Structuring and Strategizing your MCAT Studying: Phase 6

By Cole


Welcome to the very last article in this series! You’ve managed to read about MCAT strategies for 5 articles without having your head explode, so well done. In this last article, I want to leave you with a few more tips that I have yet to mention. These tips are just as helpful as the ones I have already talked about, so definitely give them a skim! As always, feel free to use them, ignore them entirely, or adapt them as you see fit. I tested a lot of strategies during the months I spent studying, some were great some, and many were not. So, let me give you the ones I found to be helpful.

Tip 1 – Adjust your sleeping habits

Like many of the tips I mention here, this might seem intuitive once stated, but many people don’t actually follow through with it. This tip is SO helpful!! Around 2 weeks out from your actual MCAT date (further, if possible) adjust your sleep schedule to fit your exam day. If you need to be up at 6 AM to drive to your testing site come exam day, wake up at 6 AM for the proceeding two weeks. If you want 8 hours of sleep before the exam, you’ll want to go to bed at 10 PM. Simple enough right? So, for the 2 weeks before the exam, go to sleep at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM. Come exam day, you’ll wake up fresh and ready to go rather than tired and groggy (remember how important problem solving is on the real MCAT?). This might seem crazy, but it helps!

Tip 2 – Time all your practice exams like the real thing

On the subject of timing and sleeping, try and make each of your practice exams resemble the structure of the real MCAT as close as possible. Try and take your practice test in the morning (like the real MCAT), and give yourself the same time for breaks (and not more!). This will not only build endurance, but come exam day, you will feel comfortable going through the motions with breaks rather than dealing with new timing/structure. It just makes everything feel more natural and frees your mind to focus on what matters – crushing the exam!

Tip 3 – Snacks snacks snacks!

Okay, this one may seem over the top, but hear me out. Come exam day, you have breaks where you can have snacks and lunch. This time is crucial to give your brain a rest, but also great for refueling. During your practice exams, test out some snacks between passages and for lunch. Find what makes you stay nice and even and helps you avoid crashing. Once you feel your snacks/lunch works, stick with it! Knowing you have some peanut butter toast waiting for you after the chem section is not only exciting, but it helps your body stay on track for that 528! Figure out the whole snack thing earlier rather than later, and don’t wait to do it on the real MCAT!

Tip 4 – Taper studying

As you approach the real MCAT, you want your brain nice and fresh rather than overworked. About a week out, try and reduce the time spent studying to 4-5 hours. Two days out, aim for about 3 hours, and on the day before your exam, DO NOTHING!!! Please please please listen to this one. At this point, you know what you know. Nothing you do on the day before the exam will change that. What you can do, however, is overwork your brain and leave you tired for the exam. This is bad! Problem solving is critical, and the three proteins you memorize the day before the exam will not help you nearly as much as a fresh brain. Instead, go for a walk, hang out with friends, watch some TV, or just relax. I know ‘relax’ is hard to do with all that pent up stress, but do your best! You have earned some much deserved free time by now.

Tip 5 – Don’t panic if your practice exam scores plateau or even drop

This happened to me and I freaked. I was chugging along great, and then got stuck for 3 exams. I wasn’t changing score and I was getting very frustrated. The following week, I went down a point and almost exploded. I ignored the anger and stayed the course, and ended up scoring well above all my practice exams on the real exam. The same will happen to you. Practice exams produced by the Princeton Review/Kaplan/etc. are very hard on content and designed to challenge you. On the AAMC material/real MCAT things will fell different, just trust me on this one. You shouldn’t fear a plateau or drop in score, it’s to be expected!

Concluding Notes

Truthfully, I want to thank you for reading all of this. It’s a lot, and I certainly know how overwhelming it all feels. Try and focus on the day to day, it makes everything feel more manageable. Also, if you have pets, exploit their love. If you don’t have pets, find (steal) some. My dogs always loved me whether I knew my amino acids or not, and that was nice. Find some way to release the stress; I liked to workout every day. Lastly, the MCAT is important, but it is only one of many things admissions committees consider when choosing applicants. They want real people in their schools, not just MCAT-taking robots. If I’m lucky, I’ll scare you all with another series about the interview process/MD admissions as a whole. But for now, suffice it to say my fun fact during interviews was “I like to pet random dogs I see on the street.” Yep. People were not-so-humbly bragging about playing random instruments or the one time they saved a baby from a 978 story building or whatever. I was talking about dogs. Interestingly enough, however, people always asked to see pictures of my dogs after my “fun fact”. From there, we had great conversations about the animals we love, and things were easy. Be yourself, don’t force anything. The MCAT will work out just fine, and everything else will fall into place. Work hard, but remember, there is no finish line so have fun as well!

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