I am a junior and trying to plan to take my MCAT next semester. I am stressed about planning as I want to go about it the right way and don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’t want to regret a couple months in the way I have been prepping for the exam leaving me underprepared. Kaplan course? Self study? I would love any and all advice
I know it can be very stressful getting started with all things MCAT. Just you asking about where to start is a great start in itself. Everyone goes about studying for the MCAT differently so please take this advice with a grain of salt. This is how I personally started studying for it based on the advice I got from my other pre-med friends! NOTE: this is a quick guide of how to SELF-SRUDY for the MCAT. It doesn’t account for a course.
I first created a studying spreadsheet based on every day leading up to my MCAT. First thing I did was make note of any days I knew I wouldn’t be able to study (holidays, important events, family and friends obligations etc.). Next, pick a day every week that would be your rest day. This would be a day where you don’t do anything mcat related at all to avoid burnout. Make note of these days first. Then, count the remaining days you have left. You should ideally have 3-6 months allotted for study days. Everyone is different and goes at their own pace, you know yourself the best. I had only 2 months allotted and thought it was fine. I regret it so much, don’t rush yourself.
After you figure out the above, time to take a free diagnostic. This can either be found via the Blueprint, Kaplan, or The Princeton Review (TPR) websites. I would recommend doing the Blueprint half-length because it’s a quick way to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Once you’ve done that, time to start studying. If you get over a 128 off the bat, it’s probably a good indicator that you might not need to study as much as a section where you get a <126. Also, I got no where near a 128 on my diagnostic and this is the norm! That’s why it’s called a diagnostic!
I would then find a 3rd party set of content books (I used the Kaplan set but there are so many others, TBR etc.). Divide the chapters out throughout your schedule. Everyone spreads it out differently depending on your strengths and weaknesses. I personally didn’t read two of the books entirely. Everyone is different. I would read 1-3 chapters a day depending on length and the time you have allotted for studying in a given day. I wouldn’t recommend doing more than 3 though; quality over quantity is a big theme with MCAT studying.
During this time you should download anki and a few flashcard sets. I recommend Milesdown to get started with. Just Google it and it will pop up! I would do 20-50 new cards a day at this point. If you have more time available, you can increase that.
Also during this time, don’t just do content without throwing some practice problems throughout. Don’t overdue to but it is good to drill some practice within content review. I regret not doing this more.
I would also take one or two full length during this time just to get exposure of timing and how the structure is from 3rd party sources (these should still be free from Blueprint and Kaplan). Don’t worry about the score yet because you haven’t finished content!!
After content review (although you are never really done with content review), it’s time to do practice problems. Out of every resource to buy, one I would HIGHLY recommend is UWorld. There is over 2000+ practice problems and amazing explanations. At this time, you should create a anki deck or a spreadsheet and keep track of all the mistakes/things you didn’t know in the explanations. Go over that or do the anki cards at the end of the day. This is what I regret the most. Don’t rush through UWorld. Some people take 1-2 months on UWorld alone.
During this time! Start taking 3rd party full lengths sporadically. Once every two weeks is a good recommendation. I did one every week because I was on a time crunch.
After you finish UWorld and/or have a 1.5 months left, I would purchase AAMC official prep bundle. I would spread out the questions so that you finish all the questions by the last week of your preparation. Do the same thing with anki for AAMC material as you did for UWorld. At the 6ish week left mark, I would also switch over to AAMC full lengths. There are now 6 of them. THIS IS IMPORTANT. MAKE SURE YOU DO THEM ALL!
During the last week leading up to your exam, focus on your weaknesses strategically. If you can’t fix in within a week, skip the topic and improve on something you can. Get a good night sleep every day that week.
Notes on taking full lengths: do them under conditions you would have during the actual exam. Don’t search stuff up on Google during them. You’re only cheating yourself. I would also recommend eating and taking the breaks as you expect to do during the actual day. Also, it’s important that on a full length day, don’t do any other studying on that day. Taking a full length is already very exhausting at times, you should study on top on it to avoid burnout. Don’t review your full length the same day you take it either. Again, avoid burnout. Review your full lengths the day after you take them IN DEPTH. Do the anki/spreadsheet strategy again. This is how my weekly schedule would be for reference: Monday-Thursday study, Friday take full length under testing conditions, Saturday review full length, Sunday rest day.
Notes of CARS: from the absolute start, you should be doing 3-5 CARS passages every day if that is your lowest section, which was the case for me. Another thing I regret so much. Do it every study day.
Notes about studying: If you aren’t improving, change your strategy. If you’re not improving or at the range you want after a few AAMC full lengths, consider pushing back your exam date. Another thing I absolutely regret. A miracle is not going to happen if you’re scoring at a 505 and want a 515+ in a few weeks. Be honest with yourself. I wish I was.
Note about mental health: This is the most crucial advice: be kind with yourself, physically and mentally. If you feel burnt out, stop studying for a few days and come back at full speed. If you’re having depressive thoughts, reach out to a support system or a professional. A support system is crucial. I would also 100% include some form of meditation every day and exercise. I found a mantra I really liked and would repeat it every morning before I started studying. I would also meditate at night before I went to sleep as well.
I think I’m going to wrap the post up because it’s way longer than I wanted it to be haha, but the last piece of advice I will give is, THERE IS AN END. Your test day will come and you will go in there confident based on your studying, and doing amazing! If you don’t, you can always just retake it, no shame in that either.
Again, this is just one way to approach the MCAT. Please reach out if you have any questions!
- Mary Show, PMH Advisor