If you can afford it, and think you really need it, look into the possibility of taking one of the professional MCAT preparatory courses. Even though all the information you'll need for the MCAT is included in your premedical college courses, the critical thinking and analysis required on the new MCAT is unlike anything you may be used to, so you’ll have to sharpen your reasoning skills in order to think your way through problems and interpret data. Furthermore, these courses do an especially good job in reviewing the science topics covered on the exam.
Understand that MCAT preparatory courses should be a review of material you’ve already learned. They should never be your first exposure to the material. If you’re going to study on your own, be disciplined. Here are some final tips that will help you get ready for and do well on the exam:
• Understand the nature of the MCAT
. Don’t wait until your junior year to understand the scope of the MCAT and how it’s structured. By looking at MCAT resources and knowing the types of materials included on the exam, you’ll have a better appreciation for what to study and how much you’ll need to prepare.
• Hold on to your textbooks and notes.
Don’t sell back any textbooks that you’ll need when studying for the MCAT. Also, make sure you hold onto your class notes and other materials that may help you during your preparation.
• Review course material regularly
. One of the biggest mistakes I see students making is finishing a course and then forgetting about it as if they’ll never use the material again. You must remember that the MCAT is a cumulative exam and, therefore, by reviewing material on a regular basis, you’ll be much better prepared when you finally do begin studying for the actual exam.
• Don’t wait to begin studying
. Spend at least three, and preferably six, months preparing for the MCAT. If it has been a while since your last chemistry or physics course, it's especially important that you review at length. It’s a very difficult exam and one of the main factors that admissions committees use to screen applicants. Find out what works best for you and approach your study so that it’s convenient, consistent, and effective.
• Assess your weaknesses
. Before you actually begin preparing for the MCAT, take a preliminary practice test. It’s free and it takes about 3 hours, but it will give you valuable information about where your strengths and weaknesses are. Free diagnostic tests are available from Kaplan, the Princeton Review, Examkrackers, and from the AAMC. When you take a practice test, choose “simulate actual test” so that you are taking it under timed conditions.
• Stick to a routine schedule
. When you begin studying for the MCAT, set a schedule and stick to it. I found that students who are organized and set aside a specific time each day to study are much more successful. Here is a schedule from a student who scored exceptionally high on the test. I’ve added a psychology and sociology review because those topics are now included on the new MCAT.Monday:
Study biochemistry and biology topics; read two short scientific journal articles and analyze two graphs or tables.Tuesday:
Work chemistry problems; review physics equations; read two short scientific journal articles and analyze two graphs or tables.Wednesday:
Review organic chemistry concepts; review physics concepts; read two short scientific journal articles and analyze two graphs or tables.Thursday:
Review organic chemistry reactions; review biochemistry concepts; read two short scientific journal articles and analyze two graphs or tables.Friday:
Review psychology and sociology topics; read three short articles in the humanities.Saturday:
Review your weak areas; once or twice a month, take a practice test in order to track progress, uncover weaknesses, and get used to the format of the exam.Sunday:
Take the day off and relax.• Limit sessions to no more than two hours.
When you study, never study for more than an hour at a time before taking a ten minute break. Most students, whether they realize it or not, lose concentration and the ability to absorb information after only one hour of study. Taking a short break periodically will reset your mind and your attitude for another session of studying. After two hours, it’s time to quit because retention falls off rapidly.• Take regular practice tests.
Use practice tests to gauge your ongoing progress. These tests will identify your weaknesses so that you can concentrate more on those areas. Review and keep track of wrong answers and, more importantly, ask why you got the question wrong. It could have been because you didn’t know the material or because you simply made a test-taking error. One of the best ways to learn is by studying your mistakes. A month before the exam, your goal should be to do one or more practice tests each week. Make sure that you simulate the exact conditions that you’ll encounter on test day: no music, no friends, and no distractions. Doing this many practice tests will also build your concentration and endurance for the real thing.• Use MCAT prep materials rather than textbooks.
Go to any bookstore or to amazon.com and order MCAT prep materials. Use textbooks or course notes as supplements. Test prep companies like Princeton Review spend thousands of hours analyzing MCAT content and are very good at presenting only the material that will be needed for the test. Textbooks are just too detailed and contain information that takes up too much of your study time. The only exception is when you need to go back and study concepts that you may not have learned, especially in physics and organic chemistry.• Use flash cards.
Some of the MCAT involves basic memorization. Going through flash cards several times a week to review formulas and definitions will definitely help. Keep flash cards with you at all times so that you can pull them out whenever you have some spare time.• Don’t just memorize.
The writers of the MCAT are more interested in you demonstrating your ability to understand principles and concepts rather than memorizing formulas and facts. As you study for the test, don’t just answer the questions; explain them as you would if you were teaching a class. If you know the material well enough to teach it, then you’re ready for the test.• Study graphs and charts.
The new MCAT is geared toward analyzing and problem-solving, so naturally it includes graphs, charts, and tables that you’ll have to interpret. The more of them you’re exposed to, the more comfortable you’ll be at analyzing them.• Read short articles in scientific and psychological/behavioral literature.
Because the new MCAT includes a section on the social, psychological, and biological foundations of behavior, don’t just focus on scientific articles. Read short papers that discuss social, cultural, psychological, and behavioral issues as they apply to society and its problems.• A few weeks before the MCAT, go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up at the same time you'll be waking up for the exam.
This conditioning program is important for proper relaxation. It's well known that test anxiety during a long exam is more difficult to cope with when the individual is fatigued. If you have to, learn a relaxation technique and use it before the exam.• Don't study the night before the exam.
Relax and try not to think about the next day. Get plenty of rest the day before so that you'll wake up refreshed and feeling well rested. On the day of the exam, eat a light breakfast. There are breaks during the MCAT, at which time you can have a snack if you're hungry.
• Don't eat a heavy lunch.
After the morning session, the last thing you need is to become sluggish for the afternoon sections.
If your preparation has been ongoing, you'll do much better than if you try to utilize these techniques a few months or even a few weeks before the exam. It's never too late to start, though. Begin now and be very conscientious about your preparation.
Reprinted from The New Medical School Preparation & Admissions guide, 2016: http://www.medicalschool-admissions.com