100 Days to MCAT Success: A “Lean and Mean” Study Plan
- Nov 26, 2013
- MCAT Biology, MCAT Blog, MCAT Chemistry, MCAT Long Form, MCAT Organic, MCAT Physics, MCAT Prep
So in a thread on student doctor network a student asked whether SN2ed’s schedule is still viable four years later (You can see SN2ed’s schedule here). The answer, of course, is yes. Although that thread got me thinking about throwing my hat into the ring on the “study schedule” front.
So, with no further ado, here’s Next Step’s MCAT Schedule (presented with limited commercial interruption by Bryan): 100 Days to MCAT Success
I’ve made it plain elsewhere that I think your choice of materials matters much less than how well you use them, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to suggest what I think of as “lean and mean” approach to the materials. 100% effectiveness, 0% wasted time or money.
1. Content Review: Outlines from the AAMC; Books: EK Complete Study Kit (cost: $134.04 on Amazon or rent the 7th ed. for as little as $40, outlines: free)
Yes, we could get into an endless discussion about how to perfectly optimize your book selections, but that’s been done to death on SDN and I’ll admit that I have neither the time nor the patience for endless discussion about the minute differences. All the big sets of books are good. I like EK because it fits my “lean and mean” approach. I’ll be making reference to the 7th edition, b/c that’s what I’ve got but the 8th ed. is out on Amazon and you should pick those up if you’re going to buy a set. You want more content? Go here:
2. Content Supplements: Khan Academy, mcat-review.org, wikipremed, wikipedia (as a last resort: your old textbooks) (cost: free)
All four of those websites are 100% free and offer 100% great content review. Note, they are not for MCAT practice, and using them will not directly raise your MCAT score. Instead, if you’re shaky on the basic science concept of, say, buoyancy, looking up the buoyancy sections of wikipedia, then Khan academy, then wikipremed, then finally mcat-review.org (and of course then going back and re-reading the EK lecture) will shore up your science content.
3. Practice Questions: mcatquestion.com (cost: 3 months for $27)
For a tiny investment you can get a subscription to their QBank that has literally *thousands* of discrete questions, and about 100 passages. This is my suggested alternative to the EK1001 books. While I personally like the 1001 books, they’ve gotten very mixed reviews here on SDN. The basic notion behind doing lots of discretes is that it’s just another way to study science content. The website I’m listing here doesn’t have the sheer number that the 1001 books do (4004 for all four books), but for the cost of a single EK book you’re getting like 2500 or so questions AND 100 passages. To my mind, it’s those passages that seal the deal on making the qbank website worth their small price.
4. Practice Passages: AAMC self-assessment packages (cost: $45 for Bio/Orgo, $45 for Phys/Chem, $40 for VR, or package of all five for $104, or buy the Next Step package described below)
So here’s where you don’t skimp or look for alternatives. The real, pure, uncut Heisenberg Blue straight from the AAMC. Buy them. Love them.
5. Practice Tests: AAMC Practice Tests (cost: $35/ea for seven exams = $245, or buy the Next Step package described below)
Everyone agrees that you need to complete the real, official AAMC exams. Do so.
6. Extra Help: Study Groups or Classes or Tutoring (cost: free for the study group, many thousands for the classes or tutoring)
You can’t totally fly solo here. You can try but it’ll make your life much, much harder. We’re social creatures so we need the support of working with and around other people. A class is one way to have folks who are going through the same thing as you, and a tutor can serve as great support both for the content and to keep your energy up. But the best, by far, is a study group. Among the thousands and thousands of students I’ve had over years, the two factors that have mattered more than anything else were attitude and a good study group.
If you’re looking for extra full exams, you can get a free one from Kaplan and from Princeton. May as well take advantage of that. After that, the TBR full exams are popular, and I agree that they’re very good quality. I’m not sure the cost/hassle is worth it, but that’s a judgment call you’ll have to make. I think the Gold Standard exams are actually totally serviceable and give an overall price-to-performance ratio that’s better than the alternative.
If you’re looking for extra practice passages, the obvious choices are EK101 VR, TPRH, and TBR. I actually think quite highly of the KTP books, but they just don’t have enough practice passages to make it worth investing in them specifically. With my own tutoring students, I recommend they actually buy the GS full exams, but use them as section/passage practice.
In any event, the schedule below won’t include any ancillary resources, just the five listed above.
