otterxavier

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So, I took the new MCAT in April and got a 526 (proof). Since then, I've gotten lots of messages on SDN asking about study strategies. Rather than answer the same questions over and over in a thousand different places, I figured I'd compile all of my advice into one thread.

My goal in sharing this is not to say that this is the way to do well on the MCAT, nor do I think that the way that I studied is hugely innovative. Rather, I want to give people some hope that with commitment, discipline, and a solid head start, it is possible to do very well on the MCAT even if you:
- are not a hard sciences major
- are a nontrad balancing work and school
- have a limited budget for prep materials, and do not have the time or money for an MCAT course
- are not following an extremely detailed day-by-day schedule
- haven't finished your prereqs (although I don't recommend this!)


My background:

I've been out of college for three years. I double-majored in humanities/social studies in undergrad and took some chem and stats, but no bio, physics, psychology, or sociology. (When I took the MCAT, I still hadn't taken psych or soc, had just started biochem, and was 2/3 of the way through physics.) I started a postbac last summer knowing that a) I'd be taking the MCAT within a year and hopefully applying immediately afterward, and b) I wouldn't be able to take time off from school or work to prep full-time. So my goals were:
1. retain what I learned in my prereq courses so I didn't have to waste time relearning things
2. start studying ridiculously early and do a little bit every day (~2 hrs/day over 9 months rather than ~8 hrs/day over 2-3 months)

This is different from how a lot of people do the MCAT, so I'm not sure how well my experience will translate. However, the general principle holds for anyone: study early, slowly, and steadily. If you study 2 hours a day for a year, you've put in the same amount of time as someone who studies 8 hours a day for a single summer. But you'll probably have a more solid grasp on the material, and much lower stress levels.
 
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otterxavier

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Study materials:


All told, I spent about $215 on study materials for the MCAT. There is a prevalent attitude that prep courses and tutoring are essential in order to do well on the MCAT. But if you're starting out with decent test-taking skills and have the motivation to stick to a study schedule on your own, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a prep course in order to be well-prepared for this exam.


The materials I used, in order of decreasing helpfulness:
  • Official AAMC materials: Use them all – the official guide, practice packs, sample tests. These are straight from the source and by far the most representative of the test. As you start to do content review, AAMC's content outlines are not an exciting read and do not contain every term or concept that you need to know, but at least skim through them and make a note of any topics that you don't recognize. The question packs are best saved until you're done with the bulk of your content review – use them not to consolidate the material, but to get used to the style of the test and the electronic exam interface.

  • Princeton Review: I used PR's MCAT 2015 boxed set and found the books clear and easy to study from. There's somewhat more detail than you need, but not to an extent that it's a waste of time. The psych/soc book contained almost all of the terms and concepts that I encountered on the AAMC practice exam and the real test; the concepts that weren't in there were pretty easy to guess based on context. PR's practice tests and diagnostics are useful for identifying topics that you're weak on, but imo they are too heavy on content and weak on interpretation and critical thinking. And they are way harder than real exam. My scores on PR practice tests were ~10 points below score on AAMC practice test, and ~15 points below score on actual exam. So, if you buy the PR materials then by all means use the free practice tests – but don't panic when you see your score.
  • Lehninger's Principles of Biochemistry: I am recommending this solely for the section on amino acids, which is <10 pages and covers just about everything (with more detail than you really need on acid/base properties of AAs). The rumors are true: AAs are really important on the new exam – there were easily over a dozen questions that were gimmes if you knew your AAs well, but were difficult or impossible if you didn't. Memorizing the one- and three-letter abbreviations, the side chains, their properties (hydrophilic/hydrophobic, acidic/basic, charged/uncharged, polar/nonpolar), and any special quirks (e.g., cysteine forms disulfide bonds, tryptophan and tyrosine are responsible for UV absorbance) is much easier, and probably higher-yield, than a lot of the other random junk that people routinely memorize for the MCAT.
  • Khan Academy: What Khan Academy lacks in quality, it makes up for by having a ton of free material. It's pretty good when you're starting out with content review – the passages help to identify what you don't know and it's easy to pull up a video to review. The problems are that some areas have way too much detail; the emphasis on computation in the physics passages is not realistic; the explanations of the answers are frequently not helpful, even if you read all of the hints; and the passages don't resemble the tone and structure of the exam at all. A good place to start, but don't spend too much time doing serious prep here.
(I haven't looked at any other companies' study materials, so please don't ask me about them.)

For folks who are looking for affordable sources of practice tests, there are free half-length sample exams from Kaplan and NextStep, the three Princeton Review exams that come with the books (you can access these online with the ISBN from any of their MCAT prep books), and the official AAMC practice exam (not free but worth the cost); there's also a free Altius exam that I didn't end up using.
 

otterxavier

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Study outline:

I didn't keep to a rigid timeline – my school and work schedule made that impossible. Instead, my goal was to study for at least 1-2 hours every day, more on days when I had the time. 2 hours was always enough time for me to go through old flashcards in Anki, create enough new flashcards to have some on board for the next day, and do a little bit of reading or practice passages. Here's an outline of the stages that I went through in preparing for the test. The text in [bracketed italics] is to give a rough timeline of how I did it, but none of this is set in stone; e.g., don't think that you need to start content review exactly nine months before the test in order to be adequately prepared.

1. [As early as possible] Sign up for free MCAT question of the day emails (there are four that I know of, from Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Next Step, and mcatquestion.com). Doing the questions of the day each morning is a quick, easy way to get in some practice, and helps to keep your eyes on your goal.

2. [As early as possible] Get Anki. If you're not familiar with the wonder that is Anki, your life is about to change forever. It's a really versatile spaced-repetition flashcard software; there's a free computer version, as well as a $25 app that is the best money that I've ever spent. I made Anki decks throughout my prereq courses and content review, and tried to do 100 review cards and 25-50 new cards every day. It adds up fast: by the time my MCAT date rolled around, there were more than 12,000 cards in my Anki decks. This is by far the best method that I found for consolidating and maintaining info for the exam. There's a lot out there about how to make smarter/higher-yield flashcards for Anki... I won't duplicate that here, but can post more about how I wrote my cards if people are curious.

Edit: several people have asked me if I'm sharing my Anki deck. I'm not planning on posting it, for two reasons:
1. The cards are pretty customized to my strengths and weaknesses, so there is a lot of detail on some topics, but other topics I skipped entirely.
2. The exercise of making your own flashcards is good review in and of itself -- you probably learn more by making them than by reviewing them.
In the long run, I think it is way more valuable to make your own deck!

