MCAT game plan: Achieving your maximum score

Posted by The PhD Perspective on 2/1/13, 10:40 AM

Taking the MCAT is extremely anxiety provoking.   But the preparation leading up to the exam can be grueling and soul-crushing.  These weeks/months are painful, filled with endless reading, questions, and practice exams.  Often, these monotonous routine days can cause students to become discouraged, frustrated, and bored.  Having a game plan before entering your exam prep stage can help you reduce the amount of time you are preparing, eliminate redundancies in your studying, and while it can’t make it more enjoyable, it will make it run a lot smoother. 

In this post, we’ll give you some guidelines on how to structure your MCAT prep schedule and achieve your dream of MD admission of MD/PhD admissions:

  • Assess how much time you have to devote to your preparation

We’ve all got other activities and responsibilities.  Some of us are working, taking care of families or in school full time.  Be realistic about how much time you have to spend per week for studying and build your schedule accordingly.  If you are in school full time, you probably only have a few hours/weekends per week to work.  In that case, you should give yourself a few months to prepare (but not too many).  If you are working and have more free time in the evenings and weekends free, you may want to prepare for just a few weeks intensively, and then schedule your exam.  Be honest with yourself about how much time you can devote, and give yourself the best chance to achieve success.  The most common thing students do is to overestimate how much they can do in a single study session, and thus don’t allow themselves the optimal amount of time to prepare.

  • Assess your  weak points

Take a practice MCAT exam before you being your preparation.  This will allow you to assess what your weak points are.  We all have different backgrounds.  Some of us are physicists, some of us are biologists, and some of us are art historians.  Thus, our strengths and weaknesses are different.  It’s important, when trying to make your MCAT prep more efficient (and thus shorter) that you assess your INDIVIDUAL weaknesses and strengths, and tailor your preparation to focus intensively on those subjects.  Many students often crack open their prep books and just begin reading from page 1.  If you don’t need help with dimensional analysis, spend a little less time on this particular topic

  • Look at right and WRONG answers and be realistic about how much can be accomplished during each study session

In general, students should really only tackle one topic per two days of prep.  This means you should spend some time doing content review, and doing questions.  Doing questions DOES NOT mean just answering the questions in the allotted time, and checking the right answers.  This means, analyzing each answer.  Ask yourself, why is this choice wrong?  Is it because it is factually incorrect?  If so, force yourself to restate that choice that would make it factually incorrect.  Is it correct but not relevant to the question?  Did you get this wrong because it was  A NOT question?  If you got a question wrong because you didn’t know the relevant information, force yourself to go back to that topic and re-learn that concept, pathway, or process.  Your MCAT tutor can help you cultivate this skill.  This is time consuming, but in the long run will not only strengthen your knowledge base, but force you to think about what types of choices are on the exam.  Put yourself in the shoes of the test makers, and in your exam prep, force yourself to ask: What else would I ask about this particular topic.  This is time consuming, but in the long run will not only strengthen your knowledge base, but force you to think about what types of choices are on the exam.  

Tags: test anxiety, MCAT