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Wasteman

Why Do So Many People Start Studying For The Mcat So Late?

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Hello all,

 

I've been browsing and reading a bunch of topics about studying for the MCAT here on this fine site and on **DELETED**, and one of the most common things that I've noticed is that students tend to start studying only 1 - 4 months prior to the exam. Why is that? I've always figured that I when it comes my turn to write the test I would start studying at least 1 year prior to my test date, gradually ramping up the study time as the test date approached. For such an important, critical life goal, I would have assumed that, generally speaking, one would put significantly more effort into preparing for this test than what I've observed. Thoughts?

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1 year is overkill.  You will likely burn out or "over-study"

 

^^^ This!

 

I started studying about 2.5 months before I wrote the MCAT. I studied it full time though, meaning 9 am until 6 pm with a 1 hr lunch break, 6 days a week (I actually time myself also, so this was legitimate study time, no Facebook/internet breaks). When I finished studying I felt fairly confident I knew enough. I scored decent enough, and if I had another 0.5 month - 1 month to really refine my test taking ability I probably would have done better. However, studying for more than 3-4 months definitely would have been overkill and would have caused burn out.

 

   The problem too is that the more you cram in, the longer your review sessions have to be, or else you start to forget things. Straight up learning the material is only half the battle, the other half is remembering it and cross-appointing (can't think of a better word) to other related topics. For example, studying optics in the physics section and then consolidating that knowledge with the eye in the bio section and bringing it together with how we see the world under the pysch/soc section. For me, that took longer than the learning/memorization part.

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Ok, I see. But after a while doesn't spaced repetition come into play? Like anything else, wouldn't one become so familiar with the information that it becomes internalised? I always assumed that this internalisation would probably have such added benefits as increased question answering efficiency as well as allowing one to extrapolate and apply critical thinking more confidently.

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1. Most people have covered most of the material in high school/undergrad already

2. It is a test that covers material that wont help you become a better physician 

3. You can always re-write

4. In the grand scheme of things it's not that bad of a test

5. People have lives and if they can get away with studying as little as possible for this exam they should

 

These are just the first five reasons that come to mind. I studied for ~1 month because I knew I would burn out. Got a 90+ overall score. Know yourself and how you should study but this test is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

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Ok, I see. But after a while doesn't spaced repetition come into play? Like anything else, wouldn't one become so familiar with the information that it becomes internalised? I always assumed that this internalisation would probably have such added benefits as increased question answering efficiency as well as allowing one to extrapolate and apply critical thinking more confidently.

 

Interesting ... I think the MCAT actually covers memory, the different types of memory, and how/when something is fully committed to memory. The biggest difference is probably between free and cued recall. The MCAT is a multiple choice test. Because of this, you don't actually have to innately know the material. You just have to know OF the material. For example, if I memorized that Smith-Lang created a theory and then on the test they asked me who created it, with the following options 1) Wilson 2) Li 3) Harrison 4) Smith-Lang. The fact that I roughly remember the discoverer(s) was hyphenated will lead me to the right answer, when in fact I don't need to remember their names. Obviously this is exaggerated, but the point is that the answer in front of you actually cues you to the answer.

 

  Of course, you can fully memorize everything and know/learn every tiny detail, but most people don't have that goal. Most people want to do well on the MCAT. I think this is why so many people stress learning "how to write the test" as opposed to just memorizing all facts regarding science and psych/soc. Also, one of the most important parts of the test - CARS, doesn't involve memorizing information at all. This involves practice and trying to learn how to write the test. 

 

  During my study time, I did traditional studying, but also did a ton of MCAT practice questions/tests. After awhile you start to learn the feeling of the test. In this way, if you haven't memorized the right answer, you won't freak out, but instead can make reasonable guesses with the information you do have, you learn the tricks the MCAT uses to try to confuse you. The MCAT provides a HUGE amount of text for every question. In this regard each question is critically thinking. I would argue you can do this more efficiently when you know the material, but haven't tried to memorize the detail out of everything. In that scenario you are relying on already knowing the answer. If you roughly have the information in your mind, you can more critically think about it. I think a good analogy is memorizing a speech you have to make word for word. The instant you forget a word it throws you off entirely and you scrabble to remember that word. On the other hand, if you know roughly what you want to cover, you can talk freely within the subject matter without being hung up on choosing the right word.

