know the milestones of a normal pregnancy; the exam will sometimes try to trick you by presenting a normal pregnancy in a way that makes it seem like it might be abnormal. Gynecological cancers (including breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers) are also a high-yield topic. Sexual health, including birth control methods and sexually transmitted diseases, is another area to focus on.


We generally recommend using UWorld for the Shelf Exams, and OBGYN is no exception. You can filter the Step 2 CK questions so that you see only those relevant to obstetrics and gynecology. If you get through all of the UWorld questions at least once before your exam, and preferably twice, then you should be well on your way to a great score. (It’s a bonus that you’ll be well on your way to a great Step 2 CK score as well!) It often works well to start with one pass through UWorld, move on to other resources, and then go back through UWorld again in the last week of the clerkship.

Remember to use UWorld as a learning tool, not as a diagnostic one. In other words, don’t get hung up on how many red Xs versus green checks you see as you’re going through the questions; focus instead on learning as much as possible from the questions and their explanations.


If you spend about an hour per day studying the UWorld questions, then you’ll be finished with your first pass through them in about two weeks. You’ll still have four more weeks left in your clerkship, which is plenty of time to work with another Qbank. AMBOSS offers a great one that can supplement what you learn in UWorld. The questions in AMBOSS tend to be more detailed than in UWorld, which is why we recommend that you start with UWorld and then proceed to AMBOSS with the time that you have left.

Another bonus of AMBOSS is that it offers a series of evidence-based clinical articles (similar to UpToDate). These are great to use during your clinical experiences to help you shine on rounds. Learning that takes place through experience is the most durable, so learning from your patients is ideal.

Textbook: either High Yield or Case Files

Qbanks are excellent resources, but you’ll want to supplement that with reading a textbook in order to be fully prepared for the exam. We recommend choosing either High Yield Obstetrics and Gynecology or Case Files Obstetrics and Gynecology. Either one is a good resource for reviewing high yield information for the OBGYN Shelf Exam. Choose whichever of these textbook series you’ve previously found most helpful; they’re pretty equivalent, and there’s no need to use both of them.

If you’re planning on an OBGYN residency, then you might want to choose Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology as your textbook. This one is more detailed, and so you’ll need to dedicate more time to studying if you want to get through it. For most students, it’s probably more than you need, but for those who are planning to go into OBGYN, it may be worth it.

Obgyn Shelf exams

How can you create a study schedule?

OBGYN has a tendency to be one of the busier clerkships. You’ll find that your OB call is particularly hard to predict; on some nights, you might be a part of several deliveries with very little downtime, while on other nights, there won’t be much going on. Be prepared to take advantage of downtime whenever you find it. Keeping a book in your bag is a great way to make use of whatever time you’re able to find.

It can be hard to stay committed to studying for your Shelf Exam when you’re tired. Med school is all about striking that balance between resting enough and studying enough. We’ve found that it works best to set yourself a daily study goal. For example, determine how many UWorld questions you would need to get through each day in order to get to them all twice before the end of the rotation. This becomes your study target. Do your best to meet your target each day, but be flexible; if you have a busy day and can’t find enough time to study, simply make it up later when you find yourself with more time. You can do something similar with whichever book you choose. Having a target helps you to stay on track with your OBGYN Shelf Exam test prep, while being flexible with your schedule helps you to deal with the unpredictability of the wards without getting too stressed.

Seek professional support to help you optimize your score

Students in your class will go through their third year clerkships in different orders. This may mean that some of your colleagues have taken the OBGYN Shelf Exam before you. You might want to seek advice from them about studying for it; you can even share resources with each other (such as trading books).

Students who are one year ahead of you can also be a great resource for advice on studying for the exam.

If you’re struggling to prepare for your Shelf Exams during your clinical years of med school, or if you want to improve your chances of getting outstanding third year clerkship grades, then you may benefit from professional advice.

Here at Medlearnity, our OBGYN Shelf Exam tutors all scored 250+ on Step 2 CK, and are experts at helping other students to prepare for it. By helping you to assess your strengths and weaknesses, creating a personalized study plan, and then helping you stick to it, your tutor can help you to ace your OBGYN Shelf Exam and be well on your way to a strong performance on Step 2 CK, so that you can land a spot in the residency of your choice.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to work with a tutor, we invite you to schedule a free one-hour OBGYN Shelf Exam tutoring session with no obligation.

get a customized study plan based on your goals and learning style

About the author 

Akshay Goel MD

Dr. Goel is a body-trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel has guided several students and doctors into successful careers over the past decade. He continues to help Medlearnity tutors optimize their educational methodology to drive the highest tutoring and admissions impact possible.

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