Practice Smarter, Not Harder: Optimizing MCAT Study Efforts

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MP 326: Practice Smarter, Not Harder: Optimizing MCAT Study Efforts

Session 326

How much practice is too much? You can do so many hours of practice and study but if you are not using that time in an efficient way that helps you improve, then you may not see the gains that you want. Learn how you can maximize your practice tests without being too much!

We’re joined by Noor from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

The Value of Practice Analysis in MCAT Preparation

One common misconception among students is the belief that more study time automatically translates to better performance. However, Noor’s insights shed light on the fact that simply increasing study hours does not guarantee desired results.

An essential aspect of MCAT preparation is dedicating ample time to reviewing practice questions and analyzing performance.

“Your review of your practice is just as important as the practice itself.” Click To Tweet

Learning from Practice Analysis

Noor emphasizes that reviewing practice is just as crucial as the practice itself. Whether it is part of a full-length exam or separate practice questions, take the time to thoroughly analyze correct and incorrect answers. This will give you valuable insights into your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. This ongoing process allows test-takers to tailor their MCAT practice and strategically target areas that require further development.

The Pitfall of Endless Practice

It is essential to recognize that excessive practice without proper analysis can lead to burnout and diminishing returns.

Merely accumulating countless practice hours does not guarantee progress if the time spent on reviewing and understanding mistakes is neglected. Noor highlights the importance of avoiding burnout by striking a balance between practice volume and quality analysis.

Achieving MCAT Success Through Tailored Study and Quality Practice

Noor emphasizes the importance of considering individual circumstances when determining the ideal study duration for the MCAT. While some individuals may require an extended period to accommodate their life situations, a study period of around six months is typically the maximum observed. It is crucial to find a balance between the necessary study time and avoiding prolonged burnout and frustration with the exam.

Quality Practice over Excessive Hours

The notion of studying 80 hours a week is discouraged by Noor due to the potential for burnout and diminishing returns. It is far more effective to maintain a reasonable and sustainable study schedule.

Even with a three-month study period, it is essential to avoid excessive practice and prioritize quality over quantity. Noor highlights the experience of her co-instructor who encountered a score decrease due to overwhelming practice without adequate review and improvement time.

Optimal Study Hours per Week

For most students, a study period of three months is common. However, Noor advises against studying excessively, even within this timeframe. To maintain a healthy balance, Noor recommends treating MCAT preparation as a full-time job with a maximum of 40 hours per week. This approach allows for focused and dedicated study while preventing burnout and ensuring sufficient time for review and improvement.

'People with the healthiest mindsets are the ones that are realistic with their practice… they try to make sure that every hour of their practice is quality over quantity.'Click To Tweet

Quality Practice Prevents Burnout

  • It is important to prioritize quality over quantity in your MCAT preparation to avoid burnout. Burning out can have a negative impact on your motivation and performance. Even if you believe you are immune to burnout, it is crucial to be cautious.
  • Everyone experiences some level of MCAT burnout, but those with a healthy mindset approach their practice realistically and ensure that every hour is focused on quality rather than sheer quantity.

Optimizing MCAT Prep: The Power of Spaced Repetition and Passage Sets

    • Noor emphasizes the importance of spaced repetition in MCAT preparation. While flashcards are a common tool for spaced repetition, it is also crucial to incorporate this approach into the types of questions practiced.
    • As time progresses and topics studied earlier may start fading from memory, intentional spaced repetition becomes necessary. Noor suggests regularly incorporating practice from various topics over time. This ensures continuous exercise of knowledge and application in passage sets, which are a key component of the MCAT.
'Make sure you're intentional about your spaced repetition... incorporate practice from all these different topics over time, so that you are still exercising your knowledge.'Click To Tweet
  • By implementing spaced repetition techniques, test-takers can reinforce their understanding and retention of key concepts. This approach involves revisiting and practicing previously learned material at strategic intervals to optimize long-term memory and improve performance on the MCAT.
  • Whether through flashcards or practicing different types of questions, spaced repetition plays a vital role in solidifying knowledge. Because it enhances the ability to apply that knowledge effectively in passage sets.

