I took stock of all my old study materials, all the resources out there now, and of how I did on the Sample Test, as well as a half-diagnostic from a company called Next Step. That was interesting, sorta reflective of the official Sample Test except I did a bit lower on everything, and somehow did worse on CARS (verbal reasoning) than I did on psych/soc (which is just so weird to me because I haven’t taken those classes in over a decade and really don’t remember anything so it was mostly guessing, funny how that worked better for me than actually trying to think through the CARS section). From those two samples, I made a list of what my weaker areas are.
A lot of people do a full content review of all the material that’s covered, and I knew I just couldn’t do that in full since I’ll be taking classes up through mid-July and working a fair amount of hours up through mid-August. Plus I feel fairly confident in the chemistry-related areas since I tutor gen chem and organic chem and get refreshed on those topics all the time, and since I’m finishing up a year-long biochem series right now and it’s all fresh in my mind. So what I did was come up with a list of topics I need to review. It’s still a lot but it’s not all of them. The list was based on what I missed questions on in my diagnostic tests, what I know I’m weak on, a couple of gen chem/o chem topics that don’t get brought in as often and I know I could use some refreshing on, and what classes I took a long time ago and know I don’t remember all that well.
So this is what I came up with as topics for content review. I’ll be using The Princeton Review prep books to review or learn these topics.
- Electricity & Magnetism/Circuits
- Nervous and Endocrine System
- Circulatory and Immune System
- Muscular and Skeletal System
- Excretory and Digestive System
- Respiratory System
- Reproductive System
- Molecular Biology Lab Techniques
- Nucleophilic Additions at Carbonyl Groups
- O Chem Lab Techniques
Psychology & Sociology
- Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Interacting with the Environment
- Learning and Memory
- Personality, Motivation and Psych Disorders
- Self and Group Identity
- Social Structure
- Psych/Soc Research Methods
I included the lab techniques and research methods for every subject area that offered that as a section because it seems the MCAT is focusing more on experiments so I want to be sure I’m up to snuff on all my lab techniques, esp the biology ones as it’s been awhile since I took those classes. I included all the physiology chapters for the same reason–it’s been awhile. I did take a full year of A&P and loved it, but I know I’m really rusty on it.
I’ll also probably make notecards for the psych/soc vocab in the book simply because there seem to be more straight-up vocab questions in that section and it’s just my least familiar topic and I don’t have all kinds of prep material for it too, like I have for other subjects.
I made a schedule out of those subject areas and set it to three chapters a week, and mixed them up so I don’t overdose on psych or bio, and so I spread out the chapters I’m most looking forward to that will probably feel a little lighter (gen chem and organic chem, can’t wait) and also the ones I’m really dreading (circuits and fluids mostly, waaaah I don’t wanna). I tried to put some of the lightest chapters during my finals week and some of the most intense (like the molecular bio lab technique chapter) during my week off (from class and work) between spring and summer terms.
After finishing the content review, I’ve planned a few weeks of doing passages from Khan Academy (they have a TON and they’re free), doing the AAMC Official Guide questions, and doing AAMC question packs. All the AAMC material is the most official since they’re the company that administers the test and I want to save all of that for after I’m done with content review. I’ll review anything I got wrong on any of these. I’ve scheduled it out so that I’ll have about twice as long to review as I have to actually take the practice passages and questions.
Then I have planned a month of just taking practice tests. That’s going to be a little tricky because with the changed format of the MCAT being so new, I’ve read wildly varying reviews on how representative practice exams are of the real thing, but I’m still going to focus a LOT on full-length practice tests because I want to get used to the length of the test. I want to take tests that are harder so that the real thing doesn’t seem so bad. I want to feel like a pro when I go in there, like yeah, I got this.
One of my main considerations is I sorta know I can only take this test once. Partly because of the expense, partly because of how challenging the accommodations process is and has been. So I want to go in there knowing I did everything I could and gave it my all. After that, my score is my score. I’m definitely treating it like I’m training for a marathon. Trying to be steady and not too crazy so I can actually do this without burning out.
Speaking of steadiness, there are two other things I’ll be doing sorta in the background to prep for this beast of a test. One is using old ExamKrackers 1001 Questions books. I have one each for physics, gen chem, organic chem and biology, so four nights a week, I’ll sit down and do 30-45 mins worth of questions from one subject area (so that I end up hitting each subject once a week) and then review what I got wrong or didn’t understand. Eventually, I’ll prob have leftover in some books and not others because it’s only been one week and I’m already farther in the chemistry books than the others. So I’ll deal with that when the time comes. This has been really helpful to refine little topics and details that I’m not as fresh on. I can already see one little area that, had I reviewed, I wouldn’t have missed on the AAMC Sample Test, so I think this will pay off. It’s also quick and easy.
