The ADHD Advantage: Conquering MCAT Prep With ADHD
- Oct 26, 2023
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Prep
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
Preparing for the MCAT is a Herculean task, challenging even for the most focused minds. The sheer volume of information, the complexity of the topics, and the pressure of performing well can make anyone’s head spin. For individuals with ADHD, these challenges can feel like scaling Mount Everest without proper gear. Distractions lurk around every corner, focus can slip away like sand through fingers, and self-doubt can creep in like a persistent shadow.
But here’s the truth: it’s not impossible. While the journey may be an uphill battle and the path might require some detours, students with ADHD can absolutely conquer the MCAT. Our unique way of thinking can be an asset in this marathon of knowledge. With determination, effective strategies, and a touch of self-care, navigating this challenging exam is entirely within reach.
Prepping for the MCAT With ADHD
Embrace Your Uniqueness
First and foremost, acknowledge and embrace your ADHD. Understand that your mind works in wonderfully different ways.
When I was prepping for my MCAT, I was told (like many of us still are) that the first thing I needed to do was sit down and read content textbooks cover to cover. Needless to say, this didn’t go over very well.
It didn’t matter what time of day it was; after about half an hour of reading, I would start to do the dreaded “head bob” of sleepy doom. It took forever to get through a single chapter, and the things I did get through rarely stuck. This perpetuated a cycle of frustration and self-doubt and fueled the internal monologue in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough.
None of that could have been more wrong! I was trying to force puzzle pieces together that clearly didn’t fit. I finally hit my studying groove when I stopped holding myself to others’ expectations and embraced what made my brain unique.
Celebrate your creativity, ability to hyperfocus, and knack for seeing connections others might miss.
Your perspective is a gift, so harness it as a study tool.
P.S. I never did finish reading those textbooks (barely even started) and ended up in the 99th percentile! It’s possible!
Create a Calm Study Oasis
Find a serene and clutter-free space to study. Minimize distractions and create a study environment that nurtures your focus. Decorate your study area with calming colors, add plants for fresh oxygen, and ensure good lighting. A clutter-free space can do wonders for a cluttered mind.
Along these same lines, minimizing distractions when you’re in “study mode,” especially the persistent allure of our phones, is a crucial cornerstone of effective studying. Silencing notifications or placing the phone in another room might seem like a small step, but it creates a fortress of concentration, allowing us to delve deep into our studies without constant interruptions.
It’s about reclaiming control over our attention and giving ourselves the best possible chance to absorb and retain information. Remember, the texts, calls, and notifications will still be there after your study session, but the opportunity to learn and excel might slip away if you let distractions rule the day.
So, tuck away that phone, silence the noise, and let your mind roam freely in the realm of knowledge. Your future self will thank you.
Organize Your Study Material
And now, a reading from my mind.
“Ugh, I really, really don’t want to read this next chapter. Let’s do some fun flashcard review instead! Now, where did I put those? Oh, look, it’s that study sheet I started a few days ago and completely forgot about! Now would be a good time to finish that, but wait, flashcards. Jeeze, now I feel guilty for not reading that chapter. Okay, okay, I’ll finish it, then do the study sheet. Ugh, but I really don’t want to read this chapter!”
Welcome to my mind when I was prepping for the MCAT.
When everything has its designated place — be it color-coded notes, neatly arranged study schedules, or a clutter-free study environment — it reduces mental clutter.
Organization becomes a roadmap, directing the ADHD mind toward the task at hand. It simplifies complex tasks into manageable steps, making the overwhelming seem achievable.
We find our rhythm by breaking down the chaos into ordered patterns, which allows for sustained attention and improved productivity. So, in the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas, staying organized becomes an anchor, grounding the mind and paving the way for clear, uninterrupted focus.
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Active Learning Techniques
You’ve probably heard of active versus passive learning before.
Passive learning involves activities like reading through notes or textbooks, listening to lectures, or simply skimming materials. While it provides exposure to information, passive studying lacks interactivity and often leads to a shallow understanding. Plus, I found it incredibly boring, and my mind often wandered.
On the other hand, active studying is an immersive and participatory process. It involves practices such as summarizing complex concepts in your own words, teaching the material to someone else, creating flashcards, engaging in discussions, or solving problems related to the topic.
Active learning is a powerful tool for almost everyone studying for the MCAT; however, for brains like ours, active learning becomes essential. It demands mental effort, forcing you to think critically, analyze, and synthesize information. This deeper level of engagement not only enhances understanding but also strengthens memory retention.
