Tag Archives: MCAT tips

Premed Study Strategies: What I Wish I Had Done Differently

Premed Study Strategies: What I Wish I Had Done Differently

I remember arriving at college. My parents moved me into my not so spacious new dorm room, said their goodbyes (a tearful one from my mom), and were pretty quickly on their way. I was excited to explore this foreign land, but also a bit apprehensive. I thought I wanted to go into medicine (along with seemingly three quarters of my class), but was not entirely convinced. Either way, I knew my academics were important. With the start of classes, I fell back on my high school study strategies (I thought I knew premed study strategies), most of which were not the most efficient. Throughout undergrad, I adapted these, but not as quickly as I should have. Here is how you can learn from my mistakes.


Figure Out Your Learning Style

This refers to how you prefer to interact with information. For example, you may be an auditory learning, learning best by listening to a professor’s lecture. Or perhaps it is the professor’s slides that que you in best, making you a visual learner. Most likely though, you are some combination of learning styles. There are online quizzes where you can determine this, but you can also use your own judgement. What do you seem to prefer? Once you have answered that, put it to the test. Incorporate that particular learning style more heavily into your studying and evaluate the results. Note, your preferred learning style may change over time, no worries! Ultimately, this heavily influence your premed study strategies.


Always Employ Active Learning

This is as opposed to passive learning. Passive learning is when you nonchalantly sit in a lecture hall, the professor’s sweet, silky voice washing over your ears. Or it is simply gazing at slide after slide after slide. Active learning is when you organically recall the information. Refer to my post praising the free online flashcard system Anki for the extensive data on how to best retain information. No surprise, it includes active studying. Beyond Anki, there are several ways to utilize active studying. You could do practice questions. If the professor does not provide them then crack the textbook or even make them up yourself. See if you can stump your friends! You could also summarize your notes out loud. I am currently teaching my cats microbiology!


Don’t Over-Resource Yourself

This isn’t as much of a problem in undergrad as it certainly is in medical school. Nonetheless, it is a good seed to plant. You are bombarded with information from the lecturer, which may or may not extrapolate beyond the power point (another source of information), and then there is the book and an array of potential handouts. You may have time in undergrad to rifle through all of these sources, but you definitely do not in medical school. Moreover, you need to start implanting the skill of realizing where the value is. If the lecturer is garbage, then look elsewhere. If you can find everything you need in the book, then why go to class? Learning premed study strategies is about streamlining the process of getting the information from all of these places into your head.


Condensation, Condensation, and More Condensation

Whatever your learning style or combination of learning styles ends of being, you will no doubt be confronted with a lot of information initially. This only gets more daunting, as each medical school lecture feels like you have been bulldozed. This tidbit will instill a vital survival tool though! Practice weeding out the important information. Initially, this will be educated guesses, but hints from professors, old exams, or your results on current exams can guide your future guesswork. Basically, if you are taking notes from a textbook or reviewing a power point, your interpretation of the information is not going to be verbatim. That would be silly. Condense it to the relevant information, which is more efficient in the moment, but also when you review it later.


This refers to a myriad of things. First, I highly recommend checking out our post on the Pomodoro technique. Essentially, you set a timer for a set amount of time and then study furiously. When the alarm rings, you grant yourself a 5 or 10 minute break. Then the process continues for as much stamina as you have. Ultimately, the goal is to work up to an hour of religious study per setting of the timer. This allows you to retain information better, but is simply more efficient than jumping between Facebook and the task at hand for several hours. Along the same lines, choose your study environment wisely. Is it an environment that will allow something like the Pomodoro technique to thrive, or will you constantly be interrupted?



Because your study strategies should be active, not passive, I do not believe that much collaborating should occur. If you simply take someone else’s notes for a lecture, then you did not have to listen to your professor speak and weed out the important information. This task is active. Moreover, the organizational scheme is less likely to make sense to you. Although it requires more work up front, you benefit in the long run. Studying in groups is different though. This can be turned into an active process by quizzing each other and explaining difficult concepts to one another. It is nice to converse with humans every once and awhile, as opposed to my cats. Ultimately, a little group studying is just what premeds need to keep some sanity too.


