12 Tips to Prepare for the COMLEX

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

If you’re like most medical students, your “To-Do” list is probably never ending! Between hectic class schedules, rotation schedules, and studying for your shelf exams, you’re probably feeling lucky when you can get a full night’s sleep and a nice warm shower. I’m sure that the last thing you want to be thinking about is preparing for the COMLEX, but you need to start thinking about it sooner rather than later.

To make it as easy (and painless) as possible for you, COMQUEST has compiled some “insider tips” to help you be prepared:

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Before the exam…

  1. Set a goal.

    It’s important to pick a score for each exam that you think is attainable and then set it as your goal. This will help to keep you motivated to study and work hard to reach and exceed your goal. When setting your goals, it’s important to keep your residency goals in mind. While the mean COMLEX score of matched medical students is a 566, that might not be high enough to get you into the program that you desire. For example – General Surgery is much more competitive than Family Medicine is, and then programs within each specialty have their own competitiveness, so your goal needs to be specific.

  2. Begin studying ASAP, like yesterday.

     Ideally you want to start prepping for your COMLEX 8-12 months before you take the exam. If you are preparing for your first
    COMLEX, you want to make sure that you go into the exam as over-prepared as possible since the nerves of not fully knowing what to expect might add some pressure. If you’ve successfully completed your COMLEX Level 1 and are moving on to COMLEX Level 2, you will be able to take your Level 1 experience and adjust your study schedule accordingly – based on how you did with your old schedule and where you’d like to end up. Unlike COMLEX Level 1, before taking the Level 2-CE you will usually have already done clinical rotations and taken at least some shelf exams. Those help you prepare, but you will still need a lot of traditional, COMLEX-specific study. It is suggested that that you plan for 6 months of light studying, followed by 3-4 months of moderate studying, and then end with 1-2 months of intense studying. This applies to any COMLEX Level.

  3. Do at least 5+ practice questions per day.

     To be fully prepared for a test of 400 problem-symptom-based questions, you will actually need to study much more than 400 questions. Doing at least 5 a day will help you cover the needed amount of information. It’s important to create a study schedule, pick a date to start and then stick to it.

  4. Don’t use too many study resources.

    Too many times we hear of medical students using too many resources to study for their exams and doing poorly. We suggest limiting your study tools to one to two online question banks, such as COMQUEST, and then using 1-2 books for supplementary study materials. This ensures that you are getting the most out of your study tools instead of stretching yourself thin and only learning a little bit from each study tool. On test day, you’ll want to quickly recall where you learned something rather than shuffle through clutter.

  5. Take notes.

    This may go without saying, but it’s important because note-taking while reviewing your practice exams helps imprint information into your brain beyond just rote memorization. Use a question bank that has online note-taking capabilities so that you’ll be able to easily filter your notes by various criteria and pull up the question that the note was taken on to review before test day.

  6. Review explanations to all of your questions.

    Yes, even the ones you got right the first time. Spending more time on things you don’t know is good, but review all of it, because you need to know all of it. A lot of tested material is explained through question bank explanations — it’d be a waste to miss a question on the COMLEX because you skipped reviewing an explanation.

  7. Do at least one timed practice test.

    You might be able to get through an entire question bank with the majority of the questions correct, but you can’t forget that on test day you will only have a limited amount of time to answer the questions. In order to feel fully prepared for test day,take at least one timed, 400-question practice test so that you have a good feel for what answering questions will feel like on test day.

  8. On exam day, be sure to arrive early with proper identification.

    On test day you will most likely already have some anxiety about your exam. Make sure you know you exactly where your testing location is (doing a drive by the day before never hurt anyone) and give yourself plenty of time to get there. It’s best to plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your test is scheduled to start. Also, be sure to bring one form of current, non-expired government-issued identification that includes your picture and signature. Acceptable forms of identification are:
    a. Driver’s license
    b. Passport
    c. Military ID (If you present a military ID, please present a secondary form of identification which includes your signature.)

  9. Take a break — or don’t.

    You will be given the option to take up to three breaks total on test day: two 10-minute breaks (one during the first 4-hour session, and one during the second 4-hour session), and one 40-minute break between the two 4-hour sessions.

  10. Bring a lunch or snack.

    Food and drink are allowed during the optional 10-minute breaks, if you’re needing a recharge. But even if you opt not to take the 10 minute breaks, it may be worth it to bring a lunch for the optional 40-minute break.

  11. Keep in mind, you’re only allowed to leave and access personal items during the 40-minute break.

    This may be another reason to bring a lunch. Depending on where the testing center is, 40 minutes is not as long as it sounds, if you’re needing to drive somewhere to grab food to eat. If you’re late coming back from the 40-minute break, it cuts into your second 4-hour testing session.

  12. Keep calm.

    Cool heads prevail, as they say. Don’t let the time limits and other restrictions get to you. Stay focused, take a break if you need, do your best, and don’t sweat the rest!

Remember these 12 things and you will be more than ready to tackle your COMLEX on test day!