How to Study for COMLEX Like a Rockstar

You’re in for a real treat today. That is right. You‘re gonna learn how to study like a rockstar.

Maybe you thought rockstars did not study. And you would be right; I don’t think they study very much. So what do I mean when I say, “You’re gonna learn how to study like a rockstar?”

Think about it. How do rockstars get good at rock ‘n’ roll? Do they open a music textbook and memorize it? I very much doubt that. So what do they do? They play music all day to get good.

So in the same way, you will not be studying in the traditional sense. You will not go through medical textbooks and memorize that. Instead, you will practice for the COMLEX all day and you will get good. (At least good enough to pass.) I guarantee you’ll pass if you do what I am about to show you.

In this section, I am going to show you how to study for this beastly exam. This method is different from how you may have studied in the past. So make sure you pay close attention.

Before I get started, let me first establish who this section is for so I do not have to waste your time.

Is This Study Method for You?

If you are already acing your practice exams and could completely recall what you have read without any problems, this method is not for you. Go back and do what you have been doing, genius. There is no need for you to read further.


–> if you hate reading textbooks

–> if you have been struggling with your practice exams

–> or if you are curious about studying like a rockstar

read on …

If you are like me and you cannot retain anything from merely reading textbooks, this study guide for rocking the COMLEX is dedicated to you.

I Am Not the Brightest

I am not that smart. At least book-wise. I’m really not.

In fact, I consider myself below-average in terms of my ability to memorize and regurgitate, but I was able to do above-average on the exam without reading a textbook.

How was I able to do that? I developed a study system that will, if implemented, allow you to do better than average. Now if I can do better than average with my below-average memory, imagine what you can do, especially if you have an average or higher-than-average memory.

Do not get me wrong. This study system will still require a lot of work on your part. Nothing in this world is free. Nothing in the world that is worth doing is easy. You will spend months preparing for the exam. But unlike reading a textbook, which has high-yield and low yield materials all in one big tome of text, you will be exposed to mostly high-yield materials over and over  and over again. If you do the work, you will pass.

You think you can handle it? Let’s find out …

How to Study for COMLEX Like a Rockstar – Revealed!

This section can be summarized in five words:

Do questions and review them.

For COMLEX Step 1, I started with the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 question bank because I wanted to save the “best” (Combank) for last. How do you determine which question bank is better? Base it on how closely each question bank mimics the test you want to take. Since USMLE World is more similar to the USMLE than Kaplan, USMLE World is better. And since Combank was more simliar to the COMLEX than USMLE World, COMLEX is best.

If you’re confused, don’t worry too much about it. I do not think the order of the question bank really matters as long as you’re learning and retaining.

Looking back at my Step 1 experience, if you are only taking COMLEX and not USMLE, you will only need the osteopathic question banks: Combank (click for an in-depth review) and COMQUEST (click for an in-depth review). Kaplan USMLE question bank and USMLE World question bank are not needed. Save your precious money.

Do Questions

Although “doing questions” may sound like a no-brainer, there is a way of doing each question faster.

How? Alright, pay attention, kiddie … This is important!

  1. First, read the last line of the question.

  2. Second, read the answer choices. You may be able to answer the question without reading the whole passage. If the passage is half a page long, you just saved yourself 30 seconds.
  3. Finally, if you are unable to decide on the correct answer, read the whole question.

Many times, students without a “doing questions” strategy would tackle each question from beginning to end. Once they get to the end of the passage, they already forgot what they’ve just read and would have to read the whole thing again.

But that won’t be you, ‘cuz you’re not any student. You’re a rockstar!

Trust me. If you adopt this time-saving strategy, having enough time on the licensing exams would never be an issue. (In my COMLEX Step 2 experience, I finished the whole exam 2 or 3 hours early. Granted, I only took a 5 minute lunch. But still, my speed is quite impressive.)

Review Everything

Doing questions was the easy part. Now you’re approaching the main reason why you will not have to rely on rote memorization: review.

