The COLT, or Certified Office Laboratory Technician, exam is a standardized test that grants certification to medical laboratory technicians. Medical laboratory technicians usually work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, or laboratories.
Medical laboratory technicians perform a variety of tasks on the job. These tasks can include administrative office work as well as interacting with patients and performing routine medical laboratory tests. The exact duties of the job will differ slightly from employer to employer. Some medical laboratory technicians may spend a lot of their time inputting data into patients’ records and others may spend more time administering tests.
The tests performed by medical laboratory technicians usually include tests on samples of bodily fluids such as urine, blood, or feces, or tests on samples of body tissues or cells. Some technicians specialize within a particular area of testing. For example, phlebotomists perform blood tests and histotechnicians perform tests on small samples of cells. The amount of analytic work medical laboratory technicians perform on the samples they collect varies depending on where they work and the level of their experience. Some medical laboratory technicians will have the opportunity to analyze the specimens they collect. They will looks for any irregularities in the samples, such as signs of infection. They will also examine specimens to look for any improvement in response to treatment that has been administered.
Workplace safety is of utmost importance to medical laboratory technicians. Since you will be handling samples of bodily fluids or cells from patients, you must have a keen understanding of proper sanitation techniques. Medical laboratory technicians follow specific procedures for the safe handling and disposal of specimens, so as not to expose themselves or others to any contagions.
Most medical laboratory technicians need to complete a two-year college degree at a two-year college, vocational, or trade school. Sometimes the appropriate training for a medical laboratory technician is also available to military personnel, and if you received this training while in the military, you will not need to complete the two-year degree program in order to work as a medical laboratory technician. Occasionally a medical laboratory technician will gain experience and be able to pass the certification exam based solely on on-the-job training, but this is very rare. Usually employers prefer medical laboratory technicians with either a two-year degree or medical laboratory technician experience in the military.
Many, although not all, employers require medical laboratory technicians to be certified. Passing the COLT exam is the first step towards earning and maintaining certification. The COLT exam is administered the American Medical Technologists, a professional organization representing medical laboratory technicians and technologists. Other professional organizations also grant certification to medical laboratory technicians, including the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts, the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, and the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel. Each professional association may have slightly different requirements for gaining certification. When deciding which association you wish to pursue certification through, think about which best applies to your specific interests within your work as a medical laboratory technician.
If you are working as a medical laboratory technician and want more opportunities to perform analytic work rather than merely testing specimens, you may pursue career advancement by becoming a medical laboratory technologist. Technologists usually have greater responsibility than medical laboratory technicians. Many technologists begin their careers as technicians. Medical laboratory technologists also usually need to be certified in their field and must pass a certification exam. The content of this exam is very similar to the content of the Certified Office Laboratory Technician exam. Some of the content is based on a more elaborate version of the exact same concepts, so passing the COLT exam is, in a sense, not only bettering your career as a medical laboratory technician, but also a great way to start studying for your career as a medical laboratory technologist.
Gaining Approval to Take the COLT Exam
The Association of Medical Technologists is a professional organization that grants certification to Medical Technologists and Medical Laboratory Technicians. Gaining certification is a helpful step to take if you are pursuing a career as a Medical Laboratory Technician. Most employers prefer Medical Laboratory Technicians to be certified, so becoming certified makes you more employable. Certification also indicates to your employers, your colleagues, and your patients that you are competent in your profession.
Passing the COLT Exam is the final step to earning certification through the Association of Medical Technologists. However, first you must demonstrate that you are eligible for certification before you are approved to take the exam.
There are three parts to gaining eligibility for certification. First, you must complete a set amount of college credit. You have several options on how to do this. You can earn an associateÕs degree in medical technology from a two-year college or earn a degree in medical technology from a two-year trade or vocational school. If you have completed at least two years of college credit at another institution but did not yet complete a degree, you still may be eligible for professional certification. For example, if you began a bachelorÕs degree at a four-year university and completed at least two years of college, you can likely still gain approval to take the COLT Exam as long as your course work is comparable to that of a medical technology program. Your college courses will likely need to include a combination of chemistry, biology, mathematics, and medicine.
