The Problem With Your MCAT Studying (& How to Fix It)

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If you’re like the majority of students studying for the MCAT, you’re likely focusing on content review during the first half of your study period and practice tests in the second half. If this approximates your MCAT study approach, you’re leaving several points on the table by not approaching your MCAT studying more strategically. These are the problems in your study approach that are holding you back, and how to overcome each.

 

1 | Focusing on Memorization over Comprehension

Despite what people may say, crushing the MCAT isn’t rocket science. It isn’t about how smart you are, how hard you study, or even how many hours you put in. Doing well on the MCAT comes down to three main factors:

1. Understanding

2. Memorizing

3. Applying

You must first truly understand the material that you’re learning. It’s not simply enough to know what pH and pOH are, but also how they relate to each other, what other factors influence them, and what their significance is.

Next, you must commit important facts to memory. More on this shortly.

Last, the MCAT tests your ability to apply your understanding and memorization in a standardized format. This is best accomplished through proper use of practice exams. Ultimately, one can only apply their knowledge on test day if the foundational components of (1) understanding and (2) memorizing are properly addressed. Otherwise, there simply isn’t anything to apply.

To best address memorization, the scientific literature has consistently demonstrated spaced repetition with active recall to be most beneficial. There are a variety of tools, called spaced repetition software (SRS), the most popular of which is Anki. Anki is a powerful tool that has rapidly grown in popularity, but students often completely miss (1) understanding. Through Anki, they’re encouraged to focus on (2) memorizing, without the critical preceding step of (1) understanding.

Without a foundation of comprehension to build a mental scaffolding, it’s far less effective to memorize facts in isolation.

 

2 | Using Low-Quality Resources

Speaking of Anki, it’s a great, free tool that I have used extensively, and users share pre-made decks specifically for the MCAT. The problem is that these decks are subpar. There are issues with the accuracy of facts, comprehensiveness, quality of question stems, and failing to focus on flashcard best practices. These best practices are foundational to effective learning and memorization, otherwise, your efforts are wasted on unfruitful pattern recognition that doesn’t help you on test day. Even within the community of pre-made decks, some decks are better at one section within the MCAT, and others are better at a completely separate section.

And if you decide to make your own flashcards, there’s a massive learning curve, and you likely won’t make good flashcards until years later. That’s how long it took us, making flashcards continuously in medical school, to refine the skill. That time would be better spent actually learning and memorizing content.

While spaced repetition with active recall is an incredibly powerful tool, the quality of those spaced repetition resources is critically important. It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym 5 days a week if you don’t have proper intensity, volume, and form. The same concept applies here.

 

3 | Studying Both High- and Low-Yield Content

Studying more is better, right? Not always.

There is an upper limit on the amount of information that can be memorized in a given period of time. It’s maximally beneficial to focus on memorizing high-yield concepts — those which are most likely to have an impact on your score come test day.

As we only have a limited number of productive hours of studying in a day, that means deprioritizing low-yield information. Why not just include the low-yield information and study for more days then? That’s because of the forgetting curve.

forgetting curve

The forgetting curve demonstrates the reality of memory decay, meaning that despite committing MCAT facts to memory, over time we will forget them. We can work against this by strategic use of spaced repetition, but this is ultimately why you don’t quite remember what you learned in class a few months ago.

This is why students who spend more than a couple of months studying for the MCAT have diminishing returns and plateau with their score. After a certain point, you will learn at a rate nearly equal to the rate of you forgetting information.

Ultimately, studying high-yield information is the most logical solution, but the issue is that it’s not clear what content is high- or low-yield if you’re a student studying for the test. You’d need to turn to the experts for that.

 

The Solution

Understanding these shortcomings in the average MCAT test taker’s study approach, how can we address each one? Luckily, we built an app for that – it’s called Memm! Memm has been in the making for the last couple of years, and I’m so excited to finally announce it to you all!

I’ll go over the full story on my personal YouTube channel of how the Memm team and I went about brainstorming, iterating, pivoting, refining, and creating this revolutionary new way to study for the MCAT. But in this post, I want to share how it works and what makes it a unique way to study.

