Psychiatry Shelf Exam

What You Need to Know

The NBME® Psychiatry Shelf exam assesses a student’s ability to diagnose and treat psychiatric illnesses. Success on the exam depends on what is learned during the Psychiatry clerkship in addition to coursework and dedicated study time. It is generally regarded as the least challenging Shelf, though that doesn’t mean students should be sparing with their study time. The exam will incorporate knowledge from other Shelfs, namely Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, OB-GYN, Geriatrics, and Preventive Medicine, and touch on psychiatric medications, adverse medication reactions, mood disorders, and psychoses.

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How to Study for the Psychiatry Shelf Exam

  • Familiarize yourself with the diagnostic criteria and timelines for anxiety, mood disorders, psychoses, and personality disorders. Know how to differentiate between schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia.
  • The question stems are long, so be wary of drowning in the details. Basic diagnostic skills and the memorization of high-yield pharmacologic side effects will be enough.
  • Learn all of the major side effects for psych drugs (and avoid spending too much time on what’s uncommon or vague).
  • Seeing as the Psychiatry Shelf exam question stems are very long, timing could be your greatest challenge. Skip past the tricky questions and focus on gathering points on the ones you do.
  • Try scheduling your Psychiatry and Neurology exams in succession of each other, if possible, as there tends to be some overlap in the topics covered.

Taking the Psychiatry Shelf Exam

Not all medical students are required to take the NBME Psychiatry Shelf exam, and it’s not a required exam for obtaining a U.S. doctor’s license. However, most medical schools have a required psychiatry clerkship, and the most popular way to test students on this particular rotation is by using the NBME’s official Psychiatry Subject Examination. The exam can be taken on campus at select medical schools or at authorized testing locations, like Prometric test centers.

The Psychiatry Shelf exam is formatted as an online test consisting of 110 questions which must be answered in 165 minutes. It shares the same interface as the USMLE® Step exams, with each question presented as a hypothetical clinical scenario. The exam is graded on a national average, though whether or not you pass your entire clerkship will depend on your individual medical school’s requirements. More specifically, the number of correct answers you get places you in a percentile, which is then measured across national grades.

While students have long relied on traditional textbooks and resources for the exam, they are often too expansive and unwieldy to use when short on time. A more unified and condensed solution is available for more streamlined studying.

Succeed on Your Psychiatry Rotation with AMBOSS

AMBOSS makes up where other resources are lacking when it comes to practice questions and Articles for the NBME® Psychiatry Shelf Exam. With AMBOSS, you have hundreds of Qbank questions at your disposal, as well as Articles that can be referred to not just when you’re studying, but throughout your entire Psychiatry rotation.

Prepare for the Psychiatry Shelf Exam with the Qbank

  • Practice your test-taking skills with 300+ NBME-style Psychiatric Shelf questions, and find corresponding Articles with further explanations on what you’re being questioned on.
  • Enable highlighting or turn on high-yield mode to spotlight the most important information in any question stem.
  • Find detailed explanations behind every possible answer on a question so that you can better understand why each answer option is right or wrong.
  • See an overview of your progress with a continuous analysis of your session success; you’ll be able to pinpoint—and close—knowledge gaps.
  • Study on-the-go with the Qbank app for iOS or Android. You can squeeze in practice questions in your downtime, even when you’re offline.

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