Given the amount of material the test covers, preparing for the MCAT can definitely seem overwhelming. There is no doubt that you will have to spend many hours preparing, but those hours aren’t maximally beneficial unless you manage your time appropriately. Below are four ways to ensure you get the most out of your MCAT preparation time.
1. Create an individualized study schedule
Before you begin reviewing, take some time to create a study schedule specifically tailored to you. Be honest with yourself when making this schedule, and keep it realistic (i.e. if you feel like you don’t get any productive studying done after eight hours, then don’t schedule 10-hour study sessions). Include all of your other commitments in this schedule (classes, work, research, volunteer activities, etc.) so you can have an idea of how much time you’ll really have available for studying each day. Most importantly, individualize this schedule by prioritizing your weaker subject areas. Here are some great MCAT practice tests to help you with your studies. If you’ve always had more trouble with organic chemistry, kinetics, and thermodynamics, for example, then make sure you devote more time to these topics. To balance it out, schedule slightly less time for subjects with which you’re more comfortable. There is no cookie-cutter schedule that will work for every student, so invest some time beforehand into making a schedule that will work the best for you. Here are 5 random items to help you study that you may find useful.
2. Schedule in flex days
This is an incredibly helpful strategy that will not only help with your MCAT preparation, but also continue to help you throughout medical school. When making your study schedule, mark off about one day every two weeks as a “flex day.” If you’re behind in your schedule, which almost invariably happens, use the flex day to catch up on reviewing material. If, by chance, you are still on schedule, use part of the day to study your weaker subjects, and take the rest of the day off to give your mind some much-needed rest.
3. Schedule in time off
Be careful with this one. Scheduling time off is often more beneficial than scheduling in entire days off. Of course, you need time to not only rest, but also get your mind off of studying and unwind. However, sometimes taking entire days off can make it difficult to get back “in the zone” the following day, and you may consequently end up losing even more than a full day’s worth of study time. Instead, try scheduling at least one lighter day each week where you study for about one-third to half the time you do on a normal day. This way, you ensure that you make some progress each day of your prep period and that you keep your momentum going. Remember, the MCAT is longer than many other standardized tests, so training yourself to think for long periods of time is vital. Consistently reviewing material helps build your mental stamina and ensures that you stay on pace with your schedule. So, elect to take time off to relax and unwind; don’t interrupt your study with entire days off if it can be avoided.
4. Prioritize extracurricular activities
Pre-med students are often involved in much more than just academics. Research, volunteer work, leadership roles, and other extracurricular activities can take up almost all of your spare time as a busy pre-med. However, it’s important to put your best foot forward when preparing for the MCAT, as this test can single-handedly sometimes mean the difference between getting an interview or not at many top medical schools. Before your MCAT prep period, take some time to really map out and evaluate the extracurricular activities with which you’re involved. Aim to prioritize a few of them, the ones you are most passionate about, and maintain your involvement in them during your study period. Here are a few great tips on how to choose your extracurricular activities. This will not only show admissions committees that you’re able to handle the academic rigors of a full course load along with the MCAT, but will also give you a much-needed stress outlet. It’s equally important to scale back your involvement in groups you aren’t as passionate about that just simply take up your precious time. Realize that this only has to be a temporary measure, and you can pick up your involvement after you are finished with the MCAT.
The crux of the matter is this: preparing for the MCAT is not easy. It not only requires a significant amount of time, but to be successful, you must ensure that your time is managed correctly. Aim to individualize your review process based on your strengths and weaknesses, schedule in flex days and time off, and evaluate and modify your outside commitments so you can put all your effort into the MCAT for a few months. The end result will be worth it.