This is a guest post from Nasya Mendoza,an MCAT tutor in Chicago who provides private MCAT tutoring through MyGuru, a boutique tutoring provider with locations in Chicago and several other cities.  She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Biology in 2012, and will be attending the University of Illinois – Chicago medical school in 2013.

MCAT Study Habits

The MCAT is a particularly difficult exam.  MCAT-Verbal is more of a traditional standardized test, while the rest of the exam requires detailed knowledge of Biology, Physics, and Chemistry content.  Across all sections of the MCAT, a mix of content knowledge and test-taking strategy is required in varying degrees.  To do well, you need to plan ahead and develop an effective study plan.  Here are five tips to developing a study plan that prepares you to succeed on the MCAT.  You’ll notice that many of these tips don’t seem MCAT-specific – they could apply to any study plan.  But, they are particularly relevant, because the MCAT is such a beast of an exam – it requires a diligent and structured study schedule.

1. Start by identifying your strengths and weaknesses

As you probably know, there are three main sections to the MCAT: Physical Science (Physics and General Chemistry), Verbal, and Biological Science (Biology and Organic Chemistry).  You should start by taking a full length MCAT practice test, or at least a solid diagnostic test.  You should start by understanding where you need to focus your MCAT study efforts, and then tailor your MCAT study plan accordingly.

2.   Hand write your long-term plan

Hand-write your long-term plan, from now until the day of your exam (including what you will do to celebrate!), including dates and milestone goals along the way.  This should be a relatively high level plan, with major dates only.

3.   Write out a weekly schedule somewhere clearly visible

Using an actual calendar, visibly write out each day’s schedule so you can both mentally and physically prepare for the rigor and length of the day.  As a medical student, entire days will spent filled with studying, labs, and the likes for months on end.  When it comes to studying for the MCAT, determine when and where you’ll study for the Verbal vs. Physical Science vs. Biological section of the test.  If you’re strong in Verbal but weak in Organic Chemistry, make sure you account for this in developing your plan (which is often best developed with an MCAT tutor or current med student who has recently taken the MCAT and can provide some guidance).

Either buy a monthly calendar that you can hang somewhere you pass by every day, or get a dry-erase board that you can draw your calendar out on.  Write up any inspirational quotes up there that keep you going too.  Let’s get used to it!

4.   Reward yourself along each milestone and at the end

Included in this calendar and long-term study plan should also be those milestones that you will set up with your MCAT tutor.  And right alongside those milestones, just as important, are rewards.  You want to begin training yourself for rigorous study, and providing rewards will help make a positive association with learning.  That’s right, you want to Pavlov yourself.

Just as it is important to be focused, driven, and unwavering, it is important to decompress yourself.  This is done once in a while with rewards, but there should also be a more frequent, perhaps daily (if schedule permits), activity that you may do that allows you to relieve stress, ya know those cortisol levels, on the daily.  These can be toxic, not only physiologically, but also to your mental well-being.  I highly recommend exercise, as it reinforces the principles of discipline, self-control, and a schedule, all while eliminating the body’s toxins and helping memory consolidation.

5.   Reminisce about how all this work will make you feel in the end when you succeed

It is healthy and important to once in a while spend some time closing your eyes and imagining what you will feel when you have succeeded in getting through exam day and then a month later attaining your MCAT score.  Reminiscing about the future to come is what got us this far, and you want to keep your passion and drive at a high.  Remember, the MCAT is one small step in what might be a decade of additional study before you finally start practicing in your preferred area of medicine!

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