3. [nine months before test] Start content review. I started studying with PR's MCAT 2015 prep books when they came out in August – reading a chapter a week during the term, a chapter a day during school breaks. My process was:
- Read the chapter, taking notes on all info that wasn't covered in my prereq courses (or that I didn't remember, or never learned clearly).
- At least a day later, make flashcards from notes.
- Once I'd finished learning all of the flashcards from a chapter, I went back and did the questions and passage at the end.
I was still working on some prereq courses at this point, so used the physics MCAT prep book alongside my regular textbook as I went through the course. Otherwise, I went through one book at a time, starting with the books that had the most new/unfamiliar content. Some study plans rotate through subjects (psych on Monday, bio on Tuesday, gen chem on Wednesday, etc.)... I don't think it particularly matters which way you do it, it's just a matter of individual preference.

4. [three months before test] Transition from content review to passage practice. By this point I had basically finished reading the PR books, but still had a backlog of flashcards to learn. As I worked my way through the cards, I gradually decreased the amount of time that I spent learning new flashcards each day, and increased the amount of time that I spent on practice passages. The goal at this point was to make sure that there weren't any major gaps in my content review, and to become familiar with the style of MCAT passages. Initially I used passages from Khan Academy; if I hit a passage on a topic that was unfamiliar, I watched the associated video(s) for review. Once I was consistently getting 4/5 or 5/5 questions right on KA passages, I switched to the AAMC practice packs.


5. [six weeks before test] Prepare for exam conditions. By this point I had learned all of my flashcards, was pretty confident that I knew most of the important material for the exam, and was basically familiar with the tone and style of MCAT passages. The goal at this point was to build endurance for the test itself.
- With the remaining questions in the AAMC practice packs, I would sit down and do as many passages as possible in 60 minutes, then spend half an hour or so going over the answers and reviewing any weak spots as necessary. I kept a spreadsheet tracking how long each passage took, the percent of questions that I got right, and which topics tripped me up (@$%*# enzyme kinetics!).
- A month before the exam I started doing one or two timed practice tests a week, under test conditions as closely as possible. This was hellishly difficult to fit in around work and school – at one point I did a practice test from 6 PM to 1 AM, after going to class in the morning and working all afternoon – but absolutely critical. I can't understate how hard it is to get used to maintaining focus on a 6+ hour exam. For wrong answers or tricky questions, I made a flashcard with the question and the explanation of the answer. I tried to focus these on concepts or reasoning skills that are broadly relevant, rather than the specifics of that question.

The last five days or so before the test I kept up my Anki flashcard routine, but pretty much chilled out on practice exams and passages in favor of getting lots of sleep, eating doughnuts, etc.
 
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otterxavier

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Some other general thoughts about the exam:


I never took the old MCAT, but based on what I've seen, the new exam is less about content and more about critical thinking. For many questions, all of the information that you need to find the answer is there in the passage – it's just a matter of whether you can reason it out. Critical reading and thinking skills are essential on a passage-based exam and will affect your score on all sections, not just CARS. If that is a weak spot for you, I honestly think that once you have a solid grasp on the fundamental content for the MCAT (the things that will definitely be on the exam), it is higher yield to spend more time practicing critical reading, rather than memorizing more detailed content. Strong critical reading and thinking skills can save your ass on many passages where you are not familiar with the content. I don't have much advice about how to prepare for CARS and critical reading/thinking more generally... but there are many, many other threads about it here.


Lots of questions throughout the exam deal with experiments and experiment design – get comfortable reading primary literature about research in the sciences, particularly molecular and cell biology (e.g., look for short articles in journals like Science) and think through questions like:
  • What is the hypothesis of this experiment, and what are the dependent and independent variables?
  • How would you need to alter the experiment in order to test a different, related hypothesis?
  • What conclusions are and aren't reasonable to draw from this set of data?
  • Which aspects of the experiment design could limit the validity or generalizability of these findings?
  • What directions for further research are suggested?
  • What implications could this have for other physiological systems that I'm familiar with? Can I connect it to diseases that I know about, or possible treatments?

  • An MCAT prep journal club would be a fun way to do this (at least, my idea of fun ;) ) If you are the kind of person who likes to skip over the figures, make sure to take a careful look at them, read the captions, and think about how they relate to the text (and whether they are saying the same thing as the text!)
I found that the course that was most helpful for the MCAT was Molecular Biology (which my premed advisor strongly urged me not to take!). Because of that course, I was already familiar with many of the experimental techniques described in passages, as well as the model systems that are used over and over (lac operon, cell differentiation in Drosophila embryos, etc.) You don't have to know these things going into the exam – it's explained in the passages where it's relevant – but it definitely helps to be familiar with it, it's less new info to synthesize on the fly (no pun intended).

Finally, remember this: succeeding on the MCAT is not about knowing everything. It's about staying calm and using reason to make good judgments in a situation where it's impossible to know everything. There will be passages on the exam where you have absolutely no clue what's going on. Expect that and be prepared to take a deep breath, make your best guess, and move on. The whole test is designed to get you to psych yourself out, panic, and descend into self-doubt. Don't fall into that trap.

Good luck!
 

yeezuswest

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Awesome! Following a similar plan where I'll be taking the test next spring, studying for the next 9 months or so while taking classes and working part-time. Thanks again.

So when you were covering about a chapter a week from TPR, was that a chapter a week from each subject (so like 6 chapters per week) or literally just one chapter from a single subject per week?
 
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Hi I read your post a while back and just wanted to say you're awesome. I'm in a similar situation where I don't have a lot of resources and can't take a course... Based on what you posted, did you strictly use just aamc materials, some ka passages, the 3 tpr tests, free next step and Kaplan tests for practice?
 

Dreamstoo

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I forgot who it was but there was a 40+ scorer on the old MCAT last summer who was also non trad. It's definitely possible.
 
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Gandyy

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I forgot who it was but there was a 40+ scorer on the old MCAT last summer who was also non trad. It's definitely possible.
I'm a nontrad as well. Just because we've been out of school for a little while doesnt mean we forgot how to read and write. Granted I didnt do as well as OP, but it wasnt god awful.
 
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otterxavier

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Awesome! Following a similar plan where I'll be taking the test next spring, studying for the next 9 months or so while taking classes and working part-time. Thanks again.

So when you were covering about a chapter a week from TPR, was that a chapter a week from each subject (so like 6 chapters per week) or literally just one chapter from a single subject per week?
Literally one chapter from a single subject per week. Wasn't kidding when I said I took it slow :) I made up for it by doing a chapter per day during school breaks. Good luck!

