Twenty Tips on Studying for the MCAT: From a Soon to be Med Student
Okay, so you have put in the time in undergrad and got good grades. So what is standing in your way of accomplishing your dreams and becoming a physician? Well…..let’s start with what is standing in your way of getting into medical school for the “chance” at becoming a physician, and the magic answer is the Medical College Admissions Test or MCAT.
I was fortunate enough to take this exam twice, so I feel as though I can offer some advice and tips through my “lessons” I have learned in life. I want to share with you twenty tips and ideas to make the MCAT just a minor speed bump in your life, as opposed to a brick wall to climb over.
I will give you ten tips regarding preparation and also ten tips for test day!
Here is my advice and lessons on Studying for the MCAT
- Start Early
Have you thought about how much time you need to prepare for the MCAT? A lot of people only take a few months, and this is the reason that a lot of pre meds end up taking the test more than once (believe me I fell into this category on my first attempt). You should ideally plan on spending 6-12 months on studying and test practice.
- Study Often
One key mistake that many students and pre meds forget is that the MCAT is not like your undergraduate courses, you can’t cram for this exam. You need to lay out a schedule and commit a good amount of hours dedicated to just MCAT prep each and every week. As the exam comes nearer you should plan on spending more time, but the point is that studying for the MCAT is a marathon not a sprint.
- Utilize resources
There are so many resources out there that can be useful for the MCAT. It blows me away when I see students not using more than one prep company and not seeking out tutoring if needed. You can scour the web or check out my MCAT section for useful resources. What I want to get across is that you need to use all the resources out there, multiple prep companies, many different testing companies to administer practice exams, and most importantly get a tutor if you need it.
- Review test material
Review each and every practice test you take, look over what you get wrong and right to look for trends. Once you establish your strong and weak areas focus your time and attention on the weak areas.
- Timing is key
When you take practice tests treat them like the real deal. Set timers and abide by the timers. After each section give yourself the allotted break and no longer. You need to replicate the testing atmosphere as closely as possible, so when you have a break from the test go to the bathroom and get a snack, don’t take longer than 10 minutes at each break seeing as that is the amount of time the testing center gives you. Also, put your phone away…. Be real with the practice test.
- Practice your verbal reasoning (or Critical Analysis and Reasoning)
Being able to “read between the lines” and pick up the subtle things such as a writers attitude and ideology from their writing style and tone is necessary to do well on this exam. The CARS section is not the only section that requires this skill, the rest of the test does too.
- Simulate the environment
Recreate the testing environment in your home. When you do your practice tests it is a good idea to act like you are taking the real deal. Take the test in a quiet place, with your earplugs in and make it real. Treat it as such, and I promise you that it will benefit you when the real deal comes around. It will give you a feeling that you have done this before, so what is one more time.
- Know your weaknesses
Through all the practice tests it is impeccable that you figure out what areas you are falling short in and focus on them. If you are good with biochem and bad with physics, then spend some more time on physics.
- Try to know it all
You need to be confident in every aspect of the test. You don’t know what will be asked on test day, but you will know what you will be tested on. The AAMC has put together a comprehensive list of the topics on the test. You know the topics, but they won’t ask you all of them, only some. This means that you have to absolutely know all the information.
- Never forget to ask for help
If you need help with this test don’t hold back. Find a tutor or ask professors/advisors. This test is too big to be prideful, so don’t be.
MCAT Test day Tips
- Get some rest
The night before the test make sure you get plenty of sleep. Make sure you are not tired and exhausted before the test. Get however much sleep you think you need, put all else on the backburner and make sure this test is your number one priority.
- Time your studying appropriately
Don’t study right before the test, you need to warm your brain up so wake up and read some news. Studying before the test might just make you a little more anxious, just casually read that day to warm your brain up and get thinking.
- Eat right
Okay, avoid junk food and also any food that you know upsets your stomach the 24 hours leading up to the exam. Try to get good lean proteins and plenty of complex carbohydrates. You want your blood sugar to be fairly constant. Junk food will give you peaks of blood sugar and lead to a crash. Eat oatmeal, veggies, fruits, and meats like chicken and other poultry. Don’t eat Cheetos and Dr. Pepper and expect to test well, take care of your body’s needs.
- Dress for the occasion
Wear clothes that are loose and comfortable, you don’t want to be uncomfortable during the exam. You should also bring a jacket, even if you are testing in the summer months. You never know how hot or cold it may be in the testing center so be prepared for all conditions. One other tip is to not wear a lot of jewelry or clothes with a lot of pockets. You are searched and detected for metal each time you enter the testing room. This just helps expedite the process.
- Show up early
The checking in process takes a long time, show up with 30-45 minutes to spare. Who knows you might even get in earlier and get done earlier!
- Use the resources
They let you go to the bathroom and store food and drinks in a locker. Do this, bring food and something to drink. Each time you exit the testing room go use the bathroom. Even if you don’t feel like you need to, go in and make yourself. It would be awful to be in the middle of a section and you have to pee.
- Ear plugs
Bring your own earplugs, preferably the same kind you used to take tests at home. Make sure they are in the package and don’t have anything attaching the two of them. I liked using mine more than using theirs.
Have a positive attitude starting the night before. Be happy and excited for the test and be reay to take it. Don’t go in their feeling tired and pessimistic, be positive and upbeat.
From the moment you wake up have the mentality that you will own this test. This is the biggest thing standing in your way of getting into medical school. Be confident but cautious when it comes to the MCAT. Don’t be scared, if you are prepared there is absolutely no reason to be scared. Own the test.
Try to schedule the exam close to home (obviously). If you schedule it somewhere else show up early and get to know the area the day before, get yourself a decent hotel room and scout the rout to the testing center. All of this will make the testing day as easy as possible. Know the area and the location well, you don’t want to be late to one of the most important tests of your life!
Well hope you enjoyed and can utilize these tips and advice. You can share your advice and tips on my website Path to Medicine.
Until next time,