We’ve all had that experience in college: the professor says “you’ll be doing this project in a group,” and you feel an inward moan. You just know you’ll spend the next three weeks dealing with lazy slackers. And in the end, you’ll have to do all the work yourself anyway.

It’s no surprise that many MCAT students prefer to “go it alone” given those types of experiences in college. However, the MCAT is a very different animal than college tests or projects. Having a good MCAT study group or study buddy is essential to your success. In my decade of working with MCAT students, the two biggest factors I’ve seen that lead to MCAT success are a good study buddy and a good attitude.

So if working with a partner is essential, how do get the most out of the experience?

First, don’t be afraid to “break up” if things aren’t going well.

You’re not married to your study partner. If things aren’t working well for you, address the issue immediately and directly (but politely!!) Simply tell the other person, “I think our learning styles aren’t really meshing that well and I’d really prefer to study on my own. Good luck with your prep!”   Your MCAT prep timeline will end up being pretty tight, and you don’t have time to waste with a partner that isn’t clicking well with you.

Second, give each other homework.

The whole point of a study buddy (or workout buddy, etc.) is to create accountability to someone other than yourself. At the end of every review session with your study partner, discuss what homework you’re going to be doing over the next several days.   Some assignments should be set for both of you, “Okay so we’ll both take AAMC MCAT Test #5 before we meet on Friday” but then other assignments should be divided between you: “It’ll be my job to review this physics chapter on circuits and your job to review the biology chapter on the nephron.”   After you’ve split up the homework, at the subsequent session, teach each other what you’ve reviewed. Any educator will tell you that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. One of the main reasons to have a study buddy is to have someone that you can teach material to.  Which brings us to…

Third, teach each other the material.

One of the goals in finding a study partner should be to find someone who has different strengths and weaknesses than you. So if you’re a biology master but are terrible at general chemistry, you should try to find a partner who’s good at chem but weak a biology. The goal is not to have your partner teach you chemistry, but rather for you to teach him biology. It’s that act of teaching that will turn biology from a strength into something you’ve totally mastered.

And finally, stay positive!

Sure, there’s academic benefits of having a partner who can help you understand the material. But having a good study buddy also helps tremendously with the emotional support needed to get through such a huge challenge. Celebrate each others’ successes and commiserate over difficulties. Rely on your study partner to provide a sympathetic ear, and offer her one in return.   In the end, success on the MCAT depends primarily on attitude and motivation. And attitude and motivation are best found with a good study partner or study group.

Bryan Schnedeker is the National MCAT Director at Next Step Test Preparation, a company that specializes in 1-on-1 tutoring for the MCAT.  Bryan has taught the MCAT for over a decade and has scored a 44 on the test himself.