In part one of “MCAT Re-booted” I want to cover what is going to make the ideal MCAT study schedule. The AAMC recommends on average 300 total hours to study for the MCAT. They also have a “Creating a Study Plan” listed on their web-page. With all of this information out there and the rumors that run rampant in the pre-med community on “secrets” of MCAT studying, where does a student go to get the real answer? Well right here of course!
Now how long is 300 hours in reality? You could easily break that into 10 weeks or approximately 2 ½ months of 30 hours of studying a week. I know what you must being thinking… 30 hours a week?! I already have class, research, clubs, activities, and that long lost social life! How can I possibly fit 30 hours into a week? Well simply put, you can’t and you aren’t expected to. The majority of students start studying well beyond the 2 ½ month mark. On average students need to think about breaking that time up into somewhere between 3-6 months, depending on their schedule, how many of the pre-med required courses they have already taken, and their confidence in the material.
After getting a rough idea on when to get started, where do we start? Many students have come to me after getting their Kaplan MCAT materials and feel overwhelmed. Don’t fret! You now have the best material for the MCAT and over 11,000 questions to aid in testing your comprehension of all things MCAT. What you need to do first is establish how much time you have during the week and create “study blocks”.
First you need to account for the things that take up time in your week. For example:
Professional obligations (school, work, Kaplan class, research etc.)
Extracurricular (volunteering, clubs, shadowing)
Social time with friends and family
1 day/ evening off/ week
Now after you have successfully jotted this down in a notebook or added to your online calendar you will get a better idea of how much time you truly have to study during the week. With the time left (ideally around 10 -15 hours) we are going to create 2-3 hour “study blocks”. This is going to be the time you are going to use to start tackling all those great Kaplan resources. Many people ask, “Only 2-3 hours?! I can study longer than that!” You are right you probably can, however, your assignment this week is to write down your weekly calendar, and in my next post I will answer why only 2-3 hours and what goes into a successful “study block.” Stay tuned! More #MCATdomination coming at you!...read more
So, when you begin to prep for the MCAT, it’s very exciting. You have tons of resources! You make an ambitious study schedule! You are excited to tackle the content, master the strategies and conquer the MCAT!
Fast forward to approximately three to six weeks later. You’re exhausted. You’re overwhelmed. You start fantasizing about life post-MCAT and all you can think about is how great it would be to have a regular sleeping/showering schedule. In case you need them, here are some very useful resources about how to structure your study time and how important sleeping and exercising are.
But, what about those days when you just need some MCAT studying inspiration to keep you going? Does anyone have something to help you stay motivated and dedicated to your studies?
You’re in luck! I have just what you need.
Today’s Helpful MCAT Sports Analogy
The MCAT is your Super Bowl; it’s your World Series, your Olympics, your marathon, your fight of a lifetime. Okay, so most of you well-rounded pre-med students have either played a sport or at least watched a cliché sports movie enough times to know what I’m getting at here. If you’re exhausted beyond all reason, in tears and ready to give up, you are simply in the middle of your MCAT training montage.
The whole reason that they give sports movies snappy, musical montages is because in real life practicing is not terribly fun. Unfortunately, you can’t zoom through your studying montage to your test date, but there are some things you can do to help you stay motivated until then.
Get into a routine. All world-renowned athletes will tell you that having a regular practice routine is essential for success.
Make concrete, attainable daily goals. Don’t say, “I will learn physics” but focus on getting down a chapter or two of material at a time.
Take real breaks to help prevent burnout- not breaks to do laundry or grocery shop but legitimate, non-productive, brain-resting breaks. I am certain that this is the true purpose behind the invention of reality TV.
Visualize your end goal. It could be opening up your acceptance letter, putting on your white coat or curing cancer. Use whatever motivates you to become a physician, to help you re-dedicate your MCAT studies.
Last but not least- I’m here to tell you that you can do it. Lace up your shoes, crack open those books and blast “The Eye of the Tiger.” If that doesn’t work, there’s always this compilation of inspirational speeches to get you fired up. Happy studying!
Recently, my friend Pat Boyle wrote up a post on Med School Pulse about choosing an MCAT test date. Let’s take a look today at the other side of that question – now that I have an MCAT test date, when should I start studying?