I should also add that Next Step has arranged a special discount for our students on the AAMC materials. That means that we’re able to offer a special product, our MCAT Tutoring Introductory Package. This package includes *all* AAMC materials – both exams and self-assessment packages – plus a 90min one-on-one MCAT strategy tutoring session. The full retail price of all the AAMC materials, if purchased individually would be $375 just for the materials. Our Introductory Package retails for $499, with a special offer for our blog readers only for $399. Meaning you’re getting all of the AAMC materials plus a 90min tutoring session (roughly $150 value) for nearly the same cost as the AAMC materials alone. This deal is not being advertised on our website – it’s only for readers of this blog. If you contact us, be sure to mention that you saw Bryan’s blog post to get the deal.
Total Cost: $150 books + $27 qbank + $399 NSTP package = $576 (a fraction of the cost of a full prep course)
Okay, so that’s it for materials.
The goal is going to be complete mastery of the following material:
EK Lectures: 8 Physics, 9 Bio, 7 Chem, 4 Organic, 1 Strategy = 29 total
EK Verbal Practice: 3 Lectures/Quizzes
QBank: All passages, discretes as needed
Self Assessment: 128 Bio Q’s, 109 Physics, 104 Gen Chem, 80 Organic Chem, 21 Verbal Passages
Exams: 8 AAMC Exams
The basic method is going to involve front-loading the content review and verbal practice, spacing tests out to once a week, and making sure to build in plenty of “breathing space”.
General technique: “Lessons Learned” Journal.
Doing practice is pointless if you’re not actually learning from that practice. So as you do practice you’ll see instructions about extracting a “Lessons Learned” from each thing you do. These can be content facts you forgot, strategic mistakes you made, or things you did right that you want to do right again. Each “Lesson Learned” should be summarized in a sentence or three. Keep all of these lessons in a single word doc or a single notebook. You should then re-read your entire Lessons Learned journal every other day. In the schedule, that read-through will be denoted with “LL.”
General technique: Verbal Passages
You will need to dive into verbal practice at the very beginning, because you need to learn the best approach to verbal to suit your style. You will need to decide whether or not you like to take notes, use the highlight, just skim the passage, read it slowly, whatever. There’s no one right way to do verbal and you have to experiment to find out what works for you, and you need to find what works for you as soon as possible so that you can then apply that strategy for the rest of your practice.
To that end, you want to do the self-assessment package verbal passages in chunks of 3 passages/day for the first seven days of your prep. Each of those seven days, try something new and KEEP TRACK. Write down in your Lessons Learned journal what approach you took, whether you liked it, and how many Q’s you got right.
At the end of those seven days, pick a technique and use that technique going forward.
General technique: Rest Your Brain!
Even God got a day off once a week. You should too. The schedule doesn’t have any buffer days built in, because every Saturday is a day off. Those can be your buffer days if you need them, but I very strongly recommend against that. Your brain needs time to rest. It’s an organ like any other and if you work it ceaselessly, it’ll break.
General technique: Social Support
You’ll want to meet with your study group (or your tutor or your class) twice a week. That’ll mean you’re meeting often enough to keep on track, but spaced out enough that everyone has time to do work in between meetings.
So far, our schedule looks like this:
Now, let’s talk about how to use the EK lectures, as this is easily the most commonly screwed up part of MCAT prep. People read their MCAT review notes as if they were studying for a test, when instead they should be learning their MCAT prep books as if it was the score to a musical piece they were going to play at a recital. You’ve got to know your MCAT books forward, backwards, upside down and under water.
So here’s how you do that:
1. Start by casually reading through the lecture as if you were flipping through a magazine.
Don’t even attempt to “learn” it at this point. Don’t do the questions. Just flip through, skim the text, look at the pretty pictures and bold-faced words and get a general sense of what’s going on in the lecture. This process could take anywhere from 10-30 minutes (at most!) depending on how long it is and how well you know your stuff.
2. Go through learning all of the bold-faced words
The text won’t make much sense if you don’t know the language its speaking. As you get to a bold-faced word, stop and say the definition of it out loud. Then check yourself by looking that term up in wikipedia. Wikipedia will go way more in-depth than you need, but the first 3-4 sentences of most wikipedia articles give a really good basic definition of the term.
Don’t cut yourself any slack here! You CANNOT move forward into studying the chapter if you don’t actually know what all of the words mean. Make flashcards or study sheets as needed.
3. Read through the chapter slowly and carefully
Don’t write in the book! You’ll want to be able to come back to the material and get a fresh take on it, or sell it later when you’re done. Take notes if that’s how you feel you learn best. Make flashcards for anything you want to memorize. But most importantly, learn all of the diagrams. Be able to reproduce the diagrams, from memory. DO NOT CUT YOURSELF SLACK HERE. You *must* know the diagrams perfectly.
