Read it, Hear it, See it, Try it: What is Well-Rounded MCAT Preparation?
January 16, 2012
Choosing your MCAT prep can be a difficult task in its own right, even before you crack open the books and start studying. Walk into any bookstore or search the internet for MCAT study materials, and you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you. Throughout the years, people across all industries (academic, test-prep, self-help, etc.) have published study aids and materials meant to help students achieve their goals on the MCAT, and the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. To further frustrate your efforts, try asking a friend or classmate for recommendations on what to use to study for the test; then, take that response and compare it to recommendations from a different friend or classmate – I’ll bet that you find some conflicting information.
The reason for this is quite simple: we’re all different. We all study differently, we learn things in a specific way, and it can be a shock to the system to try and change that. If something works for one person, there’s no way of guaranteeing that it will work for someone else. Unfortunately though, this may lead to information overload as test takers try too many different approaches without first structuring and customizing their test prep.
“You’ve got to structure, filter, and compartmentalize.” These words were repeated to me over and over again when I was preparing for the MCAT. The basis of this strategy revolves around the fact that you can choose from a plethora of study material. However, attempting to go through it without first customizing it towards what will fit your needs best is not the most effective technique. Instead, some time spent game-planning before the process will result in big gains overall. Decide first on what type of learner you are. There are the classroom types. There are the book-learning types. There are also the practice-makes-perfect types. Note that these are not mutually-exclusive, as you might want to consider how much of each would be ideal for you. Once you understand your learning style, you then need to decide how much time you want to and can commit to studying. Some study aids are meant to be used for a period of months while others fit better during a “the test is coming, oh my, the test is coming!” timeframe. Lastly, you want to have your study resources ready to go in the right order. Yes, that’s right, prioritizing your materials according to the timeframe is important for the MCAT.
Books, lectures, tests, and computer-based work make up most of the scope of the study aids. In the beginning of the MCAT prep process, books and lectures will be helpful as you start building your content knowledge. After developing a deeper fund of knowledge, moving away from print material and classroom lectures and towards the computer and practice problems will be vital to doing well. Many students often state that they knew the material well, but when it came time to apply that knowledge under testing conditions, they faltered; the best way to avoid this is to become comfortable reading, thinking, and answering questions in front of the computer for long periods of time. You cannot achieve this by being in the classroom or reading out of a book, so long before it’s time to take the exam you should transition almost all of your studying to the computer.
The goal should be to simplify your study plan rather than to complicate it. Making the investment (in time, money, and yourself) ahead of time will result in big gains as well as a lot less stress, which is always worthwhile when you’re preparing for the MCAT!
I'm a current Tulane University medical student and an MBA graduate of the Johnson School of Graduate Management at Cornell University, and a long-time instructor and teacher trainer who continues to help students throughout the country. I've also done significant work behind the scenes, helping to develop and update study materials for both the MCAT and USMLE. I've been around long enough to see former students not only join me in medical school, but also be trained by me as new Kaplan instructors. While obtaining medical and business degrees has kept me busy, it hasn't stopped me from continuing to play soccer as a goalkeeper during both outdoor and indoor seasons.