You can also receive military training to work as a medical laboratory technician that can transfer as the appropriate college credit to take the COLT Exam. If you have passed a medical laboratory technician certification exam offered by another professional organization, this may also be sufficient to gain certification through the Association of Medical Technologists. Some states require that practicing medical laboratory technicians pass a licensure exam in order to be eligible to work. If you have passed a state licensing exam, that may also qualify you for professional certification through the Association of Medical Technologists.
You need to submit personal information in order to apply for certification. This includes stating whether or not you have been convicted of a felony. If you have been convicted of a felony, this does not necessarily disqualify you from gaining certification as a medical laboratory technician through the Association of Medical Technologists. Provide as much documentation as you can about your felony, such as your court records.
Experience working in the laboratory is also a necessity to gain certification as a medical laboratory technician through the Association of Medical Technologists. You can earn your laboratory hours working in a hospital laboratory, working in a clinical laboratory under a medical doctor, or working in any other approved health care laboratory. Your degree program should be able to furnish you with resources to help earn the professional work experience that you will need to apply for certification as a medical laboratory technician.
The application fee to apply for professional certification through the Association of Medical Technologists is $130 dollars. Each year you must pay an additional $90 in order to maintain your certification.
After you submit all of your paperwork to the Association of Medical Technologists to apply for certification, you will receive written notice that your application has been accepted. Then you can register to take the COLT Exam. Be sure to give yourself ample time to prepare for the exam when you pick your exam date. However, you can reschedule your exam without a penalty if you discover that you need more time to study. Your degree program will provide the majority of the background knowledge you will need to pass the COLT Exam, but study materials available through the Association of Medical Technologists will help you ensure that you have adequate knowledge of all necessary content areas.
The Day You Take the COLT Exam
Make sure you know exactly what to expect on the COLT Exam so that you are prepared when you take the test. This includes knowing what content to expect on the exam as well as the administrative procedures you will go through when you take the test.
The COLT Exam is offered in hundreds of locations across the United States, so you should be able to locate a testing facility near you. The COLT Exam is offered fairly frequently, so you should also not have difficulty securing a test date that fits within your schedule. However, keep in mind that test centers are closed on Sundays and major U.S. holidays. Plan to take the exam during a time when you will not feel excess stress about issues outside of the exam that could be distracting. For example, if you typically exert a lot of energy planning holiday functions, do not schedule the COLT Exam around major holidays. Pick a time when your personal life is likely to be stable and not a detriment to your concentration on the exam.
Before you take the COLT Exam, you must apply to take the exam through the Association of Medical Technologists. You will receive written notification when you have been approved to take the COLT Exam. Then you can schedule your test. The easiest way to schedule an exam is to do so online at www.pearsonvue.com.
The COLT Exam is offered both as a computer-based test and as a paper-based test. Both versions of the test have the same number of questions: between 200 and 210. Both tests have the exact same kind of questions, too, and will only be comprised of multiple-choice questions with four possible answers to choose between.
You should plan to arrive at your test center about half an hour before your exam is scheduled in order to complete the check-in process. Bring two forms of identification that include your name and your signature. At least one of these forms of identification must also include a recent photograph. You cannot use a calculator on the COLT Exam and should not need one, so leave the calculator at home. However, you will need to supply your own pencils if you take the paper-based test. Bring at least two number two pencils to the exam in case one breaks. You are not allowed to use scratch paper on the exam, but you are allowed to write on the exam booklet. You can wear a watch during the exam if you wish to keep track of how much time you are taking.
If you need to reschedule or cancel your appointment to take the COLT Exam, you can do so without penalty if you do so at least one business day before you are scheduled to take the exam.
