After spending three long months of prepping for the MCAT, I wanted to summarize a few tips for prospective MCAT takers.
First of all, the format that you guys will probably take is different from the one that I just took. As you already know, AAMC is changing the format of the MCAT in 2015 that will incorporate a few more subjects and lengthen the exam by a couple of hours. The following tips regarding test prep will apply to MCAT regardless of the format.
Let’s jump right in:
1. To take a course, or not to take a course. That is the question.
Many people wonder whether prep courses are worth the bucks. Personally, I did take an online Kaplan course, partly because I was able to get a discount through a UCLA premed organization. If you could afford it, or get a discount off of it like I did, I would suggest that you take an online on-demand course, so that you could get access to their study materials but you are not bound by it. For Kaplan, there is a course called Kaplan Advantage-Anywhere, which allows you to go online to listen in on lectures at designated times. Given that they are live lectures, you could easily interact with the tutor. Or, you could also go online at any time and just watch the pre-recorded on-demand lectures. I personally just watched the on-demand lectures when I had time and emailed my tutor to ask about anything that was unclear. The best part of the course for me was the practice tests. Their PS and BS section tests were challenging, which expanded my knowledge and increased my speed. I really appreciated that they gave all of the AAMC practice tests, which I recommend that you finish by at least a week prior to your test.
If you do decide to take a course, be careful not to monopolize your study material on just one prep company. Aside from Kaplan material, I personally had workbook pdf for Berkeley review, Princeton review, and Examkrackers to refer to. Of course I did not read through all of them, but I did refer to them when I was struggling with certain concepts. Also, the lecture tests at the end of sections exposed me to a variety of questions and helped me to tackle topics from different angles.
2. Before you start anything, make a schedule.
Whether you take a course or not, you do need to make a schedule that will give you a general idea of how to spend the next three to four months. The sample schedule posted on SDN (Student Doctor Network) helped me, and I hope they make one for the new version of the MCAT. The schedule helped me to keep me on track, and it gave me an assurance that I was following through with my plans. With that said, I did not strictly stick with my schedule. I did change it up a little throughout the preparation to accommodate for my weaknesses.
Three months, or longer for some people, is a long time, and you definitely want to keep track of your work to make sure you will be ready by the test day.
3. Don’t underestimate the “MCAT burnouts.”
When I heard about the burnouts, I thought to myself that those are for weak bums, and I completely disregarded the thought of experiencing one of my own: arrogance.
Three months is short in the sense that you don’t have time to review EVERYTHING, but it definitely feels like forever when you are waking up in the morning, sitting in the same spot, reading and solving problems for hours on end until you find yourself reading the same line over and over again with nothing being processed in your brain. Challenging yourself is good. Having ambition helps. But that doesn’t make you a superhuman who can handle spending 10 hours a day for three months.
So make it as enjoyable and as sustainable as possible. Change it up a little. Get out of the house. Visit different libraries and cafés. Take short breaks in between studying. Definitely take a break during lunch and dinner to be recharged. Some people recommend taking a whole day off per week. I personally couldn’t do that, because taking long breaks made me more anxious than relaxed. But do whatever works for you. Be careful not to be too harsh or over-ambitious. Be realistic. Listen to your body.
Best of luck to you, premeds.