Top 2 Resources You Need To Succeed on the Psychiatry Rotation’s Shelf Exam


We’ll get to the shelf exam shortly but first…

This blog post is part of a series for medical students that offers advice on which study aids and question banks to use while preparing for each shelf exam.

Generally, for each shelf exam, you will want to have a textbook or reference book that you can use to study the material as well as several ways to actively test recall, such as question banks or practice exams. 

Clinical medicine starts with the need to make a clinical decision and applying knowledge to make the decision. It’s the opposite of the way they teach you in med school!
  1. The interactive format is better at getting information to stick
  2. You don’t really know the material till you have to reproduce it when asked
  3. It’s the closest format to the shelf exam
  4. As questions expose weak areas, go back and fill them in with textbook material.

For every rotation

I would highly recommend the following resources:

  1. UWorld: 
    1. What it is: Classic often-used question bank that covers topics from all shelf exams 
    2. Pros: Comprehensive, likely covers all topics needed for each shelf exam. Easily divided into subjects so that students can select pertinent questions for each rotation.
    3. Cons: More expensive than other resources. At the time of this blog post, a 360 day subscription is $519. 
    4. Find it here: 
  2. NBMEs: 
    1. What it is: Practice tests designed similarly to the shelf exam
    2. Pros: Similar to actual shelf exam. Can be taken in timed mode to simulate actual exam. Score corresponding to the actual exam is provided. 
    3. Cons: Full answer explanations are not provided.
    4. Find it here: 

Psychiatry Specific Resources

The textbooks or reference books you can use include First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship and Lange Q&A Psychiatry. I would recommend buying them at the start of the rotation and then carrying them into work every day so that you can brush up on some reading during any down time. Both books are relatively light and small. 

Once you feel like you have enough of a basic knowledge base, you can move on to testing your knowledge with question banks like UWorld and NBME exams. Remember, consistent studying spread throughout the duration of your rotation will lead to better long term retention than cramming the night before the exam!

  1. First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship 
    1. What it is: High yield and concise textbook that covers all aspects of the psychiatry clerkship from diagnosis to pharmacology. Includes small mini cases and tips to succeed on the exam and wards
    2. Pros: Concise; constantly updated; newest version reflects the DSM-5 criteria; has helpful mnemonics 
    3. Cons: Does not go into as much detail as other textbooks
    4. Find it here:,honors%20on%20the%20clerkship%20exam 
  1. Lange Q&A Psychiatry 
    1. What it is: Very thorough textbook with question-and-answer based format and detailed explanations for each answer choice. Includes clinical vignettes and two practice exams.  
    2. Pros: Extremely comprehensive; newest version reflects the DSM-5 criteria; questions can be sorted based on topic 
    3. Cons: May cover more information than is typically found on the shelf exam 
    4. Find it here: 

For the psychiatry clerkship, as with all other clerkships, it is helpful to use textbooks to establish a basic foundation and then use questions (such as from question banks or textbooks) to test recall and identify weaknesses. For example, if you take a couple of practice exams and realize that you consistently miss questions on personality disorders, then you can use either of the aforementioned textbooks to brush up on that topic.

Question banks such as UWorld or practice exams such as the NBME shelf exams should be integrated throughout the course of your studying so that you can focus on reproducible learning rather than trying to passively memorize an entire textbook. Furthermore, as a general rule of thumb, textbooks especially the Lange Q&A Psychiatry textbook will go into more detail than is usually covered on the shelf exam. Therefore, practice questions will give you the best idea of your performance.

Try to space out your studying, but understand that it may be easier to find time to study on some psychiatry rotations than others. It’s okay to take days off and come back to the material later!

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