Make sure you get plenty of rest the night before you take the COLT Exam. Also be sure to eat a decent breakfast that contains protein so that you will not become hungry in the middle of the test. Being hungry or tired can distract you and may cause you to inadvertently answer a question incorrectly, so taking care of your physical needs on exam day is important. The more you study for the COLT Exam, the less anxiety you will face on test day. If you go into the exam knowing that you are prepared, you will better be able to concentrate on answering the questions correctly.
Also familiarize yourself with the regulations of your test center. Behavior such as discussing the COLT Exam with other examinees can be grounds for dismissal of your scores.
If you take the computer-based COLT Exam, you will receive your score immediately upon completion of the exam. If you take the paper-based COLT Exam, you will receive your score report in the mail in about six to eight weeks after your test date.
Scoring the COLT Exam
The COLT Exam has between 200 and 210 questions. All of the questions are multiple-choice and have four possible answers. These questions span the chemistry, hematology, general laboratory technique, urinalysis, microbiology, and immunology content areas. The difficulty level of each question will vary; some answers may seem like common sense to you, while others will require more intellectual rigor in order to decipher the correct answer.
Even though the number of questions varies from 200 to 210, the COLT Exam is scored on a scale from 0 to 100. You need at least a score of 70 to pass the exam; a score of 69 or below is a failing score. Your COLT exam score is not a percentage of questions answered correctly. The difficulty level of each question is measured, and the combined difficulty level of the questions on the exam determine how many questions you need to answer correctly in order to pass and what the number of your scaled score will be.
The difficulty level of questions on the COLT Exam is based on something called the Minimum Passing Level, or MPL. For example, if someone with a very basic competency level as a medical laboratory technician could easily eliminate two out of four answer choices of a multiple choice question on the COLT exam, that questionÕs difficulty level would be .5 because the test taker would have a one out of two chance of answering the question correctly. Similarly, if a medical laboratory technician with entry-level experience and knowledge could easily eliminate only one answer choice from the four possible choices, the MPL of that question would be .33, because the test taker would have a roughly 33%, or one out of 3, chance of answering the question correctly. A question with no answer choices that could be dismissed as incorrect would have a .25 MPL, and one with an obvious correct answer would have a 1.00 MPL.
The number of correct answers necessary to pass the COLT Exam is based on the sum of the MPLs of all of the exam’s questions. A passing score is this sum rounded to the next whole number. For example, if the total of all of the COLT Exam’s questions’ MPLs is 130.63, examinees must answer 131 questions correctly in order to pass the test. 131 correct answers would equal the scaled score of 70.
Computer-based tests scores are available as soon as you complete the COLT exam. Paper-based test scores will be mailed to you within six to eight weeks after you complete the exam. If you fail the COLT Exam, you will need to retake the test in order to gain certification as a medical laboratory technician. You can take the COLT Exam a total of four times, and you can take the test twice each time you apply for the exam. So if you fail the COLT Exam, you can retake the test one more time before submitting another application for the exam. If you fail the COLT Exam a second time, you must submit another application for the exam. The second application must demonstrate how you have improved your chances of passing the COLT exam.
When you receive your score report, you will be notified of which content sections you scored the lowest if you fail the exam. That way, you will know what areas you need to study in order to improve your score and pass the COLT exam when you retake the test. However, you will have to retake the entire exam, not only the sections on which you did poorly.
If you think there has been an error in calculating your scores, you can request that your exam be rescored for a $25 fee. Your exam will be rescored by hand in order to verify your original test results. However, rescoring usually does not yield a difference in score.
Chemistry in the COLT Exam
Questions on the COLT exam draw from a broad base of knowledge necessary to become a successful medical laboratory technician. The content of the COLT exam includes knowledge of hematology, immunology, drug testing, electrophoresis, the metabolism, chemistry, fetal tests, and general laboratory techniques.
The chemistry section covers an overview of how general chemistry principles apply to working as a medical laboratory technician. You will need to know the meaning of general chemistry vocabulary as well as how this vocabulary is used in the context of your work. You will also need to know how to use chemistry concepts to perform and interpret your patients tests.
