Avoiding Information Overload During MCAT Prep

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Session 159

The MCAT Podcast welcomes Phil Hawkins from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)! He joins me to talk MCAT strategy and how to prepare without getting overwhelmed.

Also, be sure to check out all of our other podcasts on the Meded Media network as you’re going through this premed journey towards finally getting into medical school.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:40] Phil’s Background

Phil went to the University of Nebraska Med Center. He left in his second year of medical school. He actually went to medical school primarily because of the education side of things and didn’t like the clinical side as much. He also previously was an MD/Ph.D. student so he’s into the research side of things.

Phil helps in writing, editing, and putting together all of the materials at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Currently, he works more with students directly. He does 80% of the office hours.

[04:30] Any Suggestions?

Phil is actually the third voice now on the podcast from Next Step (after Bryan and Clara). Moving forward, this podcast is taking its new direction. We’re not following the same format anymore.

If you’ve got any suggestions on how we can improve the MCAT podcast, kindly email me at ryan@medicalschoolhq.net.

For today, we’re discussing the overwhelm of the MCAT and the information that’s needed. There are so many classes that go into the preparation that gets these students overwhelmed about having to figure things out.

[06:20] Too Much Information

Preparing for the MCAT is like drinking from a firehose. This is a common example that people talk about medical school. So it’s not necessarily applicable to the MCAT but it’s a general med school challenge.

'It's a really clever test for what it's trying to do and what it's trying to test. Ultimately, you take the MCAT and it tells the med schools how good of a doctor you're going to be.'Click To Tweet

The overwhelming info that students come across with the MCAT is just going to continue on as you go into medical school. So they want to see who can deal with too much information. And it really is too much and an annoying amount of information.

The MCAT is so wide with a very big pool of info and being able to deal with that is a challenge. In some ways, you may not have to go as deep, but you need to understand the fundamentals. 

In undergrad, you can get rewarded for just memorizing something even if you don’t understand it. But because of the way the MCAT tests something, they come from weird angles.

You don’t have to actually memorize. But if you understand the fundamentals, for instance, what phosphatase is, you can already pick out the right answer even if you have no idea about the pathway they’re talking about.

[09:45] When to Understand

This is why practice exams are so important since you get to have the feedback from that. And even if you knew the question was and you know the right answer, try to figure out another way to answer the question. Find a backdoor or a faster way to answer the question. 

Go through the AAMC materials and see two to three different ways of answering the question. You have to have some strategies in going in and looking for certain things.

For example, in Chem/Physics, pay attention to the units and this will go a long way. In fact, there’s a passage on the AAMC exam and it had three calculation questions and all three of those you can answer just by knowing the units. And you didn’t have to know a single equation. Of course, if you know the equations, that’s great.

In undergrad, if you take an exam and you come across something that you don’t know and you haven’t seen, that means you mess up. But the MCAT is the opposite of it. They’re constantly throwing stuff at you.

'With the MCAT, they expect you to come across stuff you've never seen before.'Click To Tweet

In undergrad, people are learning stuff in partitions. So it’s harder to do this coming from a different angle. And this doesn’t work on the MCAT anymore so you have to throw that strategy out.

Exposure is therefore key. The more exams you see the more you get to talk through stuff. That’s one of the biggest challenges of the MCAT that’s not talked about as it’s so different than undergrad. That being said, it takes time to prepare for the MCAT. 

[Related episode: What is the Best Way to Use the Official Practice MCAT Exam?]

[15:05] Taking the MCAT Before Taking the Classes

If you haven’t taken one class, that’s okay. But if you haven’t taken two classes like Biochem, Physics, or Organic Chemistry, you’re going to have a hard time. You need to learn all the stuff from scratch at the same time.

But if you need to prep for Physics and you haven’t taken any Physics courses, Phil says this is totally doable. It basically depends on the weightedness of questions you’re going to see. 

Physics and Organic Chemistry are low-yield in terms of the numbers of questions you’re going to see. Bio courses and biochem are higher-yield so this is going to be a big hurdle. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t taken Organic Chem 2.

'All the Organic Chem on the MCAT tends to be basically Organic Chemistry 1.'Click To Tweet

Having good strategies is very important. Memorization is also important. If you cram all the information you need in a week. Then you take the test on Friday and then forget it the next week, that’s fine. This is okay when you’re dealing with smaller volumes.

But when you’re dealing with huge volumes of information, that doesn’t work anymore. By the time you get to the end of the stuff you’re trying to cram in, the beginning stuff is all falling out. 

Practice questions are crucial for the Chemistry and Physics stuff. The big challenge is what you do. See the questions first then figure out what to do. This is very important for Chem/Physics more than any other section.

'Do lots of discrete questions especially if you're struggling, you see a question, and then you get through it and you feel good. There's a dopamine feedback.'Click To Tweet

Doing a lot of discrete questions is so much better for remembering things than if you’re just staring at a flashcard or some definition or a pile of equations. Try to work with how your brain wants to work. 

One of the biggest challenges with colleges and medical schools is that the strategies that work before don’t work anymore because of the volume. You can force your brain to do something it doesn’t really want to do for a little while. So try to work with the brain rather than against it.

[Related episode: When Should I Take the MCAT?]

[20:20] Staying Up with Information

Spaced repetition is very important. Anki is a popular example. It can be any study plan or tool that build study plans for people.

For example, you read a chapter and then a couple of weeks later, they throw some quiz questions at you.

Practice exams or constant quizzing is key as well. Another big mistake students make on MCAT prep is when they feel like they can’t take a practice test until they’ve mastered all the content. That’s never going to happen.

Sometimes the MCAT will ask stuff and they don’t expect you to know it. They just expect you to be able to figure something out from it.

'The practice test is helping shine the spotlight on what stuff you want to brush up on.'Click To Tweet

Use the practice exams as your diagnostic tool. The exams tell you which sections to look at. Then take the exam again and it will tell you which areas you need to hit.

[23:17] Other Nuggets of Strategies

Spaced repetition is really useful to mix things up. Things can fall through the cracks. You can’t remember everything forever always. Stuff can fall so you’ve got to re-pick it up. But it’s always easier to learn something the second, third, or fourth time.

'Don't do just one topic, power through it, and then think you're going to be done with it.'Click To Tweet

Spread things out. Do a bit of Physics, Bio, Psych/Soc, Orgo every week and work through it.

You will also be crossing boundaries so be able to look at something like PET scans and radiotherapies as Physics topics as well as Biology and Chemistry topics. If you’re studying all those things simultaneously, it tends to blur the lines between them. And this is a good thing.

[26:00] Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

Sign up for the MCAT Course at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Use the promo code MCATPOD to save $50. It includes tons of video hours, access to all of the Next Step materials including all ten practice tests as well as the AAMC materials. Plus, get access to live office hours which is what really sets them apart.

Check out my video review of their course on MCAT Course Review.


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