How To Study For the MCAT Over 3 Months | Tests: Pre-Health
I wasn’t exactly a traditional medical student in undergrad. I majored in biomedical engineering at UC Davis, initially with an intent to pursue engineering and it wasn’t until my junior year I began to see medical school as a real possibility and shifted my focus. As a result, I wasn’t fully confident to take the MCAT by my senior year and decided to take a gap year to study and solidify my application. I graduated in the spring of 2016 and took the MCAT in January 2017. I scored a 513. Here is my score report to give you an idea on how I fared overall. I gave myself about 3 months to study for the exam, starting from mid-October 2016. I hope my transparency helps you get a better understanding of how effective my study methods were. Remember, exam scores never define you.
I broke up my studying into two phases. Phase One was information acquisition and Phase Two was application. In the acquisition phase, I mainly used the ExamCrackers MCAT prep books and Khan Academy. The first month, I focused on getting comfortable with all the topics on the exam. I would read the sections of the ExamCrackers book and supplement with Khan Academy videos to review topics I was struggling with. Both resources would have questions at the end of the sections to help gauge how well I had retained and understood the information.
When it comes to resources, I personally feel the exact resources you choose are not as important. What matters is that you pick resources that you are confident and comfortable with. Most test prep companies are presenting the same content, it is just a matter of how the information is presented and if it is conducive to your learning style. I would also suggest not overwhelming yourself with too many resources. Pick a few and stick with them. I personally enjoyed ExamCrackers because it was succinct. I had been exposed to all the relevant topics in my prerequisite undergraduate courses and wanted a brief refresher without getting bogged down in the details.
My daily schedule was split into two main 4-hour blocks, morning sessions and an evening session:
· 8AM-12PM – Morning Study Session
· 12PM-4PM – Lunch, Namaaz, Basketball, Relax
· 4PM-8PM – Evening Study Session
· 8PM-10:30 – Dinner, Relax, Sharp Sleep Time
Getting a good amount of sleep was and is critical to any mentally straining ordeal like studying for exams. I’d make it a point to slip out of outings that would go on past midnight (as they often did), and make sure I stayed on my regimen. There’s a short window to get this right, and you don’t want to be sitting with your scorecard wishing you’d just tried a little harder.
In the application phase, I found it important to test myself early and often. I purchased practice MCAT exams from the various test prep companies such as Kaplan, ExamCrackers, and even the AAMC. I took my first practice exam about a week after beginning a dedicated study period. At first my scores were terrible, but those initial practice exams gave me a feel for the exam and really highlighted my weak points. It also served to motivate me quite a bit and pushed me to see improvements each week. Constantly testing myself really helped me understand what concepts test makers felt were important and I got familiar with how they asked and worded questions. This repetition primed me to certain keywords and topics throughout a passage that could be crucial to answering the questions.
The practice exams would serve multiple purposes. They were great learning resources, helped imitate test day, and were a great gauge for how ready I was for the exam. The practice exams would provide great explanations for the questions so you could go back retrospectively and figure out why you got a question wrong and what the test makers were really looking for. After taking a practice exam, I would dedicate 1-2 days just reviewing the exam, and my weak areas would help focus my studying for the coming week.
My rough studying schedule was:
Mid-October 2016 to End November 2016 - Phase 1 Information Acquisition
December 2016 to January 2017 - Application and Practice Tests
Last Practice Test: January 12th, 2017
MCAT Date: January 17th, 2017.
I tried to take a practice exam every week or every other week to mark my progress. It was important for me to take each exam seriously and simulate as best I could the testing environment, I would be in. For example, the day of the practice exam, I would wake up early and act as if I needed to commute to my testing center. I would have my lunch packed the night before and I would eat the same breakfast before each exam. I timed myself diligently for each section and took my breaks as if it was the real deal. I even went as far as to take practice exams on a Thursday to help replicate my scheduled test day. This preparation and muscle memory were key in easing any test day anxiety that I had.
The exam is not only about knowing all the concepts; it also has a lot to do with stamina and test taking strategy. Therefore, practicing the timed full-length exam was critical for me. Sitting through 7-8 hours of testing was brutal at first, but with practice it gets easier. Pacing on questions and getting a feel for how long I could spend on each one was also important.
I recognized that there would be questions on the exam I would struggle with, and not allowing them to curb my confidence helped me keep a positive mentality throughout.
It was important for me to be realistic for my goals for the exam. I did not want to drag out my study period too long in search of the “best” score and possibly burn out, but I also didn’t want to handicap myself with too little time. I determined I wanted to score in the 515 range to give myself a competitive shot in the application process. I want to emphasize, the best score for you may look different. That will be something you have to determine yourself, considering schools you are interested in, GPA, extracurriculars. The MCAT is an important part of the puzzle, but not everything. As my test date approached the results of my practice exams gave me the confidence I needed to go in and tackle the exam, and confidence is key!
It’s important to stay healthy and happy during the process. Take breaks when you need, stay connected to friends and family, and try to enjoy the process. Try to stay away from SDN, Reddit, and other online forums. They can often be toxic and negative and really mess with your mental health. There are many exams to come throughout the medical school journey, so building healthy study habits now will go a long way. Ultimately this exam will give you what you put into it. With Moula’s Dua, genuine effort, and deliberate practice the sky is the limit. I wish you luck!
Authored by: Juzer Izzee - Second-Year AZCOM Student
Edited for clarity and purpose by: Taher Lokhandwala
P.S: Now let's say somehow, your down to 30 days left before your MCAT. We understand, it happens sometimes. Continue on to the next post by Hamza Raja, who'll tell you how to tackle it one month.