Enzymes are catalysts within the human body that help its systems function properly. For the COLT exam, you will need to understand how the body uses enzymes. This includes how cardiac, pancreatic, and liver enzymes function and what to look for in specimens in order to determine whether these enzymes are functioning properly. Improper enzyme function is one way to diagnose illness.
As a medical laboratory technician, you will perform tests to determine kidney (renal) and liver (hepatic) function. You will need to understand the anatomy of the kidneys and liver as well as how the chemical makeup of bodily fluids can indicate a problem in kidney or liver function.
Understanding the chemistry of the human metabolism will also be important for the COLT exam. This includes knowledge of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. You will need to learn vocabulary associated with carbohydrate metabolism including various types of carbohydrates present in the human body. You will need to know the function of these carbohydrates in the body and what can affect the rates at which they are metabolized. As a medical laboratory technician, you will perform tests that measure a patient’s carbohydrate count. These tests can be used to determine whether or not someone has signs of diabetes.
As well as memorizing the various types of carbohydrates, you will need to memorize the types of proteins and lipids found in the human body. You will need to know how these proteins and lipids are used and how to perform tests on the levels of various proteins and lipids. This includes understanding how proteins and lipids are measured, as well as what results could indicate a health problem. The body metabolizes and excretes proteins and lipids in various ways, and you will need to understand the ways in which the body regulates its own protein and lipid counts.
Knowledge of the body’s hormones and how these hormones function is also essential for the COLT exam. You will need to know how the thyroid functions and how an alteration in thyroid function can affect hormone levels, and in turn how hormone levels that are too high or too low can affect a patient’s health.
Medical laboratory technicians also need to know how to measure levels of other substances in the body and what the measurements say about a patient’s health. Medical laboratory technicians measure the amount of electrolytes in a person’s body as well as the balance of acids and bases in the body. The significance of a balanced or unbalanced Ph as well as how the lungs and kidneys keep the body’s Ph balanced is important to know to pass the COLT exam.
You will also need to study tests for fetal health in pregnant women and how prostate specific antigen tests can determine the presence of prostate cancer. You should understand how the body metabolizes minerals and what excess levels of particular minerals may signify with regard to a patient’s health.
While you are a student preparing to become a medical laboratory technician, your chemistry classes will provide a solid foundation for these chemistry topics covered on the COLT exam. However, you should still study COLT-specific chemistry topics in order to be adequately prepared for the exam and your future career as a medical laboratory technician.
Laboratory Knowledge on the COLT Exam
To prepare for the COLT exam, you need to study in-depth information on how to analyze blood and other samples of bodily fluids, how the chemistry of the human body can be a window into health, and how to recognize infection or the effectiveness of drugs on a sample of human cells. However, you will also be tested on your knowledge of how to operate the laboratory properly. This includes how to use equipment, how to read data, and how to perform your job in a safe way. The laboratory questions on the COLT exam also cover your knowledge of how to interact with patients properly and professionally.
Part of the laboratory section of the COLT exam focuses on your understanding of important regulations that affect your job. You will need to be familiar with OSHA, CLIA, and HIPAA regulations. OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and is a government organization that regulates working conditions in order to ensure the safety of employees and patients. As a medical laboratory technician, OSHA regulations will be specified in a way to maintain the necessary level of sanitation in order to avoid infecting yourself or your patients. HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA specifies the ways in which you need to ensure your patients’ privacy. CLIA is the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments. These set federal standards for how the tests you perform as a medical laboratory technician need to be administered.
You also need to know how to properly use laboratory equipment for the COLT exam. This includes how to use laboratory glassware, how to properly use a centrifuge, and how to use the different kinds of microscopes. You will likely be tested on both a binocular and an ocular microscope. You will need to know the parts of the microscopes and what each is used for. Aside from understanding how to properly use laboratory equipment, you will need to know how to properly clean and store it as well in order to maintain the equipment’s effectiveness.
The laboratory questions on the COLT exam also cover typical math equations, abbreviations, and laboratory terminology. You will likely learn much of this information during your medical laboratory technician degree program, but it will be helpful to brush up before the exam in order to refresh your memory.