Balancing Success and Wellbeing

  • Noor understands the dilemma faced by students who contemplate pushing back their MCAT exam date due to the intensity of their study plans. She acknowledges that if a study plan requires an unrealistic amount of time, such as studying 12 hours a day, it may be a sign to reconsider the timing of the exam.
  • Noor highlights the importance of not pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion and burnout, as our brains have limited capacity. She stresses the importance of assessing your study plan over time. Evaluate whether the expectations and workload are becoming overwhelming. If it becomes clear that the current timeline is no longer feasible or sustainable, consider pushing the exam to the following year.
  • It is crucial to prioritize mental well-being. Forcing yourself to study excessively for extended periods can lead to burnout, which ultimately hinders effective preparation.
  • Noor’s insights remind students to be mindful of their own limitations and to make decisions that prioritize long-term success rather than short-term pressure. By reassessing the testing timeline and adjusting study plans accordingly, students can ensure they have a balanced and manageable approach to MCAT preparation.

Embracing Support: Seeking Help During MCAT Preparation

The Importance of Asking for Help

Noor highlights the common tendency among aspiring medical students to self-isolate and avoid seeking help when facing challenges. She emphasizes that even those with top scores have likely experienced moments of faltering and have benefited from assistance in some form.

'Even the smartest people that you see with the top scores... they faltered. They probably needed help in some way.'Click To Tweet

Noor challenges the notion that successful individuals must navigate their journey alone, stating that some of the most accomplished people she has encountered are those who have sought support.

Overcoming the Middle Trenches

Noor acknowledges that while students may initially feel confident and capable, the middle stage of MCAT preparation can be particularly challenging. It is during this phase that the path forward may feel obscured, causing overwhelming feelings of uncertainty. Noor suggests a shift in perspective and encourages students to consider how readily they would extend help to a friend or family member in need. By recognizing the value of support from others, students can overcome feelings of isolation and find renewed motivation.

The Power of Moral Support

Noor affirms that seeking help does not diminish one’s capabilities but rather contributes to personal growth. She emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with individuals who provide moral support and understanding. 

'Having that moral support is not going to hurt you in any way. It's only going to help you and it's going to make you feel less alone and less isolated'Click To Tweet

Your trusted supporters may not fully comprehend the intensity of the MCAT journey, but their presence can offer validation and rejuvenation. Noor encourages students to embrace the opportunity to share the experience with loved ones, as their moral support can be a valuable resource throughout the process.

Is There Such Thing as Too Much Practice Materials?

Noor advises against the common temptation to accumulate an excessive amount of MCAT practice materials. She urges students to conduct thorough research and select a few high-quality resources based on reviews or recommendations from trusted sources. It is crucial not to overwhelm oneself with numerous resources that cannot realistically be completed.

Studying Core Concepts

When it comes to content review, Noor emphasizes that the core concepts tested on the MCAT remain consistent across different resources. While resources may present information in slightly different ways, the fundamental content remains the same. Therefore, there is no need to exhaustively go through multiple resources in the hope of discovering new information. Instead, students should focus on choosing one or two resources that align with their learning preferences and stick with them.

'Just choose one to two resources and that's it. Please do not overwhelm yourself with so many resources because you're not gonna get through all of them.'Click To Tweet

Quality over Quantity on Your Practice Questions

Noor also addresses the tendency to prioritize quantity over quality when it comes to practice questions. She suggests that simply completing a vast number of practice questions without analyzing them thoroughly is counterproductive. It is essential to prioritize understanding and learning from practice questions rather than mindlessly accumulating large volumes of them.

Quality practice and thoughtful analysis of performance are more valuable than sheer quantity.

Reflecting on her own experience, Noor expresses gratitude for having chosen only two resources to study from. Even with just those two resources, she found herself unable to cover all the material they contained. This highlights the depth and comprehensiveness of well-selected resources.

Noor assures students that achieving a top score on the MCAT does not hinge on amassing every available resource. Many high-scoring individuals have achieved success using just one resource.


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