1. Learn the material in the classroom first.

Taken from NAME OF BOOK as this student said it oh so well:

“Try to actually learn the material in your undergraduate courses. Don’t just try to get good grades. If you didn’t learn the material well the first time, when you study for the MCAT you’ll have to use time re-learning material rather than doing practice questions and reviewing material specific to the exam.”

First Year Medical Student

 

I couldn’t have said it any better. Your time is precious; you don’t want to be using valuable MCAT prep time re-learning semesters worth of material. Rather, you want to spend time focusing on high-yield material, reviewing key concepts, and developing test taking strategies.

 

2. Make a study schedule and stick to it.

  • Everyone learns differently. By this point, you’ve taken multiple exams in your lifetime. Continue to do what works for you. Don’t get flustered if someone else studying very differently from you. As long as your techniques work for you, why change?
  • Make a realistic schedule that you can stick to. Have an idea of how much studying you want to do each day and schedule your other life events around it.
  • Do you study best in the morning or afternoon? If you’re an early bird like me, then start your studying first thing in the morning. If you plan on studying four hours a day, study all morning so you for sure get it done without disruption and can attend to the rest of your “to dos” the rest of the day.
  • Don’t spend hours making the perfect schedule. This is where I struggled; I was so determined to “ace” this exam that I wanted my schedule to be flawless. I spent way too much time putting it together. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish and make a “flexible” schedule so if you need to change things around you can. How do make a schedule “flexible”? Easy! Add some “catch up” days into your schedule. This way, if you get behind or want to spend extra time mastering a concept, you can use that day without getting behind. Or, if you’re all caught up, use it as free off day. You’ve earned it!
  • Take at least one day off per week. Burnout is real. Think of studying for the MCAT like preparing for a marathon. Would you train heavy every single day leading up to the race? You shouldn’t. Rest is important; so is your sanity.
Bonus tip: Well said by this medical student:

“Definitely take time to prepare adequately, even if it means pushing back applying to medical school for a year, because the MCAT is a big deal and it is optimal to only take it once.”

Fourth Year Medical Student

 

3. Never walk into the MCAT “blind”.

By the time you take the real exam, you should be very familiar with everything about it. Know the MCAT “inside and out”.

  • Know the structure of the exam so you know what material you will be tested on and in what sequence.
  • Know the interface of the exam. It’s an online exam and just familiarizing yourself with the interface can bring some comfort on the real day. You can do this by taking practice tests online. Generally, review courses will tell you if the interface matches the real exam.
  • Take at least one practice exam so you get the feel for the complexity of the exam. Questions will vary in difficulty from easy to “I have no idea what they’re asking”. Never take the real exam without taking at bare minimum one practice exam (Ideally you’ll take more practice tests; see below).

 

4. Stay positive. “Mind over matter”.

Studying for the MCAT is like training for a marathon. A lot of strategy comes into play:

  • Which shoes should you buy?
  • How many miles should you run a day?
  • What foods should you eat to optimize your energy and muscle recovery?
  • How much should you train the week before the exam?

And the list goes on. As a former collegiate athlete who endured many demanding and challenging schedules, I quickly learned the power of mental toughness. If you don’t believe in yourself, you simply won’t succeed. Let me tell you a true story about the power in staying positive and truly believing in yourself:

Dr. Trot’s Confession #3

If you read my story on the About Me page, you’ll know that I had to work for my athletic scholarship. I was initially recruited to play for a university in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) where I had playing time, a scholarship, and a promising future. But it wasn’t right for me. I decided to transfer to a bigger university in the Big Ten Conference (a more competitive conference) mainly to increase my chances of getting into medical school as my new school had a stronger pre-medicine program and a medical school affiliated with the university. But I loved basketball too much to give it up. What I did give up was a guaranteed scholarship and playing time to be a walk-on who had to fight and claw for just a few minutes of playing time.

I knew the odds were against me; people even told me I was crazy for giving up a guaranteed position. But what some people don’t understand is the power of the mind.

If you fully dedicate yourself to something, you can find a way to accomplish your goal. So what did I do? I made it known that I was ready to play by putting in extra work and fully dedicating myself to becoming the best I could be:

  • I came to practices early to put up extra shots
  • I stayed after to work on my ball handling and footwork
  • I did extra conditioning to improve my stamina
  • I met with a nutritionist to learn about the foods a collegiate athlete should be eating to optimize their performance
  • I stopped drinking soda, juice and late night snacks and overall ate much healthier; I dropped 20 pounds

I was the most conditioned I had ever been in my life. I was dropping so many “dimes” in practice that they started calling me Ray Allen because my release was so fast that it was hard to guard me. I even had a teammate tell me as we were walking out to the court, “Trot, can you not guard me today?” And she was a starter! That’s right, I was taking numbers in practice…but I still wasn’t getting the playing time I deserved. Sure, it was frustrating but I refused to let that define because I knew I was doing everything I possibly could to put myself in the best position to succeed; I literally left it all on the floor. No excuses. So I told myself:

“Be patient. Whenever you get that moment, just be ready.”

That moment came months later when I was put in at the end the game. I remember it like it was yesterday: my teammate got a defensive rebound so we were running back to our side of the court in transition. She started driving to the hoop on the right side so I slid behind her in case she got trapped and needed to pass the ball out. Well, she did it. And guess who was there standing behind the three point line. Without hesitation, I shot the ball. I have to admit, while the ball was mid-air I started back pedaling because a shooter just knows when it’s good. And it was!

Nothing but net.

My teammates went crazy because they knew how hard I had been working for this one opportunity. Had I given up months ago, who knows what would’ve happened that play. But I didn’t. I stayed positive and I truly believed in myself. Sometimes all you get in life is that one chance to shine. Even if it takes a significant amount of work, time, and energy, it’s worth it to see the ball go through the hoop “nothing but net”.

 

 

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”

Booby Unser

 

 

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Ever since I was a kid, my mom told me, “Never be afraid to ask for help; it is not a flaw or weakness but a sign that you want to learn and better yourself. Plus, some of the greatest teachers are those with experience.” If you don’t know where to begin with your MCAT prep or are struggling in a particular subject, ask for help! Never be too shy to say, “Hey, I don’t really understand this, can you help me or do you know someone who can?” What’s the worst someone is going say “No”? So what!

The reality is majority of people are more than happy to help and some will even go out of their way to assist you. You can gain valuable tips and advice from people who’ve already been in your shoes and learned what works and what doesn’t. Take advantage of that! I sure did, especially in medical school. During my first year, I learned quickly that the medical students above me had vital information on how to study for a particular test or how to survive medical school in general. After orientation, I started asking upperclassmen for advice. It’s kind of funny but I was so determined not to flunk out of medical school that I wanted to get as much advice as possible so I asked a lot of upperclassmen for advice. If I saw someone in the hallway, in the library, or even warming up at the gym, I’d introduce myself and ask for any advice they could offer. Nine times out of ten I got awesome advice: “Use this book for this class and these notes for this class. Make sure you pay attention to this as it’s very high-yield. Oh, and don’t use this review book. Most of us didn’t find it useful. And remember to take breaks or else you’ll go nuts.” The best piece of advice I got as a first and second year medical student was the following:

“Keep working hard. I know it sucks to study all day, every day but it gets better. Trust me. The first two years are the worst, just get through it.”

I heard that from dozens of students. That really helped me to stay positive, buckle done, and power through the rigors of medical school. And you know what? They were right! And the same advice can be applied to you; work you tail off to do as well as you can on the MCAT so you can reap the benefits later because it does get better. And you can trust me because I’m going to be a doctor! (Too corny? My bad.)

 

6. Time yourself.

If there was no time limit to standardized tests I think people would do a lot better because you’d be able to take as much time as you want to come up with the “best” answer. But that’d make things to easy right? Well, in addition to the overwhelming amount of material you will be tested on, you also have the clock working against you. So how much time do you actually have on the MCAT? I included a chart that lays out to the second what your exam day will look like in NAME OF MCAT BOOK (see below). But to summarize, you’ll have:

95 min. to answer 59 questions in science blocks = ~ 96 secs/question

90 min. to answer 53 questions in the verbal block = ~ 102 secs/question

To minimize your stress and prevent getting behind, practice timing yourself when you do questions. This is the best way to emulate the “pressure” you’ll feel on the real exam when you’re racing against the clock. Also, it will help you get a feel for how long (well, short) 96+ seconds are. This a good way to help you decide how fast you need to get through a passage so you give yourself enough time to answer every question.

Bonus tip:

To prevent from running out of time and thus guessing on questions you do not get to, try this technique that I used in medical school. While doing practice questions, give yourself less time than you will actually have on the exam. If you have 96 seconds, give yourself 85 or 90. Train yourself to be able to efficiently answer each question with less time to increase your speed and your chances of having time leftover at the end of each question set so you can go back to a question you were unsure about. Train yourself to move fast…efficiently.

 

7. Questions. Questions. Questions!

If you ask ten medical students what is one study tactic they always use before an exam, I bet that majority if not all will say doing practice questions. In my opinion, it is the best way to:

  1. Determine if you’re ready for the exam
  2. Expose your strengths and weaknesses
  3. Solidify concepts leading to the infamous “Oh, so that’s why…Now I get it!” At least that’s what happens to me.

