Step-by-Step MCAT Preparation Guide
If you are dreaming of a medical career, some questions that sure surface in your mind often are how to crack the MCAT examination, when to start the preparation, whether to study on your own or join a formal program, etc. MCAT is an important exam and one needs much planning, preparation, dedication and diligence to crack it. You just cannot cram for the exam. Here is a step by step guide that lets you plan early and prep MCAT.
1. Understand MCAT - The first step in prep MCAT is to familiarize yourself with the examination, such as why it is conducted, what it assesses, and how and when you can take it. This is very important as it helps you register on time and prepare well for the exam. Some of the important points include:
- Conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), MCAT is a computer based, standardized test aimed at evaluating the prospective medical students' skills, knowledge, and abilities. Problem solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and cognition of concepts in physical and biological sciences are tested by way of multiple-choice questions. In addition, the writing skills are tested.
- There are different administrations of the test in each calendar year starting from January to September. You need to choose the best date based on your level of preparation and the medical school application deadlines. Early registrations are recommended to secure the desired test center and date for yourself. There are four different parts in the MCAT examination, namely, Physical Sciences (PS), Biological Sciences (BS), Verbal Reasoning (VR), and Writing Sample (WS). There are 52 questions each from Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences, 40 questions on Verbal Reasoning and 2 Writing samples. The official MCAT site provides content outlines, pointers, topic statements, and instructions for all the four sections.
- The best place to learn about MCAT is the official MCAT site https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/about/. This site has all the required information including the exam pattern, important dates and deadlines, fee, scoring and score release, FAQs, a sample test, and the link for MCAT registration. A lot of other sources are available online that provide information about MCAT.
2. Assess yourself-An initial self assessment is a must if you want to know where you stand. Taking the free practice test available at the MCAT official website is the best way to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. This helps you chalk out the best plan to prep MCAT.
3. Choose a method-Many prefer to study on their own, while some others opt for formal review programs to prep MCAT. Your undergraduate studies can form the base for the MCAT test as well; however, if you are not sure about the concepts or the skills, a review program could help you master the subjects and polish the other required skills better. Based on the initial assessment, you could decide whether to join a formal program, or study on your own, and what all areas to focus on.
- Joining a formal program is not a must, and according to AAMC, almost half of the students who write MCAT choose self study.
- Princeton Review and Kaplan are two big names in the formal review programs field (online and offline), with many other small players.
4. Collect enough materials-You could start collecting materials right from your undergraduate days. Even if you are starting a little later, it does not matter; and plenty of materials are available. In case of joining a formal review program, you might get some materials from the course provider. However, when undertaking self study, you should take extra care to collect all required materials to prep MCAT.
- Plenty of materials are available online and offline - like books, practice tests, previous years' question papers, and online videos and lectures. Many online materials are either free or of very low cost.
- The Official Guide to MCAT Exam by AAMC is a good resource to start with and contains 140 questions from previous exams.
- Many of the AAMC guides and materials are available online for purchase and can be purchased at bookstalls, as well. Your college bookstore also might have a good number of materials.
- Buying used stuff and borrowing from friends are other great ways to get what you need.
5. Follow a study plan- Whether you prepare on your own, or join a program, being systematic and diligent counts a lot, as in the case of any other assessment exam. A formal program provides an orderly plan and review of the topics and provides ample external motivation in the form of tutors and peers, while self study calls for more self-motivation and hard work to succeed. Hence chalking out a plan is more important in self study.
- On an average, three to four months of intensive study is required to prep MCAT. This should be kept in mind, especially while registering for the exam.
- In-depth undergraduate coursework and extra reading and writing to support vocabulary building, reading pace, and critical thinking abilities might function as the base for MCAT preparation. Thus, preparation can actually start early enough, right along with your undergraduate courses.
- Decide how you are going to study, as to how many hours in a day or in a week, and stick to the plan come what may. Divide your time for all the topics, as you find appropriate. For example, allocate more time to improving your writing skills if you are not that good in the area, but are extremely good in all the other sections.
- Review the subjects thoroughly, and work on improving the writing skills and logical and thinking abilities.
6. Take practice tests - Keep taking practice tests at regular intervals to check your progress and evaluate your performance. This helps you pace up if required, and focus more on weaker areas. MCAT is a timed test, and hence simulated practice tests could enhance your ability to finish all the questions within the given time. Tests also help you refine your problem solving and critical thinking skills. Official e-MCAT practice tests are considered extremely good as they are like real tests in almost all aspects.
7. Be active - Quite a number of study events, seminars, webinars, online forums, etc. are conducted these days on different topics, and MCAT is not an exception. Look out for such events and be a part of them; these are venues for sharing information on various topics from exam pattern to review of a particular tutorial program, and might benefit you immensely.
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