In the Ace the MCAT series I’ll be giving general tips and advice on how to ace this test.
Have the proper mindset
Realize that the MCAT is an “academic Olympics” that’ll let you show admission committees that you’re intellectually ready for medical school. The preparation process is tiresome and grueling but it helps to remain excited about this opportunity to show med schools that you’re willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to succeed.
This is a little bit cheesy but I watched some YouTube videos for motivation whenever I got discouraged.
Here are some inspiring videos that may give you that extra push whenever you’re feeling unmotivated:
Don’t let some test prevent you from achieving your dreams. Protect them.
You need to want success as bad as you want to breathe.
Part 2 of how bad do you want it.
Give yourself an appropriate amount of time
Now that you’re pumped to ace this thing, make sure you give yourself an adequate amount of time to succeed! You’ve spent hundreds of hours volunteering, studying for prereq’s, doing research, and all these other amazing things to make you a competitive applicant for medical school. Why would you compromise all of that by rushing yourself to take this test?
If you have any gaps in foundational knowledge, take the time to eliminate them. If you have weak areas, keep practicing those areas so you can turn them into strengths! Don’t walk into that test center hoping that you don’t get a question in a subject you’re weak in. Keep practicing and keep reviewing until you feel confident about every topic.
AAMC lists every topic of every section here:
It’s helpful to go through each section and to check off all the topics where you need extra work.
Study Smarter, Not Harder
This blog article from Study Hacks was one of the most helpful articles I’ve ever read. Not only does it help you to succeed with the MCAT but also with any other skill that requires practice.
If you want a summarized version, it’s this: Becoming exceptional at something requires hours. Lots of them. But time isn’t the only requirement. In order to become truly great at something you also need to spend your time practicing deliberately. This means that all of your preparation time should be geared towards improving performance.
How does that translate to MCAT prep? Well, your objective is to score as many points as possible. How do you do that? By answering questions correctly. So whenever you’re studying, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re primary objective is to be able to answer those pesky test questions.
I learned early on in my preparation that the absolute best way to practice deliberately was to answer and review practice questions. I know it’s kind of obvious, but you’d be amazed by the amount of people I’ve met who have dedicated the majority of their prep time solely to content review. The key for me was to try to answer as many MCAT questions as possible before I walked into the testing center. Whenever I got a question wrong or if I was unsure about it, I reviewed everything about the question to make sure that I’d never get a similar question like it wrong again. If you just spend your time reading and rereading all those prep books without reinforcing the knowledge with questions, you’ll have trouble making the facts “stick.”
Another benefit of answering plenty of practice questions is that you’ll begin to see patterns in the way questions are asked. For example, for chem topics like making I-C-E tables or electrochem, I had trouble identifying exactly what the questions were asking. I knew all of the formulas and background information from the prep books, but I didn’t know how to apply them. After enough practice, all the application of your knowledge will become second nature.
Take advantage of interactive multimedia
When I started my preparation for the test, I read through the prep books chapter by chapter. I had trouble staying focused while I was reading because the information was just so dense. Each chapter was filled with intense terms and concepts and I found it difficult keeping them all straight in my head.
I realized that by watching videos, I could anchor my knowledge of the terms to the moving shapes and sounds of animations.
For example, I had a lot of trouble memorizing the steps of the immune response because I couldn’t keep all the different cell types straight in my head. There were B cells and cytotoxic T cells and helper T cells and I just couldn’t remember what each cell did or when it contributed to the immune response. I found this animation from McGraw Hill and after that I had no problem remembering the whole process!
After I watched the video a couple of times I was able to “replay” the response in my head. I knew that the T helper cells were the orange blobs that would float over to the antigen presenting cells, then the macrophage and T helper cells would release bright chemicals (Interleukins) to stimulate responses from other T cells and B cells. When I had all these moving pictures in my head, I had no more trouble explaining the processes.
This can be duplicated with so many other topics that are tested in the MCAT. Search google or youtube for helpful videos or animations and I think you’ll have better luck memorizing difficult concepts. Being able to visualize things was a very helpful tactic that I used to succeed on the MCAT.
Recreate test conditions
Make the absolute most out of your study time. Find yourself a quiet place with no distractions. When you’re taking the MCAT you’re not allowed to pause and check your Facebook or text your friends or check your email. When you’re practicing for the test, recreate test conditions and stay away from all those productivity killers.
I know that it can be really difficult to just sit and focus on studying but it all goes back to your mindset! If you can’t focus, find a way to motivate yourself. Remind yourself of your goals and expectations. How bad do you want success?
Don’t trust one prep company
Over the 5 months that I spent preparing for the test, I used prep materials from nearly every prep company. I tried TPR, EK, TBR, Kaplan, AAMC tests, GS, you name it.
The fact of the matter is this: no prep company is perfect. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. Combining materials from more than one company will help ensure that you don’t have any foundational gaps. I’ll write more detailed reviews of the companies in another post.