The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is one of the most challenging graduate school entry exams. While the content and strategy is difficult, it is essential for students to focus on planning when preparing for this lengthy exam. A successful MCAT preparation begins with creating a study schedule that manages to accommodate your other commitments while meeting your preparation needs. Here are eight tips to assist you in preparing your own study schedule for the exam:
1. Consider when you want to apply and begin medical school
With 50+ hours of prerequisite courses and a year-long process for applying to medical school, planning for the MCAT can be daunting. There are two ways of approaching this based on what type of student you are: Traditional Students: Traditional students are those who plan to finish college in four years and start medical school the fall after graduation. Typically, traditional students finish their prerequisite courses by spring of their Sophomore year and schedule their test during their junior year. This allows them enough time to take the MCAT twice (if needed) prior to May, when applications open.
Nontraditional students: A nontraditional student is anyone who does not fall under the category above. These students tend to struggle scheduling their MCAT because their timeline is not as strictly defined. In order to apply, you will need a score report for your MCAT prior to May of the year of application (e.g. If you want to matriculate in Fall 2018, you will need to take your test no later than April 2017 so that you receive a score report by May of 2017, when applications open). Also, keep in mind that you may want to retake the exam and should plan for a retake just in case your score does not match your goal.
Before deciding to take the MCAT you should have completed ALL your prerequisite courses. While some may advise that you can ‘self-teach’, most students struggle with this and see severe deficiencies on their score reports.Evaluate what events are coming up in your life in the next six months. Work, personal, or school events can drastically affect your study schedule. When setting up your study schedule, factor in birthdays, weddings, exams and other major events so that you do not overbook your study schedule. Make sure to leave yourself some wiggle room when planning your study schedule. Most students have some bumps along the way studying. Whether it’s the flu or car trouble, make sure you leave yourself some buffer time to deal with regular life.
3. Register for your test as early as possible and set a score goal
Test registration fees increase closer to your testing date, while site availability decreases. Be sure to register early so that you can plan for your test date. In addition, use this as a motivator throughout your study plan by counting down the days. Research medical schools and note their median scores for matriculants. Set your target score slightly above the median score of schools that you would like to attend.
4. Your study schedule should be about 100 days
Each student will vary in how much time they need to prepare for the MCAT. In general, a minimum of 100 days is sufficient to review the material and take a variety of practice passages and exams. Your preparation should consist of about 60% content review and 40% strategy and testing.
5. Invest in a variety of practice materials
A common mistake students make when preparing for the exam is using one brand of test preparation materials. While this seems ideal since the materials usually integrate well, it also leaves the student vulnerable to a few common problems.1) Students often develop a bias towards how they approach test questions and become used to that style of writing and questioning. When the structure of questions or passages varies, they tend to not score as well. 2) While every test preparation company does their best to review all the content, they may miss some topics or not explain them in a way that resounds with the student. This is where students benefit from a variety of content review books, practice passages, and exams. In addition, reading multiple test preparation sources with the same content will reinforce the content through repetition.
6. Invest in a planner that breaks down your day into hours, days, weeks, and months
Most pre-medical students are overachievers and lead extremely busy lives. Given this type of lifestyle, it is easy to lose track of how a day, week, or even a month is spent. Studying for the MCAT is like training for a marathon, every session counts towards your long-term goal. Using a planner that breaks down your time allows you to track your short-term study habits, while also keeping track of your long-term goal for your exam. Ideally, you should be tracking how many hours you study per day while noting how much you can accomplish during that time frame.
7. Evaluate and adjust your study schedule. Track your progress
Use your planner to evaluate whether you are sticking to your study schedule and meeting your goals. This will allow you to assess whether you need to change study habits, environment, or lessen commitments. In addition to a planner, an excel sheet or notebook tracking passage and exam results is a useful tool to measure progress. This will allow you to assess whether you are on track to meet your target score and what areas of content are weak.
8. Beware of burnout and don’t be afraid to alter your plans or test date
While studying for the MCAT can be all consuming, it is important to balance the exam. With a 100-day study schedule, you should be able to take at least one day a week off from studying and testing. Breaks allow you to refresh and remember why you are studying for such an arduous exam.As you approach your test date, it is normal to consider rescheduling your exam if you are not meeting your score goals or are behind on your study schedule. You can reschedule your exam up until 1 month prior to your test. Relax and take the time you need to do well; you will be glad you did!