Dominating the MCAT Pt. 3 | Resources & Timeline

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email

The surge of misinformation bringing question to the scientific enterprise has weaved its way into far more than politics and the pandemic. Far too many MCAT gurus are propagating massively unrealistic expectations about what it takes to conquer this test; others are misguiding students to leverage suboptimal resources and inefficient study strategies.

I’ll separate the reality from the fluff.

This is the third article in this nine-article series – the Dominating the MCAT series – where I will distill everything I have learned in conquering my MCAT into a comprehensive, actionable framework that you can harness and tailor to optimize each aspect of your preparation and test-taking.

If you missed the first article, I would advise you to start there, where I lay three fundamental takeaways that students should carry forth from day one of their MCAT journey and background on my personal experience. In the second article, I shed light on the productivity and study strategies that accelerated my rate of improvement on the MCAT.

 

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 1 | Everything You Need to Know Going In

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 2 | Optimizing Productivity & Studying

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 3 | Resources & Timeline

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 4 | 4 Month Study Plan

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 5 | Test-Taking & Reviewing | Strategy for Success

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 6 | Mindset, Testing Anxiety & Managing Uncertainty

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 7 | How I Scored a 132 on P/S

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 8 | Deciding Whether or Not to Push the MCAT

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 9 | Tips, Tricks, Rules & What I Would Do Differently

 

Here, I’ll lay insight into the resources you should be prioritizing and the time frame you should be striving to complete your MCAT journey within.

 

1 | Resources to Prioritize

UWorld

Fantastic bank of passages and questions that are higher in difficulty than the AAMC material and will strengthen your foundation substantially. I truly believe this was one of the most important learning tools I leveraged early on in my studying, and I’d advise all students to prioritize this tool in their MCAT arsenal. Don’t wait on starting these questions – delve right into them after you’ve reviewed a topic or if you already have a strong foundation from your coursework.

Memm vs Anki — MEMM!

Both Memm and Anki are foundationally important spaced-repetition tools that can imprint massive quantities of information into your long-term memory when used correctly. There’s been a debate between the two, given that Anki is free to use while Memm is not.

We can settle this debate.

I had an insider’s scoop into Memm since June of 2020, the year before my MCAT preparation, during which I was able to glean insight into the development of the tool and the level of detail that it achieved. Before this period, I had spent my first few college semesters leveraging Anki, designing cards with the highest-yielding strategies. That said, I was in a unique position where I had ample opportunity to contrast the two tools on a level of detail – the strengths and potential weaknesses of both platforms – unavailable to others.

I was committed to figuring out for myself which tool was a better investment of time and energy because I wanted to ensure that I was using the very best resources out there when it came to my MCAT preparation.

Having contrasted Anki with Memm rigorously in the months prior to my preparation, I opted for Memm given its beautifully engaging interface, its secondary and tertiary learning opportunities (described below), and the fact that the content and context that each flashcard was presented within was tailored to the level of detail required for the MCAT.

Naturally, given that the tool was relatively new, there was a lingering sense of concern that led me to explore the Milesdown Anki deck to ensure that I’d made the right decision. My experience ultimately validated that Memm was a far more useful learning tool, and that every hour I spent engaged with the instrument came with a higher yield than an hour spent engaged in an Anki deck.

There are a lot of third companies out there marketing that they can guarantee students a 510 or a 515 or perhaps a 15 point score boost. I’ve looked into the evidence behind these claims, and the data that these companies use seems to be questionable – it appears that these companies have stratified their selection of students for which these claims are founded on to students who crushed the MCAT and faced a massive score boost. Moreover, these companies also require students to take a test at the beginning of their preparation, one that is brutally hard, to set the student at a low bar that would inevitably rise once the easier AAMC material is encountered – this facilitates a score boost.

Given that these companies’ claims are founded on these tactics, I want all students to be wary whenever they encounter any such claim.

When it comes to Memm, however, the average user scores a 514.3 on the MCAT – a testament to the validity of Memm.

