1) Determine if you will be better served by taking a program or by doing it yourself. Pros of doing it yourself = it’s cheaper, it’s flexible, it’s definitely your own “style.” Cons of doing it yourself are more complicated.
COMLEX does not award points equally for all topics – so getting a program, particularly one specifically for COMLEX, will save you time and will make sure the effort you put into studies is best reflected in the score you get. Yes, programs cost more – but programs usually increase your chances of passing, and usually increase your potential for a higher score. Accordingly, the cost of failing and/or just getting a so-so residency (which influences your later specialty and income potential) has enormous costs associated with it.
Sometimes your own style tends towards learning things in a certain way, or focusing on only particular things, which may or may not be problematic for boards.
Lastly, there is definitely no con to the flexibility that studying on your own provides. Most programs are fairly rigid in terms of when you can or cannot finish things; there are only a couple programs, such as Boards Boot Camp, that let you basically do things at your own pace and allow you, through the way it is designed, to do more when you have time and do less when you are busy.
So, most students tend to benefit by taking a program, since it provides students the tools necessary to be thoroughly prepared for COMLEX, increasing their chances of passing!
2) If you choose to take a program, take your time in selecting the right one! Beware of scare tactics (e.g., if you buy today, you’ll get this price, but if you wait until tomorrow, it will double in price), beware of programs that cost next to nothing (remember the old adage, “you get what you pay for”), and beware of programs that try to fool you into thinking you are buying a particular program when you are not (e.g., some companies “steal” parts of names of other companies to mislead the students – look for the trademark (TM or R) symbol; that will tell you who the real McCoy is). Look at the program features and see what you get. For instance, what may seem the cheapest may not be if it only gives you some things, and you have to then go out and buy books or other materials. So, analyze all programs carefully.
In addition, do not expect to get your best COMLEX score by taking a USMLE course. COMLEX is definitely not USMLE + OMT. The scoring, weighting, and focus is different for both exams, so OMM is only one component that is different. USMLE tends to be more “fact-based,” with thousands of hard-science factoids to regurgitate; COMLEX requires more. COMLEX has gotten a reputation as being vague; that is because few questions are “obvious” – you have to be able to figure it out, which means needing to have a mastery of how everything is happening (in addition to the factoids).
Students who prepare for COMLEX with a COMLEX specific program (e.g., one that is truly for COMLEX and not a USMLE prep program with OMM added on) will find preparation to likely be more in line with their needs.
3) When you start studying, learn instead of just memorize. COMLEX expects you to understand underlying principles and concepts so you can “figure” things out. COMLEX also often provides more than one correct answer option, but only one best option – and only the best one gets you points. So, you need more than just memorized facts. When you study, make sure it makes sense and you have an idea of how it is all happening.
4) Take time to prepare. Even if putting in the same amount of time, it is better to spread it across weeks and, if possible, months (a little at a time while in classes or rotations), rather than cramming it all in within the 2-3 weeks before boards.
5) Be thorough. Make sure you know and understand a topic completely (even if it is one that you did well in school on) to apply it to questions – just because one did well on it at their school does not mean they would elsewhere. Everything is curved nationally, so you are not competing with yourself or even with the people at your school – your score is partly determined by how you do in comparison to others across the nation!
6) Use practice questions to support your studies rather than the other way around. Practice questions allow for practice of, improvement of, and augmentation of learned elements. If you study and then do practice questions, you will have context and be more likely to have a better working knowledge for the information.
7) Study the answer options to all questions. This is a common mistake a lot of students make. If you get a question right, that means you know one thing. However, any of the other answer options can be topics for a boards question. So, the answer explanations to all answer options of all questions must be studied to maximize your chances for optimal boards preparation – that allows you to learn and know a total of 5 concepts per question!
8) Do not take boards until you know you are ready. That means that completion of studies is essential, and that one should have evidence of readiness. The best for the latter is to take a COMLEX-specific assessment exam, such as the COMSAE (available at the NBOME website) or the Post-Course Diagnostic (available through the Boards Boot Camp programs) – both are specific in terms of determining COMLEX readiness. Either of these should be taken about 2 weeks before boards – if you fail either of these, it means more time is needed.
9) Put in your time, make the effort, stay focused, and be realistic about your level of readiness. Do what you can to NOT fail COMLEX – re-taking is costly in terms of time and money. You will have to do the study process again and will have to pay for another COMLEX. Plus, it does not do exactly the greatest thing to your self-confidence. Lastly, since boards scores are used in the evaluation of your candidacy for residency programs, failing can blow your chances for getting into the residency you want to go – and even for getting into the field you want to get into. The ramifications can be difficult. Conversely, aim for the best score you personally can get. Of course, not everyone is going to getting in the top 50% (otherwise, it would not be called the top ½) – but at least get a score that represents what you know and are capable of. That way you increase your chances of being able to pursue the training program and field of medicine of your choice.
10) Manage time effectively on boards. It is just as important to not go too quickly as it is not to go too slowly. Since the cases can be tricky, and since there can be more than one right answer (but only one that will get you points), it is really important to take the time to read each case fully, and then carefully review all of the answer options.
Remember, despite how painful and time-consuming this process is, it is the only way to get a license and also is a means by which to make sure you KNOW your stuff – and that benefits the patients in the long run!
COMLEX vs. USMLE – http://www.boardsbootcamp.com/COMLEXvUSMLE.php
COMLEX Bulletin of Information – http://www.nbome.org/docs/comlexBOI.pdf
Boards Boot Camp Post-Course Diagnostic Exam –
COMSAE – http://www.nbome.org/comsae.asp
The NBOME COMLEX: Information and Resources – http://www.mommd.com/comlex.shtml