Just like that, I am done with my junior year of college! In comparison to my semester in Ecuador, this spring semester flew by. I think it was my favorite semester of college, thus far, but also one of the hardest because the 11 weeks I spent studying for the MCAT—the medical school entrance exam. This week I got my scores back, and I was extremely happy with the results. I had hoped to get at least a 514 (roughly 90th percentile) in order to complete for some out of state schools, and I managed to surpass that goal. For that reason, I thought it would be helpful to write about the study strategies I used to prepare for the MCAT. Hopefully this will be useful for any pre-med students out there.
The MCAT is roughly a 7-hour, online exam created through the AAMC. The test has four sections, each lasting about 90 minutes. The first section focuses mostly on chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. The second section is CARS, which is a critical reading section. Third is the biology and biochemistry section, and last is a psychology and sociology section. The MCAT exam is held at a Pearson VUE testing center that is very highly monitored to prevent cheating. After taking the exam, the score is scaled, and the results are posted online about one month after the test day.
MCAT Study Materials
For my content review, I used the Kaplan MCAT prep books. When I bought the books, it came with an online Kaplan program that had review videos, passage-based questions, and 3 practice tests. There also was a booklet containing the most important MCAT study material for a quick review. For supplemental content review, I used the Khan Academy MCAT videos. Then for the most authentic practice questions and practice exams, I purchased all of the online prep materials from the AAMC. This included 4 practice exams and many different passage-based questions for each of the sections.
-Make a Game Plan
I first made a calendar on a Google doc to outline how I was going to study each day. Each calendar will look different depending on how long you are devoting time to study. I personally would recommend taking 3-6 months to study for the MCAT. When creating a timeline, I would look at factors in your life, such as work, school, extracurricular, etc. The busier you are, the more time I would allot for studying so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed each day. I personally started studying the Kaplan books over the summer. Then once I returned from Ecuador, I started studying again at the end of January. Then I took my exam on April 6th. On my calendar, I planned to take Sundays off, as well as spring break and Easter break. However, I studied during all of those planned days off. So I would suggest to plan in breaks from studying because one, it’s important to rest every once and a while, and two, if you do get behind, you can use those days off to catch up on studying. Finally, make sure to relax the day before the exam. Maybe do some quick review in the morning, but in the afternoon, just take a practice drive to the testing center and then spend the rest of the day with friends or family.
-Diversify the Study Schedule
I personally enjoyed reading a different Kaplan chapter every day or every other day to keep the material fresh and interesting. For me, I found that I would take 1 day to read a chapter from chemistry, organic chemistry, and CARS. For the remaining books, I usually allocated two days to read one chapter because there was more material to learn.
While I was learning from the Kaplan books, every day, I would also review a Kaplan chapter that I had previously learned. I did this by reviewing flashcards about key terms from that chapter, watching Khan videos, and making handwritten review sheets about that chapter. For the psychology and sociology section, I also searched for flashcards online, and I found tons of Quizlet flashcards that people had already made. This really helped me review for that section and also learn new terms.
A few times a week, I allotted time to do passage-based questions. Not only is this a good way to get the feel of the question styles, but it also is a way to learn new material. If you miss a question, note that topic so that later you can review any relevant material. Don’t be afraid to google different topics or terms you come across. The Kaplan books do a great job at reviewing the most important material for the MCAT, but they do not include everything. That’s why it’s important to briefly familiarize yourself with any new topics you come across during your practice time. Lastly, I would recommend reading a CARS passage a few times a week. This section was always difficult for me, so I think the more time you spend reading and practicing these types of questions, the better results you will see.
I cannot stress this enough, TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS!! I took 7, but you could make your own practice tests of sorts by timing yourself with the various AAMC passage-based questions if you would like more practice. This is a test of knowledge but also a test of critical thinking and endurance. By taking practice tests, you are learning how to navigate passages and how to understand the types of questions being asked. You also get practice sitting and working hard for seven hours. Staring at a computer screen for that long is very difficult and exhausting, so you have to train yourself to get used to that. I know taking 7 practice exams sounds extremely painful (and I don’t disagree with that statement), but I think that dedication really paid off in the end. I would also recommend to take a practice exam on one day, and then spend the next day or two reviewing the questions. Like with the passage-based questions, note any topics that could use a review.
These were the main ways that I studied for the MCAT. During the whole process, I adapted my schedule as I went along. I suggest that you all be flexible with your schedule too because as you study, you will start to learn what works for you. Also, as hard as this may be, DO NOT compare yourself to others during this process. Take the MCAT when you feel ready. Study in ways that you are comfortable with. Focus on how you are doing on the practice exams. Other people should be there to support you and lift you up—not to make you feel intimidated. When you finally reach test day, just be confident in the fact that you did all you could do to prepare. Have faith in your abilities, and you will do great! The MCAT was tough and exhausting, but I see it as a crucial step in pursuing my goals. So if you approach it as an opportunity, rather than a roadblock, I think you will have a lot more peace about this exam. Good luck to anyone who is studying for the MCAT. If you have further questions, comment down below, and I will gladly answer them 🙂
Lots of love,