Your MCAT day is approaching – how should you maximize your last couple of weeks leading up to the MCAT to make sure you get the best score possible? Here are some last minute tips to help you rock it!
[01:43] Cramming and Measured Approach
Students can go berserk with science content in those last few weeks and this is really counterproductive. There are things you can do to shore up your score but the biggest impact you could have would be negative if you went completely off the chain, drove yourself into frenzy, and collapse on test day.
So the last few weeks should be a measured approach to the extent that you could be cramming but doing it as real official AAMC practice.
[02:21] Three Weeks Before Test Day
The typical arrangement is that three weeks before test date, take the AAMC Scored Practice Exam 1. As of this recording, there are only two scored exams but you can spin this back, working backwards from test day as more scored exams come out.
These are basically the best practice tests you can get. However, there's a belief out there in the premed land that the AAMC tests are infamously bad with their explanations as they don't actually help you analyze the question at all. And sadly, this is true. AAMC obviously produces the only source of test and they are phenomenally good except that the explanations leave a lot to be desired.
What Bryan does with his tutoring students in the last few weeks leading up to the exam is to let them take it and spend 2-4 days of full-time work pretending that the AAMC hired them to write the explanations for all 230 questions on the test, that level of analysis where you really dive deep into the thought process for the AAMC exam. Now, this can easily eat up almost an entire week's worth of work.
If you have extra time, stick to doing timed practice on full time sections from books or any resource material.
[04:23] Two Week Before Test Day
Do the same thing again with Official AAMC Scored Practice Exam 2 and really do a deep-dive into the reasoning and a really thorough analysis, pretending the AAMC has paid you to write complete explanations for the test. You can find explanations elsewhere. These are actually baked into the Next Step Online MCAT Course where they've got a whole video series of Dr. Anthony explaining the test to you. So if you don't have the time, you could use that resource. But there is tremendous value in doing it yourself so that you can completely get your head in the game for how the AAMC thinks about how they write questions, passages, etc.
[05:05] Study Groups
This doesn't mean writing the explanation while you're doing the test. First, take the test as a student and then you get a score again. Once you have the time afterwards, go on Wikipedia to look the fact up. You're not pressured to do the whole passage in eight minutes. Start reading what little the AAMC has written by way of explanation. Once the pressure is off, after the fact, it's really not as so much hard as you might think to really carefully digest what you're reviewing.
And if you're still stuck, go back to one of the number one points that has been said here on this podcast over and over again – to get your study group together. This would be an excellent use of study group time where you each kind of parcel out a portion of the test and write explanations for each other and then teach each other that AAMC exam.
[06:55] The Home Stretch – One Week to Test Day
Take the unscored sample test (which obviously means there is no score for this test). A lot of people claim they can tell you how to convert your percent correct on the sample test into a scaled score but Bryan strongly recommends against doing this. The sample test was never normed. The AAMC never administered it to a statistically significant group of test takers. So any supposed estimation of your score based on the sample test is voodoo more than anything else.
Again, just take the unscored sample test and review it thoroughly during that last week. But don't go berserk trying to review every single thing under the sun nor try to guess what your score would be right at the very end.
The reason we save the sample test as the very last test is to just take the score off the table and to take the anxiety out of it since it's unscored anyway. So there's no need to freak out one week before the exam because you got xyz on some sort of practice test.
[08:18] Tips for Reviewing Content
In reviewing content, just pick three things where if you clicked that little “next” button on the screen and the passage popped up and then you saw a passage on that particular topic, your stomach would drop out from under you or you're all sweating and palpitating.
Saying to yourself in these last two weeks before the MCAT that you're going to review everything means you're going to be reviewing nothing. If you're casually skimming all of the MCAT, you're going to get nothing out of it. But if in these last two or three weeks you're going to hammer the heck out of electrochemistry and your amino acids, your enzymes, and enzyme inhibitors, that's very doable. You can really review electrochemistry again and again and again so that if it shows up on test day, you don't have that “freak out/meltdown” moment.
[09:23] One Day Before Test Day
Do nothing. You probably have developed an unhealthy relationship to test prep and you start shuffling around and scratching your forearm, but if you absolutely have to do something, don't answer any question. Just put your feet up and casually flip through your flash cards. But no passages, no questions, no calculations.
