Structuring and strategizing your MCAT studying: phase 5

MCAT study schedules study skills
By Cole

MCAT study plan

Pssst... this is part of a series.  Be sure to read Cole's other posts on the MCAT by going to his profile here.

We’re almost there!! Fair warning, this article is word-heavy, but bear with me. At this point, you are probably splitting your time between practice passages and content review (with a heavier emphasis on the former). Depending on whether you've decided to go the self-study route, with a company, or with one-on-one tutoring, you have been using the practice passages/exams that are associated with the choice. While this material is intended to imitate the type of material you will see on the real MCAT, many times it is very different. The biggest difference I found was that material produced by companies other than the AAMC focus heavily on content and don’t force you to dissect the passage as much. For example, the passage you read may be about some bacteria, but the questions they ask don’t refer back to the passage but instead ask you something about DNA. These passages are helpful for ensuring you have memorized your content, but don’t exactly reflect the type of questions you will be asked on the real MCAT. So, to make sure we are ready for the real MCAT, we need to transition into working exclusively with AAMC material.

Why not work entirely with AAMC MCAT material and skip the other stuff? Good question! Unfortunately, there is only a limited amount of material the AAMC releases. As you know, the exam was changed in March of 2015. That being said, the AAMC has only released a couple of practice exams and sets of passages. Thankfully for you guys, they have added even more material than what I had to work with! However, we still want to treat this material with extra care. To date (meaning June 22, 2018), the AAMC offers the following material; 3 full-length scored practice exams, one full-length practice exam, a section bank, 6 question packs, and one small pack of online practice questions. I would STRONGLY recommend buying all of this material (it is SO worth it). Thankfully, if you have purchased an MCAT course through any of the aforementioned companies, you are provided these materials at no extra cost (I feel like a salesman, I have no allegiances I promise).

Now that we know what material we have, let’s talk briefly about the logistics. A while back I mentioned that we should be taking practice exams throughout the duration of our studying despite the fact we didn’t know all the content yet. In Period B, we should also be working a lot with practice passages. This is all remains true, but one important fact needs to be stated; we should wait to use the AAMC material until the later portion of our studying. The justification for this being as follows; we want to continuously work with practice exams/passages, but want to save the AAMC content towards the end to ensure we can most closely replicate what the real MCAT experience will be like. You want to have as much content memorized as possible when working with the AAMC material to be sure the passages/exams you take feel as similar as possible come exam day. Additionally, once you transition into AAMC material, don’t turn back! You want to stay working with AAMC material as much as possible and only use outside passages/exams if necessary. Why? Well, it is hard to describe why without seeing for yourself, but suffice it to say the passages will feel extremely different. The challenges you face in AAMC exams/passages will be very different from those in other exams/passages.

Okay, so we know we need to transition into AAMC material at some point during Period B, but when? Well, that depends on how much material you buy, how many hours you study a day, and how many days you have in your Period B. Rather than crunching all of the numbers for an example, I will give you an easier rule of thumb. Ideally, you want the AAMC material you have to last until two days before your MCAT date. From there, stretch the material out as many days as possible. For example, say you purchase two practice AAMC exams and 60 passages. Schedule the last two practice exams you have to be the AAMC ones. Furthermore, perhaps you do 6 practice passages a day. If 60/6=10, then you have 10 days of passages to work with. So, from days -12 to -2 (minus being days away from your MCAT) you can be working exclusively with AAMC material. That’s really all you need to do – determine how much AAMC material you have, and work backward from your MCAT date to see how long you can stretch it working at your specific pace. Not so complicated right?

As a reminder, you can still be reviewing content during this time, but focus more on the AAMC material. For the last 2 weeks or so, if you study 6 hours a day, at least 4 of them should be spent on the AAMC passages. ALSO, just to be sure, I will mention this again; make sure you are reviewing every question from every passage/exam you take. This is so important! You need to see what you are getting right and wrong, and why. Also, obvious trends arise for material you struggle with. For me, it was lenses. LENSES! I swear the physics of lenses, for me, is simply impossible. It doesn’t make sense and never will. I never knew how much I hated lenses until after reviewing a couple of practice passages and realizing I got every single lens question wrong. Review the passages/exams to find the topic you struggle with, and adjust your studying accordingly. That being said, make sure you schedule the “review” time into your studying. If it takes an hour to actually take the passages, leave at least 15-20 minutes afterward to review them. Do. Not. Skip. This. Part. That’s my last rant for the day I promise.

Concluding Notes

AAMC material is like gold. It will help you crush the MCAT and reach your dream med school (maybe it’s more precious than gold then?). Treat it accordingly! Make sure you are in the perfect testing conditions when using it (that means you are timing yourself, your focus is the material, you aren’t texting, etc.). Use this material as if it’s the real thing. Truthfully, out of every single thing I did in preparation for the MCAT, this material unquestionably helped my score the most. You’re so close to the end at this point, take a breath and watch a movie! You can write it off as a “cognitive rest session” and feel good! In the Phase 6 article (our very last, sad!), I will give you the final secrets of MCAT studying. These tips are super helpful but didn’t fit nice and neat into any other phases, so they get their own. See you there!!