How To Prepare for the MCAT: One Student’s Advice
- Oct 16, 2020
We spoke with Claire Sinai, a student at Brandeis University, who told us how creating the right study plan got her the score she wanted on the MCAT.
Having an MCAT Study Schedule is Critical
Unlike class tests in undergrad that individually don’t have much GPA risk, the MCAT is a single exam with high stakes. The specific exam date is your choice, and because of knowing when it’ll happen in advance, you have the opportunity to craft a plan for the MCAT. Your performance on the MCAT is one of the major determining factors on your med school application, so a study strategy is an absolute must.
Claire said that she initially experienced the pitfalls of not making a study plan, including a lack of motivation to study at all. “I assumed that I would take the test when I was ready,” Claire said. “This was a terrible plan as I continued to procrastinate. Once I created a timeline of 4 months, I was able to really focus and get good work done.”
Taking Courses vs. Studying on Your Own
Although taking an instructor-driven course may sound helpful, these courses may not provide the best bang for your buck. According to Claire, she “took an in-person course, which actually was NOT a good use of my money,” as the cost of having a dedicated instructor can accumulate rapidly and working with that person may not actually be all that informative. While Claire’s instructor did teach her some study strategies, she noted that it wasn’t as helpful as she had hoped. “I wish that we would have learned more content and ways to remember all of the information,” Claire said. “I mainly read the books, watched online lectures, and did question bank type activities. Qbanks were very helpful.”
Cast a Broad Net on Study Materials
Don’t forget to select a variety of MCAT prep resources to try. This will allow you to quickly identify which subject reviews work best for your information retention style. The Cram Fighter study planner can support scheduling dozens of different review books, flashcards, and qbanks, and Cram Fighter constantly tabulates the most popular materials added to MCAT study plans by our customers. As of September 2020, Khan Academy was the single most frequently used resource, followed closely by the AAMC MCAT Official Prep Section Bank, UWorld, and Anki. These four most popular MCAT resources of Cram Fighter customers all incorporate some form of qbanks and flashcards, which serve to test and maintain what you’ve learned. The Kaplan MCAT Review Books were all the most popular book-based resources and likely are a good starting point for material reviews. Both Test-Guide and Study Prep Lounge list The Princeton Review MCAT Books as their top pick, followed by the Kaplan books.
Qbanks, Qbanks, Qbanks!
In Claire’s experience, reading the study books complemented with light notetaking and attending/watching lectures was a helpful first step in her study plan. However, reading, taking notes, and viewing lectures shouldn’t be your primary study tactic. Claire said that once she had a good knowledge foundation, she “used qbanks a lot.” The core of your MCAT strategy should primarily involve qbanks, which are a way of iteratively testing your knowledge and identifying any cracks in your foundation. This way, you’ll spend study time on material that you need to improve on, but still have a chance to refresh and stay current on topics you know well.
Divvy Up Material as Needed
Organization and the appropriate spacing of subjects are vital for success on an exam that touches on so many different topics. While Claire heard that Kaplan says students only really need to know about 60% of the total MCAT material, she nonetheless felt compelled to learn everything. This made her feel overwhelmed, and Claire added that “[t]rying to cover everything is incredibly challenging.”
To avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of MCAT concepts, you’ll need a way to break up all that information into manageable chunks. With a study schedule, all of the subjects can be spread across several months in an organized way. “Luckily, I had Cram Fighter to help space out the time,” Claire noted. “I tried to study each subject for about 2-3 days and then switch to a new subject.” Depending on what helps you personally process information, the Cram Fighter MCAT study schedule can be adjusted as needed. Instead of spending hours assembling a study schedule and task list where you’d have to manually calculate what to study each day, Cram Fighter takes on that burden for you. Whether you want to touch a bit on each topic every day, or switch topics every few days, Cram Fighter gives you control over how the material is spaced out while still coordinating the nitty-gritty details.
Take Breaks and Don’t Be Hard on Yourself
As committed to her MCAT prep as Claire was, she also acknowledged that taking breaks was necessary to maintain a good mindset. With Cram Fighter’s scheduler, she was able to incorporate dedicated rest or catch-up day every week. Claire chose Friday as her MCAT-free day, but this can be altered as needed to fit your own circumstances.
Studying for the MCAT can be intense and incredibly stressful; at times, you will be your own worst enemy. It’s important to remember that if you’ve put together a comprehensive study plan and do your best to follow it, you’re sure to do just fine. If there’s a day when you’re feeling psyched out or in over your head with studying, know that those days happen to everyone—and it’s probably a sign that you might need a little extra time off to recover. But be sure to get back in the game and return to studying once you feel restored.
Have Practical Expectations
Throughout the preparation process, it’s important to keep realistic expectations for how much you can retain and how you’ll score once you finally take the exam. According to Claire, “studying for this exam is a full-time job and it is really difficult to work [or] go to school and study.” She reiterated how “[t]here is a lot of information that needs to be covered and you will not be able to learn it all.”
Be sure to allow yourself enough time to create a workable study plan when scheduling your MCAT test day. While beginning to study a year in advance is a bit excessive, you will likely need to allow roughly a few months to prepare. Don’t set yourself up for failure by scheduling your test date too soon that you’re left without enough time to prepare properly.
Medical School Headquarters suggested MCAT exam takers study at least 8 weeks at 15-30 hours per week, Shemmassian recommends a minimum of 12 weeks at 20 hours per week, and The Princeton Review says that most people study 10-15 hours per week over the course of 4-6 months. Be sure to remember that these preparation times are generally suggested minimums, and that above average performance on the MCAT may require study plans that are on the longer side. Case in point: Cram Fighter’s students spend an average of 103 days preparing for the MCAT as of September 2020, which is a study timeline about 15 weeks (or just over 3 months.) Smart MCAT prep requires an adequate amount of time to get ready properly, and Cram Fighter’s schedule planner will set you up for success.
To build your own MCAT study schedule, try Cram Fighter for yourself, free for 7 days.