So what does “review everything” mean? It means after you answer a particular question, you study the question again to see why a particular answer is right and the rest of the answers are wrong. You do this for every single question you encounter — even if you got it right.

When you first review a question, the qbank would explain why a particular answer is right and why the rest of the answers are wrong. Read the explanation, even if you got the answer right. Why? Although you may have gotten the right answer, it could have been a lucky guess. You may not be so lucky next time. And even if you know an answer is right, you may not know why the other answers are wrong. The only time when you do not have to review a question is when you know why a particular answer is right and why the rest of the answers are wrong. 

Not only do will you just read the explanations, you should also read what your resources (good list of study materials for COMLEX Step 1) have to say about the topic. And then transfer the important parts of the qbank explanations into your First Aid, Pathoma, BRS flashcards, Master the Boards, or personal notebook / Word document. When you scribble down notes, you will reinforce your neural pathway, helping you remember without memorizing.

By the time I was done with studying for COMLEX Step 1, my First Aid was full of notes from the question banks. In addition to that, I had more than 400 pages of notes that I could not fit into First Aid.

The notes are important to ensure that you do not forget what you have learned about. I already mentioned that the act of note-taking will reinforce the neural pathway. But there is yet another benefit:

I started preparing seriously for Step 1 at the beginning of January. In the end of  May, before my first board exam, there was no way I could have remembered everything I have learned 5 months ago. Therefore, instead of doing the questions all over again (which would take me forever to do), I looked over my notes. Everything I have learned came flooding back to me. It is much faster for me to review my notes instead of repeating the questions I have already done. You will spend more time upfront but you will also save a lot of precious time at the end, right before the boards.

Plus, when your subscriptions expire and you no longer have access to the questions, you will still have your notes.

Another great benefit of thorough note-taking is that it helps you go over your study materials many, many times — First Aid if you’re taking Step 1, and Master the Boards if you’re taking Step 2 or Step 3. By the time I finished preparing for COMLEX, I went through all my study materials about 5 – 6 times. Most of it naturally happened when reviewing questions.

It sounds tedious right? Yes, but it is much less tedious than rote memorization, especially if you suck at memorizing. Rockstars did not get good at rock music overnight. And neither will you get good at the COMLEX nor USMLE overnight (unless you are some sort of genius).

How to Go Through Question Banks Efficiently and Effectively

I used a total of 3 question banks to prepare for Step 1. For the first 2 question banks, you should tackle the questions by category, either by subject (i.e. pharmacology, microbiology, etc.) or by systems (i.e. head, heart, limbs, etc.). Breaking it down into categories is helpful for the following reasons:

  • You can learn one group of topics well before moving on to the next group. (Doing so prevents your mind from getting overwhelmed.)

  • When you review, instead of wasting a lot of time by flipping through the whole First Aid (back and forth, back and forth) as you move from question to question, you will only have to flip through a small section. As a result, you will require a lot less time to complete a question bank.
  • You break a large 1,000+ questions monster into small pieces. As you finish a section, you will meet a mini-goal. This will help motivate you to soldier on.

For the first 2 question banks you should do questions in tutor mode. This enables you to think about the question, which facilitates learning. If you follow my advice and are serious about note-taking (and you should be), the tutor mode will save you quite a bit of time.

Usually, in the untimed or timed mode, you answer all the questions and then review. This will require you to re-read the question so you understand what it is asking. Re-reading and re-comprehending questions take time. But in tutor mode, once you answer a question, you will instantaneously see the right answer and explanation. So instead of reading the question again before understanding the explanation, you can dig right to the explanation because the question should already be fresh in your mind.

Personally, I did most of the first two question banks in tutor mode.

No matter if you do the questions in tutor mode or or untimed mode or timed mode, try to do 50 – 100 questions a day. If you thoroughly review each question, it should take you about 1 hour to finish 10 questions. So if you do 80 questions for the day, that is 8 hours of studying, which is very solid.

Once I have completed and taken notes on the first 2 question banks, I was ready to take on my final question bank — Combank. Since I went through First Aid and my study materials a few times by now, I was familiar with the basic medical sciences. Therefore, I decided to treat my last question bank like a real exam. I did Combank on timed mode. And after each block of 50 questions, I would review.

