Categories
Blogging Life Medical School

Second Verse, Same as the First

I have started my second year of medical school. I’m actually two and a half weeks in.
I’m still in the classroom, but since only years 1 and 2 are done on campus, it gives all of us MS-2’s this false sense of being “top dogs”. We’ve been showing the first years around all summer, and now we can pop backs so we think we are some hot stuff. Then the dream stops and we wake up to the nightmare reality every morning that we still actually only know very little and boards loom on the horizon like that scene in Apollo 13 where the astronauts are all walking toward the space ship dramatically. Will we all just burst into flames and never make it there?! Will we get halfway to the moon and then freeze to death?! Will we make it home to our lives and loved ones triumphantly?!
NOBODY KNOWS!
Sometimes I don’t feel like walking forward towards that spaceship. It seems like too great of a risk. Studying for the MCAT depleted my gumption reserves. It gave me mono and walking pneumonia and insomnia and anxiety and the sweats and nightmares. I always felt like crap, just completely run down for that 6 weeks or so I studied; only surviving by way of coffee and sonic drinks. Now that such conditions are normal for me as a medical student, I wonder how preparing for my tortuous first round of boards will plague me.
Okay, think happy thoughts! That test is not til next June and I am loving school for the most part. The transition back into a routine is always a little rough after a break though. Especially with the added change of living situations.
I moved out from living with my parents back in July. I live much closer to school now, with two classmates. My house turned out just the way I wanted it! (Easy to say when your dad is the contractor.) It’s cute and cozy and it felt like home right away. Though it was still hard to move out permanently- even at 23.
I think I got burned out being at the school all the time last year, so I study at my new house a lot more so far this semester. Since all of my roommates are medical students, (which I highly recommend doing!) noise is never a problem, and I get a lot done at home. Sometimes I think I live by myself, it’s so quiet!
It’s strange how my study habits change so quickly and seamlessly when I’ve been doing this school thing for so many years.
I want to do a study doing a functional MRI on medical students’ brains before first year and then after they graduate. Just to see what the heck goes on up there. I think it probably actually gains mass from sheer info and also probably starts to just fritz out on occasion during important situations especially. It would also be great to do a study on how many words we read a day or some other way to quantify the vast amounts of information that pass through in ear and out the other.
I’m also open to writing a book or piloting a TV show about the medical school experience if anyone with money or power is reading this. Its the most exciting thing I’ve ever been through, which is sort of sad because the majority of what I do is sit there. However, when asked, I bet money that YOU, Regular Joe, would like to see the process of taking a mostly kind and hardworking (but still dumb) person and turning them into a wonderful, knowledgable doctor- I think Regular Joe would want to see that. It’s got everything:
Romance-there IS dating in med school
Roller coaster of emotions- test grades, fake patients, and prostate exams, oh my!
Drama/Tension- “They said we would have 2 full hours, not 1 hour 50 minutes for this test!”
Fun/Action- med students have been known to throw a nice formal ball AND get down in sand volleyball. That’s riveting stuff!
If fishing for crabs in Alaska gets a show, medical school should have a show.
That’s all for now!
Eat, class, study, run, sleep, repeat!

Categories
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!
Jenna—————————–
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 🙂