Study Tips

Pediatric NBME Shelf Examination Resources

By Haley Masterson

While I take into account the opinions of several other students at Columbia, please remember that, in the end, these reviews are the words of only one student.  Opinions will vary.  However, I used all of these resources during my Pediatric shelf examination preparation.

One of the major challenges of the Pediatrics shelf exam is reconciling the importance of what you see every day on the wards (RSV, viral gastroenteritis, developmental delay) with the importance of what you’ll be tested on in the shelf examination (glycogen storage diseases, symptoms and antidotes of various poisons, congenital heart disease).  Be prepared to relearn all the rare syndromes you forgot after Step 1.  Flashcards will be your best friends.

There are a few tried-and-true resources for this shelf, as well as a couple of underrated gems.

Case Files:  Pediatrics:  The benefit of Case Files is the same in almost every specialty – for many students, a specific case presentation can help you remember signs and symptoms better than an otherwise meaningless set of paragraphs in a textbook ever could.  Only you will know if this is the sort of learning style that works for you – but be aware that even so, this book will not cover everything you need to know.  I’d estimate it being 70% of what was on my shelf exam, but I do have classmates who claimed it was closer to 50%.   Either way, it’s clearly best viewed as a supplement to other resources than as a stand-alone source. 

BRS Pediatrics:  Weighing in at 600 pages, this book is by far the longest in the BRS series.  If you’ve used this series before, you’re likely aware that the text is written in a “bare-bones” outline format.  For me and many other people, this abbreviated format is a turn-off – but I found that the author of the Pediatrics book really made it work. 

In addition to the text itself, there are 400 practice questions in this book.  Most of the questions are at the end of each chapter, but in addition, the author leaves room for a 100 question Comprehensive Examination.  I found the answer explanations to be particularly detailed in comparison to other question banks – definitely on the level of USMLE World.

PreTest Pediatrics:  The PreTest series struggles with many subjects, but one thing it always delivers is an incredible number of practice questions.  If you get a lot of benefit from hammering down questions before a test, this is definitely a resource to keep in mind.  Downfalls include frequently veering off into territory that’s almost too specialized – even for a notoriously detail-heavy shelf examination – and concentrating on questions that are frequently a fair bit harder than the examination itself. 

That said, there’s an arguable benefit to doing 500 difficult practice questions (which is what this book provides) in exchange for a bit of your ego. 

Blueprints Pediatrics:  A fairly thin resource that manages to cover all the major syndromes.  A bit weak in ophthalmology, but otherwise covers what you need to know.  Several classmates of mine have argued it’s one of the strongest books in the Blueprints series, but for whatever reason, I found it a little dry in comparison to Case Files.

UNC  Pediatrics Shelf Video Review.  (  One of my classmates recommended this resource to me, billing it as “almost everything you need to know for the shelf in two hours” – and the lecturer definitely does an incredible job of hitting the highlights.  While it’s not in any way definitive, it’s the best quick review out there.  I recommend watching these videos once at the beginning of your clerkship, just to set the stage of what you’ll need to know, and again right before the shelf exam itself.

In summary:

If you’re set on earning Honors (or an Honors-equivalent): I would argue that BRS + PreTest is a killer combination.  It’s not for everyone, as these two resources amount to 900 questions in total, but if you’re highly motivated, you can set a schedule and make it work. 

If you’d be happy with an average score:  Either Blueprints Pediatrics used in combination with a Qbank you already own (e.g. USMLE World), or BRS Pediatrics.  BRS has the benefit of including questions with its main text, but the outline form isn’t for everyone, and Blueprints is clearly the easier read of the two.

Best of luck!

Got any pediatric resources you find helpful? Share them below!

Categories: Study Tips

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