Today, we cover how to prep for the MCAT as a nontraditional student. What if you’ve been out of school for a while and you need to figure out how to jump back into the MCAT? What if it has been five years since you took those prereqs? Should you take those prereqs all over before you start your MCAT prep?
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[03:43] What MCAT Prep Looks Like for Career-Changers
Career-changers are these people who have had this whole career and they’ve had so many more experiences under their belt, and now, they’re pivoting to medicine.
A lot of their application comes together with their story, their personal statement, and what they bring to the table outside of medicine. And so the MCAT for them is really just a time to prove that they can keep up with the sciences and keep up in that way.
Career changers will have to spend more time just going back to the sciences, relearning the basics, and spending more time in it. And so, building a good foundation is important.
How much time is needed depends on how long it’s been since you’ve been in school or your familiarity with those topics on the MCAT. If you know that you’ll be doing a lot of that relearning right off the bat, you may just need to give yourself a little bit more time to study.
If you already have your degree, for instance, you’re an architect, but you don’t have those core prereqs which we talked about in our last episode, you may have to be taking a lot of those classes. And those are really heavy, hard classes that include labs. And so you’re not going to get those done in a semester, but maybe three or four semesters to do them comfortably.'The MCAT does take time and it is something that most premeds take the bulk of their college career preparing for.'Click To Tweet
The question is not just how long would it take you just to sit down and prepare for the MCAT itself. But how much time do you have before you’re ready to apply and where would the MCAT fit into that?
[10:31] Juggling MCAT Prep and Life
This is where a lot of nontraditional students really struggle when, in theory, they know all the things they have to do. But they have work, school, family, and other obligations to take care of. This sucks away time, emotional energy, and mental effort, which are all things that you want to protect as much as you can when studying for the MCAT. Dorothy recommends having a strategic time organization, especially for nontrads.'You have this additional burden that's not just like being a full-time college student that comes with being nontraditional, which makes it a lot harder.' Click To Tweet
[11:30] Big Mistakes Nontrads Make
A lot of nontrads are at work or school so they end up blocking out just one chunk of time towards the end of the day to do the MCAT prep. For instance, they won’t study during the week, and then they’ll spend all day Saturday studying. It’s obviously hard to be able to have the focus and energy to have good quality studying during that time. Studying for the MCAT once a week is not really helpful as far as retaining information goes.
The idea is to build the skills necessary to learn new stuff and then you keep on rebuilding those skills to get better.
Breaking Up Your Time Throughout the Week
Dorothy suggests breaking up your study time. If you are a person who can get up early in the morning, maybe knock out an hour or two of study sessions in the morning. Do some CARS practices and things that require more intensive focus. Then have little chunks of time throughout the day where you can just take a break from whatever you’re doing.'Study a little bit rather than one huge chunk at the end of the day when you're already tired.'Click To Tweet
This isn’t easy by any means, but it helps to have a mental framework that allows you to be more engaged and focused during the time that you are studying versus not.
The MCAT in itself is already kind of an uphill battle. You could be making big chunks of progress during the weekends, but if you’re not actively practicing the things you’ve learned over the weekend, you could start slipping back during that week. Then you would have to make up that extra ground again over the weekend.
Now, if your schedule only allows you to do a lot of studying on the weekends, just be sure to have some sort of maintenance throughout the week. That could be doing flashcards, reviewing study sheets, or doing one video or one module. You can also work on your practice passages every day.
Maintenance and consistency certainly are more important than just the sheer amount of time you spend in a week, even if it is chunked into one or two days.
Be Very Intentional
It’s important that you’re not only sparing time for the MCAT, but you have to make time for it. You have to be very intentional with your time. Work your calendar. Otherwise, if you don’t schedule it, it’s not going to happen.
One way to make this happen is through time-blocking. Plan out the times that you are going to study, even if it is an hour every day. That is so much more helpful than just blocking it out into one or two days a week.
[17:15] Breaking Down Your Study Timeline
Dorothy says that many nontrads, especially those who still have a lot to learn upfront, need around six months to nine months. This is the longer end of prep planning, at least from the beginning. Then they could be flexible and extend it as needed. She doesn’t recommend a year of prepping since it can feel very far away.
Maybe you’re looking at studying for 300-plus hours for the entire MCAT prep period. In a three-month period, that’s probably around 20-30 hours a week. If you do the math and break it down into six months, that’s about 11 to 12 hours a week, which is around two hours a day.
Again, try to think through the amount of studying you can commit to reasonably during your prep period. If you’re working or you’re in school or dealing with all these other obligations, Dorothy thinks 12 hours a week is pretty reasonable. Or maybe it needs to be a little less and then you can stretch out your period accordingly.
And then again, she cautions against just starting out a year from when you’re taking the MCAT because it is quite a long time. And that could lead to less accountability and less being on top of it.
Blueprint MCAT has a free Study Planner Tool that you can access. It allows you to create your own study plan that fits your schedule.
[20:46] Final Words of Wisdom
Continue reminding yourself about what is motivating you to pursue this path to medicine. And when it gets hard, just continue thinking about that. Let that inspire you and pave the road forward for you!