Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Preparing for the MCAT: An Overview

Decide if you want to take a prep course.

This is a decision that you have to make for yourself. I don’t endorse or oppose prep classes, but I did take a Princeton Review class, which was the right decision for me. (This blog is not sponsored by the Princeton Review. I've also heard great things about Kaplan. And I know people who scored 40+ without taking any course.)
My reasoning was: 1) It had been 2+ years since I took Gen Chem and Bio, and I couldn’t remember any of that stuff; 2) I couldn’t take Physics II before I took the MCAT, so I basically needed to learn all of Physics II in a few weeks; and 3) I was in summer school, volunteering, and working part time; going to the class forced me to study at least 4 days a week when I was extremely busy.
These classes are very expensive; if you don’t think you need the review, don’t waste your money. If you can’t afford to take a prep class, you can find a set of Princeton Review or Kaplan books at Half Price Books or on Amazon. Prep classes are a luxury, not a necessity.

Get access to practice tests.

The most important thing you need to do is to get access to online practice tests. You need to take online tests because you'll take the MCAT on a computer and you should get used to it. There are features like highlighting, crossing out answers, and marking questions to come back to; these are really useful and you should learn how to use them to your advantage. Plus, you get your test score immediately, along with the ability to review which questions you got wrong (and why). 
Online practice tests come with prep courses. If you don’t take a prep course, you can buy practice tests on the AAMC website. And I’m almost certain you can buy access to Princeton Review and Kaplan online tests without taking the class. (I don’t know about pricing.)

Start reviewing & practicing.

I do NOT recommend studying for the MCAT. I suggest that you review, not study, each subject broadly, and then start taking practice tests as often as possible. Or just start taking practice tests.
Remember: most of the MCAT is in the form of passages. Knowing how to take the test is key. The MCAT doesn’t test what you’ve memorized; it shows medical schools how your brain works. It tests your ability to make associations, draw logical conclusions, and spot errors.
This means that what normally works for you will not work for the MCAT. Don't waste time making study guides. I know. Believe me, I have a color-coded highlighting system, I understand. But just stop. Put down your highlighter. It can't help you with this. 
Use your mistakes on practice tests and passages to guide you. Study ONLY the topics that you consistently have trouble with, and study by reviewing the passage or question, then figuring out where you went wrong. You cannot B.S. your way through the MCAT—you actually need to be comfortable reading passages and using them to answer questions. They only way to be comfortable doing that is by practicing.

Basic tenets of MCAT-taking:

1)   Look for Wrong Answers. Don’t look for the correct answer! Find answers that you know are wrong and cross them out. (Obviously the goal is to cross out 3.)
2)   Read the Passages and the Questions Quickly but Carefully. Once you misread a question, it's very unlikely that you’ll catch your mistake. Read it correctly the first time.
3)   Use the 10-Minute Orientation to Write Down Equations. During the time they give you to practice using testing tools, write down every equation you need on your scratch paper. Do this when you take practice tests and write them down in the same order every time. This will become a habit, and habits are much easier to remember than facts on test day. I created a master list of equations that I knew I’d need. After each practice test, I compared what I was able to write down during the 10 minutes to my master list to figure out which equations I was forgetting.

What Helped Me:
·      Take practice tests at the same time you will take the actual MCAT (8 am or 1 pm). Get used to using your brain intensely at that time every day. This tip is probably the most important one that I can give you. Just do it.
·      Take the entire test, in the correct order, with breaks, every time. This includes the writing section! (Bonus: both of the writing prompts on my actual MCAT were ones that I had done on practice tests—I didn’t even have to think of new examples. You might get lucky, too.)
·      Wear earplugs or head phones. If you plan to bring your own earplugs (I did), get used to having them in. If you’re going to use the noise-reduction headphones they supply, wear some at home, too. I suggest using one of the two options for sure. You never know if someone in your testing room will have bronchitis; don’t let someone else’s noise distract you from taking your test.
·      Figure out which foods give you the right amount of energy. I found a protein bar I really liked and always ate half during the first break and the other half between Writing and Physical Sciences. I also needed a jolt of caffeine to overcome my 3:30 pm energy dip, so I drank ½ a soda before Verbal. The goal is to give your brain what it needs. Don't go nuts with caffeine or anything else. (Especially not anything that is not legally prescribed for you to take.)
·      Go to the testing center a few weeks before your test date. Park, go inside, walk to the bathroom, and look at the testing room. Now you know if it’ll take 5 minutes or 20 to park (my testing center was downtown on like the 16th floor of a building). You can also ask them if they allow you to bring an unopened package of earplugs (apparently this varies between testing centers, but I was allowed to).

A final note: Once you are really good at taking the test (you score double digits on every section on multiple practice tests), then you can start trying to memorize facts. I would absolutely not move on to this step until you are already getting a respectable score. If you get a 10 or higher in all 3 sections, you have an extremely good chance of getting into medical school. I would get yourself to this point before you start worrying about the isoelectric points of major amino acids. The chances of you seeing that question are very slim. Learn how to read the passages first.
(This topic is, of course, really important and there is a lot I could add. I will definitely write more on this in the future.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Questions? Comments?