MCAT. Four letters almost all pre-meds hate hearing. For those who may not know, it stands for the Medical College Admissions Test and it’s the test you have to take to apply to medical school. The test is 7 hours long and tests everything you learned during undergrad. Although it can seem daunting and scary, it can be done.
Unlike the traditional pre-med timeline where you take the MCAT after your junior year of undergrad, I took it about 8 months after graduation and I studied for about 3 months. I had to work and commute over an hour each way, but if I could do it under those circumstances, so can you.
I was one of those first couple groups to take the “new” MCAT and there was so much uncertainty because even the test prep companies were trying to figure out this test! Also, my test was cancelled because of that massive snow storm that occurred on the east coast...the word “stressed” would be an understatement. I’ve had people ask me how I studied for it so, I just wanted to share some of my tips for tackling the test:
1. Do well in your pre-med courses. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it will help. The test makers want you to show what you learned! Even though you won’t remember every single thing you learned the last 3 to 4 years, the effort you put in will help decrease some of the anxiety you may have when it’s time to start studying.
2. Understand what you will be tested on. Check out the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) site as they have an entire resource telling you what concepts will be on the test. Get familiar with this website you will use it to apply for med school and throughout med school! (I will likely make a post about the actually application process in the future, so make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out!)
3. Devise a plan of action. Test prep company or self-study? There are a number of well-known companies including Kaplan, The Princeton Review, Examkrackers, and the Berkeley Review. I chose to pay for a test prep company because I wanted to have a plan laid out for me. They provided everything I needed. I know it’s a lot of money up front, but think of it as an investment in your future! If you can’t afford one of the larger test prep companies, check out some free resources including Khan Academy or MCATforme which actually has plans ranging from 3-6 months!
4. Make it a priority, but don’t stress too much. I know it’s easier said than done and there will be days where you get overwhelmed and anxious. Make sure you schedule time to relax, exercise, hangout with friends, and SLEEP! Self-care will always make you a better test taker.
5. Find a study buddy (or group). My best friend and I signed up for the same course and studied together periodically. I could not have done it without her because sometimes we just needed emotional support.
6. Don’t spend too much time studying content. LOL at that fact that one of my study tips is basically saying don’t study, but remember you have learned all of this before and it’s in your brain somewhere. I think this was one of my biggest mistakes. I thought I had to know everything and spent too much time reviewing. I should have spent less than one month going over content. Just review and move on.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Do as many practice questions/tests before your exam as you can. This is how you will learn what sitting for a 7-hour exam is like. Half of this exam is about endurance- train like an athlete. Prep company exams and AAMC are your keys to success. The AAMC exams are the most similar to the exam you will be take on test day so pay close attention to how the questions are set up and your score on these.
8. Dedicate at least 3 months to preparing for the exam. How much time you need will depend on several factors. If you have to work like I did, you may need a little more time. Don't worry just do what works best for you.
9. Don’t focus too much on little details. Yes, there are certain specific things you need to know like amino acids, chemistry and physics equations, but there is so much to memorize. Know the basics and I promise you will be able to apply it to passages.
10. Be confident. You are never going to feel 100% prepared to take this exam. Yes, it is an important aspect of your medical school application, but you can only do your best. Try hard and remember that you can do anything you put your mind to! Take a deep breath before each section and remember this will get you one step closer to your dream of becoming a physician!
Good luck and feel free to leave me any questions or comments. If you have taken the MCAT please leave any additional tips you think could be helpful to other pre-med students. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.