How did your statistics background help with the MCAT? Would a biostatistics class also help with the MCAT?
The statistics on the MCAT isn't terribly complicated, but it helps to be comfortable with odds ratios and confidence intervals... can't remember if there were questions that involved interpreting p and F. There are also a fair number of questions about graphical representations of data ("select the chart that best represents the findings of this experiment," or the flip side, "which of these hypotheses is supported by the data in Figure A"). The stats course that I took also included a decent amount about research design, sampling strategies, validity and generalizability, etc. which was particularly helpful on the psych/soc section. I'm not familiar enough with biostatistics to be able to say whether it would help.

Hi I read your post a while back and just wanted to say you're awesome. I'm in a similar situation where I don't have a lot of resources and can't take a course... Based on what you posted, did you strictly use just aamc materials, some ka passages, the 3 tpr tests, free next step and Kaplan tests for practice?
Thanks! Yes, those were the only practice materials I used... those and the free question-of-the-day emails.
 
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Excellent advice! I basically used the same study-strategy when I took the exam. Give yourself enough time. And don't be intimidated by random info presented in a passage. Like otterxavier said, you have to stay calm and use your best judgment. It's not as difficult as you may think it is, especially if you focus on the AAMC practice passages. If you focus your time on that, you will slowly find a pattern to how they ask questions!
 
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Congratulations on your score! What were you scoring on your practice exams as you came closer to your exam date?
I was wondering this as well. Do you have your scores on the AAMC sample test and the Q packs handy? If you could post those as well as a rough idea of when you took them (e.g. T-1 month) it would be tremendously helpful for me as I approach my August test.
 
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I had a very similar study plan to this (1-3 hours a day for around 6 months), and got a 526 as well. I do think the longer and lighter 6-9 month schedule is more effective than trying to cram it into 3 months, at least for those people who haven't just taken all the relevant courses. And electronic flash cards are definitely the best way to memorize those things that just have to be memorized. I used Quizlet personally.

Btw I'm a non-trad too! ;)
 

otterxavier

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Congratulations on your score! What were you scoring on your practice exams as you came closer to your exam date?
3/07 Kaplan free half-length 125 + 128 + 130 + 128 = 511
3/21 Next Step free half-length 129 + 132 + 129 + 130 = 520
4/01 PR #1 124 + 128 + 127 + 130 = 509
4/04 PR #2 126 + 129 + 128 + 128 = 511
4/09 PR #3 127 + 127 + 128 + 128 = 510
4/11 AAMC 85% (~128) + 98% (~131) + 90% (~130) + 90% (~130) = ~519
4/18 test day!

On the question packs, I was averaging in the low 90s in biological sciences, high 80s in physics and chemistry.

I had a very similar study plan to this (1-3 hours a day for around 6 months), and got a 526 as well. I do think the longer and lighter 6-9 month schedule is more effective than trying to cram it into 3 months, at least for those people who haven't just taken all the relevant courses. And electronic flash cards are definitely the best way to memorize those things that just have to be memorized. I used Quizlet personally.

Btw I'm a non-trad too! ;)
Congrats on rocking the exam! I guess the moral of the story is not to underestimate non-trads ;) Are you applying this cycle? If so, good luck!
 

basophilic

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Congrats! If you had finished physics and biochem, you probably might have gotten perfect!!

For passage practice, you focused only on KA and AAMC and the in-book TPR passages?
Also, any general tips on CARS?
 

otterxavier

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For passage practice, you focused only on KA and AAMC and the in-book TPR passages?
Also, any general tips on CARS?
Yup.

To be honest, CARS has always been a strength for me, so I really did not do a lot of prep for that section. There are a lot of posts on SDN about how to prep for CARS so really all I can do is regurgitate the most common advice:
- use LSAT prep materials (they're written by the same company)
- read everything that you can get your hands on -- articles in The Economist, The New York Times, and The New Yorker are not quite at the reading level of the more difficult passages on the MCAT, but are good places to start. As you're reading, ask yourself: what is the author's purpose in writing, and what is the main point of each paragraph? What kinds of evidence do they use to support their point? What is the tone of the passage and are there moments where it changes? If they use an analogy, a metaphor, or a quotation, what purpose does it serve? Find some other people who are also prepping for the MCAT and talk through this stuff together.
 
May 31, 2015
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So, I took the new MCAT in April and got a 526 (proof). Since then, I've gotten lots of messages on SDN asking about study strategies. Rather than answer the same questions over and over in a thousand different places, I figured I'd compile all of my advice into one thread.

My goal in sharing this is not to say that this is the way to do well on the MCAT, nor do I think that the way that I studied is hugely innovative. Rather, I want to give people some hope that with commitment, discipline, and a solid head start, it is possible to do very well on the MCAT even if you:
- are not a hard sciences major
- are a nontrad balancing work and school
- have a limited budget for prep materials, and do not have the time or money for an MCAT course
- are not following an extremely detailed day-by-day schedule
- haven't finished your prereqs (although I don't recommend this!)


My background:

I've been out of college for three years. I double-majored in humanities/social studies in undergrad and took some chem and stats, but no bio, physics, psychology, or sociology. (When I took the MCAT, I still hadn't taken psych or soc, had just started biochem, and was 2/3 of the way through physics.) I started a postbac last summer knowing that a) I'd be taking the MCAT within a year and hopefully applying immediately afterward, and b) I wouldn't be able to take time off from school or work to prep full-time. So my goals were:
1. retain what I learned in my prereq courses so I didn't have to waste time relearning things
2. start studying ridiculously early and do a little bit every day (~2 hrs/day over 9 months rather than ~8 hrs/day over 2-3 months)

This is different from how a lot of people do the MCAT, so I'm not sure how well my experience will translate. However, the general principle holds for anyone: study early, slowly, and steadily. If you study 2 hours a day for a year, you've put in the same amount of time as someone who studies 8 hours a day for a single summer. But you'll probably have a more solid grasp on the material, and much lower stress levels.
Did the length of your prep timeline ever worry you that some material you'd forget just because of the length of time that has passed?
 
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Were the TPR in book passages more helpful for some sections than others? The physics ones seem a little bit much, but I'm not sure. I'll definitely do them if you feel like they helped.
How many Khan Academy passages would you say that you went through? Are they also more helpful for some sections rather than others?
 
