Lists Medical School Premed

How to Study for the MCAT Volume 1

Since I’ll be getting busier and busier, I have begun recruiting some guest posts. Especially for you premeds, which I have been neglecting-since all of my posts have been about medical school. So you’ll see some of my buddies from undergrad posting on different things.
Today is Jenna’s post. She’s about to start her senior year and just submitted AMCAS and AACOMAS this summer! She took the MCAT back in January and she has compiled an awesome list of things to do- and not do- to study for it! Here ya go!
I laughed when Andi asked me to write about the MCAT because she knows how much disdain I have for this test, but I’m happy to do it! No doubt, the MCAT is the worst. Both the studying leading up to it and the test itself are brutal but I think it’s important to not let it consume you in complete misery. If you’re hoping to read about how to totally dominate the MCAT or very detailed study plans, fair warning that this is not either of those things. Instead, here are a few general points that helped me and that I’d do again if I had to start over at the beginning.

  • Carefully consider your test date. I took the MCAT this January so I wouldn’t have to worry about classes at the same time, and also to leave room for a second attempt this summer if necessary (it wasn’t). You want to give yourself a good amount of time to prepare, and make sure that you’ll actually use that time! I made a mistake in blowing off my plan to begin studying in mid-October and didn’t start until Christmas break. Oops! I’d choose January again though.


  • Find a routine. I was home in Tulsa for the holidays and then at OBU with a few other MCAT-takers for the last 3 weeks before my test. My studying at school was much more productive than at home because I made a plan and stuck to it. Every day was the same:

–   9-12: review with flashcards.
–   12-1: lunch. Sometimes we stretched this to 1:30 for sanity.
–   1-5: practice problems/tests.
–   5-7: back to the apartment, make dinner, take a break.
–   7-9 (sometimes 10 or 11): more practice.
–   sleep, repeat.
I hope you can sense the immense *joy* I was experiencing during this time. It was hard and boring and exhausting, but it got easier as it became habitual. The same will be true if you space out your studying over 2 or 3 months instead of cramming in a few weeks like I did.

  • Review (duh), but not excessively. Reviewing is obviously a crucial part of studying for the MCAT, unless you never forgot the Henderson-Hasselbach equation and whatnot. The reality is that there’s no way to know everything covered on the MCAT. My strategy was to focus on the basics/broad themes and not worry about the special scenarios that are only true if x, y, and z happen on a Thursday when it’s raining (organic chemistry reactions, anybody??). Everyone I know who’s taken this wretched test has felt underprepared going into it, so if you feel that way, you’re not alone.

I was (am) bad at physics. I still joke that the only thing I learned from two semesters of it was F = ma and how to deal with failure. Probably 60% of my review was physics. Starting with the subjects you don’t do well with allows you to go back and review them several times leading up to the test date. Physical sciences was still my worst section despite devoting so much time to it, but that alone is an indicator that it’s what I needed to do. If you don’t particularly struggle in one subject more than another, then of course a more balanced subject review would be beneficial to you to maintain or improve understanding.

  • Practice so much that AAMC should hire you to write MCAT questions. Looking back, this was the single best thing I did. MCAT questions are generally written in ways that most people don’t encounter in undergraduate exams. Repetition is your best friend and it really builds confidence that you can figure out exactly what the question is asking because you’ve seen similar ones in the past.

I decided to be at OBU for the second half of break because they offer an MCAT “prep course” that’s really just independent study (no teacher instruction involved) with access to a good collection of full-length tests and individual practice sections. Also, Andi offered me her review books, and each of them had a few practice tests (she’s a kind soul, folks). Chances are you have friends in grades ahead of you who no longer need what they used, so ask around! Otherwise, I know that buying prep books from Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. and practice tests directly from AAMC is expensive, but it’s more expensive to take the MCAT twice because the first time you weren’t very familiar with the question styles.

  • Try a few test strategies and pick one to stick with. Do this early in your studying so that you’ve established your preferred method long before test time. I remember reading a ton of ideas on the best way to take the test and it was overwhelming. I settled on answering all stand-alone questions first and then doing the passages in the order presented. I tended to do remarkably better on the stand-alones and I wanted to give myself the best chance to answer them without rushing.

For verbal reasoning, I remember trying one method that involved skimming the passages while writing a short summary sentence for each paragraph. Then, the passages are ranked from easiest to hardest and completed in that order. That stressed me out like no other, so I decided to just use the highlight tool occasionally and do the passages in the order presented because it was simple. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you’re good at executing it and that it’s actually helpful to you.

  • Do other things. Especially anything physical. I ran a few times and I should’ve done it more often. A couple of us took the night off to play some tennis and we had a blast laughing at our lack of athleticism one night. Other times, we watched trashy TLC shows or saw a movie. Don’t stop your life completely to study for this test. It’s refreshing to spend time with your favorite people, so make them a priority! Even if it’s just an hour here or there.

