Recharge and Refocus With These MCAT Study Breaks
- Nov 29, 2023
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Prep
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
Preparing for the MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint. With so much material to cover, it’s challenging to maintain focus and energy for the 300-ish hours you’re expected to put in.
That’s why it is so important to build regular study breaks into your MCAT prep schedule and even in your daily study sessions. Short mental breaks recharge your brain to stay sharp, while longer breaks give your mind time to organize information.
Here are 10 research-backed study break techniques and ideas to help you make the most of your MCAT prep sessions. Try some of these ideas today and let us know if they made a difference!
Why MCAT Study Breaks Are Essential
Before we dive right into it, let’s talk about the benefits of not doing marathon study sessions—aside from the fact that the idea sounds terrifying.
Study breaks are not an excuse to slack off! Multiple scientific studies conclude that short breaks:
- Improve focus and concentration.
- Increase motivation and engagement.
- Reduce fatigue and prevent burnout.
- Allow for knowledge solidification.
- Spark creativity and new ideas.
Incorporate brief breaks while studying complex topics like organic chemistry formulas to stay focused enough for key information to move from short-term into long-term memory.
Effective MCAT Study Break Ideas
1. Take a Walk
A short 10-minute walk is one of the best and easiest MCAT study break options. Light exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain and reduces stress hormone levels.
Moving your body also triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that work to improve your mood.
Walking outdoors offers even more cognitive benefits, such as enhancing memory skills. Bonus points if you stay off your phone while walking for maximum brain rejuvenation.
2. Listen to Music
Spotify or Apple Music? Whatever your streaming platform of choice is, listening to your favorite playlist awakens your auditory senses and makes for an excellent study break activity.
Classical or ambient electronic music work well as the soundtracks of your actual study session, so try some upbeat pop music for a dance break!
Do you play an instrument? Consider playing for 10 minutes for a change of pace.
3. Eat a Light Snack
Refueling with a healthy, energizing snack on your MCAT study breaks helps stabilize blood sugar and renews mental stamina. Avoid heavy foods that can cause drowsiness. Smart options are fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain crackers, and yogurt.
Make sure to stay hydrated as well—and no, coffee cannot and does not substitute for regular ol’ H2O.
4. Take a Power Nap
For an extended study break or when you’re feeling particularly drained, a 20 to 30-minute power nap can work wonders.
Keep your naps short to prevent grogginess. Try drinking a caffeinated beverage right before your power nap for an added boost. The caffeine should start kicking in as you wake up.
That said, you won’t study effectively if you’re truly exhausted, so try not to sacrifice your sleep in favor of sneaking in more hours of prep. It may end up backfiring on you.
Five to 10 minutes of meditation is an excellent way to clear mental clutter and find focus.
Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and direct your attention inward. Observe thoughts and sensations without judgment before letting them go.
This reset can keep you grounded during intense study sessions.
6. Switch from Passive to Active Learning
When your brain feels tired on a particular MCAT subject you’ve been stuck on during content review, switching gears can help reinvigorate you. You could review flashcards for a few minutes or even try explaining the concepts you reviewed to your roommate or cat—they don’t even have to listen!
No premed is an island and if you need an excuse to meet up with your friends for a bit, here it is!
Social interaction can boost your spirits and provide mental stimulation during a study break. Call someone, arrange a coffee meetup with your study group, or just chat with your family over dinner.
8. Crossword Puzzles or Games
Hopping on a video game sesh might be a bit much, but brain puzzles are fair game. (Pun very much intended.)
Games and puzzles engage your brain in a different way than studying. Try spending part of a longer break on crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or brain-training games. These mental challenges exercise your problem-solving skills in a fun way.
9. Check Off Your To-Do List
Spend time completing unrelated tasks on your study break — do some laundry, schedule appointments, or clean your room. Checking small tasks off your to-do list helps provide a sense of accomplishment outside of test prep and will help make your life a little easier too.
10. Plan an MCAT Study Reward
Having an incentive to look forward to, like a fun activity after the MCAT, can boost your motivation.
Use some of your study breaks to finalize plans to celebrate with friends, book a vacation for after exam day, or schedule something else that will keep your spirits up. Visualize this light at the end of the tunnel.
Optimizing Your MCAT Study Break Schedule
Now let’s look at how to schedule study breaks into your MCAT prep schedule strategically:
- Take a short 10-minute break every 45 to 60 minutes of studying. Walk, snack, listen to music, or close your eyes.
- Consider the Podomoro technique. It involves 25-minute stretches of work followed by five-minute breaks. After four consecutive work sessions, you can take a 15 to 30-minute break.
- Add one longer 20 to 30-minute break every few hours to take a power nap, socialize, or switch subjects.
- Take an extended 30 to 60-minute break after completing a chapter or module to replenish fully.
- Reward extended weekend study blocks with longer escapes like a hike or gaming session.
- Avoid scrolling social media or the news on breaks. This strains focus. Stick to refreshing activities.
The key is strategically structuring your MCAT study schedule around recharging breaks tailored to your needs. It’s an approach that prevents fatigue, strengthens retention, and keeps you functioning at peak mental performance all the way up to test day.
Trust the Power of Taking Breaks
It’s not easy to stay motivated while prepping for the MCAT. Some days are harder than others, and the thought of going through a long study session can feel daunting.
However, incorporating regular study breaks with these research-backed techniques will enhance your focus, fuel your brain, prevent fatigue, and overall help you fight off burnout.
Never feel guilty about taking breaks — they are just as essential to exam success as studying. Keep trusting the process, leaning on support systems, and believing in yourself.
If you’ve got the gist of this article, take a refreshing walk or listen to an uplifting playlist before getting back into it!
And, as always, Blueprint MCAT is here to help! Whether you prefer a Live MCAT Prep Course led by Blueprint instructors or you’d rather pave your path with Blueprint’s Self-Paced Course, we have what it takes to meet your MCAT score goals while having fun along the journey.
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