As much as possible, do nothing, But if that would freak you out, then really low-stress review your notes.
[10:14] It’s Like Running a Marathon!
If you were relate this to running a marathon, it's like doing a taper which is normally done before any competition. As Bryan puts it, human performance is performance, be it cognitive like the MCAT or physical and emotional like an actor, or physical like in athletics. Performance is the same in all those cases. Tapering off and easing your way into test day or game day would be the same.
[11:25] A Few More Tips
A lot of people tend to miss these things but you have to maintain good sleeping habits, maintain good diet, and always hydrate yourself because this may affect your cognition. Your brain is just another organ in your body so you've got to take care of your body if you want your brain to work correctly. Get that aerobic exercise. It doesn't mean training for a half marathon but get up and take a walk everyday. So get sleep, water, and exercise. Find that healthy homeostasis.
Lastly, don't do anything crazy in the days or weeks before test day. A common piece of advice people get about the MCAT is to get off caffeine. That's fine if you can do it about three months ahead of time but three days ahead of time do not change your caffeine consumption at all. Or taking Adderall at the day of the test day which is not normal for you can give you a heart attack. Do not do anything that would disrupt your body's normal homeostasis in the days and weeks before the test.
[13:00] Last Thoughts
As time is winding down, your stress level skyrockets. Hopefully, you read and heed to this advice today. One other thing, Bryan mentioned the explanations for the AAMC exams but I've heard a couple of times from students going through Next Step Test Prep‘s course and they've given me feedback that the explanations provided by Next Step are way above and beyond the explanations AAMC gives for their exams. Check out the Next Step online course. The MCAT class is something Next Step took a long time to develop with a hundred plus hours of videos laid out and centered around different topics and content. Get access to ten of Next Step Test Prep's full-length exams and the AAMC material as well as access to instructors through five different office hours every week. To save some money, use the promo code MCATPOD.
Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)
Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast, session number 40.
A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles as a premed, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a physician. Or medical student.
Welcome to The MCAT Podcast, my name is Dr. Ryan Gray. I'm the host here at The MCAT Podcast, as well as The Premed Years, Old Premeds Podcast, and Specialty Stories. You can check out all of the podcasts at the Med Ed Media network. That's www.MedEdMedia.com.
Today we have a great, great discussion about what to do leading up to your MCAT test day. The last minute tips. Let's dive right in.
Alright Bryan, so MCAT day is coming up, and students have spent what seems like an eternity studying for it. And I always hear students talking about trying to cram, and cram, and cram up to that last minute, that last second. You have some tips for us that will cover some last couple weeks of MCAT prep, and how to best utilize your time so that when you step into that exam room, that whatever room that you call that prometric, the dungeon to let the student do their best on their MCAT test day. What do you guys recommend?
Writing Explanations for Practice Tests
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah so Ryan you mentioned the idea of cramming which kind of implies that students are just going completely berserk with science content in those last few weeks, and that's really counter-productive. In those last few weeks you can do an awful lot to sure up your score, but the biggest impact you could have would be a negative one. If you went like completely off the chain and just drove yourself into some sort of frenzy and collapse on test day, right? The last few weeks need to be a very measured approach, and to the extent that you can be said to be cramming anything, what you want to be cramming is real official AAMC practice. So the typical arrangement is three weeks before test day, you take AAMC scored practice exam number one. And at the time we're recording this early in 2017, there are only two scored exams, but you can kind of spin this back, work backwards from test day as more scored exams come out. So three weeks before the exam you take AAMC scored practice exam number one. And we've talked before about the importance of reviewing every single question on an exam, both on this podcast and on the kind of main premed podcast that you have, and that's certainly true of the AAMC. They really are kind of the best practice tests you can possibly get, although I will add one kind of asterisk to that. There's this kind of- this belief out there in premed land that the AAMC tests are infamously bad with their explanations. They don't actually help you analyze the question at all. And this is one case where the rumor is largely true. The AAMC produces obviously the only official source of tests, and they're phenomenally good except the explanations leave a lot to be desired. So one of the big activities I do with my own tutoring students in those last few weeks leading up to the exam, is I say, “I want you to take it, and then I want you to spend almost two, three, even four days of full time work pretending that the AAMC hired you to write the explanations. Right they decided, “You know what? We listened to premeds, we've heard this complaint for years that our explanations are no good, so we've hired you to write a really thorough one to two paragraph explanation