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How Do I Form a Strong MCAT Study Group?

There is a golden rule amongst medical students when trying to learn something: “See one, do one, teach one.”

Essentially it breaks down to this: You see the material once, you try it out yourself, but then you teach it to someone else. It’s really that last step where you understand something. You can’t really claim you’ve mastered something if you’re unable to help someone else.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until med school to apply this practice. But how do you go about teaching the MCAT to other students without running into a blind-leading-the-blind scenario?

Simple: study groups.

We’re not talking about the normal “Okay, let’s get together and talk about the MCAT” study groups. They have to be well-organized, well-run and focused. It truly is a science to creating an effective MCAT study group.

Here’s some guidance on how to run a study group that actually studies, rather than spends time scrolling through Insta and Liking other people’s MCAT posts:

1. Keep it small, but not too small.

Three people. No more, no less. Two people and you’re screwed if one person flakes. Four people and you end up wasting time. With three, at least one of you will make sure to keep the others on task.

2. Stick to a schedule.

Agree on a fixed schedule. Treat your study group like a class. Meeting sporadically “whenever you’re free” does not work—in fact, you’ll probably never end up meeting more than twice. Link with people who understand that the MCAT is deadly serious and needs to be treated as such.  After all, this is your future you’re playing with. If your study group meets at Noon eastern Tue/Thu, then that means Noon, not roll in around 12:20 and get started around 12:30.

3. Don’t force yourself to meet everyday.

It’s rare for a group to be productive every day. You need time on your own to work at your own pace, really digest the material, and take practice MCAT exams. Meeting twice/week is good if you’re on a full-time MCAT schedule, possibly over a summer or gap year. If you’re spreading studying over 4-6 and are prepping for the MCAT part-time, aim to meet three times/week.

4. Give each other homework.

Seriously. You need to create accountability. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, drop them. They’re a leech and will waste your time. Everyone has a job to do.  Don’t take lame excuses from study group members. Just move on. Give each other specific passages to work through by the next meeting and make sure everyone is putting in work.

5. Teach each other.

See how we came full circle? By assigning people homework assignments, they will be expected to teach the material or passage to the other two study group members. This pushes each person to work extra hard to really learn a passage and the associated content so that they can then explain it to the group. It’s this over-studying and explaining that really cements learning.

6. Work online.

This is especially important for people who don’t live in huge cities or big college towns. The odds that you’re going to find a local study buddy that you click with on a personal level and that you can trust are slim. Don’t limit yourself by geography. Do group calls via Skype or Google Hangouts and collaborate with online whiteboard drawing tools for mapping out problems. It’s easier if you all use the same online MCAT materials, like the Next Step online MCAT Course. We believe in online MCAT prep so much, we even hold online office hours with our 99th-percentile MCAT Tutors for our course students to get extra help and assist each other multiple times a week! Never let distance stop you!

7. Stay positive.

Humans are social creatures and the secret to getting through any difficult times in life is always the same: Social support! This is why clubs, churches, twelve-step programs, gym classes, etc. all succeed. They put you in an environment with other people doing the same thing and going through the same trials who can support you. Celebrate your progress with each other. Stay positive, focus on the small victories, and keep chugging away.

Ready to get started? Start your study group on the right foot by signing up for our free MCAT Practice Bundle!

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