9 MCAT Study Tips from Reddit That Are Absolutely Wrong
There is a plethora of MCAT study tips and tricks out there for pre-med students to take advantage of. However, the extreme amount of information available is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there is a rich community of students, MCAT tutors, doctors, educators, and others who have either gone through the process and can offer an insider’s advice or who know studying and test-taking strategies well and can offer an outsider’s perspective. However, there is also plenty of inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong advice out there which can derail study plans or cause confusion and anxiety. We are here to discuss 9 MCAT study tips from Reddit that are absolutely wrong, misleading, or incomplete, and instead offer more accurate and nuanced advice.
1. Learn, Don’t Memorize
This is one of the more common MCAT study tips. It is so common and intuitive, that it gets repeated all too often. It is frequently framed as a response to the idea that memorization is the key to success when studying for the MCAT. However, it is highly misleading because as with nearly all things in science and medicine, both are required. Neither learning nor memorization is sufficient on its own to produce excellent results on a standardized exam, instead, both are necessary. In fact, the questions are intentionally designed to test memorization and understanding simultaneously. Many questions will also challenge you to think critically and apply both your knowledge and understanding to situations, concepts, or data you have not seen before. As you study remember that both memorization and learning are vitally important and that neither is better than the other; they are just different. Each plays a different role in your ability to demonstrate your academic ability and studying skills. If you focus too much on one and neglect the other, your performance will suffer as a result.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Study Plan Often or Make It Up as You Go
Some argue that a schedule should serve only as a crutch until you figure out what works for you, at which point you can study as you please without too much structure. This may work for some individuals, namely those who are beginning their study period with a very strong foundation and are already well prepared, or those who excel at sticking to a self-determined plan without any kind of extrinsic support or motivation. If you are like most people and don’t fall squarely into either of these categories, you will benefit from creating a realistic and manageable schedule developed based on your own goals. It is true that flexibility is essential, as you should be able to change your schedule if, e.g., you experience a personal emergency or you discover that your productivity is suffering. However, except for things you cannot control such as emergencies, you should aim to work out the kinks in your schedule as early as possible so that the majority of your study period follows the same schedule. Consistency and predictability are tools you should absolutely take full advantage of while studying for the MCAT. For those who need help staying on track, enlisting the help of EMP’s online MCAT tutoring services may be the way to go!
3. Anki is King
Anki is a flashcard tool used widely by medical students throughout the country. This is another of those all too common MCAT study tips, because it is more customizable/flexible than other flashcard tools, and using it before starting med school is expected to bring familiarity that will be helpful in the future. However, not all med students use Anki and in fact, many achieve considerable success without it. Proponents of Anki often speak more loudly than those who don’t use it, giving a false impression that they comprise a strong majority or that those who are not using it are not learning as well. Remember that there are many flashcard tools out there, and although some prefer Anki due to its functionality others prefer a simpler, more streamlined, or more aesthetically pleasing (i.e., engaging) tool. Or you might never pick up flashcards at all because you find it hard to learn actively with them. While the use of spaced repetition is one of our favorite study tips for any exam, remember that there are a variety of ways to learn and none of them should dominate over all others or prevent you from exploring your options.
4. Take and Review High-Yield Full-Length Practice Exams Multiple Times
The AAMC full-length (FL) practice exams are excellent practice and study tools, perhaps some of the best resources you can use in your prep. Not only is practicing the real deal and reviewing a full set of questions extremely beneficial, but the questions are written by the same people who write the actual exam, so you know you are testing your knowledge and test-taking skills in the best possible way. Some people take this too far though by suggesting that you should take and review all of the FL exams more than once, or at least the most high-yield exams multiple times. The problem with this is that even if you space out exam sessions across several months, you will retain some memory or familiarity with the questions you’ve already seen. As discussed earlier the real challenge of the MCAT is applying your knowledge and understanding to new situations; if you remove the novelty, you are sort of cheating and no longer simulating real exam conditions. It is fine to re-review practice exams you have already completed, for example, to remind yourself of the types of errors you tend to make. However, once you have taken an exam, no matter how predictive or high-yield it is, taking it again will yield diminishing returns, and provide you with a skewed score which is no longer representative of your progress. Use your valuable time to review content or practice new questions instead.
5. There is No Such Thing as Low Yield
Because the terms “high yield” and “low yield” are thrown around so much, many—rightfully so—questions their usage and meaning. We should absolutely be careful about how we use these terms and what we mean by them, but they are still valuable concepts. For example, everyone should be confident in understanding the structure and function of amino acids and DNA. Less important is knowing the structure of each of the enzymes of the Krebs cycle (but you should know their functions). What makes a concept high yield is (a) how likely it is to be tested vs. not tested, as well as (b) if tested, how many questions are likely to either test it directly or indirectly in some way. If a question doesn’t show up on a practice exam, it doesn’t mean it isn’t high yield; it just means that a single exam can’t test everything. Conversely, if there is one question on an obscure concept you haven’t seen before, it doesn’t mean it actually was high yield and you just didn’t study it. Keep in mind that yield depends on how important the test writers deem a certain topic or concept. Pay attention to official AAMC resources, including the official MCAT guide, for the most accurate information about what is high and low yield.
6. Get in the Test-Makers’ Heads to Reverse Engineer the Question
Some prior test takers and prep companies claim to have developed strategies to figure out the correct answer to a question without relying on the passage. The alternative method and another of the common MCAT study tips often thrown around; is to think like the test writer making the question and try to identify patterns or subtle cues within the answer choices. For example, some people suggest looking for an answer that stands out in some way (e.g., is much shorter or longer than the others, has a different grammatical structure). However, test writers are trained specifically to avoid such mistakes or giveaways and intentionally create questions that cannot be systematically figured out this way. Test questions go through rigorous review and testing before they are used on real exams, so you can be sure that any of these features will be identified and fixed before they make the final cut. However, the process of elimination is a valid and highly effective strategy for questions that don’t seem to have an obvious correct answer. For example, if one of the answer choices is a term you have never seen before, you can probably eliminate it safely.
7. Read Quickly and Make Sure You Have Ample Time to Review After Each Section
The MCAT is a timed exam, so you do not have the luxury of taking as much time as you need to read everything and consider all the answer choices. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set your own pace that works for you on practice exams. There are many suggestions out there about how long you should spend on average per passage-based question or standalone question. Many people also recommend leaving several minutes at the end of each section for reviewing flagged questions. There are a couple of issues with these suggestions. First, questions vary significantly in length and difficulty, so trying to stick too closely to an average time per question might lead you to drag your feet unnecessarily on easier/shorter questions or rush through longer/more difficult questions. You can be cognizant of your time by keeping an eye on the timer and setting benchmarks for each section, e.g., “I should be at or around question 30 by 45 minutes,” without being too picky about timing for each individual question. Additionally, you may not always benefit from moving through questions extra quickly to leave time in the end. For most questions, if you read through them carefully enough the first time, your initial instinct will most likely be correct, and either second-guessing yourself or re-reading the question or passage will not raise your score. It is often better to take each question at a time and make either a confident choice or an educated guess, trusting that you did your best. It can be tempting to flag every question you are even a little unsure about and try to review all of them at the end of the section once you’ve gotten the easier ones out of the way, but this method is inefficient and can actually lower your score if you are prone to changing answers after second guessing yourself.
8. Identify Your Preferred Learning Style and Stick to It
The concept of learning styles (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile) has stuck around because it neatly explains differences in academic performance, intelligence, and ability to focus and engage with the material. However, the learning community today favors a more nuanced approach to learning styles and their use. Everyone in fact can benefit from every learning style at one point or another, depending on things such as what they’re learning, why and how they’re learning it, and how interested they are in the material at baseline. Our mood and other factors entirely out of our control can also influence what learning styles we prefer at any given moment, and how successful they are. One example of this is the fact that some people like learning with videos whereas others prefer to read. There is a range of possible explanations for these differences, but it could be that some like the way videos tend to create combined visual and auditory stories or presentations of material for you, whereas others would rather use their own voice to create such stories or connections from written words and static images. Regardless, in today’s educational environment, electronic resources and textbooks alike have their place in learning science and medicine. Most, if not all, universities and med schools today expect students to be proficient in and utilize both to study.
9. Follow My Mcat Study Tips, but Ignore Advice From Others on This Thread/Sub
Last but not least, many Redditors love to claim that their advice is the best/correct/honest whereas others’ advice on the same or different subs is not! But be wary of claims like these. Anything you read on Reddit must be taken with a fairly large grain of salt, even if it appears to come from a highly trusted source. The fact is that the AAMC and other official resources provide the most accurate information, followed by reputable MCAT tutoring and test prep companies, followed distantly by other resources such as Reddit, word of mouth, etc. There is plenty of valuable information and advice to be found on Reddit, but you must evaluate every word carefully and consider how much you want to bank on it being true. With that being said, more information is usually better so do educate yourself—just give each piece of information its due consideration.
Reddit is an incredibly powerful community discussion tool that can connect students, teachers, doctors, and others that otherwise would never have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and information. However, as with any unofficial resource, it is your responsibility to use it wisely. You will discover tons of helpful tips and tricks to help study for the MCAT, but beware of these 9 study tips that may set you off course!
For additional MCAT help, study tips and test-taking strategies, creating a custom study schedule, and general med school and MCAT advice, Elite Medical Prep is here to help! To enlist the help of one of our excellent 1-on-1 tutors schedule your free consultation today!