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How to Self-Study for the MCAT

Discussion in 'MCAT Discussions' started by BerkReviewTeach, Mar 2, 2011.

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  1. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    Self-Studying for the MCAT

    • More and more people each year study for the MCAT without taking a formal review course. As a little bit of reading around the SDN forums will show you, many of them do quite fine using a combination of home-study materials. We're quite proud to be a significant part of the prep material cocktail that the majority of self-studiers at SDN use and succeed with. Just a little bit of reading will find hundreds of posts raving that our materials are the best for self-studying physics, general chemistry and organic chemistry and that our biology passages are a big part of a successful preparation plan for the biological sciences section. You'll even find a few threads here and there explaining what a pleasant surprise our verbal reasoning materials proved to be in terms of providing additional passages to people who had exhausted the limited amount of verbal reasoning passages on the open market. So given that we are such a significant part of self-studying, it seemed like a great idea to put down a few suggestions and a schedule for studying on your own.

    Assessing your Needs
    An effective plan starts with honestly assessing what YOU need. Not all of us come from the same educational background, have the same intuition and logic, and pick up concepts at the same rate. Knowing yourself is the first step to establishing the perfect study plan. Counting on a diagnostic exam to determine your strengths and weaknesses is crazy, yet many people do this. For an exam to be truly diagnostic of all of the concepts, equations, and terms on the two science sections of the MCAT would require well over a thousand questions. The other problem with diagnostic exams is that we often miss questions on material we know (and know well) because of the style of the question, not the content. The result is that diagnostic feedback based on one or two questions in a subject area is misleading. Lucky guessing or low question difficulty could give you a false sense of understanding in a trouble spot as much as a careless error or high question difficulty could give you a false sense of need in a strong subject. The bottom line is that you need to assess your abilities, because you know yourself better than anyone. No matter what the one question involving a titration curve on a commercial diagnostic exam tells you about your understanding of titrations (either you know it 100% or 0%), you know best whether or not you know that subject well.

    So rather than starting with an exam, start with either the table of contents in the review books or the list of topics from the Official MCAT Guideline released by AAMC. Go through the lists for each subject topic-by-topic and identify areas that have traditionally bothered you, decide how much content review you need (most students overestimate this), consider how good you are at multiple-choice exams, and figure out how well you learn from doing practice exams. From there you can layout a personalized schedule.

    Setting a Realistic Schedule
    The next step after assessing what you need is setting a realistic schedule based on the amount of time you need to review the material and the amount of time you need to complete and then thoroughly review enough practice exams to feel comfortable with the test. From that point, consider how much time you have to study (in terms of hours per day) and start designing a schedule. It is important that you set this schedule first, and then decide on an exam date. Too many people pick an exam date ambitiously or they pick it based on what other people have done, only to discover they need to postpone the MCAT because they aren't on pace to be ready for the date they chose. Some people can prepare as quickly as four to six week weeks (they start with a solid knowledge base and they don't have many other things going on besides studying for the MCAT), but for the majority of us we need three to four months (especially if we have other things going on in life).

    The Importance of Doing Passages
    As you learned in school, reviewing lecture notes and doing problems in the textbook is not enough to get a good grade on a midterm or final exam. Going through a previous exam written by your professor pays dividends beyond any other resource. The exact same thing is true with the MCAT, only ten-fold. The MCAT writers specialize in presenting material you know, in a seemingly unfamiliar setting. Success on the MCAT requires the application of concepts, the ability to visualize what is going on in a new situation, and being skillful at the process of elimination when working through their questions. It's unlike school in that showing your work is detrimental (wastes precious time) and multiple concepts are presented simultaneously. The exam at its core is not difficult (the material is completely comprehendible), but the speed with which you must process questions and the sheer volume of material can be overwhelming.

    This is why you must do practice passages to get used to the thinking required for success on the MCAT. It's the only way to be truly prepared for any MCAT you might get. Reading text may build confidence in your knowledge base, but information alone doesn't help that much on the MCAT. Doing thousands of free-standing multiple-choice questions will grill you on the subject matter, but again, it's not the simulation you need. It can even be damaging in that it builds a false sense of security that comes crashing down when you sit for an MCAT that looks nothing like what you were studying. You have to practice with passages and passage-based questions. Processing passages to ascertain the main idea (purpose) and filtering out critical data from minutiae and then answering the corresponding questions is the only way to prepare for a test where 81.9% of the questions are based on a passage. Establish a schedule that allows you to average 6-10 passages a day during the first half and 12-16 passages a day in the second half (once you are done with your content review).

    The Phases of Practicing
    If you have seen Berkeley Review materials before, you'll notice that we strongly suggest doing the homework passages in each chapter in multiple phases. The amount of work that went into designing the passages to fit into the corresponding phase is surprisingly significant (almost as much work as writing the passage, questions, and answers). The first phase of our homework is aimed at reviewing the material and trying some of the strategies we present without the pressures of time. It's like learning a new dance, where you go through everything slowly to build the right habits and get into the flow. The second phase of our homework is aimed at developing speed and faith in your intuition. You'll be pressed for time, and hopefully develop better focus and trust your ability to find a best answer without a 100% analysis. There is great utility in learning to let go of perfection. Often we are compelled to reread answer choices we are not completely sure of before picking a choice. This is a killer in terms of finishing on time. It takes a while to get used to doing this, but if you find that two answers are definitely false, one is correct, and the last leaves you uncertain, then you need to make a choice and move on. You need to pick the correct statement and let go of the anxiety you might feel from not fully comprehending that last answer choice. The third phase of our homework is aimed at perfecting your approach and working with passages that mix many subjects together. You won't know what topic questions will be based on when you take the MCAT, so you'll find that we mix random questions from other sections into the phase three passages.

    Daily Planner
    Our daily planner is simply a model schedule in Excel for you to plug into. It has a day-by-day listing of what to do, but feel free to modify it. Not everyone works the same, so you should customize it to fit your style and needs. If there are topics you know really well, then skip the reading and jump right into passages. For many of you, there will be topics that are best learned by jumping into questions. Reading can often times be passive, as we get into a mindset where we accept everything that is in print without questioning. When you work with passages and questions, the learning is active. Getting ready for all sections of this exam requires thinking, and that's exactly what your preparation should emphasize.


    • More will be added to this diatribe over the course of the week, based on feedback and questions.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 3, 2011
  2. luckviii

    luckviii

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    Choosing a proper date, setting up a proper schedule is important but how would you recommend we adjust for a test taken in a computer screen?
  3. mzblue

    mzblue

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    Solid advice from BerkReviewTeach. I agree with the setting a schedule and i can't stress enough the importance of doing practice passages. Practice makes perfect.
  4. ClueBooM

    ClueBooM

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    Thank you for this! :thumbup: Great post and very helpful!
  5. greathl21

    greathl21

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    When I called in to TBR office the other day, the person I spoke to said that on average students spend about 50 hours a week studying. That's about 7 hours a day if you study every day...and if you take a day off, then that comes out to a little over 8 hours a day.

    I'm actually very excited about preparing for the MCAT's but this does seem like an aweful lot. Does this sound about right?
  6. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    For the summer, that sounds about right. During the school year or when coupled with a fulltime job, it's a formula for burnout and disaster. During the school year, twenty-five to thirty hours a week seems about right with hefty weeks during the breaks.
  7. nickmx50

    nickmx50

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    On the self-study schedule it says Physics Phase 3 to be released. Are those additional materials that will be available later or just part of the self-study schedule that will be added? thanks
  8. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    Right now it's in limbo. We are finetuning the passages that will make up Phase III. I'm not sure when they'll be in the books, but it should be wither the upcoming print run or the following.
  9. Notsobs

    Notsobs

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    Does TBR provide any diagnostic exams that we can use to assess our progress? I know there are the AAMC exams, but I was wondering if the TBR company has created any exams that would be available to students taking the prep course?
  10. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    In the course, there are nine full-length BR CBTs as well as several sectional exams and skill exams. The only ones that could be labeled as diagnostic in the truest sense of the word are the skills exam and a couple of the summary exams given at the end. We don't believe there really is such a thing as a diagnostic exam. It would take over a 1000 questions to be able to ask multiple questions on every pissble subject, so no test can be truly diagnostic.
  11. greathl21

    greathl21

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    How would you compare the study schedule in this thread to SN2ed's schedule that is available in the MSA Discussion forum??
  12. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    MSA discussion forum?
  13. greathl21

    greathl21

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  14. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    I think SN2ed's schedule is excellent. From what I've read, it seems people who have followed that route ended up with some very good scores. I think if I were to study again, I'd follow something pretty close to that. I'd probably put a few spacer days in there. These days would serve as catchup days if I had fallen behind or as a day off if I earned it by staying caught up. I think the motivation of earning a day off here or an afternoon off there is critical at various points in your process. Plus, a day off from tiem to time can help rejuvinate the soul and fire you up to get back into the routine.

