I want to talk to you about big picture study strategies for the MCAT. You don’t need me to tell you that the MCAT is one of the most important factors determining your success in gaining acceptance to medical school. I’m going to share with you the same strategies that got me a top score. I was fortunate enough to get the 99.9th percentile. This was on the old MCAT, and the score of 40 roughly translates into a 523 or above on the new MCAT based on online conversions and percentiles. Even though this was the “old” MCAT, these study strategies will absolutely translate to the new MCAT equally effectively.
When Should I Take the MCAT?
One of the most important factors for your success will be timing your study time and test date. A few things to keep in mind:
Don’t wait too long after you finish your core courses and pre-requisites to study for the MCAT. Prolonging the gap will resulting in you forgetting key information. You can relearn this, but that means wasted energy. The name of the game is efficiency. I studied between sophomore and junior year during the summer. This was best for me, but see what works best for you and your schedule.
Set aside 2 to 2.5 months of dedicated study time. I personally spent 2.5 months. During the first month I did a prep course while also working 10-20 hours per week in a research lab. During the second month I wrapped up the prep course and focused all my energy on studying. No research or classes leading up to the test.
Study Smarter, Not Harder
Pace yourself. Studying for the MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Part of the reason I decided to do 10-20 hours of research per week in my first month was to ease into the intensity of studying. This helped break the monotony while maintaining productivity in other endeavors.
The number of hours I studied slowly increased as the weeks went on. Your stamina and ability to focus will improve if you pace yourself. Jumping in at 100% intensity from the get go is more likely to backfire and lead to quick burnout. At the same time, don’t use this as an excuse to only study for a couple hours per day. Put in the work, but also maintain your physical and mental health.
Set Up and Optimal Environment
First, do you like to study solo or in groups? As I mentioned in other videos, I do not think groups larger than 3 (yourself included) are worthwhile. After 3 people you begin receiving diminishing returns. I studied with my two roommates who enrolled in the same prep course and also set high goals. They also did well, both scoring in the 90-95th percentile range. We were in the same boat. We kept each other’s motivation up, helped each other focus, and since we were all inherently competitive, we wanted to do better than one another in a healthy way. Not by sabotaging or bringing each other down, but by learning from each other’s tips and trying to improve ourselves.
I’m not saying that studying alone is impossible, but seriously consider the benefits of having study partners. I was lucky to have roommates in the same situation. Find friends or classmates who are studying at the same time if you can. College is full of distractions and most of us could use the added focus and motivation
What is your study space like? If you live in a fraternity that has multiple parties every Thursday through Saturday, living there may not be the best spot while studying for the MCAT. I lived in my university apartment for the first month and went back home for the last couple weeks. Staying at home minimized distractions and allowed me to focus fully on studying now that my food and groceries were taken care of. Your living situation may be different and you may decide on going another route. Carefully consider your options and set yourself up for success. Surrounding yourself with temptation and hoping you stay motivated and disciplined is a recipe for disaster. Set yourself up for success from the beginning. Minimize the possibility of failing.
Choose your Resources Carefully
Ask yourself, what is your goal in studying for the MCAT? Are you going for the 99th percentile or are you OK with 80th? Be honest with yourself. If you are shooting for the 99th, you will need to put in more time and effort, but it will pay off.
Your goals will dictate your study approach and the resources you should use. If you’re aiming for a top score, then aim to overprepare. Don’t waste your time studying things that aren’t relevant. Instead, aim to master every concept that is high yield. This strategy will take you a longer time to increase your score, but your potential is higher.
If you’re aiming for a little lower, then you may be best served by resources that teach you how to take the test. Some test prep companies teach how to navigate the test with certain strategies without you having to master all the material. This will increase your score quicker but you will plateau and reach a ceiling
Recreate Test Conditions
This goes hand in hand with the last point. Practice tests are your most prized resource. Use them carefully. Don’t waste them all at the beginning, but at the same time take them early enough to familiarize yourself with the test. When you do a practice test, recreate the test conditions. Take breaks like it was the real thing. Turn your phone off. Use earplugs if you plan on using earplugs day of the test. Time yourself accurately, both test blocks and breaks.
I recommend taking your first test after 1 or 2 weeks of studying. As the test day gets closer, use them more frequently. In the 2 to 3 weeks leading up to the test, I did 3 or 4 practice tests per week, averaging 1 every other day. HOWEVER, the new MCAT is 3 hours longer. I don’t think its feasible to maintain this with the new test. That being said, you should be doing practice tests at a higher frequency the closer it gets to your test.
Optimize Test Day Conditions
- Only study half the day before your test. You want to be relaxed and comfortable. Cramming last minute is more likely to hurt your score than help it.
- Drive to the testing center to get familiar
- Day of, have a good breakfast and get in the zone. You’ve done the hard work. Time to show them what you got.