MCAT I

MCAT I

Alright, this post was a long time coming..the classic ‘med school blogger gives MCAT advice’ post. I’m going to try to make this as generalized as possible, while still letting you guys know what I did specifically. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you, but people seem to be curious about my experience, so I’ll throw it in there. Historically, Yale’s Med School classes have scored between 97th and 98th percentile on both the old and new MCATs. That’s about a 37 and a 520, respectively. I won’t say exactly what my score was, but it was one of the stronger parts of my application. This post is going to be organized into four sections:

  1. Making a schedule
  2. Learning content
  3. Practice Exams
  4. My thoughts on prep materials

Making a Schedule

There are a lot of study schedule templates out there, but I don’t find them very helpful because they make a lot of assumptions (e.g. that you are using a specific set of study materials, that you can study for a certain number of hours each day, etc.). I think that the best way to go about making a schedule is to do the following.

  1. Identify your target test date. Do not be too ambitious with this. No, you cannot take a full undergraduate course load and expect to also devote 6 hours a day to MCAT prep. Unless you seriously enjoy taking standardized exams, you want to get this over with in one go, so just give yourself enough time to prepare. If you don’t have a hard deadline on when you need to take the exam, pick a target date anyways. This will help you feel like you are on a timeline, and prevent you from dragging the studying out for months and months.
  2. Now go back and add in a couple extra weeks as a cushion. There’s a ton of research out there on how people consistently underestimate how long it will take them to do something. You may think this doesn’t apply to you, but everyone thinks they that way.
  3. Now that you know how many weeks you have until you’d like to sit for the exam, I recommend planning to spend half of that time reviewing material and half taking and reviewing practice exams.
    • Note that taking a practice exam pretty much takes all day. So if you are working full time and studying in the evening, for example, you might have a hard time doing practice exams Monday-Friday. Given this fact, adjust your schedule accordingly.
    • If you will have some days where you can study all day, and other days where you will only have an hour or two to prepare, keep that in mind when dividing your time in half.
    • Be realistic about how many hours you can study in a given day. If you have never been able to study for more than a few hours a day, there’s no reason to assume you’ll all of a sudden be able to study 10 hours a day now.
    • If you start reviewing the material and you find that you already know most of the stuff, great! I recommended splitting the time in half in order to be safe, but you may find that you don’t need as much time for content review. Either way, I recommend starting with the assumption that you will need to do a thorough review of the content in order to be on the safe side.
  4. If you haven’t already, purchase whatever test prep materials you plan to use. I found that the Kaplan prep books were good. I personally don’t recommend using multiple resources because each set of prep books/resources is supposed to be enough on its own. In my opinion, it’s better to know all of the material in one set of prep books/resources really well than to spend time looking through a bunch of sources but not fully internalizing the material. 
    • Plan to spend half the ‘content review’ time (so 1/4 of your overall study time) thoroughly going through your prep books of choice. This will involve doing practice problems and making sure you really understand the material.
    • Figure out how many pages of content you have to read through each day for your first pass through the prep material. (Basically total # of pages in your prep books/number of days in first half of content review period). If this number is not realistic for you, reevaluate your study plan and add in more time, etc.
    • E.g. say I have 100 days where I can study 4 hours a day Mon-Fri, and then all day on weekends.I would spend 50 days (which really means ~43 days, because breaks are necessary) doing content review and 50 days (again, ~43) doing practice tests and practice problems.  I would want to spend the first 25 days (~22 days) just going through content for the first time and making sure I understand the concepts. Say those 22 days will have 100 hours of study time split between weekdays and weekends. If I have 1500 pages in my prep books to get through, that means I should be getting through 15 pages an hour. This is realistic for me. If it came down to 30 pages an hour, I would have to reevaluate my schedule.

