5 Strategies to Make the Most of Your MCAT Studying Efforts

For an exam as important and comprehensive as the MCAT, it’s vital to do everything you can to prepare in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Below are five strategies to maximize the value of your MCAT studying efforts.

1. Create a realistic study calendar
Organizing your preparation period is key to ensuring that you cover all the necessary material and complete enough practice questions and exams in time for your MCAT test date. When writing out your study schedule, be honest with yourself about the amount of work you’ll realistically be able to complete each day. Be sure to take extracurricular activities, social engagements, birthdays, family events, and any other commitments into account. Additionally, always schedule in “flex days” that can be used to catch up if you fall behind schedule, need to spend some extra time on problem areas, or simply need to take some time off to relax.
2. Complete timed practice questions and exams
Almost every single student I’ve tutored for the MCAT has seen a dramatic rise in their score after completing more timed practice question sets and practice exams. Practicing under simulated test conditions helps students gain familiarity with MCAT question styles, identify topics in which they are weaker, polish their time management skills, and continue to review additional material. Simply put, practicing more is probably the most important thing a student can do to increase his or her MCAT score.
3. Invest more time in material with which you struggle
As you complete practice questions and begin to recognize which topics you find more challenging, use this information to adjust your study strategy. Though it’s human nature to avoid material we’re not good at (I had a student who struggled with understanding circuits and subsequently avoided studying them altogether until we began tutoring sessions), it’s important to realize that improving your weak spots is the key way to seeing a significant increase in your overall score. While this may seem intuitive, many students almost sub-consciously shy away from reviewing topics they find challenging because they simply don’t enjoy facing them. This is why having a regimented study calendar – and possibly structured tutoring sessions – can help students stay on track.
4. Make MCAT prep a priority
This is another seemingly intuitive piece of advice that somehow gets neglected by pre-meds across the country. No matter what anyone tells you, other aspects of your medical school application (extracurricular activities, research, community service, etc.) will typically not outweigh a sub-par MCAT score. Looking at public AAMC data, it’s easy to see that low MCAT scores significantly hinder an applicant’s chances of being accepted to medical school across all GPAs. Don’t be naïve about the importance the MCAT holds, and give your preparation your full attention and dedication. Scale back other involvements temporarily if you need to; it will pay off in the end.
5. Regularly review high-yield facts that aren’t sticking
This is another strategy that has worked well for many of my former students. Throughout your preparation period, keep a running list of facts and concepts that just don’t seem to stick. Some students prefer to tabulate these as flash cards, while others have filled multiple legal pads or spiral notebooks. In any case, keep adding to this collection as you review material and complete practice questions. Then, periodically go over these details (most students do so once a week) to continuously reinforce them into your memory.
Good luck in your studies!