Learning Faster and Better For the MCAT

Optimizing Study Patterns for the Better

“Work Smarter, not harder.” In the 1930s, Allen F. Morgenstern coined this phrase as part of a work simplification program thinking that people could accomplish more with less effort. MCAT studying requires hard work. There is no getting around that fact. However, by working smarter and optimizing one’s study strategy, one can maximize their score.

The MCAT is essentially a test of memory insofar as it has you remember concepts which you are tested on—in that way, remembering concepts is a tool which one can use to apply it to different types of problems. This is where the trick comes in. Most people, when memorizing the formulas and concepts which the MCAT tests, don’t consider the related information when the question stems from a passage. Thinking beyond the passage is the key which many students miss.

For this, I’ve found that there are three tools which I have used to create and deploy a foolproof way to remember concepts and recall them throughout the process of studying and taking MCAT tests. The bread and butter of these is called Anki, which is essentially a flash card program – but much more. It leverages the forgetting curve to make sure that you review concepts when you are most likely to forget them, which makes it a lethal partner in your quest to do well on the MCAT. For example, say that you are studying a concept in physics and you need to remember a concept about Newton’s three laws. An Anki Card would normally test one concept, and come back up three days later if you remembered it well, or 10 minutes in the same review session if you forgot it. In your deck of Anki cards, there is a rotating set of cards that are due based on your rating of them. It is too hard to explain all of Anki in one article, so I’ll refer to a YouTube video and website made by medical students explaining this technology as it applies for medical school.

However, it can definitely be applied for pre-med as well. I have personally used pre-made decks made and verified by the Reddit community in order to study for the MCAT. However, I modified them to my needs to I was able to retain the maximum amount of information for the test to really succeed. For example, whenever I miss a concept, I always make a diagram using a program on my computer (usually powerpoint) and insert it into the flash card so I don’t forget it when it comes around again.

Furthermore, I mentioned reddit in another paragraph, but it has tons of free resources and questions which have been gone over in depth by anonymous pre-med students who are also taking the MCAT. It was a boon as I prepared for my own MCAT, and it showed me that there is a way to study for the MCAT without spending thousands of dollars on a prep course. It also showed me that there is no excuse to not study, because if everyone else was also studying in the world there was no excuse for me to not take up my prep book and join the conversation. Even further, Reddit contains a section on their MCAT “sub-reddit” (a page designed for niche topics, such as the MCAT) about study plans. If you are wondering how to make a study plan or design one that works, you can check the dozens that Reddit users have posted throughout the years.

These are the three tips that I would use to increase retention – use anki, use pre-made decks, and use Reddit to find and use a study plan that has worked for another Reddit user. Using these three tips and sticking to them can help you get a great MCAT score in no time at all (well, it would probably take the time that the study schedule says, but who’s counting?

Study: Medical Admissions’ relationship with Innovations Can Cause Unintended Disruption in Admitted Students

MSC Dive Brief:

  • Since 2007, when the MCAT switched from a paper-based format to a revised computer-based format, technologies have been disrupting medical school admissions, such as situational judgement tests (SJTs) like the CASPer and the standardized video interview (SVI), a new study reports conducted by Canadian researchers and published in the Journal of the Association of American Colleges. 
  • The research has various implications for students hailing from a rural or international background learning for the MCAT as applicants must be able to achieve a certain score in order to be in serious consideration for admissions. Furthermore, the lead author of the study, Dr. Mark D. Hanson, pondered whether the advance of technologies which reduce human contact, whether by eliminating the need for an evaluator or a physical interviewer, increase the effect that convenient access has on how and why we conduct the admissions process.
  • Earlier studies have noted the idea that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may impact the practice of healthcare in the US, but Hanson states that none have looked at the impact that technologies were having on medical admissions now. The global impact of the MCAT, SJTs, and SVI may actually hinder those who are trying to gain access to medical education in the US, and increase the already present divide between rural and urban medical school applicants.

MSC Dive Insight:

Creating a fair and equitable admissions process is a noble goal, but there needs to be a discussion about specifics as well when the process is driven by academic capitalism. These problems with already-present computerized tests which assess personality and “human touch” through a screen may actually accentuate local institutional and national student diversity problems.

For example, data which is collected by the MCAT during a U.S. based examination was the same as a Canadian examination until 2016, and notably left out several minority groups who took the examination (First Nations, Inuit, etc.) which have been recognized by the Canadian government. Because no data are collected about these test-takers, they are essentially invisible to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) when they look at who is applying to medical school.

Communities who are not as vocal may not be able to change implicit biases against them when it comes to the CASPer, which is a type of SJT which imposes yet another financial burden on students when trying to send scores (which applicants cannot see) to medical schools. Reducing the “human touch” aspect in favor of convenience may not be equated with utility in medical admissions.

Medical school applicants should be wary of these biases when studying for the MCAT, because there is a lot of variability when it comes to college classes. The MCAT is standardized (albeit with the drawbacks mentioned in the study) and therefore, the information that one needs to learn is clear. Adjusting the test for local demographic changes needs to be done in a socially responsible manner which aligns incentives with academic capitalism. For the applicant, this means that while doing these tests, remembering to stay true to oneself and your individual identity. The medical school admissions process, while disrupted by technology, can still be engineered to one’s benefit. If one has the right tutors and self-awareness of how the technology used during admissions, they will also know how it will affect the school’s eventual decision.

Citation

Hanson, M. D., & Eva, K. W. (2019). A Reflection Upon the Impact of Early 21st Century Technological Innovations on Medical School Admissions.Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.