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otterxavier

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Did the length of your prep timeline ever worry you that some material you'd forget just because of the length of time that has passed?
I was worried about that initially, but it didn't end up being a problem. Spaced repetition programs like Anki are really good at keeping material fresh in your mind. If anything, the fact that that info was consolidated over 9 months instead of 2-3 months was an advantage rather than a disadvantage. (I definitely remember the material that I started reviewing in August/September more clearly than the info that I started reviewing in, say, February.)

Were the TPR in book passages more helpful for some sections than others? The physics ones seem a little bit much, but I'm not sure. I'll definitely do them if you feel like they helped.
How many Khan Academy passages would you say that you went through? Are they also more helpful for some sections rather than others?
You know, I don't remember the TPR passages in much detail and just got rid of all my prep books (yessss :D) so can't check for you. I got through 1/3 to 1/2 of the Khan Academy passages in each category. The biological sciences passages are probably the best, psych/soc are decent, physics were the least helpful. Their physics passages aren't set in the context of biological systems, which is what almost all of the physics passages on the new MCAT are like, and there's an emphasis on calculation that just is not realistic.
 
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Did the length of your prep timeline ever worry you that some material you'd forget just because of the length of time that has passed?
I was worried about that initially, but it didn't end up being a problem. Spaced repetition programs like Anki are really good at keeping material fresh in your mind. If anything, the fact that that info was consolidated over 9 months instead of 2-3 months was an advantage rather than a disadvantage. (I definitely remember the material that I started reviewing in August/September more clearly than the info that I started reviewing in, say, February.)
Allowing enough time to forget material is actually advantageous. When you learn something once and then forget it, relearning it for a second time is not only extremely quick and easy, but the relearning process causes that information to be retained far better after relearning than it was after the initial learning. So if you were to go through several relearning cycles, as otterxavier likely did with the spaced repetition program, the information would be better retained, and take longer and longer to be forgotten with each cycle.

Spaced repetition programs intentionally take advantage of both the 'repetition effect' and the 'spacing effect' of learning:
Repetition effect: The greater the number of relearning sessions, the better the information is retained.
Spacing effect: The longer the time span between subsequent relearning sessions, the better the information is retained.

Look up "Spacing effect" on Wikipedia/Google if you're curious.
 

Sarahka74

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Jun 27, 2015
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Study outline:

I didn't keep to a rigid timeline – my school and work schedule made that impossible. Instead, my goal was to study for at least 1-2 hours every day, more on days when I had the time. 2 hours was always enough time for me to go through old flashcards in Anki, create enough new flashcards to have some on board for the next day, and do a little bit of reading or practice passages. Here's an outline of the stages that I went through in preparing for the test. The text in [bracketed italics] is to give a rough timeline of how I did it, but none of this is set in stone; e.g., don't think that you need to start content review exactly nine months before the test in order to be adequately prepared.

1. [As early as possible] Sign up for free MCAT question of the day emails (there are four that I know of, from Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Next Step, and mcatquestion.com). Doing the questions of the day each morning is a quick, easy way to get in some practice, and helps to keep your eyes on your goal.

2. [As early as possible] Get Anki. If you're not familiar with the wonder that is Anki, your life is about to change forever. It's a really versatile spaced-repetition flashcard software; there's a free computer version, as well as a $25 app that is the best money that I've ever spent. I made Anki decks throughout my prereq courses and content review, and tried to do 100 review cards and 25-50 new cards every day. It adds up fast: by the time my MCAT date rolled around, there were more than 12,000 cards in my Anki decks. This is by far the best method that I found for consolidating and maintaining info for the exam. There's a lot out there about how to make smarter/higher-yield flashcards for Anki... I won't duplicate that here, but can post more about how I wrote my cards if people are curious.

Edit: several people have asked me if I'm sharing my Anki deck. I'm not planning on posting it, for two reasons:
1. The cards are pretty customized to my strengths and weaknesses, so there is a lot of detail on some topics, but other topics I skipped entirely.
2. The exercise of making your own flashcards is good review in and of itself -- you probably learn more by making them than by reviewing them.
In the long run, I think it is way more valuable to make your own deck!

3. [nine months before test] Start content review. I started studying with PR's MCAT 2015 prep books when they came out in August – reading a chapter a week during the term, a chapter a day during school breaks. My process was:
- Read the chapter, taking notes on all info that wasn't covered in my prereq courses (or that I didn't remember, or never learned clearly).
- At least a day later, make flashcards from notes.
- Once I'd finished learning all of the flashcards from a chapter, I went back and did the questions and passage at the end.
I was still working on some prereq courses at this point, so used the physics MCAT prep book alongside my regular textbook as I went through the course. Otherwise, I went through one book at a time, starting with the books that had the most new/unfamiliar content. Some study plans rotate through subjects (psych on Monday, bio on Tuesday, gen chem on Wednesday, etc.)... I don't think it particularly matters which way you do it, it's just a matter of individual preference.

4. [three months before test] Transition from content review to passage practice. By this point I had basically finished reading the PR books, but still had a backlog of flashcards to learn. As I worked my way through the cards, I gradually decreased the amount of time that I spent learning new flashcards each day, and increased the amount of time that I spent on practice passages. The goal at this point was to make sure that there weren't any major gaps in my content review, and to become familiar with the style of MCAT passages. Initially I used passages from Khan Academy; if I hit a passage on a topic that was unfamiliar, I watched the associated video(s) for review. Once I was consistently getting 4/5 or 5/5 questions right on KA passages, I switched to the AAMC practice packs.


5. [six weeks before test] Prepare for exam conditions. By this point I had learned all of my flashcards, was pretty confident that I knew most of the important material for the exam, and was basically familiar with the tone and style of MCAT passages. The goal at this point was to build endurance for the test itself.
- With the remaining questions in the AAMC practice packs, I would sit down and do as many passages as possible in 60 minutes, then spend half an hour or so going over the answers and reviewing any weak spots as necessary. I kept a spreadsheet tracking how long each passage took, the percent of questions that I got right, and which topics tripped me up (@$%*# enzyme kinetics!).
- A month before the exam I started doing one or two timed practice tests a week, under test conditions as closely as possible. This was hellishly difficult to fit in around work and school – at one point I did a practice test from 6 PM to 1 AM, after going to class in the morning and working all afternoon – but absolutely critical. I can't understate how hard it is to get used to maintaining focus on a 6+ hour exam. For wrong answers or tricky questions, I made a flashcard with the question and the explanation of the answer. I tried to focus these on concepts or reasoning skills that are broadly relevant, rather than the specifics of that question.

