Three Things To Remember When Studying for the MCAT

Studying for the MCAT is truly a marathon, and there are great challenges if you approach this exam like a sprint. I began my MCAT preparation in January of this year, and after waves of triumph and defeat, I had to reevaluate how I was studying and the mindset I had towards doing well. This is because marathons are not as easily affected by things like mindset, weather conditions, opponent capabilities. These are the qualms of a sprint – the short-term, rapid onset of results. Approaching the MCAT must be steadier and more constant than this. You have to be resistant to waves of triumph and defeat, flexible in your training, and open-minded. While I’ve learned a lot about science while preparing for this exam, I’ve learned even more about myself.

Be flexible to change. This is applicable to anyone preparing for an exam or in school. I had strategically planned exactly how I would study, when, where, and what content. I learned early on that the way I had designed was not the most suitable way for my learning and that I was worried more about marking something off my checklist than actually reviewing and learning the material. So, you must be open about changing your study plan and constantly reevaluating if what you are doing is most suitable for you. For me, this meant transitioning from mostly written materials to watching videos. Although I had spent money and time on earlier materials, the most strides were made when I changed my learning to fit my needs.

Remember your worth. It is easy to forget that this is a small part of a lifelong journey in medicine. Getting low scores at the beginning and hearing other peoples’ success stories may make you feel dejected and overwhelmed. Resist the temptation to feel inadequate because of a low score. The qualities you bring to medicine are well beyond a simple practice score but use the emotion you have from that low score to motivate you to study hard and do well. Early on my scores were pretty low, and I was overcome with doubt and self-questioning. I had a strong support group around me to remind that I am capable, worthy, and intelligent. It is crucially important for times of intense studying – such as for the MCAT or Step 1 – to remember why you are doing this in the first place. Your patients won’t care about your MCAT score, so focus on achieving success to move on to the next step of training.

Find your support group. I would absolutely not have remained sane over the past 5 months had it not been for my support group. These are the people that will pick you up when you are feeling down, remind you that you can do it, and do things to take your mind off studying and school. It can be parents, a significant other, friends, classmates going through the process, professors, members of a religious organization, a dog, cat, etc. Truly anyone can serve as your anchor during this strenuous and taxing process. My support system reminded me to take time to go for walks, do yoga, and cook delicious meals. They reassured me that I would become a doctor and that my studying would pay off. These are the people that believe in you because they know you can do it. Find this group and cling to them.

There are countless lessons learned while preparing for the MCAT. These are a few of the major ones that I’ve picked up along the way. This process is very difficult and requires a lot of emotional and mental strength. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone if you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Remember your worth and value in this career and the impact you can bring to patients down the road. Studying for an important exam such as the MCAT or Step 1 requires endurance, open-mindedness, and dedication. Best of luck to any of those embarking on this marathon of a race; see you at the finish line!

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Mary Barber

Mary Barber studies Chemistry and English Literature at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. An average day for her includes running from microbiology lecture to having discussions on the writings of Nabokov to designing experiments in the lab – she says it’s a little crazy but always fun. Her passions (currently) include studying cardiovascular disease caused by cancer therapies, writing, and monthly dates baking cupcakes with cancer patients. One day when she grow up Mary hopes to be a physician researcher, treat patients with heart problems, write books, and do yoga every day.