 

Check out what this resident said:

“Over the years, I’ve learned that my most proficient learning style for standardized exams is practicing questions/tests over and over until I’m blue in the face.”

Second Year Resident

 

I cannot stress enough the importance of questions.

 

Whatever you do in life, it’s best to practice however you will be “tested”. If you have to give a speech in front of 100 people, practice giving the speech first alone and then in front of family and friends. Ask them for feedback because they will notice things you didn’t know you were even doing. If you’re a track runner getting ready to run the 400 in an upcoming meet, you’re going to run different timed sprints to improve your timing and “rehearse” your game plan. And you know I’m going to through in a basketball example so here it is:

…There are 10 seconds left in the game and your team is down by one point. You get the ball and dribble it down the court. The crowd is cheering so loud you can’t hear what your coach is saying even though she’s screaming and prancing around the sidelines trying to call a play. You see an opening and go for it! Just as you go up to lay the ball up you hear the whistle. You get fouled and have two free throws. There’s only 2 seconds left and if you hit both you’ll likely win the game for your team. So what happens next? The other coach calls a timeout to try to “freeze you” so you psych yourself out. Well, if you practiced this scenario over and over, this is nothing new to you. Everyone lines up on the block, and you approach the free throw line. The ref bounces you the ball and you look up at the hoop. Do you make it?

 

Practice makes perfect. Practice quiets the stress. Practice makes dreams come true.

Here are some great resources to consider (just click on the blue text): INSERT AMAZON LINKS

 

8. Thoroughly review the practice questions.

Taking a practice test or doing a handful of practice questions is just half of the process. To maximize your gain, you need to thoroughly review the questions, even the ones you answered correctly.

Here’s what I recommend:

After taking a practice test, review every single question even the ones you answered quickly. Here are the steps that help me when I review practice questions:

  1. Read through the question stem again to refresh my memory about what’s being asked
  2. Read the explanation of the right answer first
  3. Read through the explanations of the other answer choices particularly the one you selected if you got the question wrong
  4. Move on! Even if you got 10 wrong in a row, just keep moving. Stay positive. Think of it this way, the more questions you do, the more concepts and “tricks” you see and the better you’ll be at recognizing patters and eliminating wrong answers.

Bonus tip:

If you start noticing a trend like a certain topic or equation is frequently tested, write that down and make sure you know it!

 

9. Taper off the week before your exam.

Remember, studying for the MCAT is like training for a marathon. The week before the exam, you should start gradually decreasing your study time particularly days before the exam. No marathon runner is going to run 26.2 miles right before the actual race, right? You need to save your energy to prevent burnout. Also, you want to stay as positive as possible; the last thing you want is to freak out right before the exam because you still don’t understand SN1/SN2 reactions (ask Jane the Tutor!). You won’t know everything; it’s impossible…and that should provide you some relief. You will always have a question where you have no idea what they are asking. Just expect it. The key is to have done so many practice questions that you can narrow it down to two options and make an educated guess. Oh, did I say practice questions are important?

Make sure you set up a study schedule that will allow you to gradually taper off the week before so you’re fully refreshed and ready to face “Goliath”. Remember who won? That’s right.

Other tips for the week before the exam:

  • Wake up the time that you will wake up the morning of your exam. If you’re exam will be at 8:00 AM, and you plan on waking up at 7:00 AM then start waking up at 7:00 AM the week before your exam to condition your mind and body to that time. You do not want to be groggy the day of your exam.
  • People have different opinions about whether or not you should study the day before the exam. I think this is personal. For me, I always study the day before, but really it’s “light” studying. I’m just reviewing material and going over my high-yield study guides. I finish “early” so I have the evening to get a good workout in and to just chill.

 

10. Plan something fun for after the exam

Have something to look forward to after you take the exam. Have a favorite restaurant? Tell your friends to meet you there right after your exam. Whatever will make you happy and keep your mind off of the MCAT, plan it. When you walk out of the test center, try your best not to think about the questions you guessed on and the ones you weren’t sure about. Remember, the exam is curved and at the end of the day, you can always re-take it and that’s not the end of the world. Just do your best and worry about your next step once you receive your score. In the meantime, go celebrate! You just finished one hell of a race!

Summary:

1. Learn the material in the classroom first.

2. Make a study schedule and stick to it.

3. Never walk into the MCAT “blind”.

4. Stay positive. “Mind over matter”.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

6. Time yourself.

7. Questions. Questions. Questions!

8. Thoroughly review the practice questions.

9. Taper off the week before your exam.

10. Plan something fun for after the exam

 

Stay Fresh!

Dr. Trot

IG: @iamdrtrot

Facebook: facebook.com/doctorgoals