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1. Most people have covered most of the material in high school/undergrad already

2. It is a test that covers material that wont help you become a better physician 

3. You can always re-write

4. In the grand scheme of things it's not that bad of a test

5. People have lives and if they can get away with studying as little as possible for this exam they should

 

These are just the first five reasons that come to mind. I studied for ~1 month because I knew I would burn out. Got a 90+ overall score. Know yourself and how you should study but this test is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

 

And this ^^^ for the practical, "real-world" side  ;) .

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Because if you want to maximize time and effort vs payoff on your application, studying 1000 hours for the MCAT isn't the way to do it.

 

You can likely get your best, or near best, score after 2-3 months (for most, even when working full-time) and after that, a year of studying for 1-2 more points is wasted time. If you wanted to improve your application as much as possible, doing something else with the 500+ hours you'd be over-studying for the MCAT would add more to your application, overall. If I had spent  a full summer only studying for the MCAT, and spent 5ish hours a week during a school year on it, that would have meant either sacrificing my GPA a bit (much more important, for most schools) and losing some of the non-academics that in my case, got me interviewed/accepted at my top choices.

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I think one thing to remember is that, generally, your chances of being accepted won't be affected all that much by an amazing MCAT score versus an above-average one, at most schools anyway. If you have a choice between a 32 MCAT and tons of interesting extracurriculars vs. a 38 MCAT (or whatever the new equivalent is) and minimal ECs/mediocre GPA because you spent a year studying, I think the former choice would be the better one for most schools. Also, efficiency in studying is so important and only becomes more important in medical school, where the volume of information is far greater than what's seen on the MCAT. I personally studied for 3.5 months while working full-time and thought it was a perfect amount of time for me - scored well, didn't burn out but was definitely prepared to write the test and get it done with (and never think about galvanic cells ever again :) ). 

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Hello all,

 

I've been browsing and reading a bunch of topics about studying for the MCAT here on this fine site and on DELETED, and one of the most common things that I've noticed is that students tend to start studying only 1 - 4 months prior to the exam. Why is that? I've always figured that I when it comes my turn to write the test I would start studying at least 1 year prior to my test date, gradually ramping up the study time as the test date approached. For such an important, critical life goal, I would have assumed that, generally speaking, one would put significantly more effort into preparing for this test than what I've observed. Thoughts?

Because it's absolutely not necessary for many people to spend so much time on the MCAT? Most of the material is from undergrad science classes - so arguably you could say, that if you focus and do well in those classes you are "studying" in advance for the MCAT already.

 

Much of the MCAT is test taking skills and not necessarily content.

 

3 months of intense prep is already very significant in my opinion, when many of us spent less than a month. 

 

Also, not everyone can afford to even take 3 months off(which is at the upper end of prep time) to just sit around and study for 1 exam, and instead need to spend that time working and tending to other things in life.

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I think some of the reason people don't dedicate an immense amount of time to mcat prep is that it's just not worth it. Look at some schools like Calgary, 10% and only Cars counts. Why would you study for a year vs. using that time for volunteering or working etc. I studied for about 2 months doing 3-5 hours a day, with more like 5-6 the last week or two, at the time I thought that was a huge amount of study time, now I see people have studied for 6 months and I kind of laugh at myself. I think if I had studied for 2.5 -3 months  total at the same amount of time per day I may have been able to improve my score a couple points. However, for me and the way my summer classes, sports, vacations, were set up two months was how it was going to have to be anyways. I was very happy with my score at the end of the day 513 (my highest practice score was ~505-507) so whatever works for you :)

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I think some of the reason people don't dedicate an immense amount of time to mcat prep is that it's just not worth it. Look at some schools like Calgary, 10% and only Cars counts. Why would you study for a year vs. using that time for volunteering or working etc. I studied for about 2 months doing 3-5 hours a day, with more like 5-6 the last week or two, at the time I thought that was a huge amount of study time, now I see people have studied for 6 months and I kind of laugh at myself. I think if I had studied for 2.5 -3 months  total at the same amount of time per day I may have been able to improve my score a couple points. However, for me and the way my summer classes, sports, vacations, were set up two months was how it was going to have to be anyways. I was very happy with my score at the end of the day 513 (my highest practice score was ~505-507) so whatever works for you :)

Haha, yet you got in and scored well!