Physics is definitely my weakest area. I took it three years ago so I’ve forgotten a lot, and my teacher was kind of easy for the first two terms (as in allowed you a note sheet and put a lot of the same questions from the practice exam on the real exams) so I’m not sure I learned as much as I could have. I feel the same way about the last term of gen chem – for the longest time (and still a little) it was the hardest term for me to tutor because my prof had been kind of easier than my prof for the first two terms, and so I didn’t end up learning the material as well. Plus, my physics class somehow NEVER went over fluids, we skipped that chapter entirely, and that seems to be one of the most high-yield MCAT subjects when it comes to physics, so I struggle with that section a lot and have added it very early on in my study schedule. Also, I don’t tutor physics at all so it hasn’t been reinforced, but I do work at a tutoring center, so I’m using that resource as well. When there were questions I didn’t fully understand from the Sample Test (or the explanation they gave confused me more than helped me), I signed in for tutoring as a student to get those explained. That has already been a big help because at this point I feel like I now understand those questions so well that I could teach them to someone else (and sorta did earlier this week with one of them). Continuing to do that with questions I don’t understand is part of the study plan.
My last little bit is that I plan to do a little CARS practice every day. I haven’t started that yet as I’m still waiting for materials to arrive. I had some, so I thought, only to open up what I had and found highlighting and underlining all over it. So, once I get that, I’ll start on the verbal practice. I’m also delaying it a bit to start because even with the new book I don’t have a ton of material and I don’t want to run out too quickly. So I might wait a week or two to start doing a bit of that a day. I hope I’m not just putting it off because I hate the CARS section and feel so shitty every time I attempt anything in that subject area. It’s hard because I feel like I should be good at it. I was an English major! I read a lot! I did very well on SAT verbal without any formal prep! I’m a writer! I’ve always been good at logic and critical analysis, and have had to write papers in that vein! Goddamnit I should be better at this freaking section! But, I’m just not. In fact, I’m doing worse on the new CARS section than I did on old verbal sections. I used to always get an 11, sometimes a 12. On the Next Step half-length diagnostic, I got the equivalent of a 7 or 8. It’s demoralizing but I have to practice it if I want to get any better.
In general, I’m finding that a big part of studying for this MCAT is about putting my ego aside. I never realized I had so much hubris (you would think I would’ve learned better from Walter White’s example) but I think it has seeped in over time with doing really well in my classes, and with tutoring chem and bio.
So, sometimes, I kinda don’t feel like practicing MCAT stuff because I don’t like feeling dumb, and I’m not used to it, and I know that sounds conceited and probably is. Being smart has always been such an integral part of my self-identity. School and reading and doing math problems in my head were a huge escape and comfort and realm that was good for me as a kid when life was pretty much awful in all other areas–at home, getting bullied, etc–I always knew I had that going for me if nothing else in the world. And I guess that’s carried through to my adult life. And taking MCAT practice tests, even if I do well on them, man do they make me feel dumb while taking them. And that feels pretty threatening and uncomfortable to me. And frustrating.
So that is another reason I plan on taking so many practice tests. I want to get used to feeling dumb and not getting totally thrown by it and getting frustrated and losing steam. I’m not even joking, I think this is something I really need to practice, putting that ego aside. But I also think it may be part of why I’m putting off starting CARS studying, because that one makes me feel dumbest of all and I’m afraid to find out that even though I used to do well in English classes and other classes that used critical analysis, I actually just suck at it and that nothing I do will make that section go any better. Plus I just hate it. So, gotta do it so I can get used to hating it and doing it anyway, or hopefully not hating it so much. I’ll start that this week or next, depending on when my materials arrive and also I have to sit down and map out how much material I have and divide it up so I don’t run out too fast.
So that’s the plan! I think I’ll do a separate post with my full schedule. Making it public will probably help keep me more accountable. And maybe I’ll give updates each week with where I’m at. I don’t know, this could be totally boring to anyone reading, sorry about that!
Oh, one last thing. I feel more motivated when I’m sort of organized, and when things are colorful and pretty to look at (yeah I know how shallow that sounds, but it’s still true) so last weekend I went to Office Depot and got some supplies. I went with a three-ring binder that’s a bright light blue and colorful dividers, and looseleaf paper. That way, I can write up my reviews of everything I get wrong, whether it’s end-of-chapter questions for the content review, ExamKrackers 1001 questions, daily CARS passage questions, practice full-length exams, etc. So I have it all in one place to review. I basically write out explanations in my own words so that I understand them. This has been really great because it is colorful which is a huge plus and also it’s easy to keep organized even though I’m working on several different fronts at once. And it’s all in one place so I can go over it anytime I need to refresh. Loving it. Now I just need some shiny pretty index card holders.