Your MCAT day is approaching—how should you maximize your last couple of weeks leading up to test day to make sure you get the best score possible? Here are some last minute MCAT study tips to help you rock it!
[01:43] Cramming vs Measured Approach
Students can go berserk with science content in those last few weeks, and this is really counterproductive. There are things you can do to shore up your score, but the biggest impact you could have would be negative if you went completely off the chain, drove yourself into a frenzy, and then collapsed on test day.
So the last few weeks should be a measured approach, focused on official AAMC full-length practice tests.Students can go berserk trying to cram science content in those last few weeks before the MCAT, and this is really counterproductive.Click To Tweet
[02:21] Four Weeks Before Test Day
The ideal arrangement is that you want to take the official AAMC practice tests, one per week, leading up to your test day. Since there are currently three scored and one unscored official AAMC practice test, you can start this process four weeks before your test date. On that day, take the AAMC Scored Practice Exam 1.
This strategy focuses around the AAMC practice tests because they are basically the best MCAT practice tests you can get. Some people in the premed world say the AAMC tests are infamously bad with their explanations, as they don’t actually help you analyze the question at all. And sadly, this is true. The AAMC obviously produces the real MCAT exam, so their practice tests are phenomenally good, except that the explanations leave a lot to be desired.
What Bryan does with his tutoring students in the last few weeks leading up to the exam is to let them take the AAMC practice exam, and then spend 2-4 days of full-time work pretending that the AAMC hired them to write the explanations for all 230 questions on the test—that level of analysis where you really dive deep into the thought process for the AAMC exam.
[Related episode: What Is the Best Way to Use the Official MCAT Practice Exams?]
[04:23] Three Weeks Before Test Day
Do the same thing with Official AAMC Scored Practice Exam 2 the next week, and really do a deep-dive into the reasoning and a really thorough analysis, pretending the AAMC has paid you to write complete explanations for the test.
If you need, you can also find better explanations of the official AAMC practice tests elsewhere. These are actually baked into the Next Step Online MCAT Course, where they’ve got a whole video series of Dr. Anthony explaining the test to you. So if you don’t have the time, you could use that resource.
But there is tremendous value in doing it yourself, so you can completely get your head in the game for how the AAMC thinks about how to write questions, passages, etc.
This doesn’t mean writing the explanation while you’re doing the test. First, take the test as a student and get your score. But afterward, once the pressure is off, start by reading what the AAMC has written as an explanation, and then expand on it. Research the answers when needed.
[05:05] MCAT Study Groups
If you’re still stuck, get an MCAT study group together. This would be an excellent use of study group time where you each kind of parcel out a portion of the test, write explanations for each other, and then teach each other that AAMC exam.
[06:55] The Home Stretch: One Week to Test Day
One week before your test day, take the unscored sample test. A lot of people claim they can tell you how to convert your percent correct on the sample test into a scaled score, but Bryan strongly recommends against doing this.
The unscored sample test was never normed. The AAMC never administered it to a statistically significant group of test takers, so any supposed estimation of your score based on the sample test is voodoo more than anything else.
Again, just take the unscored sample test and review it thoroughly during that last week. But don’t go berserk trying to review every single thing under the sun, and don’t try to guess what your score would be right at the very end.
The reason we save the sample test as the very last test is to just take the score off the table and take the anxiety out of it since it’s unscored anyway. There’s no need to freak out one week before the exam based on your score.The reason we use the unscored practice test as the very last practice test is to just take the score off the table and decrease anxiety.Click To Tweet
[08:18] Tips for Reviewing MCAT Content
When reviewing content for the MCAT, just pick three topics where if you saw a passage on that particular topic, your stomach would drop out from under you or get you sweating and palpitating.
Trying to review everything in those last two weeks before the MCAT means you’re going to be reviewing nothing. But if in these last two or three weeks you decide you’re going to hammer the heck out of electrochemistry, your amino acids, your enzymes, and your enzyme inhibitors, that’s very doable. You can review electrochemistry again and again and again, so if it shows up on test day, you don’t have that freak out/meltdown moment.Trying to review everything in those last two weeks before the MCAT means you're going to be reviewing nothing.Click To Tweet
[09:23] One Day Before Test Day
One day before your test day—do nothing.
You probably have developed an unhealthy relationship to test prep and so you will start shuffling around and scratching your forearm. If you absolutely have to do something, just put your feet up and casually flip through your flashcards. But no passages, no questions, no calculations.
As much as possible, do nothing. If that would freak you out, then review your notes in a really low-stress way.On the last day before your MCAT test date—do nothing.Click To Tweet
[10:14] MCAT Prep Is Like Running a Marathon
If you were to relate this to running a marathon, it’s like doing a taper, which is normally done before any competition. As Bryan puts it, human performance is performance, be it cognitive like the MCAT or physical and emotional like an actor, or physical like in athletics. Performance is the same in all those cases. Tapering off and easing your way into test day or game day would be the same.Preparing for the MCAT is like running a marathon.Click To Tweet
[11:25] More Last-Minute MCAT Tips
A lot of people tend to miss these things, but you have to maintain good sleeping habits, maintain a good diet, and always hydrate yourself because this may affect your cognition. Your brain is an organ in your body, so you’ve got to take care of your body if you want your brain to work correctly.
Get aerobic exercise. This doesn’t mean training for a half marathon, but get up and take a walk every day. Get sleep, water, and exercise. Find that healthy homeostasis.Your brain is an organ in your body, so you've got to take of your body if you want your brain to work correctly. Click To Tweet
Don’t Do Anything Crazy Leading up to Test Day
A common piece of MCAT advice is to get off caffeine. That’s fine if you can do it about three months ahead of time, but three days before the test you should not be changing your caffeine consumption at all.
If you take something like Adderall on test day and that’s not normal for you, it can give you a heart attack. Do not do anything that would disrupt your body’s normal homeostasis in the days and weeks before the test.Do not do anything that would disrupt your body's normal homeostasis in the days and weeks before the test.Click To Tweet
[13:00] Last Thoughts
Earlier we mentioned the lacking explanations on the AAMC exams. I’ve heard a couple of times from students going through Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)‘s course, and they’ve given me feedback that the explanations provided by Next Step are way above and beyond the explanations AAMC gives for their exams. Check out the Next Step’s online course.
The MCAT class is something Next Step took a long time to develop, with a hundred plus hours of videos laid out and centered around different topics. You can get access to ten of Next Step’s full-length exams and the AAMC material, as well as access to instructors with five different office hours every week. Check it out here.
Links and Other Resources
- AAMC Official MCAT Practice Materials
- Check out my book about the MCAT, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.
- Related episode: What Is a Competitive MCAT Score?
- Related episode: 3 Biggest Mistakes When Preparing for the MCAT
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” for 10% off Next Step full-length practice tests or “MSHQTOC” for $50 off MCAT tutoring or the Next Step MCAT Course at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!