There are already a myriad of websites out there detailing ways to tackle the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Here are four things I think you should avoid for your own wellbeing, based on my own personal experiences. I have written this post with the assumption that you are already familiar with the test – if you aren’t, check out AAMC’s website for details.
1. Do not obsessively compare yourself to others
It can be very easy to feel discouraged when you go onto certain forums and compare your progress to other students. You do need to look at the cutoff and average scores for your desired schools, but don’t become obsessed with comparing your stats to other individuals. Just because John from Student Doctor Network says he “studies 26 hours a day, 9 months a week, and currently instructs an MCAT prep course without having yet taken the test” does not mean you are not doing enough.
Remember that the people posting their scores and grades are a self-selecting group and won’t always represent the average applicant. People have a tendency to vocalize their success more often than their failures.
2. Do not study all day, everyday
The MCAT may seem daunting, especially when you think about the weight of its importance on your future. This test is not life-or-death. It’s hard not to think you have to dedicate all of your time to studying. However, prioritizing your wellbeing is paramount to being in the right mental state to perform at your best. Studying for this test can feel extremely isolating at times, so make time to see your loved ones. Pencil in time to do non-med-school-related things to de-stress, such as exercise and other forms of self-care. No, going to the gym will not get you into medical school, but it’ll help keep you sane. Giving your brain breaks will benefit you so much more than non-stop studying.
3. Do not set unrealistic expectations
Set specific but achievable goals (e.g. “I will read chapters 3.1-3.3 of chemistry and do the corresponding problems, then take a break” VS “I will take a break once I finish 100 pages, 75 questions and crush 2 or 10 practice exams back-to-back”).
Give yourself wiggle room to modify your schedule. The last thing you want is to have a jam packed study plan that is overly restrictive and will cause you unnecessary stress if unforeseen circumstances occur. Be honest with yourself about whether your study methods are truly giving you the results you want. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense to keep trying the same method twice as hard – you’ll just be wasting your time. If you’ve been using flashcards for biology but you’re still averaging the same scores in that section, try something else.
4. Do not think there is a “right” way to study
Everyone has different learning styles, so find the one(s) that work for you and stick to a plan. Some people learn best through videos, others through rewriting content, making charts/diagrams/tables, and others through teaching. Whichever method you use, make sure you truly understand the concepts being taught. Try to avoid relying on rote memorization where possible. The only “wrong” ways to study would be not doing enough practice. A useful way of tracking your progress is frequently testing yourself (full length practice tests, question banks) rather than simply crossing off completed subjects from a list. Remember that the MCAT aims to test your critical thinking and comprehension skills. Some facts are definitely important to know, but its primary goal is not to test your content knowledge alone.
Good luck, I’m rooting for you!