By: Ryan Kelly
Get the scoop from a professional MCAT instructor!
Thanks to MCAT instructor Levonti Ohanisian, The Savvy Premed recently analyzed the biggest mistakes that students make when approaching the test.
But now that you know what not to do, perhaps we can equip you with tools and advice for what you should do when preparing for the MCAT.
Tip #1: Get the most out of your mistakes
Levonti has no misconceptions about achieving perfection, and in fact, he views the mistakes he made during his prep as crucial towards his eventual understanding.
The key, he explained, is to analyze mistakes in a conceptual, big-picture way, so that they will contribute to your success on test day.
“Try to pull away general rules from your wrong answer choices,” Levonti said. “So that you can apply them to subsequent questions. A lot of students just go, ‘Okay, I got it wrong--that’s why,’ and then they’re on to the next question. Instead of asking why you got it wrong, ask yourself ‘what was the mental block in my general thinking or approach?’”
This analysis requires more work and time in the early stages of prep, but you will reap rewards later on.
Tip #2: Let your speed catch up to your knowledge
Since medical knowledge needs to build and reinforce itself over time, Levonti tells students to worry about their pacing only after they’ve mastered the information.
“When practicing,” he said, “a lot of students begin timing themselves immediately. But that’s like trying to make a broken car go faster. You have to make sure to fix the vehicle first--make sure you get all the questions right--and then you can focus on speeding up.”
Students can only achieve this speed when the knowledge becomes second nature. First focus on achieving a comprehensive, integrative view of the material before turning on the timer.
Tip #3: Ditch the flashcards
It’s tempting to try to master every formula and every tiny detail on the MCAT, but that won’t get you to the score you need.
“If you view the content from a micro perspective,” Levonti said, “you’re going too deep. You need to stay at the macro level. You need to understand how systems work together, and how subjects interact with one another.”
Even though it might seem easier to make flashcards and memorize details, it’s counterproductive to study in a vacuum. Instead, students should be ready to make connections across several scientific disciplines.
Levonti shared an example of an MCAT question that forces students to find parallels between the function of capillaries (biology) and resistors (physics). If a student only understands one concept, or only understands each in isolation, they won’t arrive at the desired answer.
Tip #4: Use different study methods
The MCAT is different from tests you’ve taken in the classroom, so your approach needs to differ too. Levonti explained two study methods that the most effective students use:
Equal partner teaching: Find a peer who is also studying for the test, and divide different chapters and concepts based on your expertise. Then sit down and explain the information to one another, without reference material, as a way to simultaneously transfer and reinforce knowledge.
Flow charts: Rather than using index cards full of facts and formulas, create half-sheet flow charts of each chapter, system, or concept. Study them until you can reproduce the information on your own (re-drawing the flow chart from scratch on a blank sheet of paper). Finally, arrange different charts together to find comparisons and correlations.
Tip #5: Relax (with caution)
Levonti knows how overwhelming the MCAT can seem, which is why he recommends that students find time to reenergize. Exercise, mental diversions, and socializing were key to the quality of Levonti’s studying sessions when he was preparing for the MCAT. If all you do is study, he explained, then you’ll end up resenting the process. However, he did provide a caveat for all this relaxation:
“I heard of people going to the beach the day before and having migraines the next day from being under the sun all day. So when I say ‘relax,’ I mean ‘relax with caution.’”
His advice is to find time for leisure and fun along the way, so that when your day arrives, you’ll be entering the test without the typical burnout. Rather than feeling fried, you’ll be crisp and ready to go, with the clarity and focus needed to beat out the competition.
Also check out Levonti’s list of the 5 Most Common MCAT Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.
What tips were helpful for you on the MCAT? Share your top tips in the comments.