Materials and Scheduling Guidelines

Contents

  • Materials
  • Scheduling Guidelines

Perhaps the two most important components of your preparation for the MCAT are your materials and your methodology.

Below, I outline the materials that are absolutely central to preparing for the MCAT as well as those that are highly recommended and optional. I also detail a few guidelines to form an effective preparation schedule.

Materials

Required Materials:

  1. Outline of topics covered in the MCAT
  2. MCAT Diagnostic Exam
    • NextStep (Free; online at anytime)
    • Kaplan (Free; online at specific periods)
      • I prefer Kaplan’s to the rest. It’s generally regarded as the most accurate.
    • The Princeton Review (Free; in-person at specific period).
    • Note: most diagnostics are designed to be especially rigorous so that each company can fulfill on its promise to “boost your score” through their paid courses.
  3. Question-a-Day Emails
  4. Subject Review Set
    • Kaplan ($160)
    • The Princeton Review ($140)
    • Examkrackers ($190)
      • Although I haven’t read the Examkrackers version, the price is significantly higher than Kaplan and TPR and doesn’t include any practice full-length exams (Kaplan and TPR each include three). Be wary.
  5. Online Resources for Content Review
  6. Off-Line Resources for Content Review
    • Anki flashcards (Free)
      • I cannot stress enough how pivotal these flashcards are to the success of the study plans outlined. See this post for further information on how to create and use this powerful tool.
  7. Official AAMC MCAT Full Length Exams
    • AAMC ($105; $35 each)
      • Note that buying the bundle below is cheaper!
      • The bundle listed below is provided free-of-charge to students eligible for the Financial Assistant Program (FAP)
  8. Misc. materials
    • High quality pens (prices vary)
    • Highlighters (price vary)
    • 3-5 subject notebook (~$5)
    • Scrap paper
    • Mouse (if you’re using a trackpad)
      • On test day, you’ll be using a mouse. So for taking full-length practice exams, it’s pivotal to simulate test day conditions as much as possible.
      • I bought this one

TOTAL: ~$260

Highly Suggested Materials:

  • Official AAMC MCAT Prep Bundle ($236)
    • As noted above, this bundle is included as a benefit as part of the AAMC’s FAP
  • Book stand (~$10)
    • I’ve found this one to be the most portable, though I’ve also had good experiences using this stand
  • White board (~$40)
    • I’ve been using this one and relied on it heavily for daily reviews of metabolic processes, amino acid structures, and other MCAT material. I’ve also used it to track my weekly goals and workout schedules.
  • NextStep QBank ($50-100)
  • Full Length Exams

TOTAL: ~$300

*I strongly recommend signing up for the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program if you are eligible. In addition to the free official guide, you receive hundreds of free practice questions, a free medical evaluation if you need accommodation, and reduced fees for the MCAT and the AMCAS. The application re-opens every January.

Scheduling Guidelines

Perhaps the most frequently offered advice regarding preparation for the MCAT is that you should spend about 300 hours studying. There aren’t much data to back this up, beyond those available in Internet forums. (Reader beware.)

Ultimately, the amount of time you spend studying should depend on your needs and how much time you can reasonably allocate to preparation.

For instance, I worked 50 hours a week while studying for the MCAT. Knowing my time was limited, I aimed to spend about three to four hours studying during weekdays and about seven hours each weekend day (for practice full lengths and subsequent reviews).

This kind of structure simply will not work for some students. Although I couldn’t fit it into my schedule, having one “off” day a week would’ve been a godsend.

In total, I studied for 105 consecutive days (about 15 weeks), averaging 3.6 hours of studying per day.

Here are my guidelines:

General

  • If possible, schedule one day a week in which you don’t do any significant MCAT-related work
    • Review your Anki cards daily, even during your “off days.” This will rarely take longer than 45 to 60 minutes and will be crucial to your retention of material.
  • Create “skeleton guides” to learn formulas. Review once a week with increasing frequency as your exam day approaches.
    • See my skeleton guide for MCAT formulas.
    • On the blank skeleton guide, I’ve written the starting value for each of the formulas (e.g. for “F = ma,” I wrote “F = …”) and using a white board or a piece of paper, I test my knowledge by filling in the blanks. I then compare my answers to those on the completed skeleton guide.
    • Note: this technique reeks of rote memorization and teaches little about how these formulas are derived. Still take the time to learn the derivation of the various formulas found on the exam, which will enable you to know when and how to apply them to specific problems.

Content Review

  • Aim to spend about six to eight weeks doing content review
    • My daily goal was to finish two Kaplan review chapters, which usually took about 120-150 minutes. I took thorough notes, highlighted, and annotated while reading.
    • The rest of the time was spent making Anki cards based on my notes and highlights.
      • See my aforementioned Anki post for further details.

Practice Phase One

  • Plan to complete the AAMC question packs about 2 months before your test day.
  • Spend about three to four weeks doing practice questions, quizzes, and passages.
    • I primarily used the passages made available on Khan Academy and the NextStep QBank.
  • Begin taking practice full lengths on the weekends. I aimed to have one entire day spaced out to take a full length exam and then spent the next day reviewing the items I got wrong, which took about 6-8 hours.
    • I simulated test day conditions as closely as possible:
      • Start taking exam at 8am and complete in one fell swoop, taking the breaks as prescribed
      • Use a physical mouse to take exam
      • Take exam in a quiet-ish location, one in which there are other people and some movement
      • Restrict my access to the Internet and my smartphone
    • Here is the basic set-up of the spreadsheet I used:
Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 20.56.58

(WIGIW stands for “why I got it wrong”)

  • During this period, I also watched Khan Academy content review video lessons for areas in which I was struggling.

Practice Phase Two

  • Spend the last 3-4 weeks of your preparation reviewing official AAMC material, dividing your time between the three practice full lengths on the weekends and the section banks in the last two weeks leading up to your exam.
    • Treat these materials like manna.
  • You’ll notice that the AAMC explanations, however, leave much to be desired.
    • When reviewing your official practice full lengths, take two days to provide thorough explanations for every question. Act as if the AAMC has hired you to provide more substantive details for each item.