5 tips to make the most of your MCAT study time

MCAT study skills

John Wooden, the famous UCLA men’s basketball coach who won ten NCAA championships during his career, defined success as “peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Maintaining this perspective can be invaluable as we set, plan, and work towards achieving goals of all different shapes and sizes, including preparing for the MCAT. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you study, to help you succeed in becoming the very best MCAT test-taker you are capable of becoming! 

Choose your study tools thoughtfully

There are A LOT of different study resources out there, and given the high volume of content tested on the MCAT, it can become very tempting to try a little bit of everything and consume a wide variety of study materials. Instead, try to use the breadth of available resources to your advantage to select only a few that are best suited to your learning style. Whether you prefer videos, books, or flashcards, choose and commit to a resource for content review and focus your efforts on learning that set of information as thoroughly as you can. Instead of feeling pulled in too many different directions, this will allow you to devote more time to a given study resource and ultimately feel more confident in your understanding of a set of material.

Create a realistic study schedule and stick to it

As you plan your studying, put thought into creating a balanced and realistic schedule that you will truly be able to carry out, helping you to feel accomplished, well-prepared, and confident on the day of your exam. Try your best to realistically evaluate how much time you need for reading, practice questions, and other review, in order to set manageable daily and weekly goals. This will help you to avoid making a study plan that is impossible to execute and will only leave you feeling as though you are falling behind and struggling to meet your goals. Set time aside each week dedicated to catching up on unfinished tasks, along with scheduled breaks from studying altogether, to help you to stay on track and remain energized and productive during your dedicated studying time. 

Simulate the actual exam

Don’t let your actual exam be the first time you allow yourself to experience a lengthy, timed standardized exam, and the anxiety that comes along with it! Dedicate days while you are studying to taking a full length timed practice test, and treat it how you would the actual exam: wake up early, pack up your things, and go to a quiet place with minimal distractions where you can take the exam. It will force you to get acclimated to test-taking conditions and the associated nerves and discomfort. This is perfect time to allow yourself to struggle through a timed practice test and identify areas for improvement, so that the actual exam will feel as familiar and comfortable as possible.

Track and review your weak spots in an organized way

It’s a good idea to maintain a log of challenging concepts and questions you missed that you can review easily- whether you keep a list of questions and answers, a spreadsheet, or a flashcard deck. Reviewing areas of weakness in an active way (i.e. quizzing yourself with Q&A or flashcards) will help you commit to memory the topics that you struggled with, and can help you to truly learn from your mistakes and get these questions correct on your exam.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Studying well is important, of course, but being at your best on the day of your exam also requires you to be mentally and physically well. While you are preparing for your exam, prioritize sleep, nutrition, and activities that help you to maintain clarity, balance, and a positive attitude. You’ll have good study days and bad study days; it’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling and to know when to keep pushing yourself, and on the other hand, when it would be more beneficial to relax, clear your mind, and forget about studying for a little while. 

Steph graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Biochemistry and Biophysics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. There, she worked in a molecular biology lab studying kinesin proteins. She's now an MD Candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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