When I taught high school science in DC Public Schools, my colleague had a saying whenever he would assign lengthy class projects. “There’s only one way to eat an elephant,” he would say, “one bite at a time.” Although his advice was intended for our class of grumbling adolescents, I found it increasingly applicable to my own extra-curricular project: studying for the MCAT. Breaking the MCAT down into manageable chunks helped me score a 526; here’s how you can make your own plan:
Step 1: Draw up a calendar between now and your MCAT test date. Ideally, there should be at least 16 weeks in your study plan. However, individual circumstances, like full-time work or school, may necessitate a study regimen closer to 24 weeks due to outside time commitments.
Step 2: Designate the days you plan to take full-length practice tests in your calendar. If possible, complete one practice test every two weeks. Taking “full-lengths” is time-consuming and intimidating, so many students procrastinate doing so. By scheduling these tests in advance, you will avoid having to cram at the very end of your study regimen. Furthermore, full-lengths are more valuable as a learning exercise when they are spread out over the course of a study calendar, rather than bunched at the very end. Pro-tip: Save your AAMC full-length tests for the very end of your study schedule.
Step 3: Obtain a PDF copy of “What’s on the MCAT2015 Exam?” This document summarizes the MCAT into 31 distinct content categories (10 for CHEM/PHYS, 9 for BIO/BIOCHEM, and 12 for PSYC/SOC). Content category 4A, for example, covers “translational motion, forces, work, energy, and equilibrium.” Using a 16-week study schedule means that each content category should be covered in about 3 days; students on a 24-week schedule should cover one content category about every 4 days. This planning method can be accelerated for students who are studying full-time. For example, one of my MCAT students is currently covering each content category in two days or less (see sample month below).
By following the AAMC’s content categories, students can be assured that they are not completely glossing over entire MCAT topics. The sheer breadth of this test requires that students are systematic with their studying. The three steps listed above will help structure your studying so you can do your best!
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.