MCAT & Medical School Admissions

To Cram or Not to Cram: A Guide to the Week Before Your MCAT

Posted by Jordan Salley on Tue, Mar 13, 2018 @ 09:03 AM

studyingformcat.jpgIt has been close to a hundred days, or at least it feels that way. You’re a week away from something you have been anxiously planning and studying for, your Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Students in this last week of studying often reach one of two emotional states: anxiety or exhaustion. In this article we will discuss how to best combat these two common stages in the study process and how to utilize that final week prior to taking your admissions test.

Studying for almost three months for one test is no easy feat.

It is easy to feel anxiety for most students, especially when they are behind on their study schedule or not meeting their goals. While a week out is cutting it pretty close in evaluating progress, it is important to evaluate these feelings as they come. Anxiety may be well founded and the student may want to consider postponing their test if there is a great disparity between their target scores or study schedule and how the student is actually performing.

However, for most students this is not the case. The anxiety often comes from the looming threat of a big exam and the potential outcomes that come with it. Many students experiencing this launch into what I like to like to call “hyperdrive” mode or a “knee jerk reaction”. Students will tell me that they took multiple practice exams the week before, crammed and stayed up all night studying. While this may seem like a solution, it can lead to burnout and poor test performance. Cramming for a college final may have produced results in the past. But for an exam that tests your ability to integrate topics and apply knowledge like the MCAT as compared to discrete facts on a college final, cramming is often not beneficial. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) agree that cramming does not work.  Students who perform well despite their anxiety often report that they continued with their MCAT study schedule and reviewed as planned.

Remember, the MCAT is a marathon not a sprint. 

4092317144_7d8a5f58c2_b.jpgIn the same vein, students often exhaust themselves prior to their MCAT. Whether it is due to cramming the week before the exam or a long term study schedule without enough breaks, exhaustion can strongly impact exam performance. For students in this stage, it is essential to figure out the cause of exhaustion. Whether it is a personal event in your life or over-stimulation from studying, students should try to reflect on their current status to find the root of the issue. Many students also find ways to motivate themselves through the exam by scheduling something fun for the following day or even rewarding themselves with something they enjoy, whether it be food or retail therapy. Exhaustion can be completely debilitating and is something that students will face as medical students, residents, and even as attending physicians. Coping mechanisms developed now will ensure your ability to combat future problems.

So now that you have addressed the two biggest issues in the final week of test preparation, how should you spend this last week prior to your exam?

There are a variety of approaches to this week and anecdotally each medical student will tell you something slightly different. In my case, I spent the week prior to my exam lightly reviewing my own personal notes. I took my last practice exam two weeks prior to the MCAT because I did not want to exhaust myself by taking an eight-hour practice test prior to taking the actual MCAT. In addition, an adverse score two weeks prior to your MCAT can impact your mental status and affect future performance based on ‘pre-test jitters’. I also took practice passages throughout the week to maintain my timing, especially for the CARS section (check out Jack Westin’s blog if you need ideas for more MCAT practice passages). Overall, use this week to brush up on things that you have struggled with throughout your test prep and give it one last look before you exam so that it is fresh in your mind. Addressing these stages of your preparation and preparing as planned should put you on the right track to perform well on your exam. Best of luck!

About the Author

Jordan Salley is one of MyGuru's most accomplished MCAT tutors. Click here to learn more!

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Topics: MCAT studying, MCAT, MCAT prep, MCAT tips, medical school applications, Med School Admissions