Why Studying For COMAT/Shelf Exams Is So Hard

At the end of every (core) rotation, medical students sit for an examination to prove that they haven’t been lollygagging for the allotted month/period. As an osteopathic medical student, my tests have different names than those my allopathic brethren take. I understand that this might be slightly confusing to Pre-Meds so I just wanted to clear that up.

The exams are basically the same except, of course, Shelf exams don’t incorporate OMT.

NOW…let’s get into the meat of this post. Why is it that studying for these exams is so difficult and different from anything you’ve done before?

When planning to study for your COMAT/Shelf exam, I think it is important to check out the breakdown of the material that will show up on the test. This is just so you’ll know what to study. Every day, focus on a predetermined amount of information. If you have practice questions to complete, write that down on your schedule. If you want to read Case Files or another type of textbook, make sure you keep that in your schedule also.

I’ve only had a couple of COMATs, so I can only tell you what’s worked for me. I also started out with some pretty difficult ones…Surgery and Family Medicine…yeah!  I make sure to do at least 200 practice questions in the month before my COMAT. Because I’m a visual learner, I also like reading through Case Files and watching MedEd videos.

My biggest problem comes when it’s time to actually do the work. I don’t have to go to class anymore and I don’t have homework and I don’t have quizzes to keep me in check. The buck stops with me. And I have the attention span of a housefly so I often get distracted with food, friends, and Instagram…so that sometimes it’s very hard to say “Esté, you have to study.”

If I’m not on call, my weekends are my own and I’m living in the “real world” again. The key is not letting the real world distract you for too long. You’ve still got to pass boards, COMATs, and all of your rotations in order to graduate and become a doctor in real life. Staying grounded helps. Finding a quiet place to study helps. Turning off your phone helps. All of these things are easier said than done.

COMAT/Shelf exams are so hard to study for because we no longer have our professors telling us exactly what it is that we need to study. What I’ve been doing is forcing myself (yes sometimes it is torture) to go through all of the questions and reading material that I need in the first three weeks of my rotation so that during that last week, I can just go through my quizlets and review my notes calmly without feeling like I’m cramming.

Trial and error. Trial and error. Trial and error. You’ve got to find what works best for you. But when you do, life will be so sweet and studying for these exams will be much less stressful.

Thanks for reading lovelies. Share any study tips that you have down below.

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