Making MS3 Clerkship Study Schedules

This is another reader request and companion post to Studying for Third Year NBME Shelf Exams.

Let me start by saying that I’ve never personally utilized a detailed schedule as a binding contract. My ability to master my personal will with regularity is limited, and the day-to-day variability of a clinical workload makes strict planning difficult. You never know when you just don’t have it in you to work another moment.

That being said, there is some utility to making a rough outline in order to give yourself an idea as to how much time you have to complete various tasks, how many resources you can reasonably get through, and particularly, how much time to allot for dedicated question review at the end of the rotation prior to the shelf exam. You do not want to shortchange your time for questions. The details of your personal schedule will vary based on your clinical workload, the make-up/pain level of your clinical sites, and rotation length. Some schools do surgery in 8 weeks, others in 12. Length matters. Talk to students in the class above yours to get an idea of what kind of schedule to expect rotation to rotation.

Making your schedule

The first step is to determine how many UW question sets you think you can do a single evening, assuming you’re working a normal schedule and are trying to achieve a measured pace and not kill yourself. I prefer to do tutor mode, and you may decide that you can reasonably achieve two full sections  an evening with time for detailed review. Extrapolate based on your experience study for Step 1 to know what your speed and stamina can stomach.1

Let’s say you want to budget for 1 UW section (~44 questions) a night.

  1. Divide the number of questions in the relevant subject of the Step 2 CK qbank by 44 to determine the number of days it will take you to complete the relevant questions.
  2. Then multiply this number by ~1.5 to determine the amount of time you need to give yourself total including time review the questions you missed.
  3. Then subtract this number of days from the total number of days you have in the rotation. This gives you time remaining you have to dedicate to reading books.
  4. Don’t forget to allow yourself some days off from studying. You might only “budget” on studying four or five days a week, because this will give you a cushion if you get behind, get tired, or get busy.
  5. Pick your resources (I have my recommendations here), and then split your remaining time accordingly. You can divide this time by the relative length of each book (keeping complexity and page density in mind).
  6. Then divide the number of pages of each book by the number of days you plan to spend reading it to get your daily allotment.

An example:

Let’s say you have a six week psychiatry clerkship.

  • At around 150 questions in the UW set, if you do one section a day, you need around 3 days to get through the UW questions.
  • Multiply by 1.5, and you should give yourself 5 days to master the UW material.
  • Round up and that gives you a week, leaving you five weeks to get through Case Files (477 pages) and First Aid Psychiatry (240 pages).
  • If you give yourself two weeks for Case Files, that’d around 47 pages daily for 10 days of reading (with weekends off). Give yourself another three weeks to read First Aid twice and you’ll read about 30 pages a day. Very doable.

This method will also allow you to determine what number of resources is reasonable/doable for you given your particular restraints. You can figure out if you have time to read a book twice or how to account for your desperate desire to read every book your classmates have mentioned. And while some days you may read more and others less, this method can help you keep on pace. Just make sure that if you start to get behind that you trim the fat: It’s more important to finish a single good resource than to pick away at parts of several, and you always need to give yourself time for questions.


  1. Hi, thank you for all the excellent advice you put into this website!

    1) When you were on rotations, did you first complete the review book (Case Files) and leave UW for the 2nd half? Or did you do them simultaneously? I’m afraid if I leave UW for the end I’ll spend too much time going through the review book at a leisurely pace (what is what I tend to do–lose steam) and not leave enough time for UW questions, the most important thing.

    2) My 2nd question is after studying during the rotation, how did you review for the Shelf exam and how many days did you alott for that? Did you repeat all the UW questions or just repeat your marked/wrong questions?


    • 1) I always completed reading before starting questions. In part, this is to make the most of the questions. But the main reason is that going through UW gives you a random sampling of questions, therefore making a suboptimal foundation for your clinical performance until you’ve made significant progress. Getting through a book gives you a chance to form a cohesive foundation. Either way would be fine though I suppose.

      2) The general goal I recommend is to go through all questions, mark those you guess on or get wrong, and then do those again. Doing a double go-through may be better, but I personally wouldn’t have had time during most clerkships. How long to allot for the total review depends on which shelf and how many questions are available for it (with a general formula provided above).


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