Top 3 Tips for Studying for the MCAT
With the upcoming MCAT, students have been submitting their questions online, asking us how they can improve their MCAT scores…and FAST! Everybody wants to know how they can improve and want the secret for fast change. Well, unfortunately there is no secret and there is nothing that can really be done to get you that 35 without studying. But, with hard work and some of these strategies, you can definitely increase your score.
In this post, we will be focusing mainly on studying tips and strategies. In later posts, we’ll talk more about actual test taking strategies.
1. Plan out your schedule and stick to it!
All too many times, students that have come to me for help have asked us what is the ideal amount of time to study for the MCAT. Should they study for 6 weeks? 3 months? A year? Like everything, it depends. There is no definite answer, because everybody is different, however there are definitely bad amounts to study for.
For those who want to study for the MCAT in 4 weeks, good luck. Unless you already have a masters or PhD, studying for the MCAT in such a short amount of time is going to be very difficult. There’s just too much information to cover to try and cram that much information all at once.
On the other side of the spectrum, a lot of students like to study for the MCAT for 6months to a year. And in my personal opinion, this is too much. Not only will this take up quality time that you could be spending elsewhere, but more importantly, our memory isn’t that good. How much can we honestly say we remembered from last year? Not much, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s only so much we can remember, so if you’re studying for this test for an entire year, you’ll find that all you will be doing is reviewing, reviewing reviewing. You’ll be going over the same information over and over, trying to remember what you already learned.
So, through my experience, I have found that 10-12 weeks is the optimal time. Not only is this a good balance to allow enough information to come in and be retained, but it is also ideal because summer is roughly this amount of time. So, what we suggest is to try (if possible) to plan your MCAT studying during summertime.
I’ve said this in earlier posts, but studying for the MCAT is definitely a very time consuming process and you’ll want to try and focus all your efforts to studying for the MCAT. This may mean studying during the summer, without school, or not working that extra job. You’ll want to focus the majority of your time to just studying, because if you have to worry about when your next midterm is, or when your research project is due, you’ll find that MCAT studying will be put on hold.
But, with all this being said, you need a balance. While it may seem like all you should be doing is studying and focusing all your efforts to this one test, you need a balance. Find something you enjoy, whether it be a hobby, some game or anything really. Something that relaxes you and that you enjoy. Pick a day out of the week where you can just have fun and not worry about anything. Because you’ll find that after 8 weeks of straight studying, you’ll want to quit. And you’ll be quitting in your prime studying time, from 8-12 weeks. So, it’s best to spread out your breaks, so you don’t get that “burnout”. Sounds crazy, but its true. With everything, balance is good. It helps to keep you sane and keep you motivated when you need it most.
3. Pick a study schedule, Pick a date and stick to it.
No matter who you study with, what books you use or how you plan to study, the fact is if you keep experimenting, you won’t get anywhere. Most programs are roughly the same and most books (from the major companies) are about equal in helpfulness. Jumping back and forth from one program to the next and from one book to the other isn’t going to help. I’ve seen too many students fall into the trap of studying with plan A for 3 weeks, not seeing any change, jumping over to plan B, and so on and so forth.
With everything, these things need time. You won’t see change in an instant. You won’t see dramatic increases overnight. These things take time and you need to stay the course, or you won’t see improvement. Jumping from one program to another isn’t going to help, because different programs will stress different subjects at different times. So, you’ll repeat some subjects and miss a bunch of others.
Probably one of the biggest mistakes I see is that students start to flake on their test dates. They start off with a test date of March, and by week 7 of studying, they won’t feel prepared and will just tell themselves, “oh, it’s ok, I’ll just postpone to May”. They then stop or decrease their studying from week 7-12 because they think they have more time. Not only did they just waste 5 weeks of their studying, but they also pushed their test date back and possibly hindered their application date. You’ll find that your biggest score increase is going to occur in those last 5 weeks, but you have to stay the course and push through.
If you’re taking the MCAT or have taken the MCAT in the past and have some opinions to share, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear it! Stay tuned for our next post, which is test taking strategies!