To answer this question, let’s look backwards. Visualize with me that day in late August when you get that white coat you deserve at your dream medical school’s White Coat Ceremony. Now take it back a year. The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) – the application system for medical school – first accepts applications in early June of that year. Your goal is to have everything in order and ready by then; it almost always works to your advantage to be one of the earlier applicants!
Now that we know our “deadline,” let’s look at three different ways to structure that year even before you apply. Regardless of which option you choose, you ideally want two to three months to study (most popularly, as part of an MCAT prep course) with another two to six weeks after for additional Practice Tests and active review.
The Early Bird – studying over the summer the year before you apply (that’s two years before you enter medical school) is a great way to secure a solid MCAT score and be able to spend your year focusing on the rest of your application – gathering letters of recommendation, working on your personal statement and preparing for interviews. Studying during the summer may also be more plausible if you’re taking a full class load each semester. This best prepares you for the July through September test dates.
Winter Wonder – spending first semester studying for a January (or perhaps March) test date still leaves second semester open for the rest of your application. Key to this method is avoiding a “Winter Break lull.” Don’t allow that time off during the holidays to keep you from the MCAT for too long; you don’t want to lose the progress you’ve made so close to Test Day!
Spring Rush – to study for the MCAT in spring (aiming for an April to June exam) requires a bit of ground work. You don’t the stress of the rest of your application on you while you’re studying for a test as important as the MCAT. Make sure to prepare the rest of your application in the first semester so you don’t have everything coincide during late May or June.
When did you start studying for the MCAT? There’s no true “right” or “wrong” answer here, since there’s no time during the year that “easier” or “harder” for the MCAT. How does your schedule impact when (and how) you’re preparing?
As pre-med students, you’re always on the go. There’s so much to do in preparing for medical school – juggling challenging science classes, taking leadership roles in extracurricular activities, volunteering, shadowing, and working on research. Add on top of that studying for the MCAT and you’re often concerned about balancing your time. Since many of you may be getting ready to register and study for the new 2013 MCAT, we wanted to tackle one of those classic questions about setting up your MCAT study schedule: “How many hours should I be studying?”
Two months ago, my family was graced with its newest member, Carl. One of the best things about having a new baby around is getting to relive all the great stories and wonderment of your childhood. We all remember the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – and while assessing the temperature of porridge may not be a big part of your schedule (though passages about q = mcΔT certainly should be!) – it certainly reminds us that finding the “sweet spot” of how much time to study for the MCAT is imperative. So let’s see if we can find how much is “just right.”Too little – Most MCAT students are concerned that they fall into this group. If you’re worried that you’re stretched a little too thin to devote time to the MCAT right now, make sure that you consider what other Test Dates might be available. But if you’re set on a test date, it’s all about maximizing what time you DO have! Make sure to focus on high-yield resources, like AAMC’s and Kaplan’s practice tests.
Too much – Is it possible to study too much for the MCAT? Indeed, if you find that you’re getting burn-out, you need to schedule time for other fun activities too. By refreshing your mind, you’ll be able to return to studying with fresh eyes. In other words, while a Full-Length exam every day during the last week before Test Day might sound like a good idea, it’s a much better plan to utilize slightly fewer exams and maximize their potential through active review.
Just right – You should ideally be able to spend three hours at a time studying, on five or six days of the week. When you begin your studying (mostly focusing on securing the content and getting used to the MCAT test interface), you may find you don’t even need quite this much time. But as MCAT Test Day gets closer, you’ll certainly have to ramp up: Full-Length exams will take four hours, after all.
That’s a suggested timeframe, but what do you think? How much time did you study for the MCAT – and what strategies did you use to optimize that time?
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)
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:
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!
In my last post we discussed several tips for making the most of the limited study time that you have available as a premed. Now, in Part 2 of our series on the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule we’ll take a look at three different types of premeds and how each can properly utilize a day to get the most out of their studying.
One quick note before we get started: you will notice in reading these I really make a point of taking active breaks. It is important to only study for a max of around 2-3 hours, unless you are taking a full length examination; doing so will help fight burnout and avoid fatigue, which can ultimately hurt your ability to remember what you’ve studied.
Student #1: The Early Riser
If you’re an early riser and can schedule some of your courses for the late morning/early afternoon, you can really utilize your mornings for MCAT study. This is a very similar schedule to what I personally did in my own MCAT preparation, and it was highly effective.
