Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Laura Turner
Collegiate winter breaks often span three or four weeks, and for premedical students, this time can be used for dedicated MCAT review. A schedule free of extracurriculars and coursework creates ample space for intensive studying, and it may alleviate some of the stress of having to balance school commitments with MCAT prep in your next semester. Especially if you plan to take the MCAT in the spring, capitalizing on study time during your weeks off can boost your score without impinging on time for your regular academics. Here are three ways you can use your winter break to increase your chances of success on the MCAT:
- Plan ahead, and focus on your known weaknesses and those subjects you haven’t worked with in some time.
A month may seem like a long time, but with the amount of material covered on the MCAT, you will not be able to review everything over winter break. Instead of planning to read your review books cover-to-cover, develop a targeted study plan in the weeks leading up to winter break. Jot down a list of concepts you remember having trouble with in your classes, and avoid extensive review of courses that you recently took. For instance, if you are now a junior, revisiting topics from a biology class that you took during freshman year might be more useful than studying concepts from the organic chemistry class you took this fall.
After identifying your topics of focus, make a review schedule for winter break that accounts for holiday time away from the books. Divide tasks by weeks, and pick out which resources you will use for review. Stay organized with a spreadsheet or planner to reduce the likelihood of falling behind, and make sure you save a few hours each week to catch up if you need to.
- Start and end with full-length practice tests.
Finding a full day to take a practice exam during a busy semester can feel impossible, so dedicating days to practice tests at the start and end of your winter break can help you gauge the effectiveness of your study habits. Use a test within the first week of winter break as your baseline score, and follow up with a test in the last week of winter break to evaluate your progress. Given your limited time, taking more than two tests may detract from your content review, and taking tests too close together may fail to reflect meaningful improvement. Determine the number of practice tests you will take in advance so you can plan other prep activities around them.
- Make a plan for continued study
Unless you are taking the MCAT right after break, you will probably have more time to prepare once classes resume. In your last week of break, take a look at your study habits and progress. What study methods worked best for you? Which resources did you find the most valuable? Did you identify any gaps in your knowledge or weak areas that you’ll need to improve upon before test day? Keeping in mind that you won’t be able to focus solely on the MCAT during school, make a plan using your refined understanding of your needs and study strategies. Be sure to take other responsibilities and academics into account to avoid overwhelming yourself with an unreasonable schedule, and provide yourself with more catch-up time than you had during winter break. Plotting out the rest of your study before the next semester hits—and with the progress you made during winter break in mind—can help you stay on track toward your target score.
Cassie Kosarek, MD is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and was a member of the Class of 2021 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.