Developing a Healthy View of Competition

Premeds are naturally competitive, but it is also instilled from the moment we begin undergrad by the ridiculously competitive nature of getting into medical school. While this is stressful, embrace it in a positive way. Think about your classmates as propelling you to new heights. If medical schools had an 80% acceptance rate instead of one closer to 5%, would you study as hard? Definitely not! Moreover, the accomplishment would mean so much less. Embrace the competition and also praise those around you. By building up those around you, rather than tearing them down, you take the pressure off of yourself. This allows you to realize all of the qualified candidates that there are instead of putting yourself on a pedestal and being disappointed with rejection. Once accepted to medical school, regardless of your undergraduate experience, things become very collaborative. Study guides are shared on Facebook and people will spend time with you on difficult concepts that elude you. Why would it be any other way? After all, we will all be colleagues one day!

By Bryan Miles

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

Medical school is chaotic. You are balancing school itself, the extracurriculars helping to propel you towards a residency, maintaining the relationships that comprise your support network, and not to mention basic human necessities like eating, exercising, and showering. Just reading this sentence can cause your mind to swirl. So, here are three reasons you need to make a daily task list and start your own medical school organization.


1. It Reduces Anxiety

As I alluded to above, medical school is anxiety provoking. I would argue that daily task lists actually reduce this anxiety and should be utilized by everyone for optimal medical school organization and performance. You take a mess of tasks and neatly organize them into discrete, digestible components. Moreover, once your list is made, there is nothing to worry about. It is time to buckle down and start crossing things off.

Side Note-A Running List Furthers Anxiety Reduction

Continuing on the above thoughts, additional tasks will undoubtedly come to mind while diligently working through your list. No problem, have a running to do list next to your daily tasks. This is simply a place to write down thoughts as they organically present themselves. For instance, if you suddenly remember that you need to call your mom or complete a pre-class quiz, just jot that down on your running list. Now your mind is not distracted with thoughts of that and you are able to better focus on whatever task may be at hand. Note, this is to be utilized for short-term things you intend to complete that day!


2. It Increases Productivity

I honestly believe organization increases productivity. You have complete control over your daily task list. Therefore, you can set your priorities and create a roadmap for the day reflecting this. In our Finding Your Focal Point piece, we discussed the value of goal setting. This holds true here as well. You are essentially setting goals for the day, rather than haphazardly accomplishing tasks. While the later may seem just as efficient, I assure you that long-term, meticulously charting out your path to success is more optimizing.

3. It Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

Unlike undergrad, which is generally filled with endless tasks, such as assignments and papers, medical school is just the opposite. Most semesters consist of a few rounds of tests or a mid-term and a final. That only equates to a few boxes to check off. In the interim, you are persevering through vast amounts of material with no defined starting or stopping points (other than the exams of course). This can weight on your psyche. To combat this, I started creating more boxes to check. For instance, my daily task list includes things like watch Microbiome lecture or review sexually transmitted infections lecture. I don’t know why it is so satisfying, but I absolutely love crossing things a to do list!

Your turn:

Daily Task List

  1. Read: How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons You Need A Daily Task List
  2. Starting making Daily Task Lists


9 MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

9 MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

Just like any other premed, I dreaded the MCAT. Dreaded is not strong enough of a word to describe my angst though. Dread is something you face when doing an unpleasant task, such as shopping for myself. Simply thinking about the MCAT elevated my blood pressure. Although not as effortlessly as I had hoped, I did survive the MCAT and eventually matriculated at the Medical College of Wisconsin. What follows are my tips for doing so yourself.

Tip #1: Assess your strengths and weaknesses

The new, 2015 MCAT is broken down into 4 sections. Everyone taking the test has a unique background. Someone with a PhD in biochemistry likely has the luxury of not studying for that section, while an English major has an advantage in the critical analysis and reasoning section. Critically evaluate your strengths and weakness with regard to the respective MCAT sections (fortunately most MCAT prep programs begin with a diagnostic test). Then, incorporate this into your study schedule, spending more time on your weaknesses and less on your strengths.

Tip #2: Pick your content overview resources appropriately

The MCAT tests you on an overwhelming amount of material. Therefore, you are going to need a solid content overview. MCAT test prep courses differ greatly, from a comprehension in person class to online delivery where you go through at your own pace. These are pricey (I paid more than I would like to admit for one during my first attempt) and in my opinion, not necessary unless you lack the discipline to push yourself (in which case I worry about you in medical school haha). Like I said, I paid a lot for the online course my first attempt and regretted it. The content overview I got from that was no different than what I got from simply buying the books (for only a few hundred dollars) for my second attempt. Moreover, I was then able to obey Tip #1 (Access your Strengths and Weaknesses), glossing over the sections I viewed as strengths. This is harder to do if the delivery of the material is outside of your control, as it is in classroom courses.

