We all study differently. Some people cram, waiting until the night before an exam to chug some coffee and camp out in the library, while others prepare steadily in the weeks leading up to the test. Regardless of how you prefer to approach an upcoming assessment, you need a plan for studying for the MCAT.
The MCAT exam is long and hard. Think of taking the MCAT like running a marathon. Most people couldn’t wake up one day and just go run a marathon. Instead, they generally train for months so that on race day, they can wake up and run their best time yet. For the MCAT, you will need to prepare so you can do your very best on test day. Here are some questions to think about when building your MCAT preparation schedule.
How much time do I have/am I willing to invest?
Are you planning on studying over a semester? If so, it is critical to think about what your other responsibilities will entail. Be realistic about how you will manage your job, university coursework, social life, etc. while studying. Would you rather dedicate a summer to preparing? If so, note any summer plans that might distract from studying and build a schedule around them. For example, I was able to study without interruptions for my MCAT because I took a family vacation in May and then studied from June until August.
Which resources do I plan on using?
Some people prefer the external structure of a course, be it online or in person (see: link Self-Study vs. MCAT Prep Course). If this is true for you, think about when you will review the content independently of the class so that the class is most useful to you. Should you opt to study using books and online videos like Khan Academy and Pixorize, consider how you will allot your time. Look up the run times and try to accommodate time for review and learning the material. This way, you can use all of the resources at your disposal most effectively.
What issues have I faced before when preparing for an exam?
Are you a procrastinator? Do you get anxious about exams? Nobody is perfect, but be sure that your study schedule acknowledges some of your weaknesses. For example, I knew that I am not good at taking care of myself when I get stressed. I ended up living at home while I studied, giving me a support system throughout the difficult process of preparing for the MCAT. However, during my last month of studying, I moved into a new apartment in a new city. To account for this, I tried to take the majority of my practice tests before I moved.
How will my study plan fit into my timeline for applying to medical school?
You should think about how your MCAT exam date fits into your timeline for med school. That is, will you have your score in a timely fashion? Will you have flexibility in your schedule to retake it should you need to? I took my exam in September, planning to apply the following spring. This ensured that I would be able to study through the fall/winter if the score was not what I wanted and still apply the following spring.
Regardless of what your answers to these questions are, be consistent, focused, and flexible about your MCAT study plan. You will rock it on test day if you follow an effective and targeted study plan that uses different resources (e.g. Kaplan, Princeton Review, ExamKrackers, Pixorize, Khan Academy) and fits into your life.