Here’s the million-dollar question: How do I study the MCAT sciences so that I really know and retain the material? You can open a book, read a chapter, work through sample problems, rinse and repeat with another chapter to physically get through the motions, but how do you know you’ve mastered it? Thy this time-intensive but simple approach:
Find a Good Resource to Learn the Material
I am a very visual learner as are most of my pre-med tutoring clients. I need to see and hear the material and get it broken down. Videos can do the trick. Start with a video on one specific topic and watch it to ensure you understand the subject matter. Not enough? Find another video on the same topic. Perhaps this second angle will help the missing pieces click. But don’t watch passively! Pay attention to ensure you understand. Repeat the video if necessary and pause to answer questions before the video answers it for you.
Use MCAT Prep Books as a Verification Resource
Books! Yes, they are boring and tedious, but important. Even the best video will forget a key concept or equation. Use your books as a checklist to tick off the topics you need to master. How? Skim! So many students get lost reading for hours without really understanding. If you watched a good video series and feel you understand it, simply skim the chapter to ensure you’ve covered everything. If there’s a topic you haven’t covered, at this point, slow down and study it.
Reiterate Out Loud
There’s a difference between getting it and knowing it. A powerful learning method is to teach the material aloud to a willing “student.” This will force you to really understand what you’re saying. My students have found success talking through the material to many subjects, including a newborn baby, curious pet, teddy bear, empty chair and even a mirror. By talking out loud you’re forcing your brain to slow down enough to make sense of the information. And saying it out loud will let you know if you sound confident or have knowledge gaps.
This is the step you’ve been waiting for, and the one with which many students incorrectly start. Every MCAT book has short questions scattered throughout its chapters. These are short and easy questions designed to answer one simple question: Do you understand this topic? If you missed a question or feel uncertain about an answer, go back and review it while the concept is still fresh in your mind. Don’t just study the answer; actually relearn all of the material associated with the question to ensure that you don’t miss any related questions.
Practice MCAT Style
Knowledge of material is just the first step. The MCAT will take the information you know and hide it in a tricky passage. Prepare for this by doing MCAT style passage-based practice on the topic you’ve just studied. To master the passages, you must first have the informational foundations and then learn how to read the passage and extract its data. If you jump to passages before mastering the material you’ll find yourself frustrated and wasting precious study time. I recommend working through the AAMC topic bundles along with passage books from different test-prep companies. Use these passages as a means to measure your progress. Have you truly mastered this information, or do you need to go back and review the topic at hand?
Bonus Step: Take It to the Next Level with Full-Length Practice MCATs
As you get closer to your exam, you should be doing full-length practice tests on a weekly basis. Not only do you work on your endurance for the 7.5-hour exam and get familiar with the format and nature of the test, but taking full-length tests gives you the opportunity to test yourself on multi-topic passages and mixed topic questions.
Sample Schedule To Master A Topic
If you’re new to the MCAT game, this sample schedule may work for you. Newer students focus on 60 minute segments, students with greater endurance or who are close to taking the real test, focus on 90-100 minute segments.
60-90 minutes: Watch a video about your chosen topic.
10 minute break
60-90 minutes: Skim your topic in the textbook for review and work through short in-chapter questions + review, then move on to the next topic to avoid burnout.
The Next Day on this topic (can be a few days later)
60-90 minutes: Do a quick review of your topic to refresh then take a passage-based short exam.
10 minute break
60-90 minutes: Review your passages and study the topics missed.
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