MCAT Tutor: Memorization, the Dark Side of the MCAT

Posted by Mac Staben on 12/19/14, 2:35 PM

Staben_12112014And milk, too? 

When used correctly, memorization can be one of the most powerful tools available to increase the power of your MCAT preparation. Building a solid foundation of information which you call on so often that it becomes second nature will increase your speed and accuracy on the MCAT. But memorization is a difficult thing; it takes time and effort to learn how to learn. Even super skilled MCAT biology tutors in New York have had to spend precious months and brain cells honing this skill. So in this blog post, I’m going to discuss the best ways that I’ve found to get facts into my brain. I’ll also talk about some examples of information which are probably important.

Up until a few months ago, like any good liberal arts college student, I hated memorization. It always seemed like a huge waste of time to cram information into your head when the formula, date, or fact were available in a book or on the internet. When I took the MCAT, and during my first years doing private MCAT biology tutoring in New York, I felt the same way. But, after my first semester of medical school, I’ve come to realize that having a number of facts (formulas, relationships of information) in your back pocket is absolutely necessary. While it’s never enough on its own, memorization is nonetheless an important component of MCAT success. So, what’s the best way to get this kind of material into your head?


How to Memorize Most Effectively

By far, the most useful tool that I’ve found for memorizing information has been Anki. It’s a free program which just displays user-made (or downloaded) flashcards. On the surface, the program takes a stack of paper flashcards and makes it easier to access. But, more importantly, Anki uses a concept called spaced-repetition to make sure that you don’t forget information over the long term. 

You know how material presented in a class can seem so simple when it’s presented, but when you review your notes a week later, they seem incomprehensible? Spaced-repetition exists to keep information fresh. The program keeps track of how long it has been since you’ve dug around in your brain for the equation for free-falling objects or what effect aldosterone has on the body. Far too often, I’ve heard students I’ve worked with (early in the course of working with them) say that they’ve “looked over the material lots of times, but it never seems to stick.” By forcing active recall, rather than passively reading over notes, programs like Anki or practice questions will improve the efficiency of your learning. This website, by far has some of the most useful information on how to structure your flashcards to maximize your learning. (Skip to the bottom for the 20 rules to formulating knowledge, but the entire essay is actually worth it). See if you can integrate MCAT review into routine New York life and slowly build up those memorization muscles. 


Understand the material first!

I am in no way advocating blind memorization. It’s important to first understand the material, then use programs like Anki to keep these concepts fresh in your mind. Supplementing regular work with flashcards will make you much more familiar with the material. Working with a private MCAT biology tutor in New York is a great way to get the initial understanding down, but at some point, facts like the functions of hormones, basic equations, and a few constants have to be inside your head. As a first-year medical student, you’ll be required to memorize all kinds of facts about the human body (and even more stuff later on), so why not start practicing how to commit things to memory now?

Feeling a little overwhelmed by all this content? Here's a rundown of how the MCAT is changing in 2015 to help you get on your game. Cambridge Coaching is also happy to help out -- if you need private MCAT tutoring in New York, Boston, or online, don't hesitate to drop us a note!

 

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