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How to Study for the MCAT

September 14th, 2011  |  Published in MCAT Prep

As you embark on your journey to medical school, you have little choice but to study and ace the MCAT (unless you apply to the few schools that do not require the MCAT–or of course if you are not a US student.) Being short on cash and unmotivated to attend preparatory courses, I am going to study on my own for the exam. Of course, these preparatory courses are positively reviewed by most everyone I know, but frankly if you do not put in effort while you are taking the prep courses, they won’t help you.

You may be asking “How can I study for the MCAT on my own?”

I haven’t sat the MCAT yet, so I can’t share a success story, but here is my MCAT study plan.

1. Content Review

I purchased The Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning books: Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences. These two books essentially teach you everything you need to know, relaying the concepts in simple form with a few questions related to each subject at the end of the sections. The Science Workbook is a collection of questions, with no content review.

My plan: after taking the related course I will read the related section, take notes, and look up anything unfamiliar on the Internet. (e.g. now that I have finished general chemistry 1 & 2 I am going to read the general (inorganic) chemistry section of the Physical Sciences book; now that I have finished physics 1 I am going to read the mechanics section of the Physical Sciences book, but until I have completed physics 2 I am not going to self-teach electricity/magnetism.)

MCAT hyperlearning science workbook2. Question Time

I own Examkrackers 1001 General Chemistry and 1001 Organic Chemistry Questions, and intend to purchase EK for other subjects. I also have bought Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning Science Workbook, which is essentially a ton of science questions in various subjects. After completing the content review for these sections, I am going to do the questions in EK. If I get a question wrong I will read the reasoning in EK and refer to the PR Hyperlearning series or the Internet, if necessary.

Fortunately, since I am still in school, I am going to take advantage of the free tutoring available for pre-med and science majors; that is, I am going to drag my MCAT books to school and ask for help!

3. Test Practice

I bought Princeton Review’s Practice Tests A-D, and I intend to buy the tests that AMCAS has made available on their website. After I have done content review and question time, I am going to do these full-length practice tests. The most important thing to remember when you are practicing full-length tests is that you have to go with the clock. So, make sure you have a timer handy, and do not allow yourself to go longer than the section allots. No matter what!

4. Evaluate

If my scores on my practice MCATs are horrible, I intend to consider signing up for a preparatory course. Medical school is an investment, and if you only need to spend a little extra money to get there, then that is money well spent!

Other Tips:

  • Practice the MCAT in a good, quiet setting
  • Take breaks often so you don’t go crazy
  • Try not to pay attention to how your friends are scoring on their practice tests
  • Use resources at your school to get help in areas in which you are not doing well
  • Make a study schedule that works for you, I like to do 20 minutes per day, but if your MCAT date is coming up soon you need to kick it up a notch!
  • Use highlighters, post-it notes, colored pens, whatever helps you take notes.
  • Write in your MCAT prep books; no sense in trying to preserve them for a re-sell. Your career path depends (partially) on your success on this exam.
  • Purchase your MCAT prep books online, used, from persons who ignored the above advice. You can find tons of MCAT books that no one has ever used or marked up.
  • Use your study style to your advantage: visual? use highlighters and watch youtube videos. auditory? download free MCAT podcasts from iTunes. tacticle? use models or touch your arm to help you memorize facts (surprisingly this helps–remember the solubility rules by assigning a different rule to each section of your arm: wrist, elbow, shoulder, etc. repeat them aloud while touching their assigned body part. Plus you can throw off your fellow exam-takers by looking like a crazy person doing a seated Macarena during the exam…but don’t distract anyone on purpose of course!)

Have suggestions of your own? Let me know in the comments!