I’m an MCAT Tutor and These Are the Top MCAT Study Mistakes I’ve Seen
- Nov 27, 2023
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Prep
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
No two premeds have the same journey to medical school, and while it’s true that every student is unique, there are more than a few common MCAT study mistakes that we all end up making at one point or another.
I should know—I either made these mistakes personally when I was prepping for the MCAT or witnessed them over and over again during my 10-year tenure as an MCAT tutor.
From underestimating the true magnitude of the MCAT to neglecting the importance of a solid foundation, these missteps can significantly hinder the progress and success of future med students.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, however, and learning from our mistakes is one of the hallmarks of being human! So, let’s thank those that came before us, and dive into some of the most common mistakes MCAT students make.
MCAT Study Mistake #1: Underestimating the Time Required
One of the biggest mistakes students make is not allocating enough time for MCAT prep. This can come in several variations, from the micro-scale to the macro.
First and foremost, the MCAT is a 7.5-hour exam. Compare that to your typical 2-hour-ish tests from your undergrad (maybe four, if you took the SAT way back when), and compound your anxiety appropriately (kidding, sorta).
Hopefully, you aren’t planning on cramming for an exam of this magnitude, and if you were…don’t.
Straight from the horse’s mouth, the AAMC itself recommends 250-300 hours of active studying to prepare for the MCAT. This is typically spread out over the course of 3-6 months, which comes out to around 12-25 hours per week of active studying. It helps to think of this as a part-time job rather than just another test.
Zooming in a little bit, we also tend to underestimate how long it takes for concepts to truly sink in and go from our short-term memory to long-term storage. You WILL forget things that you just read/learned a few days ago.
It’s tempting for us to default to negative thinking when this happens: “I’m not smart enough”, or “I’m just not good at physics”. It’s important not to let frustration win here.
Change your mindset and be ready to accept the fact that you’ll have to cover topics multiple times. Spaced repetition is key here and MCAT flashcards are a great resource for this!
Studying for the MCAT is a comprehensive process that demands ample time for content review, practice questions, and mock exams. It’s essential to create a realistic study schedule and allow for sufficient preparation time to build a strong foundation of knowledge.
MCAT Study Mistake #2: Neglecting Comprehensive Content Review
While navigating the sea of information that is MCAT prep, it is not uncommon for students to neglect one crucial aspect of their preparation: content review.
The allure of diving headfirst into practice questions and full-length practice exams may seem tempting, but disregarding the importance of thoroughly reviewing foundational content can ultimately prove detrimental to your MCAT success. Plus, you want to save those practice tests for when you know what you’re talking about, rather than taking your best guess on every question!
Content review serves as the building block upon which your entire MCAT prep stands. Neglecting this crucial step can lead to a shaky foundation, resulting in difficulties when attempting to tackle more complex problems and higher-order thinking questions.
The MCAT is designed to test a wide range of topics, spanning from biology and chemistry to psychology and sociology. With so much material, we often don’t know what we don’t know – ya know?
Content review allows you to bridge any knowledge gaps that may exist. By neglecting content review, you run the risk of encountering unfamiliar concepts and terminology during the exam, which can leave you feeling unprepared and overwhelmed. Trust us, you’ll feel much more confident the better prepared you are.
Remember, the MCAT is not just a test of memorization; it requires a deep understanding of how various subjects intersect and relate to one another. Skimming through content or relying solely on surface-level knowledge will make you miss out on the chance to develop a holistic comprehension of the subject matter.
MCAT Study Mistake #3: Overemphasizing Content Review And/Or Neglecting Practice
What the heck, Hunter? Didn’t you just say that one of the mistakes we make is not spending enough time on content review?
All things in moderation, my friends.
Besides the mistake of diving headlong into full-lengths and practice problems before we’re ready, the other most common MCAT mistake is spending too much time on our content review. Too much of a good thing is bad for you.
I’ve seen it hundreds of times. We start off with textbooks, content videos, and note-taking. That becomes our comfort zone, and before we know it, we’re intimidated by practice problems. We often feel like we’re “not ready” for that first full-length practice test, or we “don’t see the point” in doing practice problems when we don’t have the entire textbook memorized first.
Here’s the secret: Those practice problems and full-length exams ARE your next form of content review!
Once you’ve established a decent (not necessarily perfect) foundation of science literacy, you need to start pushing yourself. Don’t let the safety and comfort of content review hold you back from trying scary, new things. Oftentimes it’s the only way for us to break through our score plateaus.
I know it never feels good to get a practice test back and see a score you aren’t happy with, but that’s part of the process! If we were getting our goal score in practice, well then it’s time to stop practicing and do it for real!
Dive in, get questions wrong, review why we missed it, figure out how to improve for next time, and write it all down in a Lessons Learned Journal. It’s a messy, grueling process that often humbles us, but that’s one of the best ways to improve.
Like I always say, “F.A.I.L is just your First Attempt In Learning”. A lot of the time we have to fail to figure out how to succeed.
