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Building An MCAT Study Plan – How To Treat Analysis Paralysis

by Dr. Anthony, MD/PhD


Builing an effective MCAT study plan can be stressful and complicated. Most pre-meds suffer Analysis Paralysis because they lack the experience to formulate an efficient study plan for the MCAT exam. An effective study plan is an important piece of your MCAT prep, so you’ll want to learn how to overcome this Analysis Paralysis. 


Here are 3 of the most common symptoms students face along with appropriate treatments:

Symptom #1 Not knowing the relevant information required for the exam

Determining what science is fair game on the MCAT is a simple process and definitely the most important. This is where you should spend most of your thinking and study planning efforts. The best way to find out what is on the exam is to visit the AAMC site, where the test makers provide a .pdf that broadly outlines which topics from chemistry, physics, biochemistry, biology, psychology and sociology are allowed on the exam.  

Keep in mind I said the AAMC “broadly outlines,” not specifies, topics. Too many students think that if a specific topic is not mentioned in the outline, they should not study it. That will cost them points on test day.

For example, the outline does not specify projectile motion or kinetics in Content category 4A, but those topics do fit under the broad subjects of Translational motion and Newtonian forces, which are mentioned and have shown up on released AAMC practice materials. Use this outline to choose MCAT study materials that limit their discussion to test-relevant science. If you are still taking classes relevant to the MCAT in the fall and spring, this outline will be useful in making your course schedule the most effective for MCAT prep, and will allow you to identify areas in your classes that will not only help you get a good grade, but will get you a competitive (i.e. 90th percentile or better) score on the MCAT.  

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Symptom #2 Not knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, or how much prep is needed. What to do and not do

This is another biggie. The best way to treat this symptom is to take an initial MCAT practice exam as a “diagnostic,” along with a science assessment exam. If you do both of these things, you will have a much more accurate idea of what your current strengths and opportunity areas are when it comes to exam science and MCAT skills.  

Next Step offers both an MCAT diagnostic and science diagnostic free to our students. The former is best for identifying how well you handle the unique way the AAMC presents the physical, social and life sciences on the test. Many students find that while they do know their biology well, they are unprepared to recognize a familiar topic on the MCAT. The latter will allow you better formulate your initial study plan, which should be focused on building your science foundation.

All of the test strategy and thinking skills will be to no avail if you do not know the requisite science content. The science diagnostic will help identify where you may have done well in class, but failed to internalize or truly master the material (I’m looking at you, organic chemistry exam study bingers/purgers). Once used, you can maximize study efficiency by focusing on weaker areas and MCAT practice via our practice exams or Online Qbank rather than material you already are comfortable with.   


Symptom #3 Figuring out the costs and which resources to use with your study plan

Hesitating to make a decision regarding study resources is another common mistake pre-meds make. This is more of a common sense answer than a textbook answer. You should only go with those resources that fit into your budget and will allow you to raise your score in the time you have allotted to study. Do NOT overdo it by purchasing multiple sets of books or numerous exam sets. Quantity does not equal quality. As for budget, there are several ways to keep MCAT prep costs down. Next Step offers a half-length MCAT diagnostic and 1 Full-length (FL) MCAT practice test for free. Online video courses, like the one we offer, can often be a cheaper alternative to more costly in-person classes and will allow you to focus your study time where you need it most.   

A good MCAT study plan will range from 12-16 weeks, on average. Students should purchase 1 set of MCAT content books that stick to the exam-related science. Content books which also offer MCAT practice are a big plus. Choose books that fit your current state of readiness RE: content and your learning style. Some books offer thorough discussions of topics, while others limit themselves to a review of each topic.

Online content videos will also help solidify content and fill in the details more effectively than any book when it comes to highly visual topics like biochemical pathways and physics. You should purchase all of the AAMC exams (which as of the writing of this blog, stands at 3) as well as the AAMC section bank. On top of that, students will need more practice exams and practice questions/passages. Practice exams should be taken online whenever possible and you should aim to take about 10-12 total full-length exams over the course of 16 weeks.

With shorter study schedules some full-length exams can be broken up into section practice. The closer these exams match the AAMC in tone and style, the better. Do not neglect the importance of thorough explanations when choosing practice tests. Find exams, like Next Step’s, which provide proper explanation to their questions AND passages. Qbanks (either in online or in book form) will be an invaluable resource in medical school so you should get used to them now. An MCAT Qbank will force you to be more active with the science you are studying and will allow you to customize your practice to your exact needs. After all, who is more important than you!

Want to take the guesswork our of your MCAT study plan?

Next Step’s Free MCAT Practice Bundle provides students with more than just a free exam. Anyone who registers for our free bundle will also gain access to our adaptive day-by-day study plan generator as well as a sampling of our content review videos and a sample quiz from our online Qbank.

We hope this helps! Good luck with your MCAT prep!

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