Taking the MCAT is a daunting academic challenge. It requires 7.5 hours of intense reading and comprehension of dense scientific material. Besides, a large portion of the questions are passage-based essay questions. In this format, it is imperative to study effectively in a way that ensures natural recall ability. You won’t be able to rely on strictly objective multiple-choice questions to achieve a good MCAT score. Below, we outline some effective MCAT study tips to ensure you are prepared for one of the hardest standardized admission tests. Most of these tips can be applied last minute, while some of them are better to be implemented earlier.
1. Identify your target score
Please review the list of medical schools you are applying to and gather some information on their acceptance habits. Identify the minimum MCAT score you will need to gain acceptance into your target schools, and then practice, practice, and practice until you can achieve that score several times in a row. Having at least a few successful practice test scores under your belt will help you walk into the actual test with confidence that you’ll duplicate those results.
2. Take test exams
One of the most important study tools for the test are MCAT practice exams. Test preparation companies all around the nation offer access to previous MCAT tests to allow students a sneak peek at the format of the exam. The MCAT is not a test. You can rely on memorization to pass. Practice tests can help you refine your ability to think critically about how to apply your scientific knowledge to novel or hypothetical scenarios.
When performing practice tests, you must take at least one or full-length tests and force yourself to take them in one sitting. Be sure to avoid eating or drinking anything besides water until you get up for a break between sections. This is a great way to build the stamina you will need on test day. Just like running progressively longer distances trains your heart to perform for a marathon, these test exams will train your brain to perform for the cognitive marathon of the MCAT. Moreover, practice tests will give you an idea of where your score might land, so you know when you’re ready for the real thing.
3. Invest in supplemental study materials
Another critical aspect of preparing for the MCAT is to invest in quality study materials. There are a variety of great websites and test preparation companies that sell packages of study guides and test content from past MCAT exams. These curricula are developed by industry experts and will help you understand how the test is scored, where to invest your time on test day, and how to formulate your answers in traditional ways.
4. Review old content for a memory refreshment
When you’re studying, it’s essential to consult old textbooks and other content when you come across questions you don’t have a solid comprehension of. Instead of merely getting these answers wrong on a practice test, try working through them with the aid of your research materials in real-time. That way, if you encounter a similar question on the real test, you will have a refreshed memory on old subject matter you might not have revisited for years.
5. Create a study plan
Create a study plan to focus on your weakest areas, as indicated by your baseline practice test. This will help you focus your efforts to brush up on the content you’re least familiar with. Your plan should dedicate some days to practice testing and other days to content review and formal study. Have a plan that plots out how much time you can afford to spend on any given question. Remember, the MCAT is a timed exam. It’s important to keep a mental clock when you’re practicing, so you’re capable of keeping yourself on track under the psychological pressure of the real test.
6. Consider hiring a tutor
There is a wide variety of experienced MCAT tutors on PrepScholar, which can coach you during your studying process to help you guide your efforts and understand when it is the right time to take the test for real. Tutors can be expensive, so be sure to thoroughly vet your potential options and read the reviews they have from past clients.
7. Identify your baseline and focus on your weaknesses
Learning your academic weaknesses is one of the most valuable learnings you can glean from taking test exams as part of your studying process. Taking test exams is the only way to establish your baseline. It’s recommended to take your first test exam before you begin studying. This way, you can focus your limited time and energy on learning for the areas you’re weakest in.
8. Incorporate both timed and untimed practice into your MCAT study routine
It is understandable for most first-time MCAT takers to be concerned about time. Time is important, but accuracy is of equal importance. When learning a new skill, it’s critical to learn to do it well before you learn to do it fast. That’s why, after your initial baseline exam, you should always start with untimed practice content. Review the science in areas you’re not confident in, and test your accuracy until it’s up to par. While you’re doing this, time yourself so you know approximately how long each question and section takes you. Once you know which sections take you the longest, you’ll know where to focus the efforts of your timed practice.
9. Eat healthy, sleep well, and be confident!
If you don’t take care of your mind and body, studying will guarantee a successful MCAT exam. You must walk into the exam well-rested, and your brain has adequate nutrition to perform its best. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, avoid over-indulging on caffeine, and above all, be confident. By studying effectively, you won’t need to worry about any surprises on the exam. Instead, you will approach it calm, cool, and collected. This mindset is vital to ensuring you perform to your optimal to advance your dreams of becoming a doctor.