MCAT Study Mistake #4: Procrastination and Poor Time Management
Procrastination and poor time management are two all-too-familiar mistakes that many students studying for the MCAT tend to fall victim to. The allure of temporarily escaping the daunting task of exam preparation by indulging in a Netflix binge or scrolling endlessly for hours can be tempting. However, failing to prioritize and allocate sufficient time to study can have detrimental effects on our performance.
Procrastination often starts innocently with small diversions but quickly spirals into a cycle of constantly pushing important study sessions aside. Soon, you have numerous unfinished sessions piled up on top of each other and crucial topics are left unexplored, leaving you ill-prepared and anxious as your MCAT test date approaches.
Procrastination not only robs us of valuable study time but also increases stress levels and decreases overall confidence.
Similarly, poor time management can lead to suboptimal outcomes in MCAT preparation. Students may underestimate the amount of time required (see Mistake #1) to thoroughly cover all the necessary content and practice effectively.
Without a well-structured study schedule and clear goals, it becomes challenging to consistently allocate time for each subject and tackle practice questions. This lack of organization and planning can result in cramming sessions, a superficial understanding of concepts, and an inability to effectively review and reinforce key information.
So how do you avoid falling victim to this MCAT study mistake? Establish a realistic study routine, practice discipline, and prioritize your long-term goals over short-term distractions.
I’ve also heard the phrase, “I don’t feel motivated to study” more times than I can count. This eventually leads students to put off studying until they feel “up to it.”
Motivation is fickle. It comes and goes as it pleases.
Motivation is that friend who always flakes out on plans at the last minute. Motivation is that family member that said they’ll take you to the airport, but something came up last minute and now you’re on your own. Motivation is not your friend. It’s unreliable and untrustworthy.
Discipline, on the other hand, is everything motivation isn’t. Discipline is dependable. It’s there for you, even when you don’t want it to be. Discipline is someone you can take home to meet the parents.
Don’t count on “feeling motivated” to study. Schedule your study time, every day (minus a rest day), and no matter how you feel, just do it. Pretty soon that feeling of, “ugh…I have to study for the MCAT” will disappear.
In its place is your daily routine, which happens to include a few hours of MCAT prep. It’s no big deal, and not something to dread every day, because it’s just what you do, every day. It sounds crazy but some of us even miss it once it’s all over. And it WILL be over!
MCAT Study Mistake #5: Neglecting Self-Care and Burnout Prevention
Running yourself into the ground prepping for the MCAT is an all-too-common trap that many of us fall into. In the pursuit of achieving our dreams, it is easy to become consumed by our studies and stress, and disregard our own well-being. However, this approach can have dire consequences on your mental and physical health, as well as your overall performance on the MCAT.
As much as we like to believe we’re these perfectly logical, thinking machines, we’re not. We’re human. Our brains are weird and squishy. We have stress hormones flooding our bloodstream and we get tired.
To quote Jean Luc Picard, “That is not weakness, that is life.” (heck yeah, Star Trek).
When we neglect self-care, we fail to prioritize activities that promote our own physical and emotional well-being. This includes getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, and taking time for relaxation and leisure activities. Without these essential self-care practices, students may experience increased stress, fatigue, and decreased focus, ultimately hindering their ability to retain information and perform at their best.
It’s not a grindset mindset. It’s self-destructive and ultimately worse for your score in the long run.
The relentless demands of MCAT preparation can lead to burnout if we don’t implement effective prevention strategies. What are the signs to look for? Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. It can manifest as feeling overwhelmed, constant fatigue, and a loss of momentum.
Set aside dedicated time for some R&R, engage in activities that bring joy and rejuvenation, and seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals when needed.
MCAT Study Mistake #6: Not Seeking Help or Support
Not seeking help or support is a common mistake that many MCAT students make during their prep journey. It is natural for us to want to tackle challenges independently and prove our abilities. This is totally fine in moderation and can help build resilience and tenacity.
However, failing to seek help or support when needed can lead to missed opportunities for growth and hinder progress. You don’t need to navigate this journey alone!
But what does that look like? It can involve reaching out to peers, joining study groups, or even seeking guidance from mentors or tutors who have successfully navigated the MCAT (yo!). These interactions provide a platform for collaboration, shared learning, and the exchange of ideas.
Additionally, seeking help allows students to gain different perspectives, identify areas of weakness, and receive targeted feedback that can help them refine their study strategies and overcome obstacles more effectively.
The MCAT journey can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and having a support system can alleviate some of these burdens. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from others who are going through similar challenges can provide support, motivation, and encouragement when the going gets tough.
These were by far the most common mistakes I’ve seen my MCAT students make over the years. Once they understood them, they were able to overcome them. Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch these mistakes before they happen to make your MCAT journey a little smoother.
And, as I mentioned in Mistake #6, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Blueprint MCAT is here to help you on your journey to med school with MCAT experts who have been in your shoes and know what it takes to make it to the other side.
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