Despite what people may say online, Anki and Memm are not equivalent. While they are both spaced repetition learning tools, Memm has three distinct benefits that Anki cannot compete with, nor can any other instrument on the market.

1 | Tailored Reviews Integrated with Every Flashcard –

On the back of each flashcard, there is a small excerpt derived from the comprehensive review sheets (described below) relevant to that topic. It is important to note that these excerpts are not the entire review sheet, but are tailored to the specific bits of information you need to know in the context of the flashcard – this is hugely different from Anki. When using flashcards on Anki, there is no integrated context – facts are memorized in isolation, compromising both the depth of your foundation and your retention. While Anki decks like Milesdown offers a PDF of review sheets, the convenience of having access to tailored excerpts directly alongside every card compounds with time, and can have a lasting impact on your understanding of information – plus, with Memm, the context is optimized so you won’t be inundated with less relevant bits of information, which will be the case with the Milesdown review sheets.

2 | Access to Flashcards & Comprehensive Review Sheets Topically – Memm provides access to an algorithm-based, growing deck of cards (same as Anki), but users also have access to each set of cards and review sheets by topic alone. This creates a secondary learning opportunity because users can target deficiencies in their foundation. Anki does not allow this because you are forced to work through a deck of cards, and you cannot choose what subset of cards or topics to work on – you must go through a deck by subject in the order that is presented to you.

3 | Memm has no fluff – This is a massively overlooked factor. When it comes to the MCAT, every hour you spend can influence whether or not you are making progress towards your score goal or remaining stagnant. This is why it is imperative to leverage the most efficient, optimal study strategies and tools. Anki decks are far more detailed than Memm – to a degree that is not necessary on the MCAT. And as a result, it takes far more time to work through those decks. Memm is tailored to the precise level of detail you need to dominate the test – my experience is a testament to this. The time that is freed up when leveraging Memm instead of Anki can be refocused on more important tasks that will lead to greater MCAT progress.

Students are easy to dismiss Memm as being worse than Anki given that there is a price tag for it – the reality is that the MCAT is one of the most important objective metrics on your medical school application, and the cost of using Memm for two months is a drop in the bucket compared to other expenses you’ll have as a premed (textbooks, review books, etc).

For all the users out there who are now interested in trying out Memm, here’s a discount: given that this recommendation is coming from the Dominating the MCAT (DTM) Framework, use DTM22 for 10% off.

Kaplan Books

Great resource to scope each subject of the MCAT and immerse yourself within the material, but their practice questions are far off from what the AAMC will test and these books should not be used too religiously given that both reading and outlining are a passive, inefficient manner to learn information when compared to more engaging learning options like active recall with flashcards.

These books should be used to immerse yourself in each topic and gather context and a detailed, big picture perspective on the material, but once users have read these books, they should shift to a better learning tool like UWorld and Memm to meaningfully engage with the material and retain it. Also, don’t outline these books – that is a complete waste of time, and a lesson I learned during my MCAT journey.

Instead, read, answer the questions in the back, and transition straight into UWorld and Memm – this feels unnatural given that we are so used to taking notes. However, this is what medical students oftentimes do, and I can assure you that having made the transition of leaving note-taking behind during my MCAT journey (for good!), and leveraging flashcards and questions instead, this works wonders and will save you massive amounts of time.

Blueprint Exams 1-6

Take these extremely challenging exams as a tool to build your endurance, practice managing panic in stressful testing situations, identify weak spots, and strengthen your foundation. However, the key is to recognize that these tests are absolutely brutal and unrepresentative of how you will perform on the AAMC practice tests. I felt absolutely devastated at times after taking these Blueprint exams and wish someone told me explicitly how profoundly different these tests are: they are several orders of difficulty higher than the AAMC material (except for Psychology – Blueprint Psychology is easier).

