How To Study for the New MCAT: 16 Ways to Prepare
Studying for the MCAT is no easy feat, especially with the changes coming in 2015. As study time approaches, I thought I would pass on some things I learned in studying for the exam that may be of use to others who embark on this journey.
Happy MCAT Studying!
#1. Do NOT tell anyone that you are studying for the MCAT.
I repeat: DO NOT tell anyone that you are studying for the MCAT. There are several reasons for this but the primary reason is because it causes so much anxiety, even more anxiety than studying for the exam. Not only do you have the anxiety because you are studying for this important exam, but you will also have the anxiety that comes from the social pressures of people (and possibly fellow pre-meds) knowing that you are studying for the exam. The question that you will invariably be asked on a frequent basis is: “How is the studying going?”
This is the worst, most-common, anxiety-inducing question on the planet. (Okay, maybe not the worst and maybe there are others but none that fit the purpose of this hub). This is a well-meaning question from some but it is mostly just an automatic question from everyone else. Some of your support systems will be more understanding if they know you are studying for the exam and studying for the exam is a “Get Out of Jail” card/free pass from many social obligations, but it is also a constant topic.
Not to mention, once people know you are taking the exam they will want to know what you got on it. You can always decline and dodge this bullet as much as possible, but people will try, push, and persuade. One of the best ways to avoid this is if they never know about it. Tell no one, or at the most, only those who you view as truly necessary to know.
Telling people that you are studying for the MCAT is a double-edged sword. It can bring you support, understanding, and encouragement but it can also bring anxiety, stress, competition, and negativity. If you are someone who feels better sharing, then by all means do what is truest to you. Otherwise, share wisely and with caution.
#2. Schedule the exam for a date far, far away and during a period in which you are truly committed to studying for the MCAT.
These two MUST go together. If you schedule the exam far, far away and you are not truly committed to studying for the exam during that period, time, money, energy, resources, and efforts will be wasted; you will not study to your full potential, and you will overestimate the amount of time you have and underestimate the amount of study that is required.
If you schedule the exam with not enough time to study but are truly committed to studying during that period, you may find that you need more time to study for the exam than what you have given yourself in order to prepare well.
Ideally, you want to give yourself your best chance at success which is enough time to study and adequately prepare for the exam combined with true commitment and study.
#3. Take the MCAT when you are ready for it.
When is the best time to take the MCAT? The only answer to this question is when you are ready for it.
Chances are you will never feel truly ready, but there is definitely a difference between “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready [because how can you ever be really ready?]”/“I am as ready as I’ll ever be.” and “I’m not ready because A., B., and/or C.” (with legitimate red flags as A, B, or C.).
You want to be as ready as you’ll ever be, and that should be ready to the max. If you are not ready, you need to figure out what that means for your plan and how you proceed with your exam and/or future plans.
#4. Make a plan and stick to it.
There is nothing like a plan. Plans are great and they look wonderful on paper. Everything is better with a plan including preparing for an exam.
Self-discipline in studying is super important and a plan is nothing without implementation and enforcement. If you make a plan, stick to it. If you need to make changes, modify accordingly but work, plan, and modify in a way that helps you achieve your goals.
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#5. Believe in yourself.
No matter how cheesy this sounds this is serious and important. You have to, have to, HAVE TO believe in yourself or this is not going to happen. Maybe it will happen for you if you are lucky and the stars align just so, or if you have an in to medical school that the rest of us do not, but for everyone else on the planet this is a must. A MUST.
Believe in yourself no matter what. Believe in yourself above anything else that you believe about yourself.
#6. Keep things in your life that keep you balanced.
Do you like a little TV drama in your life? How about reading a bit of your favorite novel? Or journaling? Dancing like no one is watching? Or eating and chatting with your loved ones or friends?
When it comes time to study, these tend to be the things we cut first and sacrifice is often necessary but you are not just the MCAT. You were composed of many elements (mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.) before the MCAT you will continue to be composed of these elements after the MCAT. Keeping some of these in your life (in moderation) will help you to stay sane and balanced, but will also help to study better when you go back to studying.
Exercise is necessary for our overall well-being and optimal body function, and times of intense exam prep are no exception. In addition to being necessary for our health, exercise is a great stress reliever and energy-booster, and it also helps to reduce memory loss which is a definite plus when studying.
There really is no good reason not to exercise, so do it!
