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MCAT Best Study Practices

***It is important to note that many of these ideas and strategies are just suggestions and not guaranteed to be effective for every student. Different tactics work differently for different people. What may have worked for me, may not work for you and vice versa. Furthermore, these strategies will not guarantee you a high score, nor will it mean you won't get a high score if you don't employ them. These are merely ideas and strategies that I've compiled as a list of "Best Practices" that I've found throughout my own research and experiences.

The Pomodoro Method:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNBmG24djoY

The Content Hierarchy Reflection Model (developed by Bernie's Freesources):

Something that has always resinated with me in my MCAT studying is a comment I found on reddit once: "the MCAT is a mile long, but an inch deep". This implies that in order to do well on the MCAT, you should prioritize developing sufficient knowledge on many different topics VERSUS mastery of few topics, but having little understanding of other topics.

To accomplish this, it is imperative that you consistently reflect on your level of familiarity and mastery with each individual topic. What I have found extremely effective in this reflection is making a running spreadsheet, flowchart, or list of topics, organized by:

(a) MCAT test section (ex: B/B, P/S, CARS, or C/P)

(b) chapters within sections (ex: B/B Amino Acids, B/B The Cardiovascular System)

(c) subjects within chapters (ex: B/B Amino Acids Side Chains, B/B The Cardiovascular System Blood Flow)

***Feel free to organize your chart however you'd like!

Then, when you have all of the topics lined out, you can do two very important things to aid in your studying:

1. Become cognizant of the proverbial "MCAT mile", i.e. know everything that you can be asked on the MCAT so that there are no surprises. By constructing a literal map of the "MCAT mile", you will also use one of my personal favorite studying techniques, the Method of Loci, which can be a powerful learning heuristic. This doesn't mean we have to understand in fine detail every topic, but just by writing them all down, we can get an understanding of the types of topics that we expect and start to map out in our brain how they connect with each other and what specific concepts lie within each topic. This is really helpful, especially for the topics that seem to overlap between MCAT sections.

2. Reflection. This is critical to your progress in studying for the MCAT. By taking note of what topics we are good at, we can increase our self-confidence, increase feelings of preparedness, and avoid wasting time studying things we know pretty well. By taking note of topics that we might need to improve on, we can increase awareness of our blind spots, prioritize the time we spend on certain topics, and make adjustments in our study plans. 

This model is referred to as a hierarchy because it allows the studier to rank and thus, prioritize, different concepts and topics in a hierarchy from what they know the most to what they know the least, and to adapt their study plan accordingly to the insight gained from this reflection. This is how we can study smarter, not harder.

Practice Problem/Exam Spreadsheet to Track Performance:

There is little to gain from MCAT question practice if we do not critically evaluate our performance in a structured manner. In order to evaluate performance, it is very helpful to make a spreadsheet with columns labeled:

(a) exam (i.e. Altius Exam 1, AAMC Exam 2)

(b) question #

(c) question Topic

(d) question Review

-In the question review section, you should write out a a) few brief sentences on your thought processes throughout the question and b) some notes on the correct answer and/or why other answers are incorrect. Essentially, use this space to really write out the process of getting the question right. What topic did you miss? What did you miss in the question? What was confusing in the question stem/passage? *DO THIS EVEN FOR CORRECT QUESTIONS*

(e) section score

(f) date/time

Create a Schedule and Track Your Time:

Create a schedule to map out your studies. I love Google Calendar. It is free and simple to use.

Track how much time you spend on each topic.

 

The r/MCAT Strategy​:

Type in *literally* anything into google (by anything I mean a concept you are struggling with, a particular exam question you are confused by, etc.) followed by "MCAT reddit" and it is likely there exists a reddit page where people have discussed the very same question you are confused by.

 

Anecdotally, this trick was SO SO SO helpful. There are countless discussions of hard practice problems that I read through that certainly helped me when no other source could.

***if reddit does not have any related discussions to what you are finding, I would try this same method but with "MCAT student doctor network" as well.

***there is a thin line between productive and counter-productive use of reddit and student doctor network (sdn). Do not let certain posts on reddit and sdn freak you out about the MCAT, medical school, or anything else for that matter. You got this.

AAMC Practice Exams vs. Others:

Save AAMC exams and practice problems for last (do other company tests or free tests/practice before AAMC. AAMC is THE MOST representative material of the actual exam.)

 

Continuing off the previous point, don't put too much stock into your scores from other testing materials other than the AAMC (whether you score high or low, these exams are just not as good at telling you how prepared you really are versus the actual AAMC practice exams)

Other Ideas:

-Contact friends and/or classmates for resources. Often times the people who have gone through this process have a lot of good wisdom on the do's and don'ts.

-Push your test back if you feel you are not ready.

-Prioritize your mental and physical health above studying for the MCAT. Please seek professional mental health help if you need. You are not alone. We are in this together.

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