1. Take a diagnostic test
The MCAT is a monster of a test, and it will very likely be the most comprehensive exam you’ve ever taken. Everything from mRNA to Sigmund Freud will be on there, and it will encompass all that you’ve learned in your college science courses...and then some. So how do you even start? Well, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Those of us that majored in biology will likely be fine with a simple review of the cell cycle, but we may struggle to remember Newton’s laws of motion. Those of us that majored in English might think that the CARS section is a piece of cake, but we could be a little rusty when it comes to Erik Erikson’s stages of development. Whatever the case, taking a diagnostic test before you start studying is critical. A diagnostic test will tell you exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are, allowing you to focus your studying efforts. It can make you realize that you forgot the Beckmann rearrangement was even a thing, and it can also help you accept your rightful status as an up-and-coming physics guru.
2. Make a plan and a schedule
Once you’ve figured out your strengths and weaknesses, you can start to form a plan for your MCAT studying. For example, if you absolutely crushed the chemistry questions, your time might be better spent focusing on physics. Now, don’t get me wrong: you should still be comprehensive and study everything. But at least to start, you can focus on those “problem areas.” The point here is to make a custom plan for yourself. Create a schedule and be detailed with it. Set aside a specified time every day, and use that time to read through your content review books, go through flash cards, or run through practice problems. Know your schedule ahead of time and stick to it.
3. Be realistic and flexible
When making your schedule, it can be easy to go overboard with the things you want to get done, but it’s important to be realistic with the goals you set for yourself. Don’t plan to read 200 pages of a Kaplan review book on Wednesday morning and then take a practice exam on Wednesday night. Know your limits and set productive but achievable goals. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up to fail, and that’s never a good feeling. Additionally, be flexible, and forgive yourself. You might be working a full-time job while studying, taking care of children, going to school, or simply feeling tired. Life goes on outside of MCAT studying, so make sure to build in scheduled “buffer days” where you can catch up or take a break. Things will come up, and your schedule will not go exactly as planned. The important thing is to keep your eyes on the prize and maintain that motivation and self-care.
4. Diversify your content
In creating your study plan, it’s important to use a wide variety of resources. There are many different test prep materials out there, and no one set of materials is perfect, but sampling the best parts from each one can help you get the best of all the worlds. It can also help you learn things in different ways. Use flash cards, watch videos, read review books. Do what works for you, and don’t force something if you don’t feel like it’s helping.
5. Use active studying techniques
Active learning has been scientifically proven to be more effective than passive learning. Don’t just skim a passage from a review book and call it a day. Take notes in a Word doc, highlight key terms, do the practice problems in the book, create diagrams from memory, and repeat concepts out loud to yourself. All of these things will help make the pages of content stick, and it will also make studying a lot more fun.
6. Start CARS early, and never stop
The CARS section is basically reading comprehension. It is the only section of the exam that doesn’t require outside knowledge, as it only tests your ability to understand the passages given. Although there are a few techniques you can use in this section to boost your score, by far the best way to study for the CARS section is to practice, practice, practice. Start from the very beginning with just a few practice passages a day, alongside your usual routine. The more you do, the more you’ll pick up on the patterns, and the better prepared you’ll be for test day.
7. Test yourself again, and again, and again…
As you progress through your study phase, it’s important to do occasional temperature checks and see where you stand. Once you get through a section, take another practice test, and feast your eyes on your progressively higher score. This is the best way to build stamina for this very long exam, and it will also help you continue customizing your study plan to focus on areas you need help with. After each practice test, take a day or two out of your schedule to review all the questions you got right and all the questions you got wrong. Only then will you be able to recognize the mistakes you tend to make and start working towards never making them again.
8. Keep things in perspective
Is the MCAT an important test? Yes. Does it play a big role in medical school admissions processes? Absolutely. But it’s not the only part of your application. You will also have your letters of recommendation, personal statement, and loads of secondary application essays. All of these things are equally if not more important than one simple number on your application. Remember that, and remember that no matter what, if you really give it all you have, you will become a doctor one day.
The road to medical school is long, and the MCAT is one of its most formidable challenges. You will be relieved to know that what you learned in your premedical courses is actually on the test. But studying for the MCAT is more about taking that knowledge stored way back there in the nooks and crannies of your mind, bringing it to the fore, and then learning to twist and stretch it in the ways the MCAT tests. In reality, studying for the MCAT is no more (or less) difficult than spending late hours on a physics problem set or an entire weekend on an organic chemistry lab report. Just like these other tasks, the MCAT requires endurance and follow-through, but it becomes significantly more manageable when you work with a Cambridge Coaching MCAT tutor to apply a structured, systematic, and strategic approach to your studying.
Anyone can study hard - but the real key to MCAT success is learning to study smart. So, while all forms of MCAT preparation require you to crunch a lot of material, we focus on helping you to make strategic choices about your areas of focus at every step of the game. Each Cambridge Coaching tutor is a highly-skilled manager of your personal study process. He or she will do more than just target your weaknesses - your tutor’s goal is to identify the sections where you have the greatest potential for improvement, and teach you to wring every last point from them by creating the roadmap for your studying, and helping you stick to it. Right from the start, your tutor will create a customized syllabus for you, and will then modify that syllabus as needed.