Friday, September 16, 2011

5 Tips to Studying for the MCAT as a Non-Traditional Student

So you are a non-traditional pre-med student and you have responsibilities outside of getting into medical school. How do you find time to study for the MCAT? I ask myself this question all the time. Between working at my day job, taking care of my house, cleaning up after my dog, and going to class, I find it real hard to study for that darn test. So I present to you, 5 tips on studying for the MCAT as a non-traditional student:

1. Set aside time for studying
This is obviously the first tip because it is the most important. You have to block out some time solely for MCAT studying. Otherwise, your other responsibilities will jump in front of your face and yell, "Me! Me! Pay attention to me!"... sometimes literally. You need to be able to tell them "No, this is MCAT time, come back later". I tell that to my dog all the time but he still doesn't get out of my face. The point is, set aside time and stick with it. If you have to, get away from everybody and find a quiet place like the nice boy in the picture.

2. Practice tests are better than complete content review
Taking a practice test and reviewing your mistakes gives a much better time to knowledge return than content review. I think of content review (reading through entire chapters of material) much like carpet bombing - you are wastefully covering a wide area of material and hoping you hit something. Taking a practice test is more like scouting the area first and then firing cruise missiles at the weak points. With a practice test, you will find your weaknesses, and then you review only material covering your weakness. In addition, comprehending and then answering questions takes a lot more brain effort than reading chapters. As a non-traditional student, time is minimal and you need to make your studying efficient.

3. Use the weekend for practice tests
The only days I can get good blocks of free time is on the weekends. If you are like me, take advantage of that by setting aside a certain time every weekend to do practice tests. Usually, I can't spare enough time for an entire full length practice test. No biggie, just break after one or two sections. However, make sure you take some full length tests leading up to the real MCAT so you can get used to the required endurance.

4. Use the week for review
On the weekdays, all bets are off. I may get 30 minutes one day, and nothing the next. Use the time that you have during the week to review your weak areas that you identified with your practice tests. Leave your books conveniently laying around the house so that you can pick them up and review at any time. I leave my MCAT biology book on the kitchen table for review while eating breakfast, a book on my nightstand, and even a book on my toilet. "While I'm here, I guess I can review..."

5. Use MCAT audio books
During my drives to work, I noticed I was wasting valuable time listening to radio commercials. I made myself a couple of CDs full of MCAT audio books such as "Audio Osmosis" and "MCAT Preparatory Course" and listen to them during my commute. I don't take notes but I found that it helped with certain areas. Physics material is hard to absorb through audio but the Biology section is great. I prefer "MCAT Preparatory Course" because the there is only one voice and it is soothing. Audio Osmosis was a bit more high strung than I would like.

Have fun studying suckers!

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