Today, I’m joined by Blueprint MCAT live course tutor, Joya. We talk about her journey taking the MCAT during the pandemic, CARS, and joining Blueprint MCAT. Joya is actually one of the instructors for the new live online course they’re offering. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to premed.tv.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[03:08] Joya’s Story
Joya was a premed when she took the MCAT and is going to be a premed student in the Fall. As she was preparing for the MCAT during the pandemic cycle, her test got canceled three times.
But she did what she needed to do to still prepare for the test – using the Blueprint materials and listening to the MCAT Podcast. And she thought of this as something she could teach so she then applied to Blueprint. The hiring process was fun and she felt at home with the community of instructors and administrators.
At that time she was taking the MCAT, there were still no live online classes yet. Joya joined Blueprint in September 2020 and she’s happy to be a part of the company as it grows.
[04:43] Blueprint’s Hiring Process'A lot of students think that if you score high on an MCAT Exam, you can immediately go be an MCAT tutor.'Click To Tweet
Standardized test prep tutoring has been a big part of Joya’s life and her livelihood for about 10 years now. She started tutoring for the SAT when she was still a high schooler after she took it.
She spent rigorous time not just preparing for the test, but also figuring out what methods she wanted to use, how she wanted to track her scores, and how she wanted to treat her mistakes and successes.
All that being said, she felt applying to Blueprint seemed like a natural continuation of the subject matter she feels she’s strong in and where she has developed expertise in.
During the hiring process, they were made to prepare lessons and teach to people. Then Blueprint would assess whether someone can teach, handle questions from a group, break down complicated subjects into bite-sized pieces. They want to see if they’re accessible to a wide variety of learners and students.
Joya typically tutor kids under 18, usually in the high school and middle school range. This is her first time teaching adults so it was something new but not a fully foreign experience to her.
She credits Blueprint for teaching her and giving her a lot of resources and feedback. They have people from management come to watch their classes and then debrief with them afterward. She feels very much supported in learning how to translate their study skills into teaching skills.
[09:13] Keeping the Motivation and Reframing Everything
The first time the test got canceled, she gave herself a little time to wallow and cry. She thought she was never going to medical school. But she decided to crawl out of her hole and when she decided to get back on the horse, she first used the Blueprint study tool. She found it so manageable being able to move things around on her calendar.
Then she reset the new date and treated it as more time for her to study instead of fixating on the fact it was canceled. She now had more time to work on her weaknesses.
She used the time to review her study strategies, wrote down all her thought processes, what she got wrong, why she got wrong, and what was missing. She sifted through the stuff she needed to prioritize.
Although she was scoring high on CARS, she continued studying it because she could feel the mental atrophy occurring the longer she didn’t do it. She knew the complacency could get her if she didn’t practice.
The second time it got canceled, she thought it was an old hat having been through it before, and she did exactly the same thing.“If you get something pushed back outside of your control, that just becomes an opportunity to go back and scoop the things that you said you're going to prioritize.”Click To Tweet
[12:00] A Great Exercise for CARS Prep
Joya has been tutoring for the LSAT for a decade. And being a reading comprehension teacher for a decade absolutely gave her a leg up. That being said, what she thought really made her score jump from average to high was reading outside of CARS.
She just practiced and practiced reading, especially on topics she wasn’t interested in or she found boring – in her case, philosophy. And doing this gave her the stamina she needed to do much shorter pieces in CARS.'Building that external stamina and taking my CARS skills out to a book instead of just an MCAT prep session was really helpful because it really internalized those strategies.'Click To Tweet
Joya would look for tone, bias, and the main idea. And she practiced that everywhere, not just in the context of the MCAT. And that made those skills much stronger and made CARS much less stressful.
When reading the book, Joya would pretend she was working for the AAMC and she was making the MCAT test questions. She reads the book as if looking for a passage she would select for the MCAT. Then she’d make up questions as she goes, which she literally wrote out and quiz herself on.
Joya tried to make her own MCAT as she was reading those books. And so, it stopped from being just about reading. It became more about reverse-engineering the types of questions she found the most challenging. So she was doing all that aside from doing the regular CARS prep.'One of the most challenging kinds of questions is those extrapolation application questions.'Click To Tweet
That way, it helped her understand the function of the questions better. She felt she got inside the test makers. She felt more comfortable identifying the traps because she spent time making those herself.
