Active Learning Hacks for MCAT Triumph

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MP 337: Active Learning Hacks for MCAT Triumph

Session 337

This week, we discuss active learning strategies for the MCAT – including flashcards, teaching others, and using practice questions to reinforce content.

We’re joined by Zasca 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.

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is any study technique that requires students to meaningfully engage with material rather than passively absorbing it. Active learning techniques includes teaching others, self-testing with flashcards or practice questions, and reflecting on feedback to improve understanding.

The Number One Mistake Students Make with MCAT Content Review

The biggest mistake students make with content review is passively reading materials like textbooks without engaging with the content through active learning techniques like practice questions.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make in their MCAT prep… is that they do too much content review and not enough practice.”

This leads to superficial understanding rather than true mastery of the concepts. The students simply absorb information like they would a novel, without critically thinking about or applying the concepts. And this does not adequately prepare them for the application-based questions on the MCAT.

Students need active learning techniques like practice problems and self-testing to cement their understanding and show they can successfully work through questions, not just recognize content.

Sometimes, people forget that the MCAT is an application test. The content that underlies a lot of the questions that the MCAT is testing is important, no doubt about that. But it’s also important to be able to apply that. However, you’re not going to learn how to apply that if you’re not doing practice.

“When you’re reviewing those questions, and you’re figuring out what things you’re maybe not as strong in, that is in itself a way to learn content.”

Effective Strategies to Review Content

The proper way to review content for the MCAT involves using active learning strategies for the majority of study time. It is important to spend time reading textbooks for initial exposure to material, but passive reading alone is not sufficient.

Students should engage with content through activities like teaching others, self-quizzing with flashcards, and practicing applying knowledge by working practice problems. 

These active techniques require deeper thinking and analysis compared to passive reading. It helps solidify understanding in a way that better prepares students for the application-based questions on the MCAT.

Regular practice is also a form of content review that can reinforce areas needing more work.

Active Study Techniques for MCAT Study Groups

Some effective active study techniques that can be used within a study group include:

Teaching concepts to peers – Having group members take turns teaching topics to each other requires in-depth understanding of material to explain it well. It also helps reinforce learning.

Collaborative practice questions – Working through practice problems and explaining reasoning/thought processes together engages multiple learning styles. Group members can also correct each other.

Making/reviewing flashcards as a group – Members can quiz each other and provide feedback on flashcard content and organization to strengthen retention of key details.

Drawing/diagramming processes – Visualizing concepts by drawing pathways, cell structures, etc. with peers makes abstract ideas more concrete.

Recommended Ratio of Active to Passive Learning for MCAT Preparation

While there is no single perfect ratio, as an general guideline Zasca recommends students aim for around 70% active learning and 30% passive learning in their MCAT preparation.

Active learning strategies that require applying knowledge and higher-order thinking (practice problems and teaching others) have been shown to better facilitate long-term retention compared to passive activities like re-reading.

It’s important to strike a balance. However, active engagement with the material through various techniques for the majority of study time will best prepare students for the application-based nature of the exam.

“There is a time and a place for some passive learning, but the majority of your learning for your ultimate success on the MCAT should be active.”

Active Learning Strategies for Effective MCAT Full-Length Exam Review

Some tips for effective active learning during full-length MCAT exam review include:

Analyze incorrect answers in detail.

It’s important to carefully examine incorrect responses and think critically about why the wrong answer was chosen. Note the topic or concept being tested so gaps in knowledge can be identified. Developing a specific plan to review weak areas helps focus studying.

Organize reviews by topic.

Grouping questions from a full-length by subject matter, such as biochemistry or sociology, allows patterns to emerge regarding content areas most challenging to apply. This recognition guides more targeted review.

“One of the biggest parts of full-length review is the fact that you are able to accumulate topics that you may not be as strong.”

Teach others difficult questions.

Explaining one’s reasoning for answers, right or wrong, to study partners involves explaining topics at a deeper level. The act of teaching strengthens own understanding of concepts.

Self-quiz on missed topics.

Creating flashcards with key details, formulas, or diagrams from topics often missed on a practice test provides an effective, active way to reinforce learning from review.

Reflect on test-taking strategies.

It’s important to consider where reflection on question stems or eliminating implausible options could have led to better performance, rather than relying on initial intuition which may be incorrect.

Prioritize review of content linked to many incorrect answers.

If a content area like genetics appears in questions missed most frequently, that subject likely needs more practice with application-based questions until it can reliably be applied on test day.

Developing a Multidimensional Understanding of MCAT Concepts

To truly master a topic, students need to develop a multidimensional understanding rather than just memorizing one perspective. For instance, draw diagrams or models from different angles to visualize all aspects.

Generate practice questions that approach topics in novel ways to strengthen flexible thinking. 

Discuss concepts with study partners and ask them to explain different viewpoints. Consider using 3D modeling or simulation programs if available to rotate structures mentally. When reviewing, consciously consider how the question could be rephrased or the scenario altered to test the same core concept.

“Studying things in different ways can help you expand a bit and understand things on a larger level.”

Challenging yourself with unconventional perspectives helps build a more robust knowledge base that can apply to unfamiliar situations on test day.

The Role of AI in Active Learning

According to Zasca, AI has the potential to enhance active learning for the MCAT in several ways.

Firstly, it can act as an additional study partner, taking on the role of a student for the user to teach. This enables independent studying through the active explanation of concepts.

Secondly, AI can generate additional practice questions on demand. By supplementing existing question banks with customized questions, AI can help reinforce content effectively. Additionally, AI can pose follow-up questions to challenge students’ understanding and fill gaps in knowledge during self-study. This emulates the collaborative discussion of a study group.

Lastly, AI can provide feedback on practice questions to help students identify weaknesses and direct further review, similar to the peer-review process in a group setting.

Final Thoughts

For students looking to optimize their MCAT studying, Zasca emphasizes the importance of experimenting with various active learning strategies to find what works best for the individual.

While concepts like flashcards and practice questions are commonly recommended, it’s also valuable to be open-minded about less traditional techniques using technology or other creative approaches.

The key message is to make the majority of study time active engagement with materials rather than passive absorption. 

Zasca’s last piece of advice would be to not get overwhelmed by all the options, but instead focus on continuously applying and improving upon one or two active methods at first to see good results.


Meded Media

Blueprint MCAT