The takeaway: do not let these scores influence your perception of your readiness for the MCAT. Seek only a trend of improvement in your performance and endurance – I would recommend taking these tests in the order of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and expect tests 1 and 2 to be easier than the others. In progressing from the harder to easier tests, you’re more likely to see a score improvement which can be of benefit psychologically. If on the other hand, you started off scoring high and then see a consistent drop in your performance, you could be left feeling demoralized, which will influence your motivation, mood, and productivity. Again, these tests are brutal so avoid taking these scores too seriously.

Altius Exams

I took five full-lengths randomly between 1-10. From my experience, I would say that 6-10 were more representative and 1-5 more challenging but still very useful. Altius, as with Blueprint, is harder than the AAMC practice exams, but I personally found Altius to be far more helpful than Blueprint in preparing me for the AAMC material. Their C/P and B/B sections were absolutely amazing in helping me nail down my approach and timing in both sections, and I strongly believe that they strengthened my foundation by a substantial margin and helped me acquire a strong intuition for the experimental aspect of MCAT passages. Their CARS is absolutely brutal (and unrepresentative) and P/S was a bit different in that many outlier concepts were assessed. I would advise students to prioritize Altius over Blueprint.

AAMC Bundle

This is the most important tool of your MCAT preparation and arguably the only thing you really need to prepare for the exam. It most closely mirrors what you will see on test day.

I would also advise students to prioritize completing 2-5 passages of CARS at a minimum every single day. I had used ExamKrackers 101, which was good, and Princeton Review, which was demoralizing but also good practice. While I do feel that third-party CARS material deviates from the AAMC CARS material, this daily practice will force you to perfect a strategy that you can then leverage when transitioning into AAMC material.

I would recommend using these, but again, do not let poor performance influence your perception of your readiness – these are different from the AAMC material and should be used with caution. As you can see, this was a recurring lesson for me and I want to make it fundamentally clear that third-party resources deviate from the AAMC material and shouldn’t be the sole means by which you gauge your readiness.

To avoid breaking your budget, find a few buddies that you can split some of these resources with. I would recommend trying Blueprint and Altius tests because Blueprint will be absolutely devastating but will make the transition into your AAMC material comfortable; Altius is a bit less devastating, but not much easier, and the C/P and B/B sections are fantastic. Both tools should be leveraged to build endurance and strengthen your foundation of the material but they should never be used to gauge your readiness – only the AAMC tests should be used for that. This was a massive mistake I and my peers made, despite being warned of this by others. More on this below.

 

2 | When to Take the MCAT – Timeline, Managing Disruptions, and Biochem

Timeline

I took my first dive into the online MCAT world as a freshman in college trying to organize a long-term academic plan and figure out when to take the exam. The decision I made then is one that I have stuck to and would encourage other students to try and follow.

From extensive research studying the experiences of others, I came to realize that many top performers took their MCAT directly after months of intense, exclusive studying with very limited distractions and other responsibilities (granted, this was a small sample of students). It seemed that there was a trend in which top-performing college premeds took their MCAT the summer between their sophomore and junior year, minimizing research and stepping back from every other responsibility in their life during that duration.

I tried to understand why this approach seemed to have worked out so well, and I came to realize that it empowered students to dedicate 100% of their attention to the MCAT, instead of fragmenting their attention and time between many different things. This approach was fundamentally different from the traditional approach of taking the MCAT in January of one’s junior year and preparing for it the semester prior, managing both classes, extracurriculars, and preparation for the exam.

I think this factor – when to take the MCAT – is overlooked. Students miss the fact that if you are preparing for the MCAT over the course of a semester, there are inevitably going to be weeks where you can’t dedicate the necessary attention to this exam – with college exams, research, assignments, and extracurricular responsibilities, there are going to be regular periods where you are forced to make a tradeoff between preparing for the MCAT and focusing on your short-term responsibilities. When this tradeoff is made on a weekly basis, possibly several times a week, there is a compounding effect that will have a lasting impact on your score potential. Moreover, with your attention fragmented between so many different things, you won’t be able to immerse yourself into your MCAT preparation as deeply as you can if it were the only thing your mind was centered around.

