Like anything else, success on the MCAT is heavily dependent on preparation. For many students, tackling MCAT prep along with college courses, extracurricular activities and possibly research or volunteer work can seem daunting.
Here are some strategies to make sure you stay on track.
1. Determine how you learn: Begin MCAT prep by selecting the right prep materials for your learning style, as there are several options when it comes to MCAT prep.
Do you prefer to have a schedule created for you to ensure that you review all of the material in a timely manner? If so, working with a tutor is a good option that will give you structure.
On the other hand, you may feel your time is better spent studying on your own schedule. This allows for flexibility in the hours spent on certain subjects and can create a more individualized review process.
In this case, working through an MCAT prep book independently is a better option. A downside to this is that it will require you to keep yourself on pace to finish reviewing all of the material before test day, which makes this a potential no-go for procrastinators.
You could also do a hybrid of the two, working through a book on your own and then supplementing your learning with tutoring sessions.
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2. Know what to expect: It's important to understand some basic MCAT facts that will help you prepare, including how the exam is organized, scored and constructed.
The scored sections include physical sciences, with 52 questions and a 70-minute limit; verbal reasoning, containing 40 questions and lasting 60 minutes; and biological sciences, which has 52 questions and lasts 70 minutes.
The majority of each section involves passage-based questions. Each of these multiple-choice sections are scored on a scale from 1 to 15.
In 2013, an optional trial section was introduced and replaced the writing sample section. This section is completely optional and has experimental questions that will be used to guide the major revision of the MCAT that will take place in 2015.
The content of the MCAT covers fundamentals in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. The verbal reasoning section has passages that touch on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the humanities to the natural sciences.
However, unlike many other standardized tests and college exams, success on the MCAT doesn't just require knowledge – it also requires you to comprehend and evaluate presented material to solve problems. Thus, completing practice questions and exams while using a credible form of preparation is paramount in earning a commendable score.
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3. Develop an action plan: Creating a realistic, manageable schedule to follow through your studying is vital to successful MCAT preparation. This schedule should take into account your college courseload and any other time commitments you may have during your study period.
Aim to study about two hours each weekday and five hours each weekend day for three to four months. If your study period is during a summer, you should study for about four hours each day over two to three months.
Begin your study period by completing a practice MCAT test so you can establish a baseline score and get an idea of how the material is presented on the exam. Use this to identify your weaker areas.
Be sure to tackle these subjects at the beginning of your preparation and build in extra time for them. Also, consider supplementing your review of these topics with additional resources.
You should review different topics each day, rather than sequentially working through biology, chemistry, physics, etc. By varying your study, you will prevent burnout and ensure that you cover material pertinent to each MCAT section by test day.
Furthermore, build some "flex days" into your schedule. These are days that will allow you to catch up on material if you're running behind, which will likely happen, or give you extra time to review material that you've already covered.
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Additionally, schedule some days to complete and go over practice exams consistently throughout your preparation period. Aim to complete at least eight practice exams before test day, and track your progress on them to further focus your study and identify troublesome areas.
Sticking to a schedule is crucial during your MCAT preparation, but also one of the most challenging things to do. At times, it will be difficult to find the motivation and determination to keep going, so be sure to turn to friends and family for support.
Most importantly, affirm to yourself why you want to succeed on the MCAT in the first place – to continue on your road to becoming a great physician.
Anubodh "Sunny" Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and is a medical student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.