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Five Common MCAT Misconceptions Debunked

The MCAT is a major milestone in the life of pre-meds, and as such, students receive information about the MCAT from both informal and formal sources, some of which are more reliable than others. As a result, we’ve noticed various MCAT misconceptions bouncing around the pre-med-osphere and will address some of them in this blog post. Hopefully this post will be useful for you personally and/or serve as a source of information that you can use to clarify these points if they ever come up when you’re talking to someone else.

1. Yes, organic chemistry is on the MCAT.

Organic chemistry is emphasized less on the post-2015 MCAT than it was beforehand, which seems to have given rise to the mistaken perception that it is no longer a required topic. That is not correct. The MCAT expects you to be familiar with two semesters of college-level organic chemistry. Organic chemistry accounts for ~15% of the Chemical and Physical Foundations section and ~5% of the Biological and Biochemical Foundations section. On one hand, these percentages are relatively small, but on the other hand, every question counts on Test Day! Additionally, organic chemistry will help build your foundations for Biochemistry, which does account for a larger proportion of the test.

2. Psychology/sociology isn’t just vocab.

Students often use flashcards to cram vocab for this section, but relying too heavily on this strategy can backfire. First, the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section also often tests experimental design, both directly and by presenting you with information about experiments in passage format and asking you to reason about those experiments. Second, although you do have to master a lot of terminology, it’s not just vocab. Don’t limit yourself to passively recognizing terms. On Test Day, you’ll have to distinguish between a lot of similar-sounding terms, and the best way to prepare yourself for this is to actively practice analyzing and systematizing the terms through study sheets and flowcharts.

3. MCAT content is relevant for future physicians.

This is wading into somewhat controversial territory, but we’d advise against getting too caught up in the idea that MCAT content is just an irrelevant hoop you have to jump through. On one hand, yes, there’s an obvious discrepancy when you go home from a busy volunteer/scribe/clinical work shift to cram your head full of details about electromagnetism, solubility, and the pentose phosphate pathway, and complaining is only human, but on the other hand, investing too much energy into this narrative will lead to a level of bitterness and resentment that will only get in the way of succeeding on the MCAT. Also, it is actually the case that virtually every MCAT science content area has some application in medicine, even if it’s not clinically obvious in day-to-day work. When you’re getting frustrated with the process, click around on Wikipedia to see how (for example) solubility connects with kidney stone formation, and you might find that your interest is rekindled!

4. More isn’t always better when it comes to full-length practice exams.

Full-length practice exams are an indispensable part of your study process, and it’s important that you get enough realistic practice. However, some students take this to an extreme, pushing themselves to exhaustion to complete full-length exam after full-length exam. This can become counterproductive. Full-length exams are learning opportunities, and you’ll get the most out of them if you invest the time and energy necessary to carefully review them and identify lessons for future improvement. (In fact, you might need to invest as much or more time into reviewing an exam as you did taking it!) When you’re still mostly doing content review, a full-length exam every few weeks might be reasonable, increasing in frequency to weekly full-length exams when you get closer to the test. In the immediate run-up to Test Day, if you have the time in your schedule, you might increase to two full-length exams weekly, at which point those exams would form the core of your studying – but anything more than that is likely to become counterproductive. The key insight here is simple: you get out of a full-length practice exam what you put into it, so don’t rush!

5. You don’t need to study every day.

The MCAT is really important, so it can be really really really hard to give yourself permission to take some time off. However, MCAT prep is a marathon, not a sprint, and your overall mental energy will make a huge impact on how you do. We routinely recommend that students take a day off each week to recharge and refocus, because doing so will help prevent burnout and make sure that you get the most benefit from your study time.

If you’re just getting started with your prep, Next Step offers a free MCAT practice bundle that includes a half-length diagnostic, access to our first full-length practice test, and a demo of our online course. You can sign up for the free practice bundle here. If you’re looking for more comprehensive prep, we also offer one-on-one tutoring programs as well as an online MCAT course. Not sure where to start? Set up a free, no obligation consultation with one of our veteran Academic Managers. They will go over your prep needs and help you decide what prep options are right for you.

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