Learning content

  • The key thing during the content review stage is to make sure you understand the concepts in your prep books/materials during your first pass through the content. You may come across things you don’t quite understand, and you will have to use the Internet to find more information on certain topics. Khan Academy has an MCAT section, and you might find good tools there to clarify things your prep books/materials don’t explain as well.
  • Don’t just passively read the books and highlight key terms. Highlighting is not an effective study mechanism. This podcast episode discusses how to learn most efficiently, and it talks about which study/learning strategies are effective, and which ones are NOT effective. The podcast is an interview with Ulrich Boser, a researcher who has spent YEARS studying the way we learn. Take it from him, not from me.
  • Make sure to do all the practice problems in your prep materials. This is key for solidifying your understanding of concepts.
  • If it’s useful for you, make equations/formulas sheets while going through the material the first time. Then use the second part of the content review time to memorize these formulas.
  • Finally, buy a pre-made flashcard deck, and go through these during the second half of your content review time. I think it takes WAY too much time to make your own flash cards, so I don’t recommend it. Go through the flash cards whenever you have a spare moment. Delete Facebook and Instagram from your phone, and do flashcards whenever you are at a bus stop, waiting in line, etc. This will help you remember all those little factoids you understand in theory but can’t always remember/reproduce on the spot.

Practice exams

  • Before you start practice exams, make sure you have memorized all the equations and formulas. Otherwise, you will use the fact that you didn’t memorize the formula for something as an excuse for why you didn’t get certain answers correct. “Oh, I know it’s that one formula with the viscosity and the number 8..I can’t remember it right now, I just have to go back and memorize it. I’d get this answer correct on the real thing.” NO. Don’t waste practice exams if you haven’t memorized the formulas.
  • In my opinion, doing practice exams is the most important part of preparing. The MCAT is 7.5 hours long, and doing full length practice exams helps you build up your ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Being able to focus for that long is half the battle, and full length practice exams are the only way to prepare for that. I recommend doing as many practice exams as you can get your hands on. I remember doing at least 12.
  • Try to get practice exams from multiple companies, since they all make them a little differently.
  • Do the AAMC full length practice exams after you do a few practice exams from test prep companies. I recommend this because the AAMC full length exam should be most similar to what you will actually see on your test date, and you want to make sure you don’t waste an AAMC practice exam when you aren’t fully prepared.
  • When you review your practice exams, go over every single answer. It’s good review for what you know already/got correct. It helps clear up things that you guessed on and were unsure about (but maybe still got correct). And it’s absolutely vital for things you got incorrect. I kept a notebook where I noted down what i got wrong from each practice test I took, why i got it wrong (i.e. what concept i misunderstood or forgot), etc. I would review this growing list frequently so that i wouldn’t make a mistake on the same concept in the future.
  • Finally, while you are taking and reviewing practice exams, you should also continue to use flash cards and do whatever practice questions you can get your hands on.
  • You won’t be able to take a practice test every day, probably, but I recommend doing 2-3 a week. Spend one day doing the practice test, and then one day going over answers.

My thoughts on prep materials

  • First off, I want to reiterate that I think it’s best to stick to one set of resources. The Kaplan books, Princeton Review books, etc. are all meant to cover all the material you need to know. They are stand alone resources. If you know everything in one set of books, that should be enough to ace the exam. You don’t have to go through multiple companies’ prep books; that would just be a waste of time. It is way more important to internalize the concepts from one set of prep books than to spend time reading multiple sources. 
  • I don’t think you need to sign up for a course. I had to sign up and pay for a course because the course came with so many practice exams, which was key for me. At the time (early 2015) there weren’t that many practice exams available, and it seemed like the only way to get access to them was to sign up for a course. The course I took was useless- it focused on how to answer multiple choice questions, time management, etc. I stopped attending the course after the first couple sessions. The teachers don’t teach you content, and if you have complex questions, they likely can’t answer them. So I don’t recommend buying a course. Instead, just try to buy as many practice exams as you can from different companies. You might have to buy a textbook which comes with 3 or 5 practice exams, or something like that, but it’ll still be cheaper than buying a course. (Maybe things have changed and courses are really good now. I don’t know. My experience was that courses were useless)
  • Besides practice exams, I highly recommend buying a flashcard deck. I used Kaplan three years ago, but I’m not sure what the options are today. Either way, I’d definitely invest in one of these

If you have any recommendations or feedback, please let me know via email or in the comments below! Also, if you would like for me to continue doing such posts, subscribe to my email list below (or on the right if you are using a computer) <3

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