The last five days or so before the test I kept up my Anki flashcard routine, but pretty much chilled out on practice exams and passages in favor of getting lots of sleep, eating doughnuts, etc.
Could you give an example of how you made your cards on anki?
 
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Awesome score. Do you think the # of full lengths you took is enough for most people? I have had some friends say the plan or did take over 10. That recommended?
 

Wa1337

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You stated that Lehninger's Biochemistry has a very good section on amino acids which is less than 10 pages. When you said this "covers just about everything", is it all the biochemistry excluding metabolic pathways? I would really like to know. Thank you.
 

otterxavier

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Awesome score. Do you think the # of full lengths you took is enough for most people? I have had some friends say the plan or did take over 10. That recommended?
It really depends. There's not a magic number; it's a balancing act of whether you'd get greater returns from doing more content review (more free-standing questions), improving reading comprehension (more passages), or increasing stamina (more full-lengths). In general, I'd speculate that if you are reviewing full-lengths that you've already taken, and you keep catching yourself saying, "I should have gotten that, I was just so out of it by that point..." then you would benefit from doing more full-lengths.


You stated that Lehninger's Biochemistry has a very good section on amino acids which is less than 10 pages. When you said this "covers just about everything", is it all the biochemistry excluding metabolic pathways? I would really like to know. Thank you.
Ah, that was unclear -- what I meant was, it covers just about everything that you need to know about amino acids. Not about biochem in general, unfortunately.
 
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Jul 9, 2015
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It really depends. There's not a magic number; it's a balancing act of whether you'd get greater returns from doing more content review (more free-standing questions), improving reading comprehension (more passages), or increasing stamina (more full-lengths). In general, I'd speculate that if you are reviewing full-lengths that you've already taken, and you keep catching yourself saying, "I should have gotten that, I was just so out of it by that point..." then you would benefit from doing more full-lengths.
If I find this happening, would I chalk it up to fatigue and take a break? You seem to suggest just to do more questions. Did i get that right?
 

Wa1337

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Ah, that was unclear -- what I meant was, it covers just about everything that you need to know about amino acids. Not about biochem in general, unfortunately.
Thank you for your response, I appreciate it. I was overthinking that sentence anyways (hopefully I'm not getting burnt out!).
 

otterxavier

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If I find this happening, would I chalk it up to fatigue and take a break? You seem to suggest just to do more questions. Did i get that right?
No -- what I meant was, if you're correcting tests that you've already done, and notice that toward the end you got a lot of easy questions wrong because you were getting fatigued and losing focus, that's a strong indicator that you need to work on test-taking stamina. And the only way to do that, really, is to take more full-lengths.

Even if you find yourself getting fatigued while taking a full-length, I would strongly recommend against taking a break, aside from the standard breaks that you get on the actual test (10 minutes between sections and 30 minutes in the middle).
 
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No -- what I meant was, if you're correcting tests that you've already done, and notice that toward the end you got a lot of easy questions wrong because you were getting fatigued and losing focus, that's a strong indicator that you need to work on test-taking stamina. And the only way to do that, really, is to take more full-lengths.

Even if you find yourself getting fatigued while taking a full-length, I would strongly recommend against taking a break, aside from the standard breaks that you get on the actual test (10 minutes between sections and 30 minutes in the middle).
I meant break from studying, but I get your point. Thanks!
 
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lostnconfused

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Thank you for sharing!

I am having a really hard time figuring out what study material to use for biochem. Any advice? I started with Lehninger today (ch. 13 on bioenergetics) but found it to be way too much information. Was TPR biochem review sufficient? I was thinking of switching to TBR Bio II book instead. Also in terms of memorizing the metabolic pathways, do you think it's necessary to memorize the structures? Or would it be sufficient to memorize the names/enzymes/energy output/input (and of course structure of common macromolecules, common side groups, etc.)?

Thank you!!
 
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Gutsy

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Study materials:


All told, I spent about $215 on study materials for the MCAT. There is a prevalent attitude that prep courses and tutoring are essential in order to do well on the MCAT. But if you're starting out with decent test-taking skills and have the motivation to stick to a study schedule on your own, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a prep course in order to be well-prepared for this exam.


The materials I used, in order of decreasing helpfulness:
  • Official AAMC materials: Use them all – the official guide, practice packs, sample tests. These are straight from the source and by far the most representative of the test. As you start to do content review, AAMC's content outlines are not an exciting read and do not contain every term or concept that you need to know, but at least skim through them and make a note of any topics that you don't recognize. The question packs are best saved until you're done with the bulk of your content review – use them not to consolidate the material, but to get used to the style of the test and the electronic exam interface.

  • Princeton Review: I used PR's MCAT 2015 boxed set and found the books clear and easy to study from. There's somewhat more detail than you need, but not to an extent that it's a waste of time. The psych/soc book contained almost all of the terms and concepts that I encountered on the AAMC practice exam and the real test; the concepts that weren't in there were pretty easy to guess based on context. PR's practice tests and diagnostics are useful for identifying topics that you're weak on, but imo they are too heavy on content and weak on interpretation and critical thinking. And they are way harder than real exam. My scores on PR practice tests were ~10 points below score on AAMC practice test, and ~15 points below score on actual exam. So, if you buy the PR materials then by all means use the free practice tests – but don't panic when you see your score.
  • Lehninger's Principles of Biochemistry: I am recommending this solely for the section on amino acids, which is <10 pages and covers just about everything (with more detail than you really need on acid/base properties of AAs). The rumors are true: AAs are really important on the new exam – there were easily over a dozen questions that were gimmes if you knew your AAs well, but were difficult or impossible if you didn't. Memorizing the one- and three-letter abbreviations, the side chains, their properties (hydrophilic/hydrophobic, acidic/basic, charged/uncharged, polar/nonpolar), and any special quirks (e.g., cysteine forms disulfide bonds, tryptophan and tyrosine are responsible for UV absorbance) is much easier, and probably higher-yield, than a lot of the other random junk that people routinely memorize for the MCAT.
  • Khan Academy: What Khan Academy lacks in quality, it makes up for by having a ton of free material. It's pretty good when you're starting out with content review – the passages help to identify what you don't know and it's easy to pull up a video to review. The problems are that some areas have way too much detail; the emphasis on computation in the physics passages is not realistic; the explanations of the answers are frequently not helpful, even if you read all of the hints; and the passages don't resemble the tone and structure of the exam at all. A good place to start, but don't spend too much time doing serious prep here.
(I haven't looked at any other companies' study materials, so please don't ask me about them.)

