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?
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.
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