Think of it this way: Passive studying is like floating along a river, whereas active studying is akin to diving deep into its currents, exploring its intricacies, and gaining a profound understanding of the subject matter.
There are two pieces of time management that I want to touch on: how you plan your MCAT study sessions, and how you divide your time during those sessions.
When planning your sessions, staying organized is one of the most helpful things you can do to give your brain a leg up. If my MCAT study plan said “Study MCAT” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. I can almost guarantee that the first 30 minutes to an hour included me mulling over what studying actually meant.
However, after accepting how my brain operates, I realized that it was much more effective to have “Study MCAT: Watch thermodynamics module, complete genetics discretes, and do CARS passage” on my calendar. Now, we’re not wasting time, and we’re staying organized.
Now, how do you spend your time during study sessions? We (premeds) all like to believe that we’re these perfectly functioning, logical machines, and if we just studied harder, everything would work out, right?
Here’s my advice: Work smarter, not harder.
Divide your study sessions into manageable chunks. The Pomodoro Technique is particularly helpful: work diligently for 25 minutes, then reward yourself with a five-minute break. Rinse and repeat with longer breaks after four consecutive work intervals.
You can adjust this schedule based on how you’re feeling — I would usually complete hour-long work intervals with 10-minute breaks, then a longer 60 to 90-minute break.
Be gentle with yourself; if you find your mind wandering, gently guide it back to the task at hand. Your goal is progress, not perfection.
Make Learning Enjoyable
I frequently say that while the MCAT might never be “fun,” it doesn’t have to be miserable! The most frequent MCAT advice I got was, “Just read the books and complete the Qbank.” However, my inability to sit down and “just do it” really hurt my confidence and, frankly, made me miserable.
Embrace who you are and recognize that while everyone’s a little different, our brains are a little more than a little different, and that’s okay!
Studying doesn’t have to be a mundane chore. Make it entertaining—if you need more convincing, Blueprint MCAT’s entire philosophy is all about edu-tainment! Create your own hilarious mnemonic devices or turn dry facts into catchy tunes. Watch entertaining/educational YouTube videos or find podcasts that cover MCAT topics. Turn your study sessions into a game or personal challenge.
Exercise and Mindfulness
Don’t underestimate the power of physical activity. Regular exercise can boost your focus and overall cognitive function.
Incorporate mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga into your routine. I know, I know, I can hear it now, “What’s stretching going to do for me? I have to memorize the Kreb’s Cycle!”
Regular physical activity, whether it’s jogging, yoga, or even a brisk walk, boosts the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are essential for regulating attention and mood. Exercise energizes the body and clears mental fog, allowing for sharper focus when hitting the books.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation or deep breathing provides a mental sanctuary, calming the storm of racing thoughts. By grounding themselves in the present moment, individuals with ADHD can improve their ability to sustain attention, making studying a less overwhelming task.
So, next time you’re feeling scattered, take a deep breath, stretch your legs, and let the power of exercise and mindfulness guide you toward a more focused and productive study session.
You’re not alone in this journey. In the face of overwhelming study materials and the constant battle for focus, having people who understand your struggles can make all the difference. Share your victories and challenges with friends, family, peers, and professors.
Peers provide a sense of camaraderie, offering study buddies who share your journey and understand the unique challenges ADHD presents. Teachers can offer tailored guidance, ensuring you have the necessary resources to succeed. Friends and family provide emotional support, encouragement, and sometimes a much-needed break from MCAT prep. Their understanding and belief in your abilities act as a beacon of motivation on the toughest days.
The journey will become less daunting with unwavering support, transforming into a collective effort where triumphs are celebrated, and setbacks are overcome together.
So, lean on your support network; they are the cheering squad that helps you navigate the MCAT maze with resilience, determination, and a whole lot of heart.
Remember, every small victory, every moment of focused study, and every instance where you harness your ADHD as a unique strength rather than a detriment brings you closer to mastering the MCAT. It’s not about the obstacles; it’s about the resilience to overcome them.
Approach your studies with patience and self-compassion. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small it may seem. By embracing your unique way of thinking and employing effective study strategies, you can master the MCAT and achieve your dreams.
And, as always, Blueprint MCAT is here to help! Whether you prefer a Live Course led by instructors or you’d rather pave your path in a Self-Paced Course, we have an MCAT prep option that’s right for you.
Keep believing in yourself, and you’ll go far. Good luck!
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