My guest and I cover how to prepare for the MCAT in the first year of being a premed student. The average MCAT score now has crept up from 500 to 501.5. That means students are getting better at taking it.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[04:09] The Best Way to Prepare for the MCAT as a Junior
Especially if you’re going into a premed undergrad and you have to take that diverse core set in a lot of these med school prereqs, George strongly advises taking the classes seriously.
It’s one thing to have good test-taking skills to get a good grade in class. But you really want to understand it the first time around.“Relearning something is so much faster and more efficient than trying to learn it all again later when you want to study for the MCAT.”Click To Tweet
It doesn’t matter how many full-length exams you take or practice questions you do. The MCAT is going to show you new things that are intentionally done to throw you off your game, even though they’re testing the same core concepts.
Therefore, take the broad strokes and understand the bigger picture and understand how things connect. It will pay off so much more in the long run when it comes to an application exam like the MCAT.
[06:57] The Timeline for Taking the MCAT
A lot of students are taking gap years now to purposefully take the MCAT when they’re done with classes. But you still need to practice and understand the logic.
Framing this idea of the MCAT, as not three years later, but six semesters later, George recommends pushing it to four semesters later so you can take it in the summer between your second or third year. He believes it’s a great time to try and take it because you’re going to apply in the summer of your third or fourth year.
If there are schools you’re interested in, check the admissions processes since a lot of them are doing rolling admissions. If you apply early in the summer, you have a better chance of getting in, and if you apply later, there are fewer seats.
George suggests doing the MCAT your first time (and hopefully the only time) at the end of your second year in the summer. It’s a great time to take it since you’re not going to be balancing the MCAT on top of the schoolwork.'If you have the opportunity to, and you have the flexibility to, try to take the MCAT in the summer of your second to the third year.'Click To Tweet
George adds that your third and fourth-year courses are usually not too much related to the MCAT because they’re more specialized at that point. Then you can focus on your extracurricular activities. That way, you’re complementing the rest of your application and giving that holistic perspective of your application, not just like the numbers themselves.
Then if it doesn’t go well that summer and you still need to improve some things, then you have the flexibility over the fall of your third year to the spring of your third year. You can take it the second time and revamp some things. That way, you can still apply at the start of the third year to matriculate after your fourth year.
[13:22] What MCAT Resources Should You Use?
George says any set of review books ultimately tries to distill down everything that is tested on the AAMC. They’re going to distill it down back into a textbook that contains everything they need to know. Again, if you’re able to build your understanding of all of those MCAT topics, you’re going to set yourself up really well when it comes to testing.“Remember, the MCAT is an exam of scope… They want to test your thinking ability, which is – how do you connect topics from a broad scope across different disciplines?”Click To Tweet
The high-yield topics on the MCAT would be your amino acids, their structures, and their codes. Know your acid-base chemistry, especially in the context of Bronsted-Lowry theory. Know your genetics, such as differentiating between chromosomes and chromatin. You need to nail down the core foundational concept in order to understand the broader genetics concepts.
You have to prioritize what you have to be learning in class because you will see it later in the MCAT. Focus on understanding and appreciating what you need to learn now so it’s easier to relearn them when you need to refresh your memory later. While there are things you need to memorize, there are also other sciences that you need to understand as opposed to just memorizing them.
George recommends having a little bit of everything. As long as you’re introduced to the topics and the concepts, it should be sufficient for the purposes of the MCAT.
Finally, check out the PDF of topics from the AAMC because that’s what all the test prep companies are building their courses and content off of.
[20:46] The Three Points of Contact in Content Retention
George explains that the best way to content retention is three points of contact.
First, if you’re exposed to it, actively learn with it. Don’t just let it go in through one ear and come out the other. If you’re reading something, read it out loud. Use your hand to model things or come up with mnemonics. Engage yourself in active learning.
This time, it’s not just looking at something and reading it aloud. The challenge now is if you can close your eyes and you can bring it back from memory. Can you close your eyes and explain the five conditions for Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium, for example?
The idea is to do it, give it a little break, and then do it again. The more you do this pattern, the more you retain it. There’s a psychosocial term for this called Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve. The first time you learn something, you’ll forget most of it. But once you relearn it, you retain more of it. Then as you space it out more, you learn it again, and then you retain more of it – and that lasts longer.
George says that Blueprint’s spaced repetition flashcard platform is taking that one step further because they just revamped their flashcards. He points out that after you see it once, add it to your list of flashcards and keep it ongoing. The new feature they’ve introduced is like a study plan model. If you’re enrolled in their online resources, it automatically does it for you.
If you choose the Study Plan model, it automatically updates every module that you’ve completed and all the associated flashcards into your deck. So you click through it and you only see flashcards of things that you’ve already seen. There’s no point in trying to recall something you haven’t seen before.
[25:42] Final Words of Wisdom for First-Year Students
George says that if you’re a procrastinator, then the MCAT is not the time to be one. This is the time right now when you really want to build those habits. Even with flashcards, even if it’s not MCAT, do flashcards for your class. Really engage in class and ask a lot of questions.
If you see things in your textbook which you think are MCAT testable, don’t be afraid to clarify the concept with your professors or go to the live office hours.
Now is also the time to develop a good sleep routine, a diet routine, and a fitness routine. Figure out what activities you can do for your breaks because you need them and you have to take those breaks so you can recharge.
Have an accountability partner. Identify what your biggest distractions are and the steps you need to take to develop those good habits and routines. If you can develop those habits early, it will pay off long term, not just for the MCAT, but for life in general.'Don't just treat your classes like a GPA number, treat it as a stepping stone that will get you somewhere further in the end.'Click To Tweet
Make those connections between what you’re seeing in class and what you need for the MCAT, and make an effort to understand what’s going on.