Tip #3: Reduce, reduce, reduce

While going through the content, it is imperative you reduce it (in terms of volume), in your own fashion. There is simply too much information to know. Therefore, you need to condense it, which will require educated guesses, and commit that bit to memory. There are several ways to accomplish this. Some people like to handwrite outlines, others like to type them. Some people are fans of notecards. Personally, I am in love with the online flashcard system Anki (stay tuned for a future post on this). This skillset will pay dividends in medical school, where once again, the amount of material is overwhelming and you must reduce, reduce, reduce.

Tip #4: Practice questions are your best friend

While diligently going through my online MCAT prep course the first go around, I got bogged down in content. This distracted me from doing the invaluable practice questions. Unlike any test you have been exposed to, you need to know more than content to succeed on the MCAT. You need to be comfortable with the style in which it tests you and recognize the myriad of traps it sets. Failing to do this, I scored in the 50th percentile initially. In my second attempt, I made sure not to overlook practice questions. These can come in a variety of forms. Since taking entire tests is draining, I bought books that had sample sections, such as the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems section. In addition to this, I would do whole tests. Going back to tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses), these were an opportunity to do just that. I analyzed which topics I got wrong and directed my studying appropriately. Ultimately, these tactics allowed me to score in the 90th percentile my second time.

Tip #5: Studying too long is a recipe for burnout 

Your length of study depends on the starting point I alluded to in tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses). Some of you will have this mapped out for you, thanks to your MCAT test prep courses. I would caution you not to study longer than 8 weeks. By that point, you have more than likely reached saturation and will only negatively impact your score. A sample study schedule may look something like this: up to a month of content related studying where you follow tip #3 (Reduce, Reduce, Reduce), followed by up to a month of following tip #4 (Practice Questions Are Your Friend). The second month may look something like this: devoting one day each week to a particular topic (remember there are four). This is amenable to personalization based on tip #1 (Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses). On these days, you do sample practice sections. For instance, Monday may consist of 3-4 sample chemical and physical foundations of biological systems sections. While reviewing each section, tally the topics you struggled with. You then have your blueprint for what topics to study the rest of that day. Somewhere during the week you need to fit in a full length practice test in, as well as a separate day to review it (the length of the new test makes it hard to do both tasks in the same day). Again, utilize this as a roadmap for your studies. Note, this sample schedule is for someone with two months set aside for studying. If you plan on studying amidst other activities, the content overview can be spread out over more weeks. Lastly, take one day off each week! It will allow for some rejuvenation and prevent burnout!

Tip #6: Break your day up

Unfortunately, the very nature of MCAT studying can be isolating and depressing. It is important you continue to do the things you love to lessen this. For me, that was working out and spending time with friends and family. Although I was studying 10 plus hours a day, I made sure to work these things in to keep me sane. I can guarantee that if you cut everything, but studying out, you will be miserable. This will translate to quickly burning out and ultimately performing worse.

Tip #7: To study with others or not to study with others 

This is a difficult one. Studying with others can do one of two things, either stress you out or provide some solidarity. Answering this question could best be answered by assessing how you do studying with others for college courses. Ultimately though, you are going to have to be the one to learn the material, so you will need to spend a lot of time with it personally.

Tip #8: Believe in yourself

No one is going to be able to do this one for you. The MCAT is intimidating, along with all the other elements of getting into medical school, but you have to believe that you are capable. This will give you the willpower to get up every morning and push through the material. More importantly, this will allow you to keep fighting when practice exams beat you down. My sisters made fun of me, but I taped a piece of paper that said “Believe” above my bed while studying. This was the first thing I looked at every morning and the last thing I thought about each night. It helped me fake it when there was not an organic sense of belief. Whatever your own spin on this may be, do it!

Tip #9: Retaking the MCAT

This is a gray area that could have its own blog post entirely. What I want to touch on is the fact that retaking the MCAT should be looked at as an opportunity. I definitely did not feel this way when I got my first test result back, but in retrospect it forced me to critically evaluate my first attempt and also tested just how bad I wanted to get into medical school. It motivated me to what I felt was my true potential. As I said, I went from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile. Retaking the MCAT was a blessing in disguise for me and there is no reason you can’t make it one too!

By Bryan Miles – Medical College of Wisconsin