 

I personally did 3 weeks of 10+ hour days, and that worked well for me. I didn't have any other option - vacation was already booked way in advance of deciding to take the MCAT, and it was my first vacation ever in my 20 something life, so I wasn't going to let one test ruin that.  I was fine with potentially not scoring as high as I could, because the school of my choice didn't need a super high score.  Mind you, i spent time beforehand during the school year organizing all my material, sourcing practice questions and exams. So when I went into the 3 weeks of studying, i was head down and just ripping through as many practice passages as possible.  I didn't waste time learning about the exam, how long sections were, what materials were good or not good, learning study strategies etc. I front loaded that during the school year(No MCAT specific content review though)

 

Would this strategy work for everyone? Doubtful.  I was fresh on some pre-reqs, and was comfortable with my learning style of not needing to "know everything" etc. 

 

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Most people who write the MCAT have already learned the vast majority of the material and developed strong test-taking skills from their first or second years in university. Most people recommend 4 months (full time studying) in the first place because it's already overkill.

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I see, you all give very valid points. Perhaps it is because I still need to learn most of the subjects on the MCAT that 3 months just doesn't seem sufficient to me. Nbgirl93, how did you manage studying for the MCAT with only 3 months preparation and working full time? I work full time right now and my job, including transportation, easily demands 10-12 hours of my day. How did you get anything else done?

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I wrote the MCAT August 9th after my first year. Most of my first year courses prepared me adequately for the content in their areas and I studied organic chemistry on my own (I think the new MCAT has less orgo, but this was in 2013.) I studied a few hours an evening, after my kids were in bed, and I was working full time as well. I scored well enough that I didn't have to rewrite.

 

3-4 months of full time studying actually seems like huge overkill to me, not to mention a year, but then I tend to retain things pretty quickly.

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I see, you all give very valid points. Perhaps it is because I still need to learn most of the subjects on the MCAT that 3 months just doesn't seem sufficient to me. Nbgirl93, how did you manage studying for the MCAT with only 3 months preparation and working full time? I work full time right now and my job, including transportation, easily demands 10-12 hours of my day. How did you get anything else done?

 

It was the summer after second year so all the material from the prereqs was still fresh in my mind, which helped a lot. I also had a super flexible job in research so I was able to choose my hours and go to work early and leave early (7-3 ish) most days, with some exceptions obviously. It probably also helped that I wasn't all that pressed to study verbal at all (English major) so I could focus more on the topics I knew I struggled with. I usually went to work, went to the gym from 3:30 ish to 4:30 ish, then studied all night until around 10:30 or so. I think I also studied all day most Saturdays and took Sundays off, from what I can remember. Honestly I didn't find it exceptionally stressful, probably because I made myself a good study schedule and stuck to it. Didn't take a prep course, just used Kaplan prep books and it all worked out in the end for me. I was lucky to have a flexible job but really I think it can be done even with a more demanding job, and I definitely didn't even need the whole 3.5 months I used - I just didn't feel like rushing myself needlessly when my test date was in mid August. 

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I actually think that 1 year of studying is not a bad idea. If you study an hour or two a day, for 8 months, then use 2 months for full time studying, and 2 months for testing, you will kill the exam. Spaced repetition, as a previous poster mentioned, will kick in and you'll absorb material without even knowing it, so when the 2 months of full time studying start, you will be in good shape. 

Again, if you're still in school during that time, an hour or two a day of MCAT studying instead of coursework studying is likely to have much more of a negative impact than 1-2 MCAT points might. 2 months full time would be more than enough for the majority of students. 

 

I can't imagine what it would feel like to walk into an exam you'd been studying an entire year for. That's a whole other level of pressure..but maybe that's just me

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I actually think that 1 year of studying is not a bad idea. If you study an hour or two a day, for 8 months, then use 2 months for full time studying, and 2 months for testing, you will kill the exam. Spaced repetition, as a previous poster mentioned, will kick in and you'll absorb material without even knowing it, so when the 2 months of full time studying start, you will be in good shape. 

 

Wow, this was my actually my plan. Study 1.5 hours per day and ramp up studying like two - three months prior. I find this strategy preferable to going balls to the wall crazy in just 2 or 3 months so that when I do start studying seriously it'll mostly be review, or it can also give me enough time to really work on my weaknesses.

 

 

Again, if you're still in school during that time, an hour or two a day of MCAT studying instead of coursework studying is likely to have much more of a negative impact than 1-2 MCAT points might. 2 months full time would be more than enough for the majority of students. 

