March 26, 2013

Tips for a Successful MCAT Test Day – Part 1 Plan for the Worst

Most MCAT students spend their time worrying about memorizing content and practicing their critical thinking skills. They focus on knowing all of the physics equations, general chemistry constants and organic chemistry nomenclature. But, a large part of test day success is not contingent on knowledge and critical reasoning, but careful planning in the weeks leading up to and the day of the test. Here are some helpful tips to ensure that you’re 100% prepared for test day success!

  1. Scope out your driving route in advance - Especially as the weather gets warmer, construction projects start to spring up unexpectedly. Drive your exact route at the same time of day you will be driving on your test to make sure that you don’t run into traffic or detours which will add stress on test day.

  2. Evaluate additional variables - Do you usually drink coffee or take a medication at the same time of day? Do you get hungry at a certain time? Make sure that the week before the test, you get into a test-friendly routine and don’t get crippled by a 9:15 caffeine craving.

  3. Prepare for the unexpected- Pack yourself a mini-pharmacy for your test. You don’t want your great score to be derailed by a stomach ache, cough, headache or sniffly nose. Make sure your mini-pharmacy includes Kleenex, Advil, Tums, Chapstick, Robitussin, and Claritin, anything you could possibly need in a during-test emergency.

  4. Plan how you’re going to use your breaks-  When you will use the bathroom and what your snacks will be. A solid break-time routine will eliminate anxiety and stress between sections.

  5. Check your ID and bring a back-up ID just in case - Some students take the MCAT near their birthday which, in some states, is the expiration date for having a valid driver’s license. Make sure your ID will still be valid on your test date and bring a spare ID, such as a passport, just in case.

Using these tips, you will be prepared for the worst case test day scenarios and no unforeseen variables can bring down your rockin’ MCAT score!

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January 24, 2013

A Tale of Two MCATs: Which Should I Take?

With the major MCAT revision coming up in 2015, many students are starting to ask:  which MCAT should I take?  Is there an advantage to one test versus the other? The short answer is:  it's possible to do either and score extremely well, but you'll have to plan starting today. What's changing in the 2015 MCAT? If you haven't read our other articles about the MCAT 2015 exam, make sure to go back and check them out: What classes will I have to complete before studying for the MCAT? Both the current MCAT and 2015 MCAT will require one year (2-semester sequence) of physics, general chemistry, biology and organic chemistry (8 classes total).  The 2015 MCAT will also require one semester of introductory psychology, sociology, and biochemistry (11 classes total).  All prerequisites for the current MCAT could be completed in two years (taking biology simultaneously with general chemistry one year, and organic chemistry simultaneously with physics the second year).  Thus, even if you're currently a freshman, you could complete the requirements and take the current MCAT during the summer after your sophomore year (Summer/Fall 2014).  However, if you are not positive that you'll be able to complete these requirements in this time (that is, after all, a very rigorous courseload!), it behooves you to take behavioral sciences (psychology and sociology) during the first two years of undergrad as well. The two word clouds above are created from AAMC's own content lists for the current and 2015 MCAT.  Click on the image to see a larger version! Will there be any difference in applying with an "old" MCAT score or "new" one? We do not anticipate this being an issue for the student.  It is not 100% clear yet what schools are planning to do with current MCAT scores versus MCAT 2015 scores (this was a hot topic of debate in a few of the sessions at this year's AAMC meeting), but schools were keenly aware that they'll be looking at scores from both forms of the test -- sometimes even from the same student! According to their website, AAMC's score-reporting service will release pre-2015 MCAT scores until 2017 or 2018.  Further, "The AAMC is currently developing new materials, specific to the interests and needs of medical school admissions committees. These will provide detailed information about the scoring of the new exam, the confidence bands that are associated with them, and what test scores are and are not designed to tell them in a holistic admissions process" [1].  In other words, AAMC and admissions committees are already figuring out the fairest way to score and interpret the new MCAT next to the current one. What are the pros and cons of each? In making your scheduling decisions, consider each of the following: Current MCAT
  • Shorter in length (3 hours, 20 minutes required testing time + 45-minute trial section).
  • Fewer pre-requisite classes (8 total).  No psychology, sociology or biochemistry.
  • Compared to 2015 MCAT, has a higher proportion of:
    • Organic chemistry questions (about 20-25% of Biological Sciences section).
    • Physics questions (50% of Physical Sciences section).
    • General chemistry questions (50% of Physical Sciences section).
  • Each question individually may have a large impact on score.
2015 MCAT
  • Longer in length (6 hours, 15 minutes required testing time).
  • More pre-requisite classes (11 total).
  • Compared to current MCAT, has a lower proportion of:
    • Organic chemistry questions (about 15% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
    • Physics questions (about 25% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
    • General chemistry questions (about 33% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
  • Each question individually has a smaller effect on score; more questions can be answered incorrectly without hurting score.
Can I just check out what each test will look like? Absolutely!  In addition to checking out AAMC's website, come to a Kaplan Practice Test (available online, or at a school near you through the month of February) to see the style of the current exam, or check our 2015 MCAT-style Mini-Test online. Regardless of the version you choose to take, start planning out your academic schedule now.  You don't want any surprises down the line!  And rest assured, regardless of version you choose, Kaplan is here to help you get the top score you're looking for.  How are you choosing which test to take? ...read more
September 13, 2012

