Structuring and strategizing your MCAT studying: Phase 2

MCAT study schedules
By Cole


Phase 2: Reviewing Content While Staying Sane

Welcome back! Having learned about Period A and Period B from the Phase 1 article (see link), we will delve deeper into the structure of Period A. As mentioned, the major focus of Period A is content review (fun!). While the structure offered by online prep courses can help (again, I took the Princeton Review course and liked it), it is by no means necessary for proper review. The major obstacle during Period A studying is breaking all the material you have into small chunks that you can digest daily. So, what does that mean?

Let me use an example to illustrate my point.

First step in Period A is to gather all the content you need to review. Where do we get this material? Well, I used the full set of Princeton Review MCAT Subject Review books and loved them. Other people I know used the set of Kaplan books, and others use Examkrackers. Truthfully, it really doesn’t matter which you get. All of these resources will have the information you need, and whichever you choose is essentially a decision between brands.  

Now that you have all of the information you need, the second step in Period A is to break all that information up. For example, perhaps you bought the Princeton Review books. There are 7 books in this series. I don’t actually know how many chapters are in all those books combined, but for the sake of easy math, let’s say each book has 17 chapters. That’s 119 chapters total. Okay, so we know how many chapters we have to get through, and we know that we have ~60 days in Period A. 119/60 =~ 2. Easy! So, all we need to do is read 2 chapters a day and we can finish all those scary books with ease in Period A.

An additional tip about reading the books; don’t read all of one subject then move to the next. For example, don’t read all of the biology review book and then move to the biochemistry review book – switch between subjects so you don’t let anything become stale. For instance, Monday read 2 biology chapters, Tuesday read 2 biochemistry chapters, Wednesday read 2 general chemistry chapters, and so forth. This way, all of the subjects will be fresh in your mind.

In addition to reading the review books, now is a great time to begin taking practice MCAT exams. I know it may seem crazy to take the exams without having all the content (I thought the exact same thing), but trust me on this one, it is SO helpful. The exam is long and building endurance for a 7-hour test is challenging. There are a number of other benefits to taking more practice exams including finding your pace and timing, getting a feel for how passages flow, acclimating to how the test feels (so it’s second nature come the real exam), and many others. Taking an exam every other week is ideal!

If you are taking an online course, you have the freedom of ignoring everything you just read – the main benefit of a course is they have already broken the content you need into portions you complete daily. If you are taking a course, I would just reiterate the importance of staying on top of your work, that’s all!

Now that we have the main foundation for content review down, let me offer a few additional tips: 

  • At the end of each chapter there are generally a couple practice passages, DO THEM!
  • Highlight and annotate your books as you read, you will be returning to them in Period B!
  • If you can manage it, take a practice MCAT every other week during Period A. You will not have all the content, but it is SUCH great practice feeling out the exam and having experience taking it (and developing endurance). Also – REVIEW YOUR EXAMS FOR YOUR INCORRECT AND CORRECT ANSWERS! Sometimes you may have gotten a question right for a different reason than you intended. Incorrect questions may also reveal subjects you consistently struggle with and can spend more time on come Period B.

Concluding Notes

Studying for the MCAT is a marathon. Don’t try and cram too much too early, but don’t procrastinate – it’s all about hitting that sweet spot of consistency. During Period A, your main goal is to read over the content while familiarizing yourself with the MCAT by also taking some practice exams. When I was studying during Period A, I was also at school conducting full-time research and making time to work out. Don’t let yourself get burnt out by doing more than you can handle, design a plan and stick to it, and have free time! I never worked on Saturdays, and man oh man did I look forward to Saturdays! The key to Period A’s obstacle of content review is simply maintaining steady and even progress.

Next, join us in Phase 3 where we will discuss how to create a manageable way to take all the information you just reviewed in Period A and internalize it! It just keeps getting better!