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#8. Learn to love the process.
This may seem counter-intuitive or perhaps even contrary to the idea of study, because how can one learn to love study? Is such a thing even possible?
The answer, is why yes. Such a thing is possible.
This can be hard to do at times but it makes studying much more enjoyable and it is easier to study when you embrace it and approach it with a positive outlook rather than a negative outlook. Think about how this is going to get you closer to your dream. Take a moment to look at not only how much you have left to go but also to look back to see how far you have come. Remember how much of life IS a process, including becoming a doctor. Vary up how you study to make studying more fun, diverse, and to increase retention.
Learn to love the process and you will study better.
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#9. Clean your space.
Before any journey it is necessary to be ready to embark and nothing gets you, your mind, and your personal space ready for a journey than cleaning the heck out of your space.
Do a mean Spring Clean or a mean whatever-season-you-are-in clean to get ready and to make space for what is to come. Chances are you will not be able to do this again until post-MCAT so make it count.
You will thank yourself and it will make a difference in your outlook, readiness to embark, and your study space if you study in your room/home. Also, cleaning gets rid of stagnant energy and makes room for new energy and don't you want to make room for the best MCAT energy possible?
Our environments DO have an impact on us so clean, clean, clean!
#10. Begin with the end in mind.
When setting out on a journey and as you make your plans, it is important to begin with the end in mind and it is important to keep this end present at all times.
There will be times when you are tired of studying and possibly even burnt out. There will be times when absolutely anything in the world sounds better than studying, but you will still need to study. There will be times when you see MCAT everywhere and life seems to lose meaning because it is all-MCAT all the time.
At all times, but in these times especially, begin with the end in mind.
Remember why you started. Remember why you're doing this.
#11. Learn how to de-stress.
This is easier said than done. If de-stressing were easy or even natural to us, there would be less perpetually stressed out people walking the streets and living their lives in this way. Exams and things that are important to us have a way of ramping up our stress levels and driving us to insanity, irritability, and overall lack of mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Meditation, yoga, exercise, keeping a journal, doing some art--find your place of calm and go there often.
Learn how to de-stress and keep stress management as much of a priority as studying, time management, eating, and exercise.
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#12. Eat right.
Your body needs the right foods to work for you. It is hard to make the body and mind run to the max without feeding it the right foods. In addition to that, studying often brings out the stress, irregular, and/or over-eater in people which means that your body is not getting the best from you. This often means that not only are you stressed about an important exam, but your body is not getting the nutrients it needs and is likely putting on weight.
Studying for the MCAT is stressful enough without having to deal with bodily changes and without having to go through the physical ups and downs that come with eating poorly, irregularly, or too much.
#13. Don't get caught up in other people's progress.
In times of study and of stress, it is easy to become inundated in all there is to study. You feel like you are sinking and you cease to see the light, partly because there is no end in sight and partly because you spend most of your time studying indoors. You may look to others as a point of reference and support but you may find that doing this will stress you the heck out and is actually not a very good way to gauge your progress.
As you study, and in life in general: Do what you need to do and recognize the progress you are making.
Also, go outside and get some sun.
#14. Get your materials and USE them.
In order to study for the MCAT, you will need to get your study materials and will need to use them diligently. These do not necessarily need to be commercial materials, but whatever materials you decide to use, you should use them as much as possible and know the material.
A good resource to know what material you are expected to know for the exam is provided on the AAMC's website on their section of "What's on the MCAT2015 Exam?"
#15. Study hard and study consistently.
The MCAT is not an easy exam and this fact goes without saying. The MCAT is just one of many stepping stones in the training that is involved to become a doctor. So in all the stepping stones that lead up to the MCAT, study hard and study consistently. There is no way around it.
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Are you ready to study for the MCAT?
#16. Remember that the MCAT is just an exam.
You may be asking yourself, "What kind of advice is this anyway?" and the answer is, relevant advice.
It is easy to get caught up in how important and big the MCAT is. It is easy to get lost, stressed, fearful, and overwhelmed.
Remember that the MCAT is just an exam. Nothing more and nothing less.
Yes, it is a very important, critical exam that can influence and affect whether or not certain doors open for you at certain times and thereby affect your fate.
It does not define you or your potential as a doctor. It is not the whole medical school application.
It is not you. It is not life.
It's just an exam.
No matter what happens, life and your future continue you on after it.