As aspiring physicians, there are many tests which we must face and overcome. However, the MCAT looms over many of us as one of the most terrifying and momentous tasks of all. But is the MCAT really that bad? As someone who has just battled and defeated this monster, I can speak to the difficulty of this test, but I can also attest to the fact that a great score can be accomplished with hard work and effective planning. In this brief discussion, I will share with you a short outline of the study methods which worked for me. Of course, these specific methods won’t work for everyone, but I hope that those of you on the dawn of preparing for the MCAT will find them helpful as you begin.
Planning Ahead is Key
One of the single most important things that you can do in preparing for the MCAT is make a plan! There are many, many topics covered on this test, and you need to ensure that you not only have time to review and master all of these topics, but continuously test yourself with practice questions and tests. I would suggest spending a good amount of time planning out a timeline including things such as, when you want to complete certain topics, do practice passages/problems, take practice tests, and such. Make sure that your plan is realistic to your schedule at the time, and be sure to know exactly when you want to take the exam. Before making this plan, decide how long you want to study for the MCAT. I personally took about a year to study for this exam; I started by slowly reviewing topics during my fall semester, then I really focused on mastering the material and taking practice exams in the spring, before taking my exam in June. In the end, it is up to you to decide how much time you need.
Once you have a plan ready, it’s time to get started! In my studying experience, I began by thoroughly reviewing the material. To do this, I delved into preparatory books as well as past course materials. I used Princeton Review and Kaplan books for a general overview, and followed up on topics that I still felt “shaky” on by reviewing my course notes and text books on those particular subjects. If I needed further explanation on any topic, I would often go to professors who taught those subjects at my university, or utilized the plethora of free videos on Khan Academy. Once I felt confident on a given topic, I would practice with various problem sets and passages. I would often use the Science Workbook by Princeton Review for practice passages, but there are a variety of other resources out there. For example, Khan Academy has a large selection of free practice questions, Next Step offers subject tests, Princeton and Kaplan review books have questions after each chapter, Exam Krackers (old or new additions) also offers a wide range of questions. Be sure to take full length practice tests throughout your studying as well—many of the aforementioned companies offer plenty of full length tests.
The Final Hour
As my test day approached, there were a few things that I found useful as I finalized my preparation. I started with a thorough review all of the MCAT topics listed on the AAMC website (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/). At this point I felt pretty confident about the material and simply wanted to briefly talk myself through the topics one last time, and very quickly touch up on any weak spots that I found. After this, I went on to purchase and complete the question packs published by the AAMC—these questions are most similar to those on the MCAT, which is why I saved these for last. At last, just days before my exam, I was ready to take the Official AAMC MCAT practice exam. The purpose of this exam is to gauge how prepared you are for the real thing, so I would suggest you save this for last as well, and take the time to think about what your practice scores mean for you.
I hope that you found this brief article helpful as you prepare to take your MCAT exam. This was a very brief outline of what I found to be successful for me, and it is meant for the sole purpose of getting you thinking about how you would like to structure your own MCAT study plan. I wish you all the best of luck!
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