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MCAT Competition or Cooperation: Are Study Groups Worth It?

As you prepare to take the MCAT, you may start to feel overwhelmed with just how much material you are expected to know for the exam. This feeling is perfectly natural! While the MCAT does not test any science subject at the level of depth required by a typical college course, it does test a very wide range of content. To perform well, you will need a foundational understanding of biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, psychology, and more…all while you are working on your critical reading skills, time management, and passage/question strategy. How can you possibly balance all of these aspects of MCAT review?

The single best method to manage all of this pressure is simple: Study Groups. When you hear the term “study group,” you might have a negative gut reaction. Perhaps you hated group projects in undergrad and felt that you always ended up doing all the work. Or maybe, on the other end of the spectrum, you’re nervous about the competitive reputation of premeds and are skeptical that you’ll be able to find group members who legitimately want the best for you. However, these fears – while rational – should not stop you from giving study groups a chance.

Your MCAT group will contain other motivated premeds like yourself, not random undergrads who may or may not care about a project. And, while some hyper-competitive “gunners” certainly exist, far more have the collaborative, team-focused spirit that truly makes for an appealing medical school candidate. Below are a few tips that we at Next Step have put together regarding study groups. Follow this advice, and you’ll be well-equipped to tackle everything the MCAT may throw at you!

1. Choose a manageable number of group members, typically 3-4 students

This minimizes scheduling concerns and other potential wastes of time. After all, you don’t want to spend hours each week texting the other 10 members of your group.

2. Meet at least once per week, and keep a consistent schedule

If you’d like, you can increase this frequency to two or even three times per week. Avoid erratic scheduling. It’s not helpful for your mental state to go several weeks without seeing your study group and then try to pack in four sessions in a row to compensate.

3. Choose group members with different strengths and weaknesses

If you’re terrible at biochemistry but good at physics, and another group member is great at biochem but struggles with physics, then you will be able to help each other far more than if all members have similar strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, consider choosing members outside of, say, your core group of organic-chemistry-loving friends (if such a thing exists). To help find group members, you can visit our Next Step Forums here:

4. Keep each meeting structured and active!

The purpose of a study group is not to get together and freely chat about the MCAT. This easily devolves into talking about sports, classes, or life in general. Instead, assign homework each week for all group members. We recommend assigning two passages to each member to prep before the session. You’ll read the passages, highlight and take notes, and answer the questions before you meet (and the others in your group will do the same). Then, when your group gets together, each member will teach their passages to everyone else. In this way, you’ll be motivated to be especially thorough during your own passage review, and you’ll also benefit from exposure to the diverse strategies of the others in your group.

5. Thank academically, not geographically!

Free tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Dropbox mean that you can easily collaborate with premeds living anywhere in the world. Don’t just post on your school’s Facebook page to find local study buddies. Try to find someone with a study style that works best for you using things like Next Step’s forums that reach across the whole country.

Good luck!

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