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The 3 Moves that Got Me a 40 on the Old MCAT Still Apply

Even though the MCAT2015 is new, one thing hasn’t changed: Studying for the MCAT is a dreaded part of the med school admissions process. There are ways people make this easier for themselves, and ways they make it harder. I realized over the course of my study period that there are a number of ways to maximize your time to get the highest score possible, while also (hopefully) retaining your sanity.

With so much general advice out there, I’ve focused solely on the 3 most successful moves I made while studying for my MCAT:

1. Give Yourself a Break

I realized early on in my studying that I was starting to get burned out after even a few hours of straight studying. I would start to get distracted, frustrated, and ultimately end up wasting precious study time. This is normal for almost any study period, but it’s extremely intensified in the pressure-packed 2-3 months of MCAT studying.

Luckily, when this started happening to me, my friend let me in on the Pomodoro technique—which has forever changed my approach to doing long hours of work. The essence of this technique is based on studies showing that the human mind can only function optimally on a given task for a certain period of time before a break to keep the mind fresh is needed.

I took that information and broke my study time down into 25 minutes of working and 3 minutes of relaxing. This made all the difference for me because it helped keep me alert and productive during my study time. For those 3 minutes, you do anything but study. If you employ this as well in your own studies, you will often find that you can’t wait to get back to it, which gives you renewed, invaluable vigor.

I only have one caveat for you: Since you can’t do this kind of segmentation on the real exam, I chose not to use this technique while taking full-length practice exams. By taking the full-length practice exams under test-like conditions, you’ll be able to build up your stamina for the real exam, which is key.

2. Content Review Alone Won’t Cut It

Spending too much time solely doing content review is a common (and massive) pitfall. To do well on the MCAT you need to a) learn the material and then b) practice applying it on MCAT-style questions. Just reviewing content in detail doesn’t give you a chance to apply what you’ve learned.

In my studies, I would only look at the content review to make sure I knew the main ideas and how the formulas worked, but I wouldn’t agonize over it since I knew that practicing would help solidify the material in my mind. This helped enormously with thinking about how each concept would be tested.

While preparing for the test, you want to think about how the AAMC writers will want you to apply the information you’re reviewing. This makes for much more efficient studying since you’re going over the material, thinking about how it is going to be tested, and then practicing directly on that material.

3. Practice Books Alone Are Not Sufficient

It’s easy to think that if you can just get through your bundle of MCAT books, that you’ll be set for the exam, but that’s simply not enough. You MUST be proactive and make sure you’re getting passage practice on every subtopic within each section of your books. 

You may think this is going to take forever, but because you spend less time on content review, and because you’re keeping your mind fresh with frequent breaks, you can really go all-in on the practice. I personally used Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning Science Workbook—which covered every topic with multiple passages, along with “challenge” passages which really tested my knowledge. I had no anxiety going into the test because I had seen every topic tested and knew I could answer the questions.

After reviewing multiple sets of books as part of our MCAT2015 Special Ops Team—I can tell you from the front lines that practice book sets on their own are still not enough to succeed on the MCAT.

With the new MCAT, given that it is longer, the only other thing I would stress to do differently is to set aside more time to study. Not only does the MCAT2015 include a new section on psychosocial material, it also includes more biochemistry, research, and statistical skills. Additionally, the focus here is to go beyond the material and really understand how to integrate it in the setting of clinical application.

Using these three moves I’ve laid out, you can achieve success on the new MCAT in much the same way I was able to on the old one.