Today, I’m joined by Ali from Blueprint MCAT to answer one of the biggest questions in the MCAT prep world – how to create an effective MCAT study plan.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:16] When to Study for the MCAT
Ali says if you’re taking classes while trying to study for the MCAT, it’s very important to keep a regular schedule. He recommends studying less every week and then taking three weeks off during midterms and finals or whenever you have a big exam coming. Then it’s going to take a lot of time to go back into your rhythm studying for the MCAT.'One of the biggest mistakes students make is they overload the schedule of the MCAT.'Click To Tweet
For many students, when they fail to keep their schedule for more than a week, they then get depressed. Then they try to get another schedule again and then get depressed again. And so, they get into this misery cycle.
The key is to just lower your expectations on how much time you’re spending on the MCAT per week.
If you start early enough, say five to six months before your test, you can get by doing 20 hours early on, and then increase that amount of time per week as you get closer to your test date.
[04:12] How Far Ahead Should You Study?
Ali says six months is mostly the best time to get started. Twelve months would be just too much while three months is going to be very difficult unless you have nothing else going on in your life other than study for the MCAT.
Ultimately, how far ahead you should study depends on the individual because every student has a different schedule and different things going on in their life.'Students who are prepared to start early tend to be the students who are most successful with their application.'Click To Tweet
Many students who wait till the last second to start studying for the MCAT, or taking the MCAT, or applying to medical school get to a point where they have so many things on their plate. And something has to give, whether they put less effort into their classes, less effort into their essays and application, or less effort into the MCAT.
Something usually breaks and that’s not something you want to happen during your application cycle. And if that’s your grades, it’s just a bad sign to be stumbling into medical school. And if it’s on the MCAT score, it’s wasted time and money to be retaking it. And if it’s with your application, then you either are waiting to apply another year, or you’re just putting in a crappy application and being rejected. Then you’re just going to have to do it all over again.
[06:53] Simple Rules for a Successful MCAT Prep
Taking six months preparing for the MCAT and 15-20 hours a week is a lot of time and fitting this into your schedule is not going to be easy. And most students underestimate how much effort goes into the MCAT.
Ali outlines these simple rules to follow when you’re trying to allocate these hours on your schedule.
First, have a day off per week. This is also great for your mental health where you don’t touch the MCAT. Don’t study your classes as well. Maybe just have light work on that day, if you’re working.
Then establish a rhythm with your tasks. It’s going to be difficult to stop and then restart with so many things in your life. So have a specific day allocated for your tasks, including your rest day. Some of the days, you might only do flashcards or watch some videos. And some of the days, you can just sit down for hours at the library and do your practice. So you can mix it up.
[09:58] Building Your Study Plan
The MCAT is a mile wide, an inch deep. And Ali explains the main reason for students who go too much in-depth or spend too much time on content is they’re afraid they forget information when they’re not spending as much time as they could on certain topics.
They feel like they need to have a complete understanding and memorization of the facts now, five months before the tests.'A very common mistake that we all see is students going too heavy into the content review.”Click To Tweet
But you need to remember that you will be exposed to the material multiple times. It’s not like you’re going to study enzyme kinetics today and never see it again before the MCAT. You will see it on practice questions, practice passages, and back to the content. Hence, students tend to confuse difficulty with importance.
Don’t spend too much time on a single topic. And if you really want to spend three hours on the topic, then spend it on knowing your amino acids, molecular biology, or something that will give you a lot of points. Rather than dedicate three hours on sonic booms when they’re not even tested on the MCAT.
[12:28] Using Spaced Repetition
The rule of thumb is to take practice questions at the end of the day. Go through the material with a focus on understanding the big picture. Take practice questions and if you do well, good. If you don’t, then try to take a few more practice questions next week. This method is called retrospective learning.
There’s also a two-month calendar of what to do every day, which is called prospective learning. From day one, you know what you’re doing every day. But research on how to learn shows that this doesn’t really work.
Instead, Ali recommends studying every topic in small doses. But for topics you don’t do well on, take them in more doses than topics you do well.“Take practice questions at the end of the day.”Click To Tweet
It would also be good to have an Excel sheet that organizes how well you’re doing with a topic and how often you go back to them. This is technique is called spaced repetition.
Ali recommends using Anki which uses the spaced repetition strategy when you’re studying for content. Blueprint MCAT also has a brand new spaced repetition flashcard platform that students can use as well, which is part of their free account. And along with that, Blueprint also has a free study planner tool, which allows you to organize yourself as you’re studying the MCAT. It’s flexible enough to allow you to reorganize your schedule as you go.
Stick to a maximum of an hour and a half per topic for your hardest topic, content, and less for most other content. This way, you don’t have time to go deeper than an inch.
At the end of the day, you are in control. So do what works for you and just make sure you are making decisions that are working for you. And not just because somebody else says you use it.
[20:09] Doing Some Tweaks in Your Daily Schedule
Different people have different schedules, and they prefer different times of the day to study. But if you feel that you have an eight-hour workday, you come back home and you don’t have the energy to study for the MCAT. So just do something like some flashcards.
Then study mostly on the weekends. Or change your schedule a bit so that you wake up and you study for the MCAT before you go to your classes, or before you go to your eight-hour workday. This way, you are studying for the MCAT at the time of the day where you have the most energy. Waking up early might not be the best thing for you or something that you want. But just try and if it works for you, try it for a couple of weeks.
Ultimately, it takes self-awareness in understanding your body and understanding what works for you. Now, what works for you the other person, doesn’t necessarily work for someone else because everyone’s just so different. So take ownership of your own life and your own MCAT life. And don’t just do what everyone is doing or what some stranger is doing.
Book: Tiny Habits
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