Preparing for the MCAT

August 22, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Students kicking back at the Morogoro House It is hard to say how much weight the MCAT has when it comes to getting accepted into medical school, but one thing is for sure: the medical school admissions exam definitely plays a role in med school acceptance. With more riding on this exam than almost any other test you have taken, it is helpful to have a plan long before you take the exam. 

Starting freshman year

If you plan on attending medical school, you may know a little about the MCAT. It is the entrance exam required by medical schools before admission. Although studying for the exam this early in your pre-med career is not necessary, there are ways to prepare in your freshman year. Staying on top of your grades, especially in physical and biological science, will be helpful.  If you learn the material throughout your years of undergraduate study, you may be well prepared for the exam content.  

You can also prepare early in your college career by taking classes that improve your reading comprehension and reasoning skills. There is a verbal reasoning section on the MCAT. In this section, you will read various passages and answer questions that test your ability to make inferences based on what you read. It can be a little more difficult to prepare for this section since it does not involve memorizing facts or studying concepts. Taking certain classes, such as humanities and social science classes, may help improve reading comprehension and reasoning skills.

If you are wondering when you should take the test, the date depends on when you will be applying to medical school. If you plan to attend med school right after you complete your undergraduate program, taking the MCAT during the spring semester of your junior year may be a good idea. 

Three to six months before the test

It is best to give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the test. You would probably prefer not to cram all of your studying into the last few weeks before the exam. If possible, keep your schedule a little lighter for the three to six months preceding the exam in order to leave time for studying. This means that you should avoid taking the most time-intensive classes during this period. If you have a job, consider working fewer hours. It may also mean sacrificing a little downtime. You don’t have to clear your schedule completely, but lightening it up a bit can ease stress.

One important way to prepare for the MCAT is to know what to expect. This may not stop you from being nervous, but it could ease your fears a bit. The MCAT is a multiple-choice test. It is divided into different sections including physical sciences, verbal reasoning, and biological sciences. A writing sample, which was part of the exam in the past, was discontinued in 2013. Students will receive a score for each of the sections.

Develop a study schedule in order to determine what subjects you will study, and on which days. For example, on Mondays you could study organic chemistry, while on Wednesdays you could study biology. You can set up your study schedule however you like. The important thing is to set aside a certain number of hours each week to study. Having a set study schedule helps you stay focused on what you need to do each day. Keep in mind that everyone needs a little time off to relax. Try to incorporate a break from studying into your schedule—this could be one or two days.

Work on your weaknesses. Every student has areas in which they are strong and subjects in which they could make improvements. Take an honest look at where you need improvement. Spend more time on your weak areas than on subjects you are already knowledgeable about.

Consider taking an MCAT preparation class. Various companies offer test preparation for a fee. Taking a standardized test, such as the MCATS, involves more than simply knowing the material. It is also about knowing how to take the exam. Some people do better on essay questions while others excel at multiple-choice. A test prep class can provide you with insight as to the type of questions and how questions are worded.

Take practice tests. At some point, it is helpful to take a practice test in order to become familiar with the format and see how well you do. Practice tests can be ordered from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Track your progress. After you have studied for a few months and taken a few practice tests, track your progress. Determine what areas you still need to focus on.

One month prior to the MCAT

Pick up the pace: You are in the homestretch, so it’s no time to slack. If possible, study for a few hours, five or six days a week.

Time yourself. The MCAT is timed. Some people are slow test takers. Consider taking a practice test and timing how fast you complete it. This will help you realize whether you are on track or need to work quicker. 

Take care of yourself. Running yourself ragged will not help your testing ability. Eat healthy, get enough sleep and participate in some type of aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes on most days. Living a healthy lifestyle will help keep you mentally sharp.

The day before the test

It may seem like a simple thing, but don’t overlook getting directions to the testing site. Keep in mind that navigation apps may sometimes be off, so make sure you know where you are going. Also, always allow extra time to get to the test. You never know when you will hit traffic or have parking problems. Nothing will stress you out faster than running late on test day.

The day before the test, try to relax. It won’t do you any good if on test day you are overly tired and anxious. Do something relaxing to take your mind off the test and get to sleep early.

At this point, you have probably done all that you can. Trying to cram in more studying may not be helpful. Have confidence in your ability and all of your hard work.