for all 230 questions on the test.” Like that level of analysis, that really, really deep dive on the thought process for that AAMC exam. And that could easily eat up almost an entire week's worth of work. If you do have any extra time, then stick with doing timed practice. You know full timed sections from whatever books, or if you have the Next Step full lengths you can use those. And so that's three weeks before the test. Then two weeks before the test, you do the same thing again with official AAMC scored practice exam number two. And again, really, really deep dive on the reasoning. Really thorough analysis, pretend the AAMC has paid you to write complete explanations for the test. You know you can certainly find explanations out there, they're baked into the Next Step online MCAT course. We have a whole video series of Dr. Anthony explaining the test to you, so if you maybe don't have the time you could use that resource. But I think there's tremendous value in doing it yourself so that you can kind of completely get your head in the game for how the AAMC thinks about how they write questions, how they write passages, and so on.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So let me ask you, the tried and true statement out there is practice like you're going to play, right? But you have to practice perfectly to be able to play well. And if you're taking a test, and you're writing the explanations, the AAMC hires you, but you have no clue what you're talking about, how does that help?
Bryan Schnedeker: Well okay, so Ryan just to clarify, I don't mean you're writing the explanations while you're actually doing the test, right? First you actually just take the test.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.
Timeline for Practice Tests
Bryan Schnedeker: As a student and you get a score at the end. When you then have the time afterwards, right you have all the time in the world to go on Wikipedia and look a fact up if you weren't sure if you got the fact wrong, you're not pressured to have to do the whole passage in eight minutes, you can start by reading what little the AAMC has written by way of explanation. And for most students, once the pressure is off, you and I both know from our years of working with them, the premed students are good students. They're hardworking, kind of straight A science students, so after the fact it's usually not nearly so hard as you might think to really carefully digest what you're reviewing. And if you're still stuck of course, you go back to one of the number one points I've said over, and over, and over again everywhere on these podcasts and blog posts, is get your study group together. This could be an excellent, excellent use of study group time where you each kind of parcel out a portion of the test and write explanations for each other, and then kind of teach each other that AAMC exam.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so you're turning it into almost like an open book test at the end, and writing down all of the information that you're aggregating as the information.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah and then you repeat that for the second scored exam. And then the home stretch, right? One week before test day, what do you do? Take the unscored sample test. So it's not called practice exam, it's called sample test, there is no score for this test. You can find, I am sure, on any number of Reddits, and Facebooks, and any other social media website people claiming that they can tell you how to convert your percent correct on the sample test into a scaled score. ‘Oh this is like a 504.' I very, very strongly recommend against doing that. The sample test was never norm, the AAMC never administered it to a statistically significant group of test takers, so any supposed estimation of your score based on the sample test is voodoo more than anything else. So don't worry about it. Just take the unscored sample test and review it thoroughly during that last week, but don't go berserk trying to review every single thing under the sun, don't try to guess what your score would be right at the very end there. In fact the exact reason we save the sample test as the very last test is to just kind of take the score off the table. Take that anxiety out of it. Say, ‘Well this test isn't even scored so I don't need to be having a freak-out one week before the exam because I got X, Y, Z on some sort of practice test.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That makes sense.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah. And then finally in terms of reviewing content, typically what I recommend to students is pick three things, just three, where if you click that little ‘Next' button on the screen and the passage popped up and you saw a passage on a particular topic, and you would have that ‘Oh God.' Like your stomach drops out from under you like an elevator just dropped down.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Some palpitations.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah, right sweating and palpitations. So saying to yourself in these last two weeks before the MCAT, “I'm going to kind of review everything,” means no you're not, you're going to review nothing. If you're just kind of casually skimming literally all of the MCAT, you're going to get nothing out of it. But if you say, “In these last two or three weeks here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to hammer the heck out of electrochemistry, and my amino acids, and my enzymes, my enzyme inhibitors.” Okay that's very doable, right? You can really review electrochemistry again, and again, and again, and again, and again so that if it shows up on test day, you don't have that kind of freak-out meltdown moment.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it, I like it. Now what?