Proper techniques for drawing blood will also be included in the laboratory section of the COLT exam. You will need to know both how to collect samples of blood and how to analyze them, as well as the difference between plasma, serum, and whole blood. You will need to understand the difference between clotted and anti-coagulated blood and how that can affect test results. You will need to know how to use anticoagulants on blood samples and how to properly store blood samples in order to maintain their integrity. Blood samples also have a specific labeling system, which may appear on the COLT exam.
Safety is another area that is covered on the COLT exam. You will need to know what precautions to take on the job in order to maintain standards of laboratory safety. This includes handling needles and hazardous chemicals properly as well as disposing of them in a safe way. Sanitation is a large part of laboratory safety, and you will need to know what steps you are required to take in order to maintain a level of sanitation that protects you, your colleagues, and your patients.
Identification of patients may also appear on the laboratory section of the COLT exam. Patient identification refers to ensuring that all of a patient’s records are accurate and that they are attributed to the right person. HIPAA privacy standards may also appear as an issue related to patient identification. You need to ensure that a patient’s records are adequately documented while at the same time complying with federal standards for patients’ privacy.
Blood Procedures and Analysis on the COLT Exam
As a medical laboratory technician, much of your time will be spent analyzing cells and bodily fluids from patients, which means that you will be responsible for extracting patients blood, storing blood specimens properly, and possibly interpreting blood specimens in order to aid in a patient’s diagnosis. Much of the content of the COLT exam is devoted to hematology, which is the study of blood and how the body produces and regulates blood.
You will need to know terminology related to blood as well as the different types of blood cells, their specific functions, and structural differences between different types of blood cells. Blood is composed of plasma, which is the liquid part of blood, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells are also called erythrocytes, white blood cells are also called leukocytes, and platelets are also called thrombocytes. A platelet is similar to a cell but does not have a nucleus with DNA. Platelets play an essential part in helping blood clot in order to stop bleeding. For the COLT exam, you will need to understand the relationship of the parts of blood to one another and what a difference in the ratio of one part of blood to another could signify. You will need to know how to perform tests to determine the amount of red and white blood cells in a patient’s blood sample. This could require using equipment such as a centrifuge to separate the various parts of blood by density.
Blood cells are produced by bone marrow. You will need to understand how this process works and how a disruption in the functioning of this process could affect a patient’s health.
Hemostasis is the process that causes a person to cease bleeding. Part of hemostasis is the coagulation, or clotting, of blood cells in order to seal a wound. As a medical laboratory technician, you will need a full understanding of the coagulation process in order to properly perform a variety of blood tests on your patients. For the COLT exam, you will need to know how coagulation can affect test results and how to apply anticoagulants in order to maintain the integrity of blood specimens.
Blood contains both t-cells and b-cells, which are essential to the functioning of the immune system. Blood cells produce antibodies, which fight off disease. You will need to know the blood’s role in the immune system for the COLT exam. This includes knowledge of how to perform a count on antibodies present in the blood and what this signifies about a patient’s health. You will need to study what can affect the production of antibodies as well as the number of antibodies present in a patient’s blood specimen.
As a medical laboratory technician, you will need to know about the four distinct blood types and how blood types can affect a blood transfusion. The COLT exam may also test you on your knowledge of blood banking and blood donations. You will need to know the proper regulations for operating a blood donation facility. These include how to store blood, how to properly dispose of equipment used to collect blood, how to properly label blood donations, how to quickly inspect blood donations for viability, and how to maintain proper records of blood donations, donors, and recipients.
Since information about how to properly handle a patient’s blood makes up a large portion of the COLT exam, you should dedicate a significant portion of your study time to ensuring that you have adequate knowledge of the basic function of the various units of a personÕs blood as well as how to interpret blood test results. This will not only help you pass the COLT exam, but will also be good preparation for working as a medical laboratory technician or going on to become a medical technologist.