How To Study for the Pediatrics Shelf Exam

How can you prepare for the Pediatrics Shelf Exam?

The Pediatrics rotation can be a fun one, but it can also be challenging in its own ways. You’ll be working with children, quite possibly for the first time in a medical setting (unless you’ve already done your family medicine rotation). You’ll need to summon a playful and calming personality even when you’re tired, to put your young patients (and their parents) at ease. At the same time, you’ll be learning a lot of material and preparing for your Pediatrics Shelf Exam. This one is considered by many med students to be one of the more difficult Shelf Exams, mainly because of the wide variety of material that it can cover.

If you’re considering going into pediatrics or a related field, then you’ll definitely want to get honors on your pediatric rotation. Even if you’re not considering peds, if you’re thinking about any of the more competitive residencies, then you’ll want to honor as many rotations as possible. At most med schools, the Shelf Exam is a significant part of the grade for each clerkship, so preparing for the Pediatrics Shelf Exam should be a priority during your rotation.

How can you ace your Pediatrics Shelf Exam? What resources should you use, and what should you focus on?

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

For all of the Shelf Exams, there’s such a huge variety of different resources out there that choosing which ones to focus on can be a challenge. The peds rotation is generally only six weeks long, and you’ll probably have relatively frequent (something like Q4) call for a lot of it, which doesn’t leave you with much spare time. You’ll want to focus in on the most high-yield resources, so you can get the most out of the study time you’re able to find.

The Pediatrics Shelf Exam heavily emphasizes outpatient care (65-70% of the questions, according to the NBME). You’ll want to know the ages for developmental milestones, including the range of normal; the exam will often try to trick you by wording the description of a normal child in a way that suggests a problem, even though none exists. Have a sense for the ranges of normal vital signs for various age groups as well.


As with other Shelf Exams, UWorld is one of the best resources there is for the Peds Shelf Exam. Use the UWorld Step 2 CK question bank, and select specifically the Pediatrics questions. Try to get through all of these at least once during your rotation; you might have time to do them all twice. We’d recommend doing your first pass through UWorld at the beginning of your clerkship, and then going through the Qbank again in the last week to ten days. Try to think of the questions as a learning tool, rather than a diagnostic one; don’t get hung up on how many you’re getting right, but just focus on learning from each one. Going through the UWorld Qbank as early as possible will also go a long way towards helping you impress your residents and attendings with your knowledge base.


The OME lecture series has become a favorite among many med students. This video series is full of high-yield information presented in a clear and easy-to-understand way. It’s also more of a high-level overview without too much detail. Some students like to start with these near the beginning of the rotation, while others find it useful to watch these in the last week or so before the exam. (Of course, you can do both if you have time!)

The video format can be nice when you’re feeling tired and you’re having trouble feeling motivated to study; on some days, watching a video may feel easier than reading a book or doing flashcards. (Just make sure that you manage to stay awake and pay attention!) There are also notes for each lecture, which are only a page or two each; these are great for reviewing the most high-yield information in the days before the exam.

Board Review Series (BRS) Pediatrics

The BRS books are high-yield review textbooks. They’re extremely dense with information, so if you decide to use BRS Peds to review for your shelf exam, make sure that you start early in your rotation. Figure out how many pages you’ll need to read each day in order to get through the book at least a week before your exam (so you’ll have time for reviewing). On days when you’re extremely busy (for example, you have a busy night on call), then you can make up for the lost pages on a lighter day.

BRS Peds can help you to get a high score on your Pediatrics Shelf Exam, but we don’t recommend using it for review; it’s so dense and detailed that it will only stress you out. We’d recommend starting first with UWorld and OnlineMedEd, then progressing to BRS Peds. It will help you shine on the wards as well as on your exam. Some students prefer Case Files Pediatrics instead of BRS, because it’s a little less dense. We’d say that BRS is the gold standard, but Case Files is fine as an alternative if BRS feels like too much to get through.

PreTest Pediatrics

This is a book with high-yield USMLE style questions. You may find it useful for after you finish the Pediatrics section in UWorld. This can be a great resource for keeping in your bag to study during any downtime on your rotation. We’d definitely recommend that you focus on UWorld first, but PreTest is a good supplemental option for doing practice questions when you have some extra time, or after you’re finished with UWorld.

med student preparing for pediatrics shelf exam

How can you create a study schedule?

Third year is probably the most challenging year of med school. Rotations offer hours that are long and often unpredictable, and pediatrics is certainly no exception. Most med students are extremely good at making a plan and sticking to it, and it can be hard to accept not being in full control of your schedule. If you make a study schedule and then find that you can’t stick to it on certain days because of clinical responsibilities, it can even be easy to give up completely and just hope for the best on your exam.

At the same time, if you don’t make a study schedule at all, then you could be missing out on an opportunity to stand out from the crowd by doing well on your exam. The key is to make a study schedule, but be a little bit flexible with it. You should have a daily study target, and on days when you can’t get to your target, you just make it up the next day. This helps you to stay on track, while still making room for the curveballs that the rotation will certainly throw your way.

For example, figure out how many pages of BRS you would need to read each day in order to finish one week before the end of the clerkship. This becomes your target; if you miss it one day, you simply make up for it as soon as you can. Do the same with UWorld questions so that you have time to get through them all twice before the clerkship ends. When you have a rough idea of how much you need to do each day, then you know whether you’re on track and you won’t find yourself panicking right before the exam.

Seek support from others

Although it might seem a little overwhelming at first, the truth is that you’re not the first person to go through the Pediatrics Shelf Exam. Unless it’s your first rotation, you’ll have colleagues who’ve gone through the exam before you; you can ask for their advice, and maybe even trade books with them as they rotate onto a service that you’ve already left. Fourth year med students and even residents are also good sources of advice, as they’ve taken the exam fairly recently.

For those who would like more help, a professional tutor might be a good idea. This can be particularly useful for students who have a lot of test anxiety, those who have previously failed a USMLE or Shelf exam or have come close, or those who want to truly excel in third year and on Step 2 CK so that they can gain that crucial edge on their residency applications. It can be extremely valuable to have someone in your corner who’s been through the process of med school and residency applications and is willing to share the secrets of success with you. You can try out a free one-hour session with our Pediatrics Shelf Exam tutors if you want to see what it would be like, so that you can decide whether this is right for you.

The Pediatrics Shelf Exam is not easy, and neither is the clerkship itself. However, this can be a very rewarding and even fun clerkship as well. Whether you choose to pursue pediatrics as a career or not, you will certainly learn a lot from the experience.

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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