For folks who are looking for affordable sources of practice tests, there are free half-length sample exams from Kaplan and NextStep, the three Princeton Review exams that come with the books (you can access these online with the ISBN from any of their MCAT prep books), and the official AAMC practice exam (not free but worth the cost); there's also a free Altius exam that I didn't end up using.
Study outline:

I didn't keep to a rigid timeline – my school and work schedule made that impossible. Instead, my goal was to study for at least 1-2 hours every day, more on days when I had the time. 2 hours was always enough time for me to go through old flashcards in Anki, create enough new flashcards to have some on board for the next day, and do a little bit of reading or practice passages. Here's an outline of the stages that I went through in preparing for the test. The text in [bracketed italics] is to give a rough timeline of how I did it, but none of this is set in stone; e.g., don't think that you need to start content review exactly nine months before the test in order to be adequately prepared.

1. [As early as possible] Sign up for free MCAT question of the day emails (there are four that I know of, from Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Next Step, and mcatquestion.com). Doing the questions of the day each morning is a quick, easy way to get in some practice, and helps to keep your eyes on your goal.

2. [As early as possible] Get Anki. If you're not familiar with the wonder that is Anki, your life is about to change forever. It's a really versatile spaced-repetition flashcard software; there's a free computer version, as well as a $25 app that is the best money that I've ever spent. I made Anki decks throughout my prereq courses and content review, and tried to do 100 review cards and 25-50 new cards every day. It adds up fast: by the time my MCAT date rolled around, there were more than 12,000 cards in my Anki decks. This is by far the best method that I found for consolidating and maintaining info for the exam. There's a lot out there about how to make smarter/higher-yield flashcards for Anki... I won't duplicate that here, but can post more about how I wrote my cards if people are curious.

Edit: several people have asked me if I'm sharing my Anki deck. I'm not planning on posting it, for two reasons:
1. The cards are pretty customized to my strengths and weaknesses, so there is a lot of detail on some topics, but other topics I skipped entirely.
2. The exercise of making your own flashcards is good review in and of itself -- you probably learn more by making them than by reviewing them.
In the long run, I think it is way more valuable to make your own deck!

3. [nine months before test] Start content review. I started studying with PR's MCAT 2015 prep books when they came out in August – reading a chapter a week during the term, a chapter a day during school breaks. My process was:
- Read the chapter, taking notes on all info that wasn't covered in my prereq courses (or that I didn't remember, or never learned clearly).
- At least a day later, make flashcards from notes.
- Once I'd finished learning all of the flashcards from a chapter, I went back and did the questions and passage at the end.
I was still working on some prereq courses at this point, so used the physics MCAT prep book alongside my regular textbook as I went through the course. Otherwise, I went through one book at a time, starting with the books that had the most new/unfamiliar content. Some study plans rotate through subjects (psych on Monday, bio on Tuesday, gen chem on Wednesday, etc.)... I don't think it particularly matters which way you do it, it's just a matter of individual preference.

4. [three months before test] Transition from content review to passage practice. By this point I had basically finished reading the PR books, but still had a backlog of flashcards to learn. As I worked my way through the cards, I gradually decreased the amount of time that I spent learning new flashcards each day, and increased the amount of time that I spent on practice passages. The goal at this point was to make sure that there weren't any major gaps in my content review, and to become familiar with the style of MCAT passages. Initially I used passages from Khan Academy; if I hit a passage on a topic that was unfamiliar, I watched the associated video(s) for review. Once I was consistently getting 4/5 or 5/5 questions right on KA passages, I switched to the AAMC practice packs.


5. [six weeks before test] Prepare for exam conditions. By this point I had learned all of my flashcards, was pretty confident that I knew most of the important material for the exam, and was basically familiar with the tone and style of MCAT passages. The goal at this point was to build endurance for the test itself.
- With the remaining questions in the AAMC practice packs, I would sit down and do as many passages as possible in 60 minutes, then spend half an hour or so going over the answers and reviewing any weak spots as necessary. I kept a spreadsheet tracking how long each passage took, the percent of questions that I got right, and which topics tripped me up (@$%*# enzyme kinetics!).
- A month before the exam I started doing one or two timed practice tests a week, under test conditions as closely as possible. This was hellishly difficult to fit in around work and school – at one point I did a practice test from 6 PM to 1 AM, after going to class in the morning and working all afternoon – but absolutely critical. I can't understate how hard it is to get used to maintaining focus on a 6+ hour exam. For wrong answers or tricky questions, I made a flashcard with the question and the explanation of the answer. I tried to focus these on concepts or reasoning skills that are broadly relevant, rather than the specifics of that question.

The last five days or so before the test I kept up my Anki flashcard routine, but pretty much chilled out on practice exams and passages in favor of getting lots of sleep, eating doughnuts, etc.
Thank you for posting! This is very helpful! I'm on a similar boat as you except that I recently graduated and have a very consuming full-time where I'm working nearly 10-12 hours. I am aiming for the late April exam in 2016. If I start studying this month in October, that would give me about 6-7 months to study. I'm planning on doing like 2 hours on weekdays and 6-7 on the weekends. Do you think this will be an adequate time? Thank you
 
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otterxavier

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Thank you for posting! This is very helpful! I'm on a similar boat as you except that I recently graduated and have a very consuming full-time where I'm working nearly 10-12 hours. I am aiming for the late April exam in 2016. If I start studying this month in October, that would give me about 6-7 months to study. I'm planning on doing like 2 hours on weekdays and 6-7 on the weekends. Do you think this will be an adequate time? Thank you
Glad it was helpful! No guarantees in the world of MCAT prep, but that schedule provided more than enough time for me to feel well-prepared. Just make sure to set reasonable expectations about how much studying you can commit to, and leave yourself some breaks and days off on a regular basis. Two hours doesn't seem like a lot, but on top of a 10-12 hour workday it can get really draining. Be careful to block out some chunks of time to take full-lengths in the last month or two before the exam... if you are able to take some time off of work shortly before the MCAT, that can make a big difference.

Good luck!
 

Gutsy

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Glad it was helpful! No guarantees in the world of MCAT prep, but that schedule provided more than enough time for me to feel well-prepared. Just make sure to set reasonable expectations about how much studying you can commit to, and leave yourself some breaks and days off on a regular basis. Two hours doesn't seem like a lot, but on top of a 10-12 hour workday it can get really draining. Be careful to block out some chunks of time to take full-lengths in the last month or two before the exam... if you are able to take some time off of work shortly before the MCAT, that can make a big difference.

