Now that you have made your super study guide (applause all around), we want to review it but also begin to focus more heavily on practice passages. Just to reiterate, at this point we are in the Period B of studying (see Phase 1 article if confused). We have reviewed all of our content and are now trying to make sure we can recall it. As time ticks down and the MCAT date approaches, we want to be continuously adjusting our daily study schedule. See the diagram below for a less-wordy explanation (yay diagrams!).
As my beautiful diagram so clearly depicts, you want to taper your content review and increase the time spent working with practice passages as time progresses. You might be thinking, “but the more content I know the more prepared I will be!” In some sense, that’s obviously true. However, the relative benefits of completing practice passages HEAVILY outweighs the benefits of looking over the study guide as you approach your MCAT date. As I mentioned, the real AAMC MCAT is very VERY focused on testing problem solving. As you near the real MCAT, you want to have had as many chances as possible to work through passages. During Period B, you also want to up the number of practice MCAT exams you’re taking to one a week. It seems like a lot but believe me, this is what helped me make my biggest gains. More practice with passages allows you to understand how to anticipate questions, quickly process material, and more effectively dissect passages. Content review will not be as helpful for this! To really drive home my point, let me tell you a quick anecdote.
Around the second week of Period B, I really felt like I was on a role. I was cramming a ton of material from my study guide and feeling great. I was scheduled to take a practice exam on one Friday, so the Thursday night before it I thought I’d give myself a helpful boost and spend 2 hours after dinner reviewing my study guide rather than just watching tv. MISTAKE. After I finished my practice exam the next day, I had actually gone down a couple points. I could recall the content super well, but I was mentally fatigued and had some trouble problem solving. The next week, I had dinner on Thursday and spent the rest of the night relaxing. No surprise, I scored much higher on that exam than ever before. So, here is the takeaway lesson – content is super important, know as much as you can, but there comes a point of diminishing returns and where a rested brain is more beneficial.
As you progress through Period B, review your study guide, but switch your focus to becoming an expert on working through passages. Similar to reading the textbooks, you also want to be sure you are working on passages from each MCAT section rather than overloading one (i.e. CARS) for too long.
Content is very important, there is no doubt about that. However, I would weight equally the ability to understand the test and how to effectively dissect it. The only way to increase your skills at the latter is practice. Honestly, I found taking practice passages to be fun (yeah, I said it)! You not only prep yourself for the MCAT, but you also learn useless things you can use to impress your friends from each passage (like how fire detectors work!). Have some fun with the passages, it’s your opportunity to show how much you have stored in that big brain of yours!
Next, in Phase 5 (sadly our second to last article), I will discuss the importance of switching over to exclusively using AAMC practice material, and when to make the switch. Get excited, people!!!