Memm was designed to address the deficiencies in the study tools available for the MCAT. Rather than relying on wishful thinking, we asked “How can we most effectively and dramatically improve learning for MCAT test takers?” Just as we would focus on evidence-based principles when treating our patients, we looked to the scientific literature for evidence-based best practices for learning and memorization. We focused on the following four principles when designing Memm to ensure the most effective experience:

Spacing effect – Newly introduced and more difficult pieces of information are shown more frequently, while older and less difficult pieces of information are shown less frequently.

Testing effect – Information retrieval through active recall is far more effective for memory consolidation than passive review.

Interleaving – Strategic ordering and mixing of subjects and topics while reviewing improves intersectional learning and overall recall.

Desirable difficulties – Introducing the right kinds of difficulties in the learning process greatly improves long-term retention.

After months of iterating and sculpting the product, we arrived at Memm. Its aim is to help you memorize all the relevant information for the MCAT as quickly and effectively as possible. You can use it alongside your content review resource and AAMC practice questions, but you won’t need to worry about Anki or flashcard apps again.

Let’s go over how it works and what problems it addresses.

Problem 1: Memorizing without Comprehension

In combining comprehension with memorization, rather than each in isolation, we find that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Memm combines memorization and comprehension with a novel approach.

First, students go over Sheets, which are high yield summary sheets of all the facts you need to know for a given section of the MCAT. Think of this as the mental scaffolding, allowing you to learn and understand the information in relation to other pieces of information, not simply in isolation as flashcards traditionally emphasize. These are also interactive, allowing you to toggle high yield facts, thus incorporating active recall.

Memm Sheets Example

After reviewing Sheets, students move on to Cards, which are expertly curated flashcards testing the relevant information from Sheets. These aren’t the mixed bag of cards that you’ll find in pre-made decks either. Each card was meticulously crafted, following the flashcard best principles, and tests you on knowledge in the way that is most appropriate for the MCAT.

After flipping a card to see its back, not only are you shown the answer, but also an excerpt from the Sheet with the relevant and related information. This further reinforces context and comprehension to the process of active recall and it addresses the common issue students face in memorizing facts in isolation. Ever confuse similar concepts? That won’t be a problem anymore with Memm.

Memm Card Example

Memm Card Example Pic 2

Problem 2: Low-Quality Resources

Memm was created by two 99.9th percentile MCAT scorers, including yours truly, who also have extensive experience tutoring premeds to stellar scores. We figured out what worked best and applied those principles here. Sheets and Cards are designed from scratch with MCAT score optimization as the singular goal and follow flashcard best practices. While some pre-made Anki decks place too much information on each card, don’t use effective question stems, or reinforce pattern recognition over learning, each piece of Memm content was carefully crafted to maximize effective MCAT learning.

But don’t worry, cards can still be customized, as users are able to leave notes on each card and even upload their own images for those sweet mnemonics and dank memes. And unlike other resources, Memm is a web app that is continuously updated with built-in reporting, allowing users to submit feedback. That means it’s constantly evolving and becoming even more refined with time. And you can use it from any device that has a web browser.

Problem 3: Not Focusing on High-Yield Content

Understanding that not all content is created equal, Memm prioritizes high yield content on both Sheets and Cards. On one end, it’s comprehensive, including everything you need to know, built off extensive research on the MCAT and close study of the official AAMC guidelines and materials. On the other end, it’s not bloated with superfluous fluff that will slow you down and not contribute to a score increase.

I’m super excited about this new product, because we’ve put in so much blood, sweat, and tears into it, as many of you who follow me on Instagram have seen me putting in long hours. We’ve done tremendous testing and iterating and we’re confident that this is an incredibly valuable study tool that will soon become ubiquitous because of the advantage it offers when studying for the MCAT.

Memm is now officially live and you can try it out 7 days for free, no credit card required. Visit memm.io to learn more and to get started. Use the coupon code MSI2020 to get 20% off your subscription. I’m sure many of you have questions about Memm, so leave them below and I’ll work on addressing them in future posts. Much love and good luck studying!

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