MCAT Motivation: How to Stay Focused for the Long Haul

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts

MP 162: MCAT Prep: How to Stay Motivated for the Long Haul

Session 162

How do you stay motivated while you’re going through the MCAT prep process? Today, we’re joined by Phil from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). If you want to learn more about their course, go to

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

[02:40] Running Out of Motivation

One of the biggest problems is that students aren’t studying up until the MCAT. But the rules change and all of a sudden, you need to deal with this new scenario. It takes to understand the human psyche.

'It's very rare that somebody is studying this weekend for an exam that they're going to be taking in three months.'Click To Tweet

Focusing on a goal can get you initially motivated and interested, regardless of what your goal is. Eventually, it’s not enough to keep you going.

It’s just like driving where you feel like you haven’t moved even when it’s been 45 minutes since the mountain is still there at a distance. You’re still driving through these plains. So you judge your success off of getting close to them. And if you’re closer, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to deal with.

[Related episode: A Burnout Story and What You Can Do to Avoid It]

[05:43] Setting Up Leading and Lagging Measures

The “leading and lagging” measure is actually a business term where, for instance, you think of increasing users of your app or getting more sales. A lagging measure is the end result that is measurable.

But measuring how many people are using your app isn’t going to help you stay motivated for what you’re doing today. So you need to focus on the leading measures, which are what causes the lagging measures. Hence, the lagging measures would be getting more users while the leading measures would be your advertising.

For the MCAT, the lagging measure is getting a good score on the section. If people are just focused on that, they’ll end up getting burned out and exhausted.

Another example is when you want to achieve a bodybuilder physique. You can go to the gym everyday and if you look at yourself in the mirror and your only goal is to have a bodybuilder physique, you will be disappointed and annoyed everyday. You only see failure and you quit because you hate it.

Instead, judge your success on the steps going forward and not on your end goal. For instance, your success is based on whether you went to the gym today. And so that keeps you motivated.

Take that big exam and break that down into what do you need today. Think of what you’re doing daily and see if you’re moving towards that lagging goal.

Did you spend an hour studying the daily CARS passage today? Then you get that success. You get that dopamine rush and the feedback loop where you get excited so you do the same the next day. If you’re focused on the process, then you’re succeeding every time you make a step forward.

'If you focus on the end goal instead of the process, you're always going to be disappointed. 'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: How Do You Focus on Your Health While a Premed Student?]

[09:02] Building Great Habits

Ultimately, you need to be a studier and not an MCAT testtaker. So you need to build it into yourself that this is just something you do. Just study every day and not think about only taking the MCAT and getting that 520 as a sign of success. Instead, it’s studying every day that marks your success.

'Take joy in the process itself.'Click To Tweet

It’s the same as living healthy. Rather than trying to base your success off of having a super physique, base it on what you ate for the day. All those being said, most people are not going through this process because they want to be a studier.

Check out Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to learn more about developing good habits.

[Related episode: Study Habits and Tips for the Premed Student]

[11:35] Remember Your Why

For some students, they feel so burned out from spending all day studying and losing interest. Try to go shadow in a clinic and see if your drive and ambition would be back. This is what Phil used to do because he kept on reminding himself why he was doing it. Going into the clinic provided him with that motivation.

It’s therefore important for students to not chain yourself to your desk. Do something that makes you feel good and is beneficial because this reinforces you and keeps you reinvigorated for dealing with the whole process.

'If there's something that makes you feel good and also is beneficial, do it. Do it all over the place.'Click To Tweet

A lot of times, students would get all of those hours upfront. So they think they’re done and all they’re left to do is to study for the MCAT. They check off the box.

But it hurts you to study for the MCAT and not do other things. Then you become less and less productive in the long run because you hate what you’re doing.

If you have spent 1-3 hours over the week outside of the MCAT, remembering your why, and being busy and being around other people, then you’d come back to the MCAT much more energized. You’d be studying more efficiently to be able to get a better score.

[14:36] The MCAT is a Marathon

'The MCAT is a marathon. It's not something you just sprint through.'Click To Tweet

The MCAT is different than the other exams you’re dealing with. You can muscle your way through an orgo exam coming up. You can just force yourself to sit and do it.

But if you have to do that every week for a year, you would eventually need to have a why. You need to have something to remind you of why you’re doing it.

Students often have a short vision thinking of just going to college and getting into medical school. Then being in medical school, you study all the time. If you don’t enjoy the process, you’re not going to make progress in it. 

Have little accomplishable tasks that you can check off and each time you do it, you will feel a bit better. Be able to pat yourself on the back as a reward.

[18:40] Final Thoughts

When you’ve eventually developed your habits, this becomes more of a procedural memory rather than a normal, explicit memory.

Finally, there’s so much stuff that goes into the MCAT and it’s never going to be easy. But everyday as you plug along, you get better and better.

'It doesn't get easier, but you get better.'Click To Tweet

If you need more in-depth help with your MCAT prep, check out Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). They’re known for their one-on-one tutoring. Not everyone may need a tutor but some of you will. Sign up for a free consultation and let them help you figure out how they can best help you.


Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg