For some UD students, Winter Session is a time to travel, work, take classes or relax at home. For others, like Sabrina Luther and Ari August (both class of 2021), it is a time to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test. There is no one magic way to study for the MCAT, and today we showcase their best tips, tricks, and snacks for success.
Tip One: Develop a Plan.
“If you start studying without a plan in mind it can be difficult to ensure you’re hitting milestones or moving at a good pace,” said Luther, who created a timeline for the months leading up to her test date. From there she set goals for each day that included content review, practice exam questions, and an overall time commitment. “I made sure to stick to that goal, not only to ensure I cover all the material in the amount of time I have, but to also feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day,” she said.
August was looking for a more structured program, so enrolled in the NextStep online course to prepare herself for her May 16th exam date. In January, she spent most of her time on content review. NextStep comes with textbooks that reteach critical subjects like biochemistry, psychology and physics and uses online lessons and videos to solidify the content. “The program puts it into a study plan for me, which I soon realized was much too ambitious to complete [content review] in one month, so instead I take the plan day-by-day, even if the plan tells me I’m 50 assignments behind,” she said. Steady progress allows the lessons to stick, so she doesn’t want to rush through important information just to be on track in the system. Once she completes the content review, she will focus on practice passages and reviewing mistakes, eventually working on the full-length (7-8 hour) exam.
Tip Two: Use Strategies that work for you.
For Luther, handwriting and repetition are the keys to success. “My typical study day consists of taking handwritten notes of all the material I am covering, which takes up most of my day,” she said. “When I am done taking notes, I use them to create flash cards of important terms.” From there she rereads her notes, highlighting and underlining important information to help commit the material to memory. Flash cards are perfect for her because they are portable – “The more you review and know the information, the better” – allowing her to study on the go.
For August, her strategies center on time, but not in a rigid way. Each week, she sets the expectation that she will study as much as she can, every day. She starts early in the morning with breakfast and time at the gym before getting into MCAT material. “I try not to put a strict time limit on break times because I found I just waste time that way, so I ride the waves of motivation until I can’t take anymore, and take a lunch break,” she said. The number of breaks each day varies, and some are pretty productive, especially since deleting all her social media apps for the winter. She tends to fit in social time by cooking dinner with friends before returning to her studies, and never goes later than 11:00 pm to rest her brain.
Tip Three: Find the Right Study Space.
The third floor of Morris Library is popular for all kinds of studying. August looks for any spot with an outlet, and the third floor has limited distractions. Luther chooses space by the windows where she has an abundance of natural light. While home, she still chooses the local library – “being surrounded by others who are also studying can be motivating,” she said. August includes The Little Goat coffee roasters as a study spot when she is looking for good distractions (nice people, kids, dogs), otherwise likes the comfort of her desk and a cozy blanket.
Tip Four: Take Breaks as needed.
August: “When your brain tells you it needs a break, listen to it because it’s already stopped listening to whatever you’re trying to cram in it!”
Luther: “I personally can’t study effectively if I’m studying for a very long period of time with no breaks. I make sure that every so often I get up and walk around a little or have a snack.”
Tip Five: Speaking of Snacks…
Luther: “I love to eat fresh fruit for a snack! This helps keep my energy up and helps keep me hydrated.”
August: “I try to be health-conscious with my snacking. In other words, I drink out of the gallon of low fat chocolate milk. Other times I’m getting oil marks all over my notes between handfuls of Skinnypop, but the ultimate snack has got to be Milano’s salted pretzel flavored slices. Carbs are brain food, I’ve been told, but my content review hasn’t gotten that far yet…”
Luther: “After reviewing a section of material I always make sure to do practice questions to reinforce the material and identify weak areas. I’ve found that if I immediately apply the material, I often remember it in greater depth. If I just assume I know it and move on, I find out about my weak areas much farther down the line when [the mistakes] are harder to correct.”
August: “Whatever health is to you, if that’s eating well, meditating, yoga, going to the gym, treating yourself to