Everyone told me how COMLEX was a weird and “craptastic” exam. I did not believe them and had to see it for myself. And they were right, it totally sucked.
For this reason: there is no way to prepare for half of the exam.
You Cannot Fully Prepare for COMLEX Step 1
You can read as much as you can to prepare for the board exam. You can do all the practice problems available. But on the day of the exam, when you finally take the COMLEX, there will be many, many questions you have never seen before in your life. For my exam, I estimate that I have never encountered half the questions in my studies.
I prepared for half a year (6 months), studying 8 hours or more every single day including weekends. And yet, I was not fully prepared. To give you an idea of what I did, I will list everything I have done:
- went through First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 (four to five times)
- finished three full-length, online question banks (Kaplan USMLE Step 1, USMLE World Step 1, and Combank Level 1)
- took notes on all the questions I was not sure of or got wrong
- went through Pathoma
- went through OMT Review and finished all the accompanying practice problems
- went through Board Review Series Microbiology flash cards
- went through Board Review Series Pharmacology flash cards
That is a lot of things I did to prepare. I estimate I did 7,000 practice questions. Heck, I even stayed up all night (minus two hours for sleep) to memorize everything. And I do mean everything. But still, the COMLEX took me by surprise.
I truly feel you cannot prepare for it fully.
What Happened Exactly on June 4, 2012?
Let me recount to you my first board exam experience so you can get the full picture. Originally, my exam was scheduled for 9:00 AM but I showed up early I then asked to take the exam at 8:00 AM. The people in the Prometric center was very accommodating and granted my request.
(I showed up way early and was doing some morning cramming.)
Once I reached the testing computer, I started the tutorial on how to take the exam, which took 10 minutes or less. I highly recommend the tutorial. The only practice exam I took that was geared toward COMLEX was Combank. The interface of Combank did not exactly match that of COMLEX. I did not want to waste precious time during my exam to figure out how to use the interface. I will go into more detail about what I thought about Combank in a review later on. But bottom line is to take the tutorial.
My very first few questions were ridiculous. And if you down with slang, the best way to describe it is “redonkulous.” One of the questions asked was about a type of business model that I could not find the answer to, even to this day. Even Google did not spit out an answer. And if Google does not know, the question must be invalid.
(I cannot repeat to you the exact question because before taking these type of exams, the testing company makes you sign something saying you cannot reveal the exact questions. Trust me, I very much want to repeat the exact question to you so you can see for yourself how “redonkulous” it was.)
I can say that this particular question and many others do not truly test your medical knowledge, but instead, test how well you know trivial details.
Overall, my exam was heavy on neurology, neuroanatomy, microbiology, and obstetrics. The neurology and neuroanatomy questions were quite detailed and beyond what was covered in First Aid and the three question banks. My exam was also like Step 2 because there were many “best step in management” questions and “initial step for diagnosis” questions.
(And as a side note, I did the worse in the “diagnostic technologies” and “management” sections of the exams. They were not covered much in my review materials which I listed above. If you want to get an edge in COMLEX Step 1, start studying for Step 2.)
The whole exam took me about 8 hours and I thought I would finish it in 6 – 7 hours. When I was taking the Combank practice exams, I usually had about 20 minutes left over after each block of 50 questions each. But on the real exam I had only less than 10 minutes left over after each block. Towards the end, as I was getting mentally fatigued, I had only a few minutes left over after each block.
(Also, make sure you keep tract of the time you take for each block. The exam gives you 4 hours to complete 4 blocks. Then it gives you another 4 hours to complete another 4 blocks. So if you take more than 1 hour to complete a block, that will take away time from your other blocks. For example, if you took 2 hours to complete a block, you will only have 2 hours left to complete the other 3 blocks. You can read more about the COMLEX Step 1 exam if you follow the link.)
My COMLEX Step 1 Results
After finishing the exam, I honestly felt like I failed the exam and would have been happy just to pass, which translates to a score of 400.
Instead, I was pleasant surprised to receive a score of 520. This means I was in the 60th percentile. However, my score does not reflected upon the work I had to put in to prepare for it. Six months of 8 hours per day (including weekends) of studying just to get into the 60th percentile does not seem like a fair trade. My friend, who put in only a quarter of the work I put in, got a score slightly lower than mine. COMLEX results are a crapshoot. But hey, at least I did not fail.
Looking back I do not know what advice I would give you to do well on the exam (as in getting the 90th percentile). Maybe start studying for Step 2. I felt I could have done better on the USMLE. But I do have advice on how to at least pass this exam. I will post my study strategy in the next article.
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.