And a few quick things I would change/improve:

  • Don’t cram. It made the whole thing more stressful than it needed to be. Looking back, I would’ve much rather studied less intensely for a longer time.
  • Minimize complaining. I wasted too much time on negative talk. If you want to be a doctor, you have to take this test. Keep it in perspective that this is a temporary burden.
  • Stay in the loop. This kind of goes with my “doing other things” point, but if you can’t do fun things with family/friends, at least make an effort to talk on the phone or email or whatever floats your boat. Studying = isolation, and that can wear on you. I would do a much better job of this if I had to go back!

So there you have it! I know none of these are groundbreaking ideas or anything but that was my experience with the MCAT. Also, I know AAMC is adding biochemistry, statistics, and psychology/sociology effective April 2015. Unsolicited advice for anyone wanting to start medical school in 2016: if you feel like you can prepare well enough for it, take the current version. It’s offered every month from now through January 2015, except December. I took a trial section of the new MCAT, and I don’t really have any comments other than I was already mentally exhausted after just the three scored sections.
Lastly, to be totally transparent with you, I scored a 27 (7 PS/10 VR/10 BS). I realize I might have just lost some credibility to some pre-meds since there’s nothing particularly special about my score, but I am perfectly fine with being average (my GPA is also very middle-of-the-road). Sure, I benefit from living in Oklahoma in this regard since many schools in more populous states require 30+ scores for “competitive” applicants, but your MCAT score is not the only thing considered by admissions no matter where you apply. Since I’m just now applying, I can’t attest to getting into medical school with less than top-of-the-class stats, but Andi has already written a few thoughts on that 🙂

Application Process Family Medical School


Preparations for family vacation are well underway! Since all three of us “daughters” are rarely in the same state anymore, our vacation is always more complete when everyone can go so we opted to go somewhere close while everyone is here! To the lake it is! We were going to camp but it looks like thunderstorms are in the forecast so we booked a lodge in the state park. Vacations with my nieces are the best because I get to be like a kid again. I just show up when the food is ready, eat, and then go play again. Haha!
Other than that, summer is pretty calm. I’m feeling much better, and not worrying about AMCAS, AACOMAS, letters of recommendation or anything like that like I was last summer.
To anybody who is there right now, or will be there in the next couple years-
1. I suggest staying organized. AMCAS and AACOMAS (and I’m sure the Texas application service) are organized by tabs so I always organized related papers in the same way. I had folders with tab dividers that helped a lot.
2. Print and save a copy of everything. I typed all my “activity descriptions” in a word document and saved it. That way I could email it to everyone I knew, which I did for my next tip…
3. PROOFREAD, proofread, proofread. I had several people edit over everything I submitted. That included personal statement, the CV I had to make for my premed committee letter, my activities and work experience- all of it.
4. Make “letter writer” packets- I printed a copy of my CV, my personal statement, and the AMCAS or Interfolio instructions for submitting a letter an addressed and stamped envelope just in case they decided to submit their letter that way all in a nice crisp Manila envelope with each letter writer’s name on it. I thought the extra effort and thought would look nice and make sure that they put some thought into it, since I made it look important. I also put a $5 Starbucks card inside a handwritten thank you card in with it. I didn’t want it to reflect as a bribery technique or anything but you could send it separately if you think that far ahead. My card was thanking them in advance for thinking of me to write the letter but mostly I thanked each of my letter writers for their role as a mentor in my premed career. (I sent another thank you card promptly after I saw that they had uploaded their letters). I’ve never written a letter of recommendation for anyone. Maybe most of them do consider it an honor to use their credentials to help you in your goals, but if they do a lot of them, I imagine it gets sort of hard to write something original. Plus, if you look at this way, they take time out of their busy workday to spend time doing something for you, so being overly grateful isn’t really possible. I was shadowing one of my letter writer docs one day and he actually asked me to go shadow someone else while he went to lunch and wrote my letter! He was glad to do it, but it just puts it in perspective.
5. Thank everyone who helps you. I think it’s a good habit to write handwritten thank you’s and I got a lot of practice last summer! Thank people who proofread for you, thank your mentors, thank your professors, thank your parents, etc.
6. Submit ASAP. Make sure it is complete, well-written, no mistakes, and represents YOU. Once those are checked off, don’t obsess any more about it. Just turn it in!
7. If you’re applying DO through AACOMAS, I used interfolio. It just seemed a lot more streamlined and efficient. I paid $6 for the one-year subscription and all my letters were available to OSU for as many copies as they needed, and instead of having to fret about if my letter writer sealed and sent the envelope right, on the right letterhead, etc. (The schools are rarely particular to the letter writers about how they send it anyway because they know they are busy) and they can’t bother you about it because you didn’t write it!
I feel your pain, Juniors-now-Seniors. Your apps will be in before you know it and you will be prepping for interviews!
Good luck!