Good luck!
Thank you so much for your response! I don't think I'll be able to take time off of work because I'm under a contract but I will do my best to be consistent with my studying. Also, I'm wondering if you are able and willing to share your strategies for the CARS section. I know everyone has different strategies but I wanted here yours since you have clearly mastered that section :) Thank you again!!
 

otterxavier

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Thank you so much for your response! I don't think I'll be able to take time off of work because I'm under a contract but I will do my best to be consistent with my studying. Also, I'm wondering if you are able and willing to share your strategies for the CARS section. I know everyone has different strategies but I wanted here yours since you have clearly mastered that section :) Thank you again!!

This is pretty much the best I can give you for CARS:

To be honest, CARS has always been a strength for me, so I really did not do a lot of prep for that section. There are a lot of posts on SDN about how to prep for CARS so really all I can do is regurgitate the most common advice:
- use LSAT prep materials (they're written by the same company)
- read everything that you can get your hands on -- articles in The Economist, The New York Times, and The New Yorker are not quite at the reading level of the more difficult passages on the MCAT, but are good places to start. As you're reading, ask yourself: what is the author's purpose in writing, and what is the main point of each paragraph? What kinds of evidence do they use to support their point? What is the tone of the passage and are there moments where it changes? If they use an analogy, a metaphor, or a quotation, what purpose does it serve? Find some other people who are also prepping for the MCAT and talk through this stuff together.
 
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yeezuswest

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Hey, I just had a quick question about this study plan. Basically all of my classes right now are overlapping with the content on the MCAT, which is actually really convenient. Would you consider the time spent studying for these classes to also be time spent studying for the MCAT? Or would I have to do an additional two hours of separate content review in your opinion?
 

otterxavier

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Hey, I just had a quick question about this study plan. Basically all of my classes right now are overlapping with the content on the MCAT, which is actually really convenient. Would you consider the time spent studying for these classes to also be time spent studying for the MCAT? Or would I have to do an additional two hours of separate content review in your opinion?
I'd recommend setting aside additional time, for these reasons:
1. Even if your courses line up with the content of the test pretty well, there are bound to be topics that the MCAT emphasizes more heavily than your coursework does, and MCAT topics that aren't covered in your classes.
2. Part of preparing for the MCAT -- arguably, the hardest part of preparing for the MCAT -- is getting used to the style of the passages and questions on the test, developing and honing a specific set of critical reading and reasoning skills, and learning to apply these skills under timed test conditions. Hopefully your college coursework is helping you to become a critical reader and thinker anyway, but it is really beneficial to do MCAT-specific prep.
 
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neuroticmi

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I won't duplicate that here, but can post more about how I wrote my cards if people are curious.
Hi! Would you be willing to share more about how you wrote your cards if it's not too much trouble? Thank you! I really like your strategy with Anki flashcards :)
 

otterxavier

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Hi! Would you be willing to share more about how you wrote your cards if it's not too much trouble? Thank you! I really like your strategy with Anki flashcards :)
A lot of people have asked me this question in private messages, so I'll give a detailed example of how I created flashcards from review materials.

To start, here's a short passage that I pulled from a random page of the TPR 2015 bio/biochem book. (This page is available in the free preview on Amazon, so I assume it's okay to post it here.)

To achieve both efficient oxygenation of blood in the lungs and transport of oxygenated blood to tissues, the heart has evolved in humans to have two sides separated by a thick wall to pump blood in two separate circuits. The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs, and the left side of the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. The flow of blood from the heart to the lungs and back to the hart is the pulmonary circulation, and the flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body and back again is the systemic circulation.

By having two separate circulations, most blood passes through only one set of capillaries before returning to the heart. There are exceptions to this, however; portal systems. In the hepatic portal system, blood passes first through capillaries in the intestine, then collects in veins to travel to the liver, where the vessels branch and the blood passes again through capillaries. Another example is the hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system, in which blood passes through capillaries in the hypothalamus to the portal veins, then to capillaries in the pituitary. The portal systems evolved as direct transport systems, to transport nutrients directly from the intestine to the liver or hormones from the hypothalamus to the pituitary, without passing through the whole body.
Based on that passage, here's approximately what I'd write in my notes:

  • two circulatory goals: efficient oxygenation of blood in lungs, and efficient transport of oxygenated blood to tissue
  • heart pumps to two circuits:
    • pulmonary circulation: from right side of heart to lungs
    • systemic circulation: from left side of heart to the rest of the body
  • most blood passes through only one set of capillaries – exception: portal systems. e.g.:
    • hepatic portal system: intestinal capillaries → veins to liver → hepatic capillaries
    • hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system: hypothalamic capillaries → portal veins → pituitary capillaries
    • this allows direct transport of nutrients/hormones without passing through the whole body
The first thing I'd do in Anki is to make double-sided cards for all of the key vocabulary (underlined) in my notes. For example:

side 1: pulmonary circulation
side 2: circuit that pumps blood between the heart and lungs
side 1: hepatic portal system
side 2: portal system that transports blood between intestinal capillaries and hepatic capillaries
I'd also make a few cards to create quick associations between those vocab terms:

Q: The human heart pumps to two circuits – what are they?
A: pulmonary circulation and systemic circulation
Q: Name two portal systems.
A: hepatic portal system
hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system
I'd use cloze deletion cards to go into more detail. There are a lot of different ways to set up patterns of cloze deletion – for example:

The {{c1:: pulmonary}} circulation pumps blood from the {{c2::right::left or right?}} side of the heart to {{c2::the lungs::where?}}. The {{c1::systemic}} circulation pumps blood from the {{c2::left::left or right?}} side of the heart to {{c2::the rest of the body::where?}}
This will create two cards that display like this:

Card 1: The […] circulation pumps blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The […] circulation pumps blood from the left side of the heart to the rest of the body.

Card 2: The pulmonary circulation pumps blood from the [left or right?] side of the heart to [where?]. The systemic circulation pumps blood from the [left or right?] side of the heart to [where?].
Here's another one:

The hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system carries blood from {{c1::hypothalamic capillaries}} to {{c2:: portal veins}} to {{c3:: pituitary capillaries}}.
This will create three cards that display like this:

Card 1: The hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system carries blood from […] to portal veins to pituitary capillaries.

Card 2: The hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system carries blood from hypothalamic capillaries to […] to pituitary capillaries.

Card 3: The hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system carries blood from hypothalamic capillaries to portal veins to […].
And here's an example of a cloze deletion card combined with a question. The bold is additional text that will display with the answer.

Most blood passes through {{c1:: only one::how many?}} set(s) of capillaries before returning to the heart. What is an exception?
Portal systems are an exception to this rule.
Finally, I'd make a few cards with broader conceptual questions about why all of this stuff is important and how it relates to other topics. I'd add more as I did MCAT practice questions that discussed different applications of this material.

Q: What is the advantage of portal systems?
A: They allow transport of blood-borne substances (e.g., nutrients hormones) directly between related organs without passing through the entire body.
Q: Why does the human heart have two different circulations?
A: To ensure both efficient oxygenation of blood passing through the lungs, and efficient transport of oxygenated blood through tissues.
Q: How does the hypothalamus "communicate" with the pituitary gland, and why is this advantageous?
A: Through the hypothalamic-hypophysial portal system, which allows hormones to be transported directly between them.
If there were any particularly helpful diagrams in that portion of the text, I'd take a picture of them and either add them to a relevant card as a supplement, or use the image occlusion add-on if there were labels that I wanted to quiz myself on.

This example is pretty simple because the material is pretty straightforward... the idea is to test yourself on the same material over and over, in a variety of different ways, and on a variety of different levels. You can think about Bloom's taxonomy if it's helpful :)
 
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Do you feel like tpr biochem portion was enough for the test? excluding the amino acid part?
So, I took the new MCAT in April and got a 526 (proof). Since then, I've gotten lots of messages on SDN asking about study strategies. Rather than answer the same questions over and over in a thousand different places, I figured I'd compile all of my advice into one thread.

My goal in sharing this is not to say that this is the way to do well on the MCAT, nor do I think that the way that I studied is hugely innovative. Rather, I want to give people some hope that with commitment, discipline, and a solid head start, it is possible to do very well on the MCAT even if you:
- are not a hard sciences major
- are a nontrad balancing work and school
- have a limited budget for prep materials, and do not have the time or money for an MCAT course
- are not following an extremely detailed day-by-day schedule
- haven't finished your prereqs (although I don't recommend this!)


My background:

I've been out of college for three years. I double-majored in humanities/social studies in undergrad and took some chem and stats, but no bio, physics, psychology, or sociology. (When I took the MCAT, I still hadn't taken psych or soc, had just started biochem, and was 2/3 of the way through physics.) I started a postbac last summer knowing that a) I'd be taking the MCAT within a year and hopefully applying immediately afterward, and b) I wouldn't be able to take time off from school or work to prep full-time. So my goals were:
1. retain what I learned in my prereq courses so I didn't have to waste time relearning things
2. start studying ridiculously early and do a little bit every day (~2 hrs/day over 9 months rather than ~8 hrs/day over 2-3 months)

This is different from how a lot of people do the MCAT, so I'm not sure how well my experience will translate. However, the general principle holds for anyone: study early, slowly, and steadily. If you study 2 hours a day for a year, you've put in the same amount of time as someone who studies 8 hours a day for a single summer. But you'll probably have a more solid grasp on the material, and much lower stress levels.
 
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generally, yes.
what did tpr fall short in the biochem portion? i tried reading the metabolism section and then watched khan academy and KA covered more material...i'm not sure what i do need to know and what i don't...
 

otterxavier

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what did tpr fall short in the biochem portion? i tried reading the metabolism section and then watched khan academy and KA covered more material...i'm not sure what i do need to know and what i don't...
Honestly, I don't have a great response for that... my memory of the specific content of the book vs. the exam is getting fuzzy. TPR was the basically only prep that I used for biochem and I got through it just fine. There were a couple of content retrieval questions on the exam that dealt with material that clearly was not in TPR, but it was an assortment of random little facts rather than entire concepts/topics that were missing.
 
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GEToutLADYits6AM

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Two questions
1) Do you have a very good memory?
2) Do you mouth the words when you read the passages. I have a hard time comprehending the passage
 

otterxavier

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Two questions
1) Do you have a very good memory?
2) Do you mouth the words when you read the passages. I have a hard time comprehending the passage
1) I have a pretty good memory. Although beyond a certain point, I don't think that remembering facts is the most essential skill for the MCAT. It may make the difference between a 26 and a 32, but probably not between a 32 and a 39.

2) Sometimes if I'm really having trouble parsing something, I'll read it out loud (or mouth the words, in a test environment).
 
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Honestly, I don't have a great response for that... my memory of the specific content of the book vs. the exam is getting fuzzy. TPR was the basically only prep that I used for biochem and I got through it just fine. There were a couple of content retrieval questions on the exam that dealt with material that clearly was not in TPR, but it was an assortment of random little facts rather than entire concepts/topics that were missing.
thank you very much for your help, i really appreciate it!
 

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Because I have advocated for Anki in other areas of this forum, I would offer one improvement to the OP's Anki card examples. Obviously his overall study system worked well, but I'm quite confident his/her score did not result from, nor was it significantly benefited from, Anki cards testing things like "name two portal systems" or cards defining "pulmonary circulation" and "systemic circulation." The final three cards he/she suggested would be the very best of all of them in terms of preparing for MCAT-2015. I recommend that nearly all Anki cards be conceptual in nature. A good conceptual notecard will automatically cause review and retention of the basic terms and vocabulary which underlie it, but will have the far more important effect of generating solid conceptual networks of understanding and synthesis. A fact/memorization-based card has no dual benefit and only promotes rote recall.

We need to STUDY in the same way we are going to be asked to PERFORM. Because MCAT-2015 asks straight-up vocab/definition/fact questions only on very rare occasions, and asks predominantly why- how-, predict-, synthesize-, analyse-, understand-, visualize-type questions...the Anki cards you use for review and spaced repetition should be of the same form. If you want to ACCELERATE the efficiency of your prep even further, work hard to author Anki cards which accurately reflect the style/form/substance of real AAMC MCAT-2015 question stems. I'd suggest cards like this:

"The mammalian hepatic portal system suggests that which circulatory arrangement is evolutionarily advantageous in absorbing and processing nutrients?" [Direct connection of circulatory components via a second capillary bed].

"A drug administered by direct injection and absorbed into the blood stream at a capillary bed in the arm differs from an orally-administered drug absorbed in the intestine in that the orally-administered drug will:" [pass through two capillary beds (portal plus regular systemic capillary bed) while the first passes through only one].

If you can develop the ability to quickly and accurately author these kinds of Anki cards for each subject you review (and review them regularly), your performance will improve dramatically. This is exactly the kind of conceptual-focused practice needed in place of rote content review.

Great job on your score otterxavier!
 
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