Day Before the MCAT
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah and then of course the day before, right that's always, ‘What do you do the day before?' Answer nothing. No MCAT.
Dr. Ryan Gray: No you can't do nothing. I'm a premed student Bryan, I have to do something.
Bryan Schnedeker: Right I always say you can kind of develop an unhealthy relationships to test prep, and you start kind of shuffling around, and scratching your forearm, ‘Come on, come on man, just a little, just a little.'
Dr. Ryan Gray: ‘One more hit.'
Bryan Schnedeker: ‘Give me the aminos.' So yeah, if you absolutely have to do something, don't answer any questions. Just put your feet up, casually flip through your flash cards, but no passages, no questions, no calculations. You have both my permission and in fact you have my instruction to do nothing that day, but if doing nothing would freak you out, then really low stress only just reviewing your notes.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Have you ever run any sort of races, Bryan?
Bryan Schnedeker: Run any races?
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah run any races, like a half marathon?
Bryan Schnedeker: Well when I was a kid I used to have that little running mat for my original Nintendo entertainment system classic.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That doesn't count. So I've run two half marathons, and a student listening to this who runs any sort of races will be able to relate what you're talking about here. Because what you're doing is you are doing a taper, and anybody that does any sort of bodybuilding, weight lifting stuff, you taper before the competition, you taper before the race. And what you're suggesting is you taper before the actual test.
Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely right, performance. And Ryan, this is an analogy I go into all the time that human performance is performance, whether it's cognitive like the MCAT, kind of physical and emotional like say an actor, or purely physical- I shouldn't say purely physical, of course there's a mental component, but mostly physical like athletics. Performance is the same in all those cases, and so that kind of tapering off and easing your way into test day, or easing your way into game day would be the same for sure.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah and one of the things that I want to add onto here is something that a lot of people miss, and that's maintaining obviously good sleep habits, maintaining good dietary habits and eating well, and water. Water consumption is huge. I mean being hydrated affects your cognition.
Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely, yeah that's one of the first pieces of advice I give to every student at the beginning of every tutoring in class is your brain is just another organ in your body, so you've got to take care of your body if you want your brain to work correctly. You get that aerobic exercise. You don't have to go training for a half marathon, but you've got to get up and move your butt around.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Take a walk.
Bryan Schnedeker: Every day, right. Walk that dog every day. Right is get sleep, water, and exercise, absolutely. And find that healthy homeostasis. I will add just one very, very final point. Don't do anything crazy in the days or weeks before test day. So a common piece of advice people give for the MCAT is to get off caffeine, and that's fine if you can do it about three months ahead of time. But three days ahead of time, do not change your caffeine consumption at all. Or you hear all this kind of chatter, which is just total nonsense online about like, ‘Oh I totally scored some Adderall, I'm going to take it the day of the test.' Yeah and you're going to have a heart attack because that's not normal for you. So don't do anything that would disrupt your body's normal homeostasis in the days and weeks before the test.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, some last minute tips for you as you prepare for your MCAT test day. As the time is winding down, your stress level skyrockets, and hopefully you read and heed, or listen and heed to this advice today.
I want to reiterate one other thing. We talked about Next Step Test Prep and the explanations for the AAMC exams. Now Bryan mentioned that, but I've heard this a couple times from students going through Next Step Test Prep's course. And I had reached out to some students preparing to review the course, and the feedback that I've received from them is that the explanations that Next Step provides is way above and beyond the explanations that the AAMC gives for their exams. So definitely something- Bryan talked about it but I wanted to back it up as well from some students that I've talked to.
I'd love for you to go check out the Next Step course that these students were talking about, I was talking to the students about. Go check out www.NextStepTestPrep.com. The MCAT class is something that Next Step took a long time to develop, it has 100+ hours of video in there laid out in a great way all centered around different topics, and content, and there is- you have access to all ten of Next Step Test Prep's full length exams, you get access to the AAMC material, you get access to the instructors through five different office hours every week. So tons of great material for a fraction of the cost of Kaplan or Princeton Review courses. Go check it out, www.NextStepTestPrep.com. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.
Hope you enjoyed this episode today. Have a great week and we'll talk to you next week here at The MCAT Podcast.
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