What is in this article:

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice
  2. Use the right resources
  3. Write Notes

Let me tell you a secret… the COMLEX PE is not everyone’s favorite exam. Okay, well that may not be too much of a secret to you, but it is the truth. That is why I put together this article about 3 key COMLEX PE tips.

If you don’t know what the COMLEX PE is, then here is a little information for you, if you already know what it is… then by all means skip ahead.

The COMLEX PE is a test that you (a 3rd or 4th year Osteopathic Medical Student) will travel to 1 of 2 places (Philadelphia or Chicago) to pretend to be a doctor on camera. You will have 12 standardized patients in which you are to see each one in their own exam room, perform OMM if indicated, diagnose, and document.

This is part of the series of comlex exams and you take it around the same time that you will take comlex level 2-ce. Pretty much all Osteopathic medical students will take this exam, as it is required to graduate.

It is essentially supposed to simulate seeing patients in a real life setting, and helps you develop a treatment plan for various patient encounters, well that is at least the “reason” the NBOME gives for the exam.

This is an extremely high stakes exam and a small percentage (somewhere around 10%) fail this exam every year. It is a very expensive and time consuming exam, so my best advice to you is to prep hard for it and make sure you don’t fail.

Good news is that this article covers 3 study tips for the comlex PE, and also talks about a helpful course to help you crush this test!

So, here are the three COMLEX PE tips that you came here for:

Comlex pe tip 1: Practice, Practice, practice

This should go without saying right? I mean when we all get ready to take our written exams we typically spend forever doing practice questions and watching endless videos or reading tirelessly.

Then why is it that when the conversation about the COMLEX PE comes up everyone wants to blow off studying? I personally believe that it is because the COMLEX PE sounds very simple right? Just treat it like another day on clinical rotations.

I can assure you that this exam is NOT just another day in the clinic. There are many components to it that can lead to a failing grade if you treat it like another day in the clinic. This is why I created this article with 3 COMLEX PE tips.

First issue is that there is a time limit to each exam and note. This is not a real issue you will face in clinic as a 3rd or 4th year student.

Another issue is you are graded on interpersonal skills, little things like did you say the right phrases, and if you did the lung exam exactly as the standardized patient thinks you should.

This exam is testing your ability to ask the “correct” questions… despite the fact that you may already have a diagnosis in your head, you need to run through the full history and physical to make sure you don’t miss anything. I believe this is why the NBOME wants you to ask enough specific questions. Don’t jump the gun, and assume… always go through your full H&P.

You should be practicing the full H&P by the way. Get yourself someone who doesn’t mind being a “dummy patient” and get them to help you practice. My wife was gracious enough to practice with me as well as one of my classmates.

My wife and I would go through the cases that are in the Crush the COMLEX PE course, and while we did it I treated each case like it was the real PE. I didn’t scoff or blow it off, I talked and acted like I was seeing a patient in the PE.

This is the most important aspect to practicing, you really need to treat every patient like they are a real patient on the PE.

Another way I practiced was with a classmate and it was a little different. So, we had a list of cases and we went through the presenting complaint and just came up with a quick differential diagnosis list and then what tests we would order.

This was great because it helped us quickly develop our clinical thinking which was awesome for test day because I was able to effectively come up with a differential list and to do it fast!

COMLEX PE tip 2: Use the right resources

The frustrating part is that there really isn’t a whole lot of resources out there for the PE. I want to talk to you about the ones I think are pretty solid and that will help you get that pass.

The first is the Crush the COMLEX PE Course . This is a pretty solid course for the PE. It has some great COMLEX PE tips in it. Within it he goes over each section of the PE and how to get the most points that you possible can in each section.

So, for the PE you get graded in two domains.

  • The first is the bio-mechanical/bio-medical portion.
  • The second is the humanistic portion.

The components of the bio-mechanical/bio-medical are things such as:

  • Your history taking skills
  • Your physical exam skills
  • How was the note that you wrote at the end of the encounter
  • How well did you diagnose and perform OMT on your patient when prompted

An interesting point is that the note and the OMM are the only two components that are graded by an actual physician. So what does this mean for the rest of it? Make sure you go through the proper questions and hit the important physical exam skills because the standardized patient is the one grading you on that. You absolutely need to make sure you vocalize and explain to the patient everything you are doing.