    Whether people use SN2ed's schedule or one of their own design, a schedule with things to check off everyday is essential.
  15. MD Odyssey

    MD Odyssey

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    Is 20-30 hours a week for 100 days or so typically sufficient? I realize that's a hard question to answer, but I'm having a hard time looking at the SN2 study schedule and seeing why that takes 7 hours a day to complete.
  16. MD Odyssey

    MD Odyssey

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    I'm going to bump this to see if BR can clarify a bit. Thanks.
  17. BeatMCAT

    BeatMCAT

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    so being an idiot, I lost the pdf file i had for the schedule for each passages to do for phase. I have the blue Physics and Red Biology book that do not give you a schedule, however some one FOR SURE has posted a file with the schedule somewhere on the forums. I tried searching but cant seem to find it. Do you by any chance have the file berkreviewtech? I would really appreciate it.
  18. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    I've looked and looked, but can't find them. All I can find are the ones I have posted. Why not modify those to fit the books you have? The physics is different, but the rest should be about the same.
  19. djkim

    djkim

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    Hey BRT,

    Do you know when Physics Module Phase III will be released?
  20. runalb12

    runalb12

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    When I go to the website, will the newer versions be available? The website doesn't indicate which version I am ordering
  21. Xtraordinary

    Xtraordinary PoppySeed Bread Baker

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    I actually got the TBR books from my friend who bought the books in 2011 Dec. 2012 Jan. I was wondering what could have been updated in the 2013 version. I want to avoid buying the whole new TBR books again if 2012 version is very similar to 2013 version.
  22. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    No real need to update anything. As long as the passages are clean in the books you have, you're fine.
  23. nwosua

    nwosua

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    speaking of phases ,and sections, the way the 16 week schedule is broken down is really confusing. Example, it ssays section 1: passages 1,2, 3, 6, 7, 8. but section 1 only has the 25 review questions that only has 3 passages, before the practice test. So I am very confused with the way the syllabus is set up.

    And then it jumps to phase 3, where did phase 2 & 1 go:confused:
  24. nwosua

    nwosua

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    speaking of phases ,and sections, the way the 16 week schedule is broken down is really confusing. Example, it ssays section 1: passages 1,2, 3, 6, 7, 8. but section 1 only has the 25 review questions that only has 3 passages, before the practice test. So I am very confused with the way the syllabus is set up.

    And then it jumps to phase 3, where did phase 2 & 1 go:confused:

    and im using the 2012 organic chem book.
  25. pandoboy2

    pandoboy2

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    I wanted to know if there was an issue with General Chemistry Atomic Theory: Passage II, question 12 (copyright 2010) page 129. I thought the answer to the mass spec question should be vaporization as indicated in the passage, but the answer explains it is sublimation for what I believe to be a poor reason. Can you please advise me if this was an issue in this edition?
  26. RoyalRailer

    RoyalRailer

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    Any update on this study schedule?
  27. yas710

    yas710

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    so i have kaplan books and exam krackers. i'm planning on taking the MCAT this May or June. Is there a schedule out there that I can use, with these 2 books?
  28. DAPI

    DAPI

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    Here is one for EK http://www.examkrackers.com/MCAT/MCAT-HomeStudy.aspx

    And for Kaplan, if you go to their website and get to MCAT Advantage, click Enroll/View Schedule, put in your zip code, then click time and details, it will tell you what chapters to do on what days. You can then morph this into your own schedule (this would be for the five book set, not the one large book they sell).
  29. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    This is so weird. The post above was from the Berkeley Review forum of Test Prep Week 2011. I'm not sure how it got moved to the main forum, but thanks to the Mod who did it. Please forgive the sales-pitch tone of the first paragraph, because that was meant to be reaad by people searching the BR forum.
  30. RoyalRailer

    RoyalRailer

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    I emailed SDN and they said that section has been deleted to get ready for the 2013 section



    So is there any update to this study schedule? Cause it is what I am using w/ all 9 new BR books
  31. RoyalRailer

    RoyalRailer

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    I mean particularly about the "Physics Module 3 Coming Soon...." Part


    Since that module has been released since this study Schedule was made


    How should I correlate that into my study schedule?
  32. WildWing

    WildWing CRG Project Management Staff Member Administrator SDN Senior Moderator

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    Yes, this thread was moved into the MCAT forum from the old Test Prep Week forum because we were getting a lot of help desk tickets from people looking for it.
  33. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer Exhibitor

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    Thanks for moving this thread (a bit late on my part, but I am grateful). I got a request for the planner, so I thought it'd be easiest to bump the page with two schedules.

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