[17:05] The Recipe for Success of the Most Successful Students
Accountability is a really strong characteristic of really successful students. The most successful students Joya had seen have been the ones who, even if they fall off for their study schedule for a little while, they’re very honest with themselves about where they’re at what they’ve been doing. They’re honest with themselves about how effective the two hours they spent actually was.
Metacognition means being able to recognize not just what you did wrong, but why you did it wrong. And understanding the questions that trip them up is really important. So think about the way that you think and the way you get tricked. And if you can identify those things and then be accountable enough to stick to a schedule, that’s a recipe for success.“If you just focus on the what, then you will get content and that's about it. But you have to focus on the ‘why’ as well, and that's where strategy and thought process come in.”Click To Tweet
Knowing Your Units
Joya finds students most successful in their content and knowledge is mastering units. Joya considers units as a gift, a signpost.
When students do dimensional analysis in their formulas, they don’t just write down the variables, they write down the units that go with each variable.
They look at what the units of the solution are and get a better sense of what kinds of quantities are going in and out of a formula. But they also are able to notice when things are given to them correctly, or incorrectly and answer options.'Units are the most underrated studying thing in the world. If you know your units and your formulas, half the time, you can figure out an answer just based on the units given.'Click To Tweet
Second, it’s applied practice. The toughest thing for students is getting over the fear that they’re going to go through a question set or QBank set and get everything wrong. And so they don’t know what to use to study and end up procrastinating in doing the real question. This is more of a mental and emotional barrier than anything else.
[24:38] Why Take a Diagnostic Test'You have no idea how to improve if you don't know where you're starting.”Click To Tweet
Joya advises students out there to know where they currently stand. Just rip off the band-aid. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to know where you’re starting from.
Blueprint has a half-length diagnostic and a free full-length exam. Now, a lot of students will use the full length as “diagnostic.”
The problem with the full-length for students who haven’t done any MCAT prep yet is you’re going to get more of an indication of how you do with time and stamina than how you do with knowledge. Stamina is what you build up over the course of your prep. You’re probably not mentally and emotionally ready for a full-length when you’re taking your first MCAT-style test.
That being said, it’s not the worst thing in the world to take the full-length. But Joya thinks the diagnostic serves its purpose a little bit better because you don’t have that kind of confounding factor of thinking you’re horrible on psych/social because it was at the end.
Ultimately, the half-length is better to give you a sense of how you do without just taking fatigue into account and you’ll build the stamina up as you do prep over many months.
Also, the first time you do QBank, set it on easy. That’s why they have a class and that’s why you have multiple weeks. If you’d be able to do little MCAT questions right off the bat, you wouldn’t need a class or QA and you’d be done. You’d be teaching.
And so, you have to start easy so you can practice the strategy and practice the skills you’ve learned and then amp up the content over time.
[28:05] Blueprint’s Live Online Structure
Blueprint’s live online structure is a two-hour-and-a-half class, which is what you expect students are in the webinars. So there are not on camera or on mic, but they have the chat.
Then there are two instructors on camera the whole time, one who’s doing the lead of talking through the slides and explaining the questions. And then the secondary instructor is talking and giving input, but they’re also monitoring the chat. This eliminates that chaotic feel of one person trying to teach and answer everybody’s questions typing at the same time.
They do questions live in class. But no one has to be outed for getting the question wrong, because it’s an anonymous poll. Then in the middle, they also have the MCAT life, which is a time to talk about the test itself. It’s not about content strategy, but about the MCAT, application timeline, test day, and things like those.'We have a really nice mix of strategy and some content and some kind of test mechanics, admissions mechanics stuff, and having two people is such a lovely feeling.' Click To Tweet
The difference between those resources and the live online is the weekly commitment of showing up at a specific time to do MCAT work. So there’s a level of accountability that can be really helpful for people.
Joya recommends doing the live online structure for those students who know that structure is useful for them. It has the flexibility of rescheduling if life happens, and you need to do it on a different day, but it’s also still a weekly commitment.
So you’re not penalized if you need to reschedule because you can reschedule whenever you need to. But there is a time-gated sense to the class where you can show up when you need to show up for 16 weeks.
This model can give you that increase in challenge and increase in difficulty that you don’t have to do yourself. And that eliminates a lot of the decision making fatigue that MCAT students have where they have to make so many choices.
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