This is a BIG one. The MCAT does make one tempted to start studying more than six months in advance (holy content volume!), but your ability to retain small details decreases as time passes. Talk to anyone out there who has been through the MCAT and they will tell you six months or more of studying is probably overkill. Time after time I have seen pre-meds purchase prep books as freshmen and sophomores, and although I admire the passion and dedication, this is only the time to take in the content you’re learning in your pre-requisite classes. The time will come when you will have to take the MCAT and you’ll have enough love with those prep books then. Depending on your performance and retention of topics in your pre-requisite classes, you will probably want to study between 2 and 5 months prior to your test date — 2 months if you’re very comfortable with the material and 5 months if you’re not.
Picking an MCAT date before you start your preparation is key. Knowing your date gives you time to plan out your study schedule, gives you something to look forward to, and will give you a better understanding of your preparedness closer to that date. Not having a date set might make you skip out on a day of studying to join your friends at the beach. It might also make you say “I’ll just skip this hard section and study it later — I have a lot of time anyway.” Picking a date well before you start studying also makes it easier to find a testing location close to you. MCAT seats at testing locations usually get filled fast, especially in large metropolitan areas. If you wait to register for a seat until you feel like you’re ready, you might put yourself through unnecessary stress that adds to your already existing stress. Yes, people have to sometimes fly across the U.S. to find a seat because of this reason — and your wallet will hate you for it.
The number of resources used does not positively correlate with MCAT score. All MCAT test prep companies write content books based on a list of topics provided online (for free — you can find it here: https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/whats-mcat-exam/) by the AAMC. Yes, some may go further in detail than others, but the MCAT requires a greater degree of analytical thinking skills based on content rather than quick recall and regurgitation. Picking one resource or prep company and sticking to it helps because there’s just not enough time to get through more than one. These books can get really big and you don’t want to spend all of your time reading through thousands of pages of content, which leads me to my next point:
This is probably the number one mistake many pre-meds, like myself, struggle with. The MCAT is an exam that tests your ability to apply your knowledge of its topics to new situations. Yes, content is critical to doing well on the exam, but putting yourself in the MCAT testing mode and applying that content to new situations will prove to work in your favor. If it doesn’t seem like it’s working, it probably is. Just keep on doing more practice problems. Oh, and the MCAT writers love to merge topics from multiple subjects into questions, so make those connections and practice!
Knowing why you got a question wrong is critical to bridging that gap between understanding and not understanding a topic. Also make sure to review those questions you answered correctly as well. You may have guessed on a question and guessed correctly (hooray!), but you probably don’t understand the question or topics if you had to guess. So review those too. If you got a question right because you knew why that answer was correct, still read those explanations they give you to better reinforce that understanding. If you follow this tip, you will be golden on the real MCAT.
ALERT! DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE CARS SECTION! Really. This is often the section that gets people all riled up and can really take a hit to your overall score. Practice, practice, and practice some more on this section. I’ve heard doing 3-5 passages daily from the beginning to the end of your studying period will help tremendously. There is no content to learn for this section, but there are strategies that test prep companies teach their students. One strategy that many are taken aback by is the one where you answer every question for all but one passage. Yes, they want you to skip one passage and guess on it, but don’t worry because you will find your groove with more practice.
The MCAT is often the largest bump for pre-meds on the road to medical school. It might seem like a really scary and daunting exam, but if you are disciplined, set a study schedule that works best for you, practice, and keep your sanity, you will do well. Throughout your time studying, take at least one day off a week and do something that you genuinely love. Taking your mind off the MCAT is essential in preventing burnout. Follow all of the tips in this article and I promise you will be pleased with your score.
There will be more articles coming from Jared in the coming weeks. If you have any specific questions, you can contact Jared here. Good luck!
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