How long in advance did you study for the MCAT and each day?
I began my studying for the MCAT in earnest approximately three months before my exam. I took the weekend off after my spring semester finals and then began studying for my test which was scheduled for the end of August. During the initial content review portion of my studying, I spent approximately 4 to 5 hours a night studying Monday through Friday. I would then spend the full day on Saturday (approximately 6-8 hours) and I would take Sundays off. Towards the end of my content review I began studying 5-6 hours a day seven days a weeks.
During the test prep portion of my studying I was taking a full length exam every three days. The other two days would be spent on review. I probably averaged 4 hours of studying a day during this portion of my studying. These hours only represent committed studying time and do not include reviewing during lunch, on the bus, or listening to audio osmosis.
I divided my studying into two distinct sections. I spent the first half of my summer on content review. During this time I primarily reviewed using the Examkrackers books and audio osmosis. I also referenced my college textbooks and Wikipedia.
The second half of my summer was spent on test preparation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the practice tests offered from AAMC. These tests are absolutely essential if you want to do well on the exam. All together (including AAMC 3 which is free) I spent about $235 dollars on these tests and they were worth every penny! If you have to choose between review books and AAMC practice tests, there is no doubt in my mind that you should but the tests.
The plan I followed
I planned my study schedule based on the Examkrackers method as well as the large amount of data on studentdoctor.net. I initially struggled with what method I would use to study. Some information recommended beginning early with verbal reasoning, others recommended a content review for the science sections and a few others recommended taking practice tests and reviewing only the content which you missed. All of the plans I read about seemed to have pros and cons and after a while my head started to spin!
I decided to take AAMC 3 as a diagnostic test the first weekend of my summer of studying. This was really helpful in pinpointing my weaknesses specifically as they applied to the MCAT exam. This test had an added bonus: I did poorly! I scored about 10 points lower than I wanted to score on my real exam. While this was pretty unpleasant then, it was a great motivator when my friends were going to the beach.
I decided to begin my summer with content review and then ramp up my test prep the month before my exam. From my diagnostic test, I knew that verbal reasoning was my strong suit, while physics needed the most attention. I followed the Examkrackers method of reviewing their content books. On Monday night I would skim the chapters I would be covering that week and then on Tuesday I would read these chapters and take notes. Wednesday and Thursday I would spend on the problems from the 1001 problem books and on Friday I would listen to audio osmosis and review my notes from the week. On Saturdays I would take the 30 minute exams included in the Examkrackers materials and then review any concepts I was still having trouble with. Later in the summer this review would spill over into Sundays as well.
I followed a three day schedule when I was doing my test prep for the last month of my studying. On day one, I would take an AAMC exam under real conditions. I would pack a lunch, and I would go to a desktop computer where I would take the exam at the same time of day as my scheduled exam. I pretended that each exam was the real test. On day two, I would review the notes I took during the content review portion of the summer. Instead of trying to memorize facts at this point, I was trying to connect the material I had learned into a more cohesive network of information. Whenever I would review biology for example, I would attempt to draw connects to the chemistry and physics behind whatever I was studying. Since the exam mixes topics together, it seemed important for me to do this as well. Finally on day 3 I would review the exam I took on day 1. This would normally take about the same amount of time that it took to take the exam. It was important for me to review concepts which I had cleared not known and also I would read each question and try to look for the distractions and red herrings. I repeated this cycle for all seven of the remaining AAMC practice exams. I took my final practice exam 4 days before my real exam. This allowed me to have the day before my exam to myself. On this day I didn’t study at all. I literally woke up at 11am, worked out for a bit and then watched movies while lying on the couch. This was a huge help to my mood going into the exam. I knew I had prepared as well as I could prepare and this day really helped me clear my head.
On the day of my actual test, I prepared just as I had for the seven practice tests I took over the prior month. I packed the same food I ate during all of my tests, I wore the same clothes, and I drank the same amount of coffee. I was so nervous when I got to the exam that I was shaking, but when I started to read the tutorial the whole process felt just like a practice test. By the time physical sciences began, I was as calm as I had been during all of my practice tests. Immediately following my exam I went out to a grassy area by the river and I sat in the sun for about 20 minutes. I then spent the next month trying not to worry about how I had performed :).
What would I have done differently?
Overall I am pretty happy with how I studied, and I am certainly very happy with my score. If I could go back and do it all again, I think I would have spent more time early on drawing connections between the fields and more time not thinking about the MCAT. Towards the end of my studying I was pretty burnt out, and I even ended up gaining a couple pounds while studying. The stress certainly didn’t help me do my best, and I think a few extra hours of relaxation here and there would not have negative effected my test.
What I wish someone had told me before I began?
Don’t worry too much about the exam. It is big and scary, and really important, but as soon as you have finished taking it you realize that it really is just on the introductory material from your courses. I also wish someone was there to tell me that even when you are stressed out to keep studying and that once you finish the exam you will feel like the world has been lifted off of your shoulders. Do your best, work hard, and remember that this test won’t define you.
Written by Bobby D.
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