MCAT Study Schedules: How Many Hours Is “Just Right”?

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?   ...read more
Tests & Scores
March 26, 2012

The Week Before your MCAT

“One week from right now I will be in my MCAT….” That thought has haunted many pre-med minds in the week before test day; after spending months and months on your MCAT preparation, the idea of actually taking the exam can be an emotional roller coaster. Managing stress in the days leading up to the test is vital, and the best thing that one can do when preparing in the final week is to remember a few key points:
  • Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule – If your test is at 8:00 in the morning, it is going to be in your best interest to go to sleep early and wake up early throughout the week – that way when test morning comes, your body and mind are well rested and you are used to getting up at the right time. The same thinking goes for an afternoon test, although it’s somewhat less critical.
  • Eat Healthy – The phrase “You are what you eat” holds true. Make sure throughout the week that you are consuming enough food to meet the metabolic demand that intense studying and stress call for. Remember, the brain is one of the largest consumers of glucose in the body; by eating healthy you will be able to keep constant energy levels throughout the week that will allow you to rest properly and feel refreshed for test day morning.
  • Personal Responsibilities – Everyone has a life outside of studying for their MCAT and it is in your best interest NOT to ignore that! With proper planning your personal responsibilities can be managed so they don’t interfere with test day. If you are still in school ask professors well in advance if you can get assignments/ test dates moved to ease any anxiety; similarly, if you are working ask your boss to see if you can get a couple days off the week before the test.
  • Focus on your Strengths – While you are studying in the final week focus on your strengths – this will help boost your confidence going into the test and will also allow you to manage stress in the days leading up to test day. This doesn’t mean you should ignore areas where you don’t feel as strong, but don’t dwell on them either.
  • Manage Stress – Be honest with yourself and understand that this week will be stressful. The best thing one can do is to acknowledge that and find helpful avenues to direct your stress. Examples of this could be exercising, cooking, or maybe even talking with a friend. I myself went bowling with friends the week before my test and it made all the difference in the world!
  • Build Confidence - The number one thing to remember about the MCAT is that it carries an intimidating factor from the very start of your studies. With that in mind, you need to be sure that you’re approaching the test in the right frame of mind. Think about all of the long hard hours that you have put in studying over the previous weeks. The night before the test, focus on remembering that you have the strategies and knowledge to DOMINATE the MCAT. At the end of test day you are going to be one step close to your true goal: becoming a Doctor!
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