I can vouch for this because I studied between January to April, and then committed myself to intense, exclusive studying from May until my September test date. I went into the beginning of 2021 with the intent of spending my winter semester mastering every bit of biology and physics on the MCAT. However, it wasn’t a very productive period – in trying to manage biochemistry, research, extracurriculars, and my MCAT preparation, my attention was split with at least two weeks of every month dedicated to my college responsibilities entirely. While my goal was to master the biology and physics material, there was also a learning curve I faced, another factor that students often miss. When transitioning into the process of preparing for this exam, you should expect to encounter a learning curve, or a period where you will adjust your approach and tailor it for efficiency.

I spent the time from January to April outlining the biology book – a complete waste of time. While I got through biology UWorld, that also wasn’t a great use of time because the forgetting curve worked to my disadvantage – by May, I had forgotten what I learned from UWorld. Ultimately, I didn’t make the massive MCAT progress I was hoping to, which left me perpetually dissatisfied with my productivity on a weekly basis. Before the summer where I focused entirely on this exam, I spent the preceding four months stressing over my preparation. This was entirely unnecessary and I want all readers to know that you do not have to delve into your preparation far out from your dedicated study period (assuming that period is of sufficient length).

The only reason I started studying from January to April was that I feared that my foundation in biology was too weak for the MCAT given that my university’s curriculum didn’t fully align with the MCAT biology curriculum. What I failed to realize, however, is that the MCAT is not like most college exams – again, this is not a test of the depth of your knowledge. There are fundamental concepts that must be learned, and which may be challenging in the beginning, but mastery is within reach of every student even if you haven’t seen that material before. Personally, my second semester of biology was disrupted because of the pandemic and we barely studied organ systems; these systems were probably about 75% of the Kaplan biology book. However, looking back, I am certain that even though I hadn’t seen that material before, it could definitely have been mastered during the dedicated (months-long) study period and didn’t have to be touched so far out.

If you find yourself stressing about your foundation from college or your premed coursework but have done relatively well in your classes and don’t have any gaping foundational deficiencies, trust me when I say that you will be able to learn every bit of material when the time arrives – don’t respond to that pressure by starting your studying too early. Spend that time having some more fun and focusing on yourself – you may not be able to experience that level of freedom for a while once you start your dedicated studying.

The reality is that by starting earlier, I started thinking about the MCAT earlier than I had to and prolonged the time duration during which I needed to be stressing about this exam things worked out, fortunately, but I have no doubt that my risk of burnout would’ve been lower if I just held off studying entirely.

When it comes to deciding the length of your dedicated period, I would advise students to schedule two-four months of time, ideally completing it within three months of exclusive studying. I would say that 2-3 months of intense studying is ideal because this duration is short enough that one can sustain peak productivity, performance, and an elevated mindset throughout it; and one may be able to remember a good portion of the information learned in the first month by the end of the third month.

I studied for 4.25 months, but by the fourth month, I had forgotten what I had learned in the first two months. Likewise, if you study for 6 months, the forgetting curve again works to your disadvantage because you’ll forget a massive portion of what you learned early on.

Ultimately, I dedicated the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college to preparing for and taking the MCAT, which allowed me to dedicate 100% of my attention for months on end to this exam. I also arranged my academic plan to take biochemistry before my MCAT, which I encourage all students to do and describe in more detail in the next section.

Managing a Disruption/Transition in the Midst of Your Study Period

Lastly, when it came to my MCAT experience, I faced a disruption that forced me to push my test back by one month. My initial goal was to study exclusively from May to August, finishing my exam right before school started. Ultimately, however, I was forced to move back into college earlier than expected and faced a major transition that forced me to push my exam by four weeks to give myself ample time to move in and acclimate into the campus environment after spending months at home.

I was very stressed about this transition. It left me concerned deeply that by pushing my exam, and by transitioning into my college life, I’d struggle to focus exclusively on my studying given the other responsibilities I had. With classes also starting, I was concerned that my attention was far too fragmented to be ready by the new test date.

