How to build the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule, Part 3
In our last two articles, we’ve introduced several tips and schedules to help you find study time in your packed premed schedule. Now, in our final entry of the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule series we are going to discuss the best way to approach your study materials to get the most out of those precious study sessions.
Looking back on the sample schedules we discussed last time, you should note that we are trying to get in at least 20 hours of studying a week; at some point during those 20 hours, you should try to fit in at least:
- 2 Topical Tests (shorter, passage-based exams dedicated to specific topics)
- 1 Verbal Section Test (simulated Verbal Reasoning section, with timing)
- 1 Science Section Test (simulated Physical or Biological Sciences section, with timing)
- 1 Full Length Practice Test (either a Kaplan or AAMC exam)
Now, I know that later in their courses a lot of students feel relatively comfortable with the science content on the MCAT, but become frustrated when their practice test scores seem to plateau. The key to improving on the MCAT is figuring out your greatest areas of opportunity – that is, the things you can study that will result in the biggest increase in points by test day. Tellingly, these areas of opportunity aren’t always specific subjects that need to be reviewed, but are often test taking skills or strategies that need to be addressed before you can move forward. One solution to this problem is to build the WHY I MISSED IT CHART; here’s an example of a template:
|TEST||Q#||Passage/ Discrete||Subject||Topic||Why I missed it?|
For each question you miss, you’ll want to fill in the appropriate information on a chart similar to the one above. The goal is to focus on the items that reoccur time and time again in the last three columns; what are the mistakes that you keep making that are leading you to miss a large number of points. In my experience I’ve found that the better a student fills out this chart, the more they get out of the exercise. For example:
- TEST – For this column just fill in which topical/ section/ or full length test you are working on so that you can keep track of your progress.
- Q# – The question number of that specific test so you can look it up later.
- Passage/ Discrete – Was this a discrete question or was it associated with a passage?
- Subject – Some people like to fill this in different ways. I have found the best way to do this is to make your subjects just Physics/ General Chemistry/ Verbal/ Organic Chemistry/ Biology, although splitting it by section (Physical Sciences/Verbal Reasoning/Biological Sciences) may also be appropriate.
- Topic – Was this an electrochemistry question, or thermodynamics? Filling in topic allows you to identify the specific topics of a subject you don’t know as well as you should. I find the best approach is to go back to the Review Notes and organize your topics by chapter and relevance to the MCAT, then study accordingly.
- Why I missed it? – This is the KEY to making the whole chart. You need to honestly ask yourself why you are missing a specific question. Are you missing it because you don’t know the concept? Did you misread the question? Did you simply make a calculation error? Did you not understand what you read in the passage?
The point behind this entire exercise is to concentrate on efficiency. While it may take you only a ½ hour or so to complete a Topical Test, it should take you almost double the time to go back and review your mistakes (this will be even more apparent in full-length exams). By the end of that time you should be able to fully UNDERSTAND and CONCEPTUALIZE the questions that you missed, and that’s the first step towards a better score on the MCAT. Happy Studies!