George and I cover how to prepare for the MCAT in the second year of being a premed student. We are continuing this new series, The MCAT Blueprint series by Blueprint MCAT. If you’re a second-year student, take a listen and see what you can be doing to help maximize your prep for the MCAT. 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.
[01:43] How Medical Schools Look on Being a Nontrad
George says a lot of the approach is the same as when you do in your first year. That means good habits, a good foundation, and understanding your core concepts in your class. You can maybe get a set of review books and compare them with what you’re seeing in class. Then you know which ones to double down on to make sure you understand it now as it will pay off longer.
As second-year students or nontraditional students, they’re another year closer to when they’re planning on taking the MCAT. They have some data now, whether they’ve built in the habits or maybe it’s the opposite. But George believes there’s nothing wrong with taking a gap year or being a nontrad. If at all, it adds diversity and versatility. It gives different perspectives to your medical school class.'A big thing that applications committees are looking for is really this idea of growth, dedication, and personal reflection.'Click To Tweet
Reasons for Taking a Gap Year
If you took a gap year because your stats are not where you need them to be or you realized some weakness like you lack organization or you’re procrastinating, this is huge for medical schools. It means you’ve done some introspection showing you’ve reflected on the things you need to work on. It shows initiative that you went ahead, you made those changes, and you succeeded in that.
That matters a lot more than being someone who’s super burnt out and cramming for this exam. Or someone who got a really good MCAT score and studied for three months without getting any sleep. That’s not a sustainable strategy in the long term. That’s not a sustainable strategy through med school. That’s not a sustainable strategy in life.
George suggests asking yourself a few important questions at any point in your journey: Are your GPA and MCAT scores anywhere you want them to be? And how do you feel? Now is the time to build those habits and figure out what you need to do.
Ultimately, if you think being a nontrad is the best path forward, you have to be okay with that. With the percentage of nontrads growing each year, it’s now becoming the new “traditional.”
There are lots of reasons why students take gap years. Taking a gap year isn’t a good thing by itself, but it’s what you do with it.'There are no judgments on the gap year other than what you are doing.'Click To Tweet
The biggest takeaway is knowing how to constantly reflect and check in. Check whether you’re still on the right path or you’re still ready to take this after four or five semesters, or not for whatever reasons. Don’t focus on what other people are doing, focus only on yourself.
[07:48] How to Best Study for the CARS Section
There are things that you can do to improve your CARS score and your overall MCAT score. Remember, the MCAT is mostly a test of critical thinking and analysis.
George thinks every student has to approach the MCAT with a growth mindset. There’s this belief that goes around that science students can’t read and that CARS is the most difficult on the MCAT.
If you start with that mindset, it’s going to be the most challenging. You’re going to have the most anxiety and it’s going to be very difficult for you to learn logic because you’re shooting yourself in the foot with that self-fulfilling prophecy.'Standardized tests ask standardized questions... there's this style of question that they'll ask.'Click To Tweet
Moreover, the MCAT is a mental endurance game as much as it is reading comprehension.
Add Leisure to Your Reading
Ultimately, you have to read and read for the fun of it. Read passages, whether it’s a dry, flowery philosophy passage. Read passages about architecture that describe literally paint drying on a wall. Convince yourself that it’s interesting to read.
Reading for leisure is different from reading to take a test. So try to read for leisure and try to identify the two key things that from every CARS passage, you always want to know.
Looking for the Central Theme
Look for the main idea. Look for the author’s point, and the reason they’re writing the passage. Then look at the general tone. Look at how the author described it. Classify information as you read it. George calls this a meta-narration. Ultimately, in a given paragraph, there are usually only no more than one or two ideas for that paragraph. And that’s a central theme for that paragraph.
The whole point of comprehension is to figure out what it’s all about. This is something you can do on your own. Start to learn these patterns and recognize what to look for and it becomes a lot easier to understand how CARS works.
[14:06] The Optimal Way to Use Q-Banks
When you do live courses, you learn it the first time you watch the modules. Then you go to flashcards, but to complement flashcards, you also do practice questions.
If you’re doing your MCAT prep, George recommends looking at the content first. Try to understand it, close your eyes, and actively recall it. Then dive straight into the relevant Q-bank questions because now you’re building those neural connections. You’re building your content retention.
Then the next step from there is the application where you’re integrating it with passages. But the first step is you need the foundation. Once you have the foundation, you can learn how to actually connect the dots.
Incorporate is a form of active recall to reinforce the learning and to see whether you can pull it back from memory.
Content Application Strategy
For instance, the MCAT will throw a novel equation at you. But it’s about understanding, for instance, the proportionality of it as opposed to memorizing the equation.“It's an application exam as much as it is about content.”Click To Tweet
It’s the same thing with units where a lot of times, you can come down to your answer by just looking at the unit in the answer choices. That’s where critical thinking comes into play. The test writers know that there are going to be students who waste five minutes trying to calculate the equation and get an answer.
[19:15] Teaching as the Best Way of Learning
Ultimately, you’ve got to know when you need to step back. Maybe this isn’t really for you or your parents only pushed you to do this whole thing because they’re so invested in this. Secondly, a lot of the CARS section is about understanding, preparation, and learning that stuff. The third thing is practice questions.
Fourth, if you have a chance, try to take on a teaching opportunity. This not only solidifies your own understanding, but it will also pay off in the long run. It helps you learn the material and understand things at a higher level enough for you to explain things to someone else. You may even consider explaining from other perspectives.'One of the highest forms of learning is teaching.'Click To Tweet
And for introverts who are scared to go out and do that, there are ways to teach without doing it to a human being. There’s this one student who got a small dining room table with stuffed animals sitting around the table. She had a little whiteboard and she was teaching the animals the information she needed to know.
[28:04] The Advantages of Committing to a Timeline
When you commit to a timeline, you can intentionally build those good habits until the test date. Test centers will fill up. And if you haven’t booked at your nearest testing center a month out in advance and there are no spots, you’ll probably have to drive several hours or even fly to another testing center. And that is a lot to handle, physically, emotionally, and mentally in terms of stress.