 

I can't imagine what it would feel like to walk into an exam you'd been studying an entire year for. That's a whole other level of pressure..but maybe that's just me

 

 

Excuse me sir, or madame, but I'm not particularly buying what you're selling.  I am sincerely doubtful that an hour or two taken away from course work will really have the significant impact that everyone assumes that it will. And even then, undergrad gives us SO much time to study, what's an extra couple of hours of studying per week? If anything, the extra studying should help. And even with the extra studying, I only have 20 hours or so of classes per week, with a 3 day weekend.  And I'm estimating high here because I registered for one or two extra courses come fall.

 

 

Several members mentioned studying while working a full time job. So, if I do the math, 20 hours of lectures per week + 2.5 hours of studying/reading/working on assignments/ per day + 1.5 hours of studying for the mcat per day totals out to about 48 hours per week. That's only eight hours more than having a full time job, where, in contrast to school, almost none of the 40 hours given to the job can be utilised for studying. Whereas with school, just under 50% of the time is class time, so I don't see how studying for the mcat throughout the year should really be a detriment to my grades. I even arranged my schedule to have a three day weekend so that I have an extra day for self study/working on assignments.  

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Wow, this was my actually my plan. Study 1.5 hours per day and ramp up studying like two - three months prior. I find this strategy preferable to going balls to the wall crazy in just 2 or 3 months so that when I do start studying seriously it'll mostly be review, or it can also give me enough time to really work on my weaknesses.

 

 

 

 

Excuse me sir, or madame, but I'm not particularly buying what you're selling.  I am sincerely doubtful that an hour or two taken away from course work will really have the significant impact that everyone assumes that it will. And even then, undergrad gives us SO much time to study, what's an extra couple of hours of studying per week? If anything, the extra studying should help. And even with the extra studying, I only have 20 hours or so of classes per week, with a 3 day weekend.  And I'm estimating high here because I registered for one or two extra courses come fall.

 

 

Several members mentioned studying while working a full time job. So, if I do the math, 20 hours of lectures per week + 2.5 hours of studying/reading/working on assignments/ per day + 1.5 hours of studying for the mcat per day totals out to about 48 hours per week. That's only eight hours more than having a full time job, where, in contrast to school, almost none of the 40 hours given to the job can be utilised for studying. Whereas with school, just under 50% of the time is class time, so I don't see how studying for the mcat throughout the year should really be a detriment to my grades. I even arranged my schedule to have a three day weekend so that I have an extra day for self study/working on assignments.  

 

You haven't started undergrad yet, have you? Because the majority of us have finished undergrad, written the MCAT, and been accepted to medical schools already - we're not trying to break your spirit or anything, we're just telling you what we think works best as people who have already been through this. Trust me, when you're overloaded with 5 classes and writing midterms/essays/finals completely unrelated to MCAT material (as you surely will be in visual arts), the last thing you'll want to do is open up an MCAT prep book and memorize physics formulas. 

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Again, if you're still in school during that time, an hour or two a day of MCAT studying instead of coursework studying is likely to have much more of a negative impact than 1-2 MCAT points might. 2 months full time would be more than enough for the majority of students. 

 

I can't imagine what it would feel like to walk into an exam you'd been studying an entire year for. That's a whole other level of pressure..but maybe that's just me

 

Ha, its called the licence exam - and you will be studying for it for a lot longer than one year :)

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You haven't started undergrad yet, have you? Because the majority of us have finished undergrad, written the MCAT, and been accepted to medical schools already - we're not trying to break your spirit or anything, we're just telling you what we think works best as people who have already been through this. Trust me, when you're overloaded with 5 classes and writing midterms/essays/finals completely unrelated to MCAT material (as you surely will be in visual arts), the last thing you'll want to do is open up an MCAT prep book and memorize physics formulas. 

 

 

Okay, I guess you're right. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'll try to take your, as well as everyone else's advice, into consideration when I start Undergrad. Just so you know I was just joking in my last post. I didn't mean for it to sound as if I was being rude. Sorry about that. 

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a lot of this does boil down to what we call in economics opportunity cost - yes you can spend 2 hours a night studying for the mcat but that means you are not working on other key areas of your application - plus spending those 2 hours studying most premed like courses - which the majority of people are taking - as the duel benefit of both getting a higher GPA and indirectly also preparing for the mcat.

 

The only area were I think it is particularly useful is subjects that you are not covering in school - for many people that is likely things related to the CAR section - as most people are on in those particular arts based programs that continuously focus on analytical reading. Since I feel - and this is just me - that that area is more of a skill developed over time, like any art for instance, cramming is just less effective for it. Ha - on some level I think that is why people have just trouble with it. It isn't magic but your typical study approach used for most other things won't work as well. 

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