4. Wait one day
5. Come back to the lecture the next day. Skim through the lecture again, reviewing the diagrams, and then answer the questions in the lecture itself.
After doing the questions, read the explanations thoroughly for every single question. It’s not enough to get it right or to review what the right answer is. On every single question, ask yourself “what is the takeaway point here? what did I learn from this question?”
For each chunk of questions in the lecture, extract at least three “Lessons Learned” and add them to your journal.
6. Wait one day
7. Come back to the lecture, skim through. Look at all of the diagrams again. Review all of the questions in the lecture that you got wrong. Then, and only then, do the quiz at the back of the book associated with that lecture.
Again, you should thoroughly review all of the explanations for every single question, even ones you thought were easy. Extract at least three Lessons Learned from each passage and two Lessons Learned from each set of discretes.
8. Wait two days
9. Come back to the lecture, skim through. Review all of the diagrams, all of the questions in the lecture itself that you got wrong, and all of the questions from the quiz at the back of the book that you got wrong.
Repetition is essential for learning.
Repetition is essential for learning.
10. Wait two weeks
11. Come back to the lecture one final time. Don’t read anything in the lecture. Just re-do all of the questions in the lecture and the quiz at the back of the book.
This is another reason not to write in the book. You’ll want to be able to re-do the questions.
In schedule, we’ll denote the phases of learning the EK lectures this way:
“B1” for the first bio lecture, obviously
“B1.1” for the first day where you skim and study the chapter
“B1.2” for the second day where you reskim the chapter and do the questions
“B1.3” for the third day where you reskim the passage, do the q’s you got wrong and take the quiz
“B1.4” for the fourth day where you reskim the passage and re-do all the questions and quiz problems you got wrong
“B1.5” for the fifth and final day where you just re-do all of the questions and the quiz
Okay, now with all of the EK lectures and lecture-repetitions inserted, our schedule schedule looks like this:
Things are starting to fill up, but we’ve still got several important resources to allocate:
Full Exam Reviews, Practice Questions from the Self-Assessments, EK Verbal, and QBank questions
Full Exam Reviews
Fully analyzing your performance on an MCAT should take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours. It’s not enough to just zip through and look at the questions you got wrong. You’ve essentially got to re-do the entire test, slowly and carefully.
Re-read every passage. Ask yourself what notes you should’ve taken or what highlighting you should’ve done.
On every single passage, extract at least two Lessons Learned and on each set of discrete questions, get at least one Lesson Learned.
Reviewing a full MCAT should add another 50 bullet points to your Lessons Learned Journal.
Practice Questions from the Self-Assessments
You’ll want to space out these practice passages over the latter half of your study schedule. The notations in the schedule will be as follows:
“SA B1-3” do passages one through three in the bio self-assessment
“SA P D” do all of the discrete questions in the physics self-assessment
The total passage counts are:
As with all your other material, the key here is not just to do the material, but to review it thoroughly. Extract at least one Lesson Learned from each passage.
Here, you’ll want to actually read through all three verbal lectures right away near the beginning of your prep. That way you can see how EK suggests you approach verbal. You may decide to discard their method, but you should at least familiarize yourself with it.
Then, you’ll want to do the quizzes from the EK Verbal book spaced out throughout the first half of your prep once you’ve settled on a method using the Self-Assessment verbal passages.
They’ll be noted in the schedule as V1, V2, V3. You should read through all of the EK verbal lectures on the first day of study.
The QBank mentioned above has ~100 passages and tons of discrete questions. Our goal is going to be to finish all of the passages and to simply do discretes where time allows.
In the schedule, “QB – D” indicates that you should do 20 discrete questions that day, from a science of your choice. Aim to spend 1min/q on the discretes and then about 30 minutes reviewing the questions. As always, abstract Lessons Learned. Each chunk of 20 discretes should net your four Lessons Learned. “QB – P” indicates that you should do 4 passages. Again, pick whichever science you want to work on that day, and abstract 1 Lesson Learned from each passage. Aim to complete the passages in 30 minutes, and spend 45 minutes reviewing.
During the final week before the MCAT, you’re going to want to spend one full day doing a final review of each science. The final review should involve doing the following:
1. Go through the entire EK book for that science, reviewing all the bold faced terms, equations, and diagrams
2. Review any study sheets you’ve made on that topic
3. Go through all passages from the AAMC exams on that science (something like 20-30 passages)
So now, finally, our study schedule looks like this:
Good luck!! 🙂
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