The other component is the humanistic domain. This is basically:

  • How nice were you
  • Did you wash your hands
  • Were you professional
  • How did you communicate

You would think that all of these are pretty simple things to get points in, but from my understanding a lot of people fail because of this silly section.

Now, all of that information that I just gave you came from the Crush the COMLEX PE course. There is way more detail in that course than what I just gave you and it is worth a few passes before PE day. At least one before you get on the plane to travel there and one time on the plane ride there.

Cool, Confident, student crushing his PE!

Another cool thing about the Crush the COMLEX PE Course, is that it has a bonus of over 40 practice cases. It is a nice all in one kind of deal with that course. A few of the practice cases have sample soap notes with them as well.

You can get access to the Crush the COMLEX PE Course here. It is a pretty inexpensive course that will reduce the likelihood of having to take the COMLEX PE twice.

There are a ton of study guides out there too, and you can even look on the nbome website and see exactly what they grade you on to help prepare the right way.

Essentially you are evaluated on a few “domains” these include:

  • Biomedical domains
  • Humanistic domain

 comlex pe tip 3: Write notes

This is pretty self explanatory, but a major game changer for anyone that will actually practice doing it.

It should come as no surprise to you that note taking on the PE is a little different than note taking out there in the real world. This is because you have to demonstrate all your thoughts and reasons for doing every little thing on the PE. Also, you are the one doing it on the PE so you have to think about all the little details.

For example, the vital signs. These typically autopopulate on all the newest EMR software. On the PE though, you better remember to put the vitals down because it will not auto populate.

Some get frustrated with this because that is not how it is done in the real world, but once again you are demonstrating that you know the important pieces of a history and physical. No, I am not out here defending the utility of the PE. Just stating the facts of the exam.

The e-soap notes is a super helpful resource to all those that want to practice https://www.nbome.org/eSoapDemo/ that every osteopathic student should spend some time using before their exam.

comlex pe tips
Charting is a huge part of the PE

It is a count down timer blank soap note that is very similar to the one you use on test day. I made sure to practice with this after each practice case I did, and I can say I did not struggle to get my notes done at all.

So just to recap before you go, make sure you PRACTICE all components of the exam. Make sure to be compassionate, help your practice patients up and down, ask to untie the gown, verbalize all physical exam components that you do, and above all else make sure you practice with the correct resources.

Just so you know, there is no significant association between passing this exam and actual practice of family medicine, internal medicine, or other specialties. This is simply a way for medical schools to make sure there is a minimal competency of their students when it comes to patient care.

Using some sort of prep outline is important because to get a passing grade you really have to get a ton of information and indicate which diagnostic tests you want to order. So, getting a prep outline and going over cases with a study partner is super important and can make all the difference.

The Crush the COMLEX PE Course is the best prep material in my opinion, but if you are more into books you can check out the JB Review COMLEX Level 2 PE book.

When should I take Comlex PE?

The COMLEX Level 2 PE is typically taken during the first part of the 4th year of medical school.

Some students will take it earlier, such as in the 3rd year, and others will wait until winter of fourth year to take the exam.

The most important thing is to take this exam when you feel like you are ready to properly evaluate a standardized patient and go through the appropriate steps to pass the exam.

How is Comlex Level 2 PE scored?

The COMLEX Level 2 PE is scored on 2 domains, the humanistic and the biomedical domains.

The humanistic domain is associated with things like professionalism, interpersonal communication, etc.

Then the biomedical domain is associated with your exam skills, OMM, and overall medical knowledge.

You have to pass both domains in order to pass the exam.


Well, there you have it, three tips to help you pass the COMLEX PE.

The PE can be a daunting exam, but it is not difficult and has a high pass rate.

Be sure to check out courses that can help you pass this exam on the first try to make sure it isn’t an issue.

One question for you, What resource will you use to prep for the PE?

The PE orientation video

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