Tips for Preparing for the MCAT

So you want to go to Medical School? The required test for admission to medical school, called the MCAT, is a doozy. Our advice is to start early to prepare for this test, preferably a year in advance of when you need to take it.

Step one: Get started

1. Set aside two evenings a week to study for 1 hour each. Or four nights a week for half an hour each. If you are able to study longer than that, great. If not, keep this as your minimum goal. Procrastination will tempt you--make yourself stick to this habit of study.

2.Browse thoroughly the part of the AAMC website that provides tips and resources for preparing for the MCAT:

https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/preparing/

3. Identify which resources would be most helpful to you. One of them must be the free practice test. A new resource that looks particularly useful to me is The Official Guide to the MCAT, 3rd Edition. It costs $30, so you might be wise to find some friends who are interested in sharing the costs with you.

4. Be sure to work through practice problems, one-by-one, and check your answers so you can understand why an answer is correct. The more comfortable you can become with this test, the better.

Step two: Narrow your focus

By now, you should have a good sense of what will be on the test. If you have not already, take steps to identify areas of weakness. Many students find that specific science courses have prepared them for the physical science and biological sciences, so the key for success with those portions is to review the material that you may have forgotten, or that appears challenging.

Some science majors report to me that their greatest worry is the verbal section --but that may not be true for everyone who studies for this test. However, I can see that if a student has been studying scientific texts primarily, suddenly reading a variety of texts from literature, philosophy, and political science, with the occasional dash of geology or astronomy, can be a jolt. Further, the verbal section requires reading lengthy and, at times, complex passages and answering detailed questions in a fairly short amount of time. If this section is challenging for you, it is so helpful to find out as soon as you can. Many students can improve on this section if they can devote time to improve over the long term, rather than simply studying for one month before the test. (Which is why I wanted you to start early.)

Step three: Improve your reading speed and vocabulary

The key to reading faster is to read more often and to read a variety of texts. Some students find the New York Times helpful. Others find the New Yorker and Harper's provide an even more challenging variety of texts and vocabulary.

Set aside time to read 15 minutes a day. Push yourself to read a little faster than your habit.

Whenever you encounter a word you do not know, pause to guess its meaning, then look it up.

Enhance this study by reviewing words in other ways, such as using www.freerice.com.

Step four: Connect with study buddies.

I know one group of pre-med students who formed a study group and hired a tutor to help them prepare. I thought this arrangement was wise. They could help each other move forward, and they had a resource to give them feedback or fresh insights. This group approach would also help defray costs, if you work together to pay for review materials. Finally, discussing concepts is a powerful way to learn. I would recommend discussing common readings, too, such as the articles from New Yorker.

Note: Khan Academy is developing some review videos on the MCAT at this site: https://www.khanacademy.org/science/mcat You might check it out (it's free).

Should you take advantage of an expensive review program? I cannot answer that question. I know the stakes are high to be competitive for medical school, and if people you trust recommend you take advantage of one of these expensive test preparation services, perhaps it makes sense. On the other hand, a year of individual study combined with group discussions with peers, if pursued with self-discipline, could suffice.

A possible resource, if you are interested in seeking out paid assistance (with a few free options) is www.MCAT-Prep.com

**Please note that students at Appalachian who wish to apply to Medical School need to connect early in their studies with the Health Professions Advising Office to learn more about all of the expectations and procedures related to this process. http://hpa.appstate.edu/