Personally, I did not need to simulate the actual COMLEX by take 8 blocks of 50 questions in one sitting. I had lots of time left over after all my timed blocks. In addition, I am not someone who gets fatigued easily. When I prepared for my second board exam, I did not do any questions in timed mode. Everything was done in tutor mode. I was very comfortable with my speed and my stamina.

But you must adjust this to your own strengths and weaknesses. If you have a tough time with speed and stamina, I would recommend you simulate the actual COMLEX. You may also want to look into COMSAE.

That brings us to the next section …

No COMSAE for Me

By now, you may have heard of COMSAE (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Self-Assessment Examination). It is an official practice exam of 400 questions, consisting of old COMLEX questions.

I didn’t need it; I didn’t take it. My main gripe against the COMSAE is the lack of right answers and explanations. After you finish the 400 questions, it will spit out your score. You cannot review anything. (Which pretty much defeats the purpose of studying.) And that to me is a big waste of time and money. Why pay money and spend 4 hours of my time just to take an exam that only tells me that I am going to pass? I already prepared as much as I can. There was nothing more I could do to prepare for the board exam. For me, COMSAE would not have improved my confidence nor my study preparation.

If You Want to Making Studying As Easy as Possible — Take a Peep at My Study System

Personally, I take all my notes electronically, using my laptop. All of my medical books and all of my notes are in some kind of digital format. So instead of flipping through First Aid, I can type in a word, such as “hemochromatosis,”  and my computer will bring up the proper page. It saves me a whole lot of time when it comes to studying.

How to Study COMLEX

This is a sample page in my First Aid. The blue and red words are my notes. I have also highlighted the important sections of the page. Everything is done through the computer — so all my note-taking and note-reviewing are as efficient and automated as possible.

If you want to know more about my personal study system that enables me do well in medical school, without having to rely on rote memorization, click here.

Summary of Studying Like a Rockstar

Let’s recap on how to study like a rockstar:

  • Do 2 question banks in tutor mode.

  • Do 1 question in timed mode. (This is optional. Do this if you are uncertain you can finish the real exam on time.)
  • Do 50 – 100 questions a day.
  • Review all questions (even if you got it right).
  • Take notes in First Aid, Pathoma, BRS flashcards, Master the Boards, or personal notebook / Word document. Look up what your study materials have to say regarding each question.
  • Review your study materials and notes right before the board exam. Basically, cram as much into your brain the night before. Make use of both your long-term memory and short-term memory.

Rock on!

New! Learn how to pass COMLEX 2-PE on the first try. See here to find out more.

This article is part of The Complete Guide to COMLEX. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about the osteopathic medical board exams.


  1. Hi Alex, would you be willing to post a break down of your study method or email one? I am a master list person, meaning I like to have one list of everything I need to cover so that I don’t forget something and track my progress as I go. I was looking at the TAUS method as well which sounds similar to your method if you have heard of it before. Any thoughts?

    • Hey Jessica,

      I never heard of the TAUS method. I basically jump into the practice questions and then review the questions and then make notes into my review book.

  2. Ann Rogers says:

    Hi Alex,
    How did you go through First Aid? Did you start doing questions first or read through FA? Its a very dry read… 🙁

  3. Hi Alex,
    During your 2nd year, how did you fit U world questions/other Q banks into your schedule? I’m trying to be realistic because I heard that 2nd year was a little bit harder than 1st year. I am also a D.O. student hoping to take both the USMLE and COMLEX exams.

  4. MS-3 mania says:

    Really like your system, and definitely going to use this instead of mostly textbook work like I did for step 1 (didn’t go well). I am trying to figure out COMLEX level 2 studying by your method. Planning on doing UWorld first, then Combank, then comquest. Taking notes in MTB 2. Did this also prepare you for Shelf exams, or would you also recommend the Pre-test material books for specific shelf exams? there is so much less advice for 3rd year “success”, just trying to figure it all out.

Speak Your Mind