Summer Tips for the MCAT

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The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is one of the many obstacles premeds must overcome to achieve a medical school acceptance. Appropriate planning and efficient studying for the MCAT is a must.  The exam has four sections and will take approximately seven and a half hours to complete. The exam integrates several concepts taught in undergraduate science and social science courses. Passages are followed by questions that test analytical and reasoning skills. There is also a reading comprehension section that tests basic passage understanding, reasoning, and the ability to draw conclusions. First, it is important to learn all you can about the exam; AAMC provides many details that explain everything you need to know before registering for the MCAT. To succeed, you must understand what you are up against and tailor your studying to meet the objectives specific to the MCAT.


Identify Your Starting Point

The MCAT tests major concepts from undergraduate science and social science courses: biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. However, just completing these classes will not guarantee your success. The length of your designated study period depends on your academic strength and retention of the concepts learned from your premed classes and labs.  Expect to study one to three months. The first step is to take a timed diagnostic practice exam provided by the AAMC. The results from the practice exam should indicate your strengths and topics that may need further review. Create Your MCAT studying schedule after taking the practice exam with a goal in mind. Many medical schools post their average matriculating MCAT and GPA. However, these numbers are just one part of the application.


Creating Your Study Routine

There’s a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” To achieve your MCAT goal, take the time to draft a study routine. An electronic formatted calendar will allow for adjustments and accountability. Your diagnostic exam results should guide your study schedule development. There are many study plans shared on the internet, but what worked for others may not be best for you. If you have trouble building your study plan, find one or two shared calendars online, and use them as a reference while customizing a plan that fits your needs. The AAMC also provides a helpful resource to guide you in creating a study plan. Be mindful of all your obligations and incorporate them into your calendar. The hardest part of scheduling is following through with your routine. The schedule should include days to relax and hobbies that deter burnout. The short-term goal is to do well on the MCAT but realize the demands of medicine are constant, and that it is up to you to find a balance that fits you.


Limit Distractions

We live in a digital age. Our cellphones, computers, tablets, and smart TVs have become a vital part of our life. Social media and internet videos can be a time sink. Using technology to study for the MCAT is necessary and can help make studying more efficient, but you must be disciplined. One useful recommendation is to find a quiet and isolated study space and associate the area with only MCAT studying. While you are in that space, do not answer calls, text, emails, or read any notifications. During your scheduled breaks, walk away from your designated study area to do other tasks. Family and friends are an important part of everyone’s life, but at times, they may not realize the time and focus you need to attain your MCAT goal. Explain your goals and study plans to everyone in your support system and share times and dates that you plan to take a break from studying. Your time is limited, but with the right motivation, planning, and support, you will accomplish your MCAT goal.


Content Review

The pre-med track can take two to three years to complete, and some concepts may require review or possibly relearning. Consider reviewing multiple subjects in a study day by dividing the day into thirds to cover critical analysis and reasoning skills, science topics, and some social sciences concepts. There are many free resources to help you review content including videos by Khan Academy. Another resource recommended by the AAMC is the roadmap to MCAT content in Psychology and Sociology textbooks. Many review companies sell books and courses, as well. It is okay to diversify sources for content but using every resource available can be overwhelming, costly, and a waste of time. Reading and reviewing information is only half the battle; the more important skill to develop is applying your knowledge. Time spent on content review should be limited to half of your total dedicated study period; the other half should be aimed at completing as many practice problems possible.


Practice Problems, Practice Problems, and More Practice Problems

Practice does make perfect, and there is research to back up the claim. Several studies have found that completing practice problems is the most effective method for students to learn. There are many available practice problems and sample MCAT exams. Khan Academy offers 3,000 free review questions. MCAT review companies like Kaplan and Nextstep provide free practice exams on their website with the option to buy more. The AAMC sells the most important question banks and sample MCAT exam. Working through practice problems will solidify your understanding of the tested concepts. Your schedule should include days to take full-length practice MCAT exams. Aim to take the AAMC sample MCAT exams closer to your test day with enough time to review the answer explanations. Reviewing the practice MCAT questions is vital to your success. Reviewing a practice exam may take a full day, but it provides the opportunity to learn from incorrectly answered questions and guessed answers. The volume of questions attempted with review will help you learn the MCAT question style while honing the critical thinking and test-taking skills needed to perform well.


Track your Progress

Studying for the MCAT is a marathon. The process from the diagnostic MCAT to the results of the official MCAT exam is filled with milestones; make the time to recognize and celebrate each achievement. Create a study schedule and keep track of the days you meet your goals. Design an Excel sheet to track the time you invest and your performance on practice problems and exams. Keeping data on yourself can point out your strengths in areas that may not need the time allotted or illustrate gaps in your understanding of a topic. The data will help you adjust your schedule and eventually increase your confidence. If you notice your progress isn’t trending in the direction you hope, seek advice from mentors, premed advisors, or the experts at Med School Insiders.


Final Remarks

Doing well on the MCAT will not guarantee a medical school acceptance, but a high score will certainly increase your chances. This exam is an essential part of the application process and does require significant time and energy. Familiarize yourself with the details provided by the AAMC regarding registering and all concepts tested on the MCAT. Realize your starting point and develop a schedule that fits your needs. Studying for the MCAT requires discipline, consistency, and perseverance; these traits will help get you through medical school and beyond.

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