8am – Wake and Breakfast
9am – First Study Session
10am – Workout
11am – Second Study Session
12pm – Classes
6pm – Dinner
7pm – Study for Classes
9pm – Rest/ Relax
Student #2: The “Not-a-Morning Person” Schedule
Simply put, some of us are just not morning people – and that is totally OK! With the MCAT offered in the afternoon on select dates, an inability to function in the morning shouldn’t cause any concern. The trick to not being a morning person is to try and squeeze a study session in between your other classes.
11am – Wake and Breakfast
12pm – Classes
2pm – First Study Session
3pm – Classes
6pm – Dinner
7pm – Second Study Session
8pm – Study for Classes
10pm – Workout
11pm – Rest/ Relax
You may have noticed in the two sample schedules above that I always recommend time for a workout or at least some break that involves physical activity. This can be the trick for keeping yourself focused and alert during long study days, as well as for managing the stress that goes along with an exam like the MCAT.
Student #3: The Weekender
No matter how efficient we are with our time, the fact is most of us are trying to balance studying for the MCAT with studying for our usual undergrad courses! If and when you fall behind, the best thing to do is to use your weekends to get caught up as quickly as possible. This might mean slipping in an extra study session on the weekend, or maybe just not spending quite as much time relaxing as you normally might. Most importantly however, as you get closer to test day you’ll want to use at least one of your weekend days to take a full length practice exam, which lasts a full 5 hours. Here’s an example of a typical weekend study day without a full-length test.
10am – Wake and Breakfast
11am – First Study Session
1pm – Workout/ Lunch
2pm – Second Study Session
4pm – Break/ Errands
5pm – Study Session
7pm – Enjoy your time off. Remember it’s the weekend!
So there you have it! No matter what your schedule is like, it’s possible to squeeze in several study sessions each day, all of which count towards your total MCAT preparedness. In our final entry of the series we are going to look at how to use the different aspects of the Kaplan course resources to ensure that we are making the most of these sessions by studying as efficiently as possible. Remember unless it is helping you score more points on the MCAT, you shouldn’t be focusing on it!
I often get questions from my students about how to effectively schedule studying for the MCAT. With so many other drains on your time, trying to squeeze in 300+ additional hours of studying can seem like a daunting task, and it’s with that in mind that I would like to introduce this first entry in a three-part series dedicated to helping you build the “Ideal” Study Schedule.
While the notion of an “ideal” schedule will certainly change from person to person, there are a few constants that you’ll need to keep in mind. In our initial discussion I’d like to look at what factors you’ll want to consider when building the best MCAT Study Schedule possible. The spring semester is already in full swing, and midterms are going to be here before anyone has the chance to remember who Hardy Weinberg was. With daily responsibilities and stresses mounting, it is important to build a study schedule that is going to help you to study more efficiently, not just more.
While initially crafting your schedule, there are several important things to remember:
Study every day, even if only for a short period of time. If you can make time to study for 45 minutes twice a day, that will add up to 10.5 hours of studying a week! By making it a habit to study everyday you won’t have to put those study marathons in over the weekend that can quickly burn you out.
Utilize your time between classes. While everyone tries to craft the perfect class schedule each semester, there are always breaks between classes where time usually goes to waste. Instead of catching up on your Netflix account or mindlessly creeping on Facebook, try and use your half hour break to go through some flashcards. This is a great tool to get a lot of high yield content down quickly.
Get out of bed, and study earlier in the day! Despite what your roommate says, your brain functions better in the morning than at night after a long day of labs and classes.
As much as possible try and establish a normal daily schedule. Many of us have romanticized the notion of pulling the all-nighter and still getting the A on that organic chemistry test, but the fact is that approach simply cannot be done for the MCAT and certainly will lead to burnout. Establishing a daily schedule may be boring, but it will help keep you on a path to success.
Find a good environment to study in. Even though your apartment or your dorm room has all of the luxuries of home, this can be a very distracting environment. After you establish your schedule, part of keeping that schedule is finding a positive place to study. Examples of this can be the library, an empty classroom, or a quiet part of the student union, but the important thing is to find an environment that’s conducive to focus.
While these are all important things to consider when creating any study plan, the main thing to think about while considering your own is to find what works for you! Everyone studies in their own unique way and you need to experiment to find out what can keep you efficient as possible. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll introduce you to three different typical pre-medical students, and show you how each can create a study schedule that meets their needs.
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!
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