All of this stress was unnecessary. I ultimately found it rejuvenating to study in different environments with the social support of my peers around me. I adjusted my courseload to minimize it to 12 credits and actually found the start of classes to be quite refreshing – given that my MCAT would be completed within the first few weeks of school, I was able to sustain my focus on the exam exclusively and very much enjoyed the transition.

My experience with this transition reaffirmed that you do not have to be afraid of disrupting your rhythm in the face of life events – they’re natural and to be expected, so if something comes up, don’t turn it into a bigger stressor than it has to be. It all comes down to your perspective.

 

3 | Consider Taking Biochemistry Before Your MCAT

I deliberately took Biochemistry the semester before the MCAT, which I would advise all students to do if they can make this option work. Premed students have a five-course sequence of chemistry courses to take: General Chemistry I, General Chemistry II, Organic Chemistry I, Organic Chemistry II, and Biochemistry, with some schools requiring students to take Biochemistry over two semesters.

Having begun college enrolled in General Chemistry I, and intending to prepare and take my MCAT between my sophomore and junior year of college, I had to take Organic Chemistry I over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year to set myself up to take Biochemistry before I dived into my MCAT-dedicated summer.

Biochemistry makes up the largest foundation of this exam and if you have studied it rigorously in school before delving into your MCAT preparation, you have a major knowledge advantage that will only make the transition smoother and more manageable. You won’t have to dedicate time to learning the subject on your own, and you can refocus that time on other things. The stronger foundation will have a compounding effect as you’ll be able to make sense of the material you’re presented with more easily in various scientific domains. If you’re looking to dominate this test, I think the advantage this can impart is substantial.

As with the rest of my advice, if this isn’t an option, don’t stress too much over it – you can very much overcome not having taken the course and teach yourself the material.

My MCAT Timeline ultimately included two features – a semester of biochemistry directly before I started studying for the MCAT, and months of exclusive studying leading directly up to test-day.

Summarizing Takeaways:

  • Strive to schedule two-three months of time during which you can focus exclusively on the MCAT with severely limited academic and extracurricular responsibilities. Managing your MCAT preparation alongside your semester’s coursework and extracurricular responsibilities may force you to fragment your attention and face tradeoffs between your academic life and MCAT preparation – when this happens on a weekly basis, the compounding effect will work to your disadvantage.
  • Dedicate no more than 2-4 months to preparing for and finishing this test – extending the duration of your studying will work to your disadvantage as you’ll forget the information you learned in the beginning. It is also difficult to sustain peak productivity, elevated mindset, and high performance once burnout starts to set in. I think the optimal duration is approximately 3 months.
  • Nothing on the MCAT is beyond comprehension – the test is different from your college exams in that it does not assess a depth of understanding of the material. You can get by understanding material on a relatively surface level as long as your capacity to critically analyze text and derive meaningful information are honed (and this is a skill I had to build and can vouch can surely be built).
  • If you have a very, very weak foundation (eg: never taken a physics class or a biology class), then I would advise you to consider starting those review books earlier than your dedicated (months-long) study period to alleviate that concern early on and develop greater confidence in your foundation.
  • If you have a strong background in the sciences, even if the material you studied in school was only tangentially related to the AAMC MCAT curriculum, I would advise you to hold off on your studying entirely. Don’t prolong the duration during which you have to stress about this exam – your risk of burnout is higher.
  • Note that whatever material you learn far out from the exam will inevitably be forgotten – the only advantage in starting early is alleviated stress and acquired confidence that stems from knowing that you’ve processed the information; but this is not necessary and again, I would be cautious about starting early.
  • If you face a life transition during your dedicated MCAT studying, even if a few days are compromised in the process, it isn’t the end of the world – work around it and keep your perspective grounded.
  • Set your academic schedule up to take Biochemistry before you begin your dedicated (months-long) study period.
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email

Leave a Reply