Step/Level 1 EXAMS

Hi All,

A friend of mine who is studying for step 1/ level 1 exams requested that we do a post on it! Please pitch in any thoughts/ideas/advice! Thanks!

Question: As a DO student, should I take both (USMLE and COMLEX) exams? 

Answer: You have to take COMLEX, USMLE is optional. In my opinion (please take this with a grain of salt), with the merger and the increasing number of programs that accept COMLEX, I think it will be easier to just take the COMLEX. HOWEVER, if you are interested in competitive MD programs (especially those in California), you will most likely need to take USMLE. It looks better if you only take COMLEX than if you do poorly on the USMLE. I was told that as a DO, you need to do EXCEPTIONALLY well on the USMLE. Remember, the USMLE is a very, very difficult test. Though the concepts of both exams are the same, the way the questions are asked and the level of knowledge needed for the USMLE, makes it challenging to study for both. So if you are going to take both, work really hard on the USMLE questions. Your school exams will begin to prep you for the COMLEX, so its style of questions may seem more familiar to you.

Q: What resources should I use? 

A: Qbanks! Use UWorld and do ALL the questions. Go through them, the answers, then rinse and repeat! Use with First Aid – lots of great mnemonics! Some folks like Secrets as it is in paragraph form. Stick to one book and your Qbank and know them inside-out. For COMLEX, use First Aid. I used Combank and really liked it. You should also use an OMM resource- you can use the ever famous Green book, OMM notes from school, and/or this great book I found on Amazon (and asked my school to buy for our library) called: COMLEX OMM Review Guide (by Lauren Smith). It was really concise and useful! Again, keep it simple, don’t overdo it in terms of resources, you will get overwhelmed! Use a few and know them well. So, in summary:

  1. Qbanks: UWorld for USMLE, Combank for COMLEX
  2. First Aid
  3. COMLEX OMM Review Guide or Green Book or notes for COMLEX OMM portion

Q: How should I schedule my exams? 

A: It depends. I took USMLE first, waited about 2 weeks and prepped for OMM/did COMLEX questions, then took COMLEX. This worked well for me, but I will say USMLE was very challenging for me. The breaks between are a little more flexible for the USMLE though (you can take them when you want). We didn’t have too much time to study for the exams before our next year started, so I didn’t feel I had enough time to prepare. Work with your school to see if there is some flexibility in starting your third year (or whenever you need to take it). You might even be able to take an elective during that time that gives you more flexibility. I highly recommend that you take your exams once you feel comfortable. Take an assessment through your Qbank a few weeks before to ensure that your projected score is within your target range! I took one from UWORLD for USMLE a few weeks before and it predicted my score with 100% accuracy! Make sure you are ready!! You can even take your COMLEX after your 2nd year, then wait a few months, prep really well, then take the USMLE (just beware you might run out of steam – I know someone who didn’t end up following through with USMLE). You can take them closer together as well – Nari (correct me if I’m wrong!), took them both with less time between – please feel free to reach out to her for advice on doing that.

Q: How should I prepare? 

A: Rigorously! These tests are really tough and you need to make sure that doors are open to you. Make a schedule. Stick to it. Work with your school to come with a great schedule. Include time for breaks and assessments to ensure you are progressing towards your target score. Some folks use resources like DIT (Doctor’s In Training) or Kaplan, but they maybe outside your budget range. Remember, if you are prepping for both: the content (subject matter) is the same, it’s just asked/assessed differently on the exams. Spend most of your time on questions. Understand WHAT the question is asking you, then you can apply your knowledge easily. Try to simulate the exam every week or every 2 weeks – you need to be able to sit for hours and focus. Also try to take some time to relax, meditate, exercise and take care of yourself. If you’re not in the right head space, it’s hard to focus and assimilate information. I also recommend getting the First Aid book at least a year in advance and using it for your coursework. I had classmates who did this and were very successful on their exams because they knew their resources inside-out. Our school had a systems-based learning system for our second year (we took the exams after second year), which meant we had a month of cardio, renal, pulmonary, etc. Using a text like First Aid during your school year (not just to prep for the boards) is a fantastic way to figure out what’s important/what’s not as relevant for testing/etc. Make good use of your resources! Invest in yourself early!

I can’t really think of anything else. Want to keep this post simple! Hope this helps! Please let us know if there’s anything else you want to know and we’ll address it!

Good luck and happy studying! You’ll rock it!



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