Beginning to study for the MCAT can seem like a daunting and highly demanding task that requires vast amounts of concentrated study time. And in many ways, it is. An exam that is designed to test students on the culmination of their educational pursuits while in college will indeed require a large emotional and mental investment. From my own personal experience, I can definitely say that I initially felt so overwhelmed by the idea of studying that I didn’t even want to start. I would “accidentally” leave my MCAT content review books at my apartment when I was on campus during the beginning of my junior year. “Out of sight, out of mind” was the mantra that I repeated in my head. As September rolled around, however, I came to realize that the MCAT wasn’t going away, and that I had to begin fully committing myself to studying. What I soon learned was that although studying for the MCAT necessitates a major commitment, it does not mean that a student must completely put the rest of their life on hold for the next three to five months. I found that certain study strategies and habits enabled me to effectively study for the exam while also keeping up with my coursework, extracurricular activities, and socialization.
- Create and MAINTAIN a Schedule
Creating a schedule when I began to study was one of the most important aspects of my MCAT preparation. Being able to adhere to a schedule with set blocks of time dedicated to different types of content review and practice passages works as a powerful force on two fronts: it not only provides the foundation for highly effective studying and concentrated preparation, but also enables a compartmentalization of time that gives the opportunities to participate in any other extracurricular or leisure activity. My weekly MCAT schedule followed the same general pattern:
-Monday: Biology/Biochemistry Content Review 7:00-10:00pm
-Wednesday: General Chemistry/Organic Chemistry Content Review 7:00-10:00pm
-Thursday: Psychology/Sociology Content Review 7:00-10:00pm
-Saturday: CARS Passages/Physics Content Review 2:00-4:00pm
-Sunday: MCAT Practice Passages or Practice Exams 8:00am-11:00am for Practice Passages or 8:00am-2:00pm for Practice Exams
By following this schedule 4 months ahead of my MCAT exam, I was able to ensure that I had all facets of my MCAT preparation covered. The most important aspect of an MCAT schedule is adhering to it as much as possible. It is inevitable that life events such as midterm exams, social gatherings, formal events, and even tiredness or exhaustion will come up, and it is completely acceptable (even encouraged in fact!) to deviate from the schedule from time to time. As long as a concerted effort is kept to stick to the schedule as much as possible, it will become easier to stay on top of the material in an efficient manner that opens up time for other aspects of life!
- Take Breaks Within Study Sessions
When I would sit myself down for concentrated study sessions, I initially believed that going through the material as fast as possible would enable me to cover more material and give me more time to participate in other activities. While maintaining a decent pace is beneficial, I found that mental exhaustion would begin to settle in after around an hour or so of constant thinking, especially if I was trying to work as quickly as I possibly could. As a result, I struggled through my initial attempts to cover content because the fatigue would inhibit me from fully grasping the material during the latter half of study sessions. Something as simple as taking a quick 5-10 minute break after every hour of studying does a world of good! It not only refreshes the mind, but also provides something to look forward to after a long hour of studying! I found that incorporating these quick breaks drastically benefitted my MCAT preparation. While it is a simple addition, its importance cannot be overstated!
- Practice Exams Should Not be Viewed as a Source of Nervousness or Discouragement
My own personal experience coupled with my experiences with past clients has made it very apparent that it can be easy to feel nervous or anxious before taking a practice exam. Many times the scores that come from practice exams do not match our desired results or expectations, and that is completely understandable. I remember wanting to push back my practice exam sessions because I used to dread the potential of receiving a score that did not align with what I was aiming for, and I have heard similar sentiments from multiple clients. I think that it is incredibly important to remember that practice exams are exactly what they are named for: practice! They are meant to be used to iron out any content gaps that may be present and work on strategies for navigating different types of passages. A low practice exam score should not be a source of discouragement during MCAT preparation! Once I began to view practice exams as a reflection of my standing at the time and as a stepping-stone towards my ultimate goal, I found that the anxiety that used to predominate was replaced with a more appreciative outlook. Adopting this perspective can definitely make MCAT preparation easier to work through and more encouraging!