What Is MCAT, and the Best Possible Ways to Prepare!
In the alphabet soup world of standardized and professional testing, it can be hard to keep up with the different acronyms, but if you’re here then you may know that MCAT stands for “Medical College Admission Test.” It’s where Med School hopefuls get a chance to show their stuff, taking a huge leap forward into the world of professional medicine.
If the test was easy, everyone would be taking it, and a certain level of timidity may be what brought you here.
Not to fear.
There are good ways and bad ways to prepare for any test, MCAT included. We’ll stick with the best.
1. Take a prep course.
You’re not going to waltz right in and ace the MCAT after taking this step, but it will go a long way in familiarizing you with the territory ahead and getting you comfortable with the types of questions that will be asked. A skilled instructor can guide your efforts and shield you from taking your study efforts down the wrong path, which is easy to do when you consider all the different sciences you’ve had thrust in your face during undergraduate course work.
2. Brush up on the basics.
It’s easy to become consumed with studying the most advanced sciences in the weeks leading up to the MCAT, but be leery. There’s a lot less organic chemistry than you think and a lot more of general chemistry and first-year biology knowledge that will be expected from you. When you haven’t regularly focused on a topic in two or three years, you may find yourself at a loss over areas you thought you had mastered. Avoid the rookie mistakes and don’t assume just because it’s an “admissions” test it will focus on the most complicated principles.
3. Hit the practice exams. Hard.
The MCAT registers at a high level of intensity. While it’s not an adaptive test like the GMAT, it may be the most difficult standardized test you ever take without first familiarizing yourself with the territory. Prep courses (see No. 1 on this list) are helpful, but until you roll up your sleeves and get dirty, the theory behind the exam won’t mean much. What you will need to do, and this is something you should consider very early on, is take two or three practice exams. Give it a good effort, but don’t linger too long on any one question. Instead just grow comfortable with the experience of the test. This may be one of the most valuable things you can do. Your scores may be abysmal but you’ll thank us for it on the day of the actual exam.
4. Let each practice test guide your next study efforts.
You’ve prepared for MCAT your entire undergraduate life. When you take the practice exams recommended in step No. 3, you will naturally start to see what knowledge you’ve retained, what you’re somewhat familiar with, and where you really need help. As you pick through the results, first make note of the areas where you have an intermediate familiarity. You may not be proficient in these areas just yet, but you will have some foundation that can be built upon. Getting these “middle areas” up to speed will go a lot faster than if you were to start with the more difficult material.
5. Chip away at it.
Let’s say with that first practice exam, you walk away comfortable with about 25% of the material. You’re also somewhat familiar – enough to make an educated guess anyway – with 40%, and you’re terrified of the remaining 35%. With the second exam, if you’ve allowed the results to dictate your study focus (as recommended in step No. 4), you may see an improvement to 35%-30%-35% after the second exam and 42%-23%-35% after the third. When you get into the bulk of your studies, this information will tell you where most of your efforts should lie.
6. Go all in.
Thus far, you’ve drawn from your prior knowledge and from learning the layout of the test. This is certainly beneficial and may be the difference between a good score and a poor one. But at some point – you can’t avoid it, believe us – you have to get cozy with everything. Resist the urge to jump off a balcony, and review everything you know about math, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and basic biology. Make the best possible use of your time, but don’t be afraid to take a break whenever you think you can’t go on. Then, get right back at it.
7. More practice tests.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but at the same time, you were smart enough to make it this far, so you’re already aware. You should definitely continue taking those practice exams every few weeks. Every test should see improvement. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have a better idea of the types of questions and content areas that are knocking you off course, and that should serve as a guide for the rest of the prep time.
8. Prepare emotionally.
So many MCAT test-takers make the mistake of using every last minute of free time “getting ready” mentally, but they neglect to realize getting ready emotionally is as important as any knowledge they retain. Face it. It’s impossible to know every piece of information that’s going to be presented on exam day. You can and should prepare, but not at the expense of clarity. During the prep process, it’s important to find things that keep you going. Whether that’s a night out with friends, a 30-minute break to watch your favorite TV show in between sections, or a quiet candlelight dinner with a significant other. Take whatever healthy precautions you can to keep energy and enthusiasm high. An exciting and fulfilling career waits beyond the exam. Make sure you get there in one piece.
What test-prep rituals do you have, fellow MCAT-ers? Share your experiences in our comments section.