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Dec 5, 2017
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I've been asked about my study plan a few times, so I'm putting it into a post. I put a good amount of prep time (as described in this post) into making my study plan before I started my hardcore review and I recommend this to everyone. Take a few days before you dive into your studies to get your game plan set and your material organized. Look at the AAMC guide to get an idea of what the test is like.

Background One size does not fit all, so I want to describe my situation and why this plan was a perfect fit for me. I studied for the MCAT during the summer following my sophomore year. I wanted to give all my attention to the MCAT, because I'm not good at dividing my time between major tasks, so summer was my best option. I had 97 days from my last final until my MCAT. According to my advisor's formula (based on SAT, ACT, and grades in selected classes) I was supposed to get a 504. This stressed me out and I don't recommend getting a predicted score, but it motivated me to make a plan and stick to it. I ended up getting 516, including 132s in C/P and B/B. If I can do it, then anyone can do it. If you are a 3.9 or higher, it probably doesn't matter what you choose for preparing. For people like me (slightly below average GPA and lacking self-confidence) this plan is meant to build your foundation, improve your test-taking skills and help you overcome your test anxieties.

Materials Many study plans at SDN get questions about substituting other materials. DO NOT substitute anything in this plan; use it exactly as it is. I spent many hours looking at Reddit and SDN posts and tabulating scores of how people did with various materials, good and bad. I eliminated materials that were common amongst low scorers (people below 500). I gave extra value to materials that people who improved by 8 points or more on their second (or third) exam used. I compared how people did in each subsection. I looked for people in a similar situation to me and in the end came up with a list of materials that happened to be very similar to Nymeria's SDN 100-day plan, KoalaT's plan, and Zendabi's plan. If you use any of those plans, you will be in good shape too.

It is important to use the right materials at the RIGHT TIME. Some materials are excellent for building your knowledge and fundamentals while other materials are best suited for training and practice to master test skills. If you use this plan, do them in the order listed.

* TBR (The Berkeley Review) chemistry books, organic books, physics books, biology books (buy them new with no markings)
* Kaplan biochemistry book
* The Princeton Review (TPR) psychology/sociology book
* MCATKing's 300-page KA summary (the 86-page version with no diagrams can be used, but the 300 version is better)
* Next Step CARS book (*I didn't use this and discovered it recently--buy it new with no markings)
* The Princeton Review (TPR) CARS book (buy it new with no markings)

* KA P/S videos (and some B/B videos as needed)
* UWorld (optional, but recommended for P/S and CARS. Good for B/B but do not use for C/P)

* AAMC Question packs
* AAMC Section banks
* AAMC FLs 1-4 and unscored
* Four additional FLs (I found EK and TBR to be very good, but others may work just as well)

This combination is designed to train you up in steps and get you to pique going into the exam. For the first stage of your review, DO NOT WORRY about scores. You are doing passages and question to learn and review, not to gauge your preparedness. For the books where it says "buy new", it is really important to use clean materials, because you do not want to be influenced by anyone else's highlighting or answers. This is EXTREMELY important for building self-confidence at the start of your studies. Don't be cheap and get used books for stage 1 of your review, because it's not worth what it will do to your foundation studies.

The Stages Rather than put out a weekly schedule, I've opted to make to-do lists arranged into four sequential stages of preparation. Stage 1 is about review and possibly relearning content and foundation information. This is best done through slow and methodical review followed by basic content-heavy questions. Stage 2 is about quick recall and application, where passages are always timed. Stage 3 is about MCAT simulation through mixing different subjects and developing skills to quickly recognize what questions are asking. This is where you introduce AAMC materials. Stage 4 is about putting it all together during FLs and getting into the right state of mind for your exam. I want to give a shout out to TBR because I have stolen and modified your homework phases and applied it to all of the materials. TBR organizes their passages into three phases that emphasize different aspects of preparation over the course of their homework. Their phases are the anchor of this study plan. They also have the best answer explanations, which is essential in the early stages in your studies.

Stage 1: Meant to build your knowledge base into a useful pool of information. You should keep notebooks for each topic as needed. I found my iPad to be the perfect tool for this. Writing things out on paper is fine too. Taking notes and then quizzing yourself immediately after making the note is critical at this stage. I kept a separate list of shortcut equations and mnemonics I got from my TBR books. This proved very helpful to review right before starting FLs and in the parking lot before my actual MCAT.

How much time you spend on Stage 1 will depend on how well you know your material. I took approximately five weeks on this stage. I'm not good at making schedules or micromanaging my life, so I choose to put a massive list of all the things that fit into each stage. If you prefer to turn it into a daily planner, that works for many people.

Try to do one-and-a-half hours study blocks of uninterrupted review with your phone far out of reach. Take a half hour break between each power block review. Depending on your allotted study time each day of the week, try to do at least two blocks but no more than five blocks in one day.

Complete the following:
* TBR General Chemistry chapters 1 - 12 review and embedded questions (12 blocks needed)
* TBR General Chemistry chapters 1 - 12 Phase 1 homework sets (12 blocks needed)
* TBR Organic Chemistry chapters 1 - 8 review and embedded questions (8 blocks needed)
* TBR Organic Chemistry chapters 1 - 8 Phase 1 homework sets (8 blocks needed)
* TBR Physics chapters 1 - 10 review and embedded questions (10 blocks needed)
* TBR Physics chapters 1 - 10 Phase 1 homework sets (10 blocks needed)
* TPR Psych/Socio book in its entirety (8 blocks needed)
* Kaplan biochemistry review (only review, no passages or questions) (3 blocks needed)
* TBR Biology chapters 1 - 5 and 9-10 review and embedded questions (7 blocks needed)
* TBR Biology chapters 1 - 10 Passages 1-5 of all ten chapters (10 blocks needed)
* Next Step CARS (first 72 passages, split into 18 sets of 4) (18 blocks needed)

This requires 108 study blocks. Depending on the person and available time, expect this to take four to five weeks if you average three and a half to four study blocks per day. The important thing here is quality time over quantity of time.

Stage 2: Meant to emphasize timing and dealing with the stress that comes with it. You should mark when time is up following each passage and see where you are wasting time and where you are being careless by going too fast. I found that as I got tired later in the day, I would actually go faster because I was getting lazy. It helped to discover this early, so I had time to build stamina and focus. This stage is all about sticking to exact time limits. I used the timing listed in each individual book for their questions and 3 minutes/passage plus 1 minute/question for KA passages.

The study blocks for this stage vary with the materials you are using, so not all fit into one and a half hours. Try to alternate longer blocks with shorter blocks. Avoid the temptation to do two of the same topics in a row. I cycled from 1) gen chem to 2) CARS to 3) biology to 4) P/S to 5) physics to 6) CARS to 7) biochem to 8) P/S to 9) organic to 10) CARS to 11) P/S. I then repeated the cycle over and over until I exhausted all of my passages. Like with stage 1, it must be uninterrupted testing and review. Take a half hour break between each power block review. If you can, use one of the breaks for exercise.

Complete the following:
* TBR General Chemistry chapters 1 - 12 Phase 2 homework sets (12 blocks needed)
* TBR Organic Chemistry chapters 1 - 8 Phase 2 homework sets (8 blocks needed)
* TBR Physics chapters 1 - 10 Phase 2 homework sets (10 blocks needed)
* KA P/S passages sets of 5 broken into odds/evens (such as 1,3,5,7,9 and then 2,4,6,8,10, etc...) (22 blocks needed)
* TBR Biology chapters 1 - 10 Passages 6-10 of all ten chapters (10 blocks needed)
* Next Step CARS (remaining passages, split into 6 sets of 5) (6 blocks needed)
* TPR CARS (all passages, split into 16 sets of 6) (16 blocks needed)
* AAMC Question packs (as you wish--these are designed to show you that speed on free standing questions varies)

This requires 84 study blocks. Review after completion of a given block is essential, but make sure you focus on where you went too slow, where you went too fast, and where you lost focus.

Stage 3: Meant to focus on getting ready for FLs and mastering your testing approach. This requires realistic passages, which can be hard to come by. The most realistic passages you'll find are AAMC section banks, but there are so few of them and their explanations quite frankly suck. The next most realistic passages (a close second to AAMC) are phase 3 of TBR homework sets and UWorld P/S passages.

You should try to do the different sections at approximately the same time of day you'll be taking the corresponding section of the MCAT. Group your passages as close to 90 minute blocks as possible, which usually won't work out.

Complete the following:
* TBR General Chemistry chapters 1 - 12 Phase 3 homework sets (12 blocks needed)
* TBR Organic Chemistry chapters 1 - 8 Phase 3 homework sets (8 blocks needed)
* TBR Physics chapters 1 - 10 Phase 3 homework sets (10 blocks needed)
* AAMC section bank C/P sets of 50 questions (2 blocks needed)
* UWorld P/S passage sets of about 59 questions (6 blocks needed)
* TBR Biology chapters 1 - 10 Passages 11-15 of all ten chapters groups as chapters 1 and 6, chapters 2 and 7, etc... (5 blocks needed)
* AAMC section bank B/B sets of 50 questions (2 blocks needed)
* UWorld CARS passage sets of about 53 questions (7 blocks needed)
* AAMC section bank CARS sets of 50 questions (2 blocks needed)
* AAMC Unscored Practice Exam (All Day)

This requires 54 study blocks plus one full day. Review is critical here. You want to spend two hours reviewing for every one hour practicing. You need to hone your strategies and fill any knowledge gaps that may still exist.

Stage 4: This is what you've been building towards your entire time. You must become a test-taking robot with logical mental reflexes when you see any question. You should try to space FLs at least three days apart if possible, although this proved to be impossible for me. The two days between FLs should be dedicated to a day of thorough postgame analysis of every question and another day of fine-tuning. I found EK to be very helpful during that third day. Their questions are excellent for rapid-fire review. Their explanations are horrendous, but at this point it doesn't matter. You will know the material well and don't need them for learning.

You should do four commercial exams and four AAMC exams during your last month. I chose to mix and match sections from three different sources. I did this at the suggestion of my big sib, and it was genius. It kept me on my toes and prevented me from getting conditioned to one style of writing. I then used the CARS sections from the exams I hadn't taken for additional review. I used EK, TBR, and Altius FLs and did one section from each source and then randomly chose the source for P/S.

Complete the following:
* TBR C/P 1, EK CARS 1, Altius B/B 1, TBR P/S 1
* Altius C/P 2, TBR CARS 2, EK B/B 2, Altius P/S 2
* EK C/P 3, Altius CARS 3, TBR B/B 3, EK P/S 3
* TBR C/P 4, EK CARS 4, Altius B/B 4, TBR P/S 4

I saved the AAMC exams for the end. You will notice a change in the wording of the questions as you jump from one source to another. This is important, because although AAMC exams are the best resource, they are not exactly like what you will see on your actual exam. Getting used to abrupt changes in style helps prepare you for test day.
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2+ Year Member
Dec 5, 2017
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They are absolutely the gold standard in terms of representativeness. The issue is that with many of the materials, they have very short explanations along the lines of "This is a Skill 2, Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving question because it requires you to reason about science and solve a problem. It is a content category 2B question because it focuses on the structure, growth, physiology, and genetics of prokaryotes and the structure and life cycles of viruses. B is correct because [insert fact about bacteria/viruses]". (I'm exaggerating a little bit, but not much). Basically, the explanations focus more on how the exam is built than on why the correct answer is correct, and there's very little explanation of why wrong answers were wrong.

I will say, though, that the AAMC has been noticing this feedback -- the most recent FL has better explanations.
Absolutely true! I found that balancing AAMC with TBR exams was the best way to get great explanations for learning and keeping the realism high.


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Apr 12, 2018
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Hi @PlsLetMeIn21 thanks so much for sharing your MCAT study strategy! I will be looking to employ this in the next few months!
1) I crammed the 300-page doc right before I started taking FLs. I went through it in detail once and then skimmed it a few more times. It's long and must be absorbed over multiple sittings.

2) I included review time in the blocks. Sometimes it will take longer than you anticipate to go over the questions, but try not to push it much past an hour and a half.

FWIW, I had to take the MCAT again because I got pummeled by CARS the first time and I used this strategy. I believe it even more now than before. Chunking your time into intense blocks followed by relaxation is the only way to do this and have it stick. I took a course my second time and now I am definitely a believer in that too.

When you retook the MCAT & used a course using your strategy, did you redo all of the TBR questions for the science & psych sections? Or did you use the course material & the strategy was to do 1.5 hour blocks of study?

I borrowed the GC book from a friend recently to get a feel for the TBR material and saw that the TBR chapters were extremely dense & had a lot of practice questions. How did you get through the chapter and in-chapter questions in 1.5 hours? Even when I was using Kaplan on a previous MCAT attempt, it took me longer than 1.5 hours to get through a chapter. Maybe I'm just slow and things take me more time (and that's okay if that's the case) but I figured I would ask to see if you had any tips for how you managed to cover a chapter in record time.

Also, within the TBR books, the recommended TBR strategy is to do Phase I within 24 hours of covering the chapter, Phase II within a few days of doing Phase I questions, and Phase III within 2 weeks of doing Phase II questions. It seems from your schedule like you didn't follow the strategy that TBR recommended, considering you first did all of Phase I, then all of Phase II, then all of Phase III. Just wanted to make sure! I'll be studying over the next 6 months, because I am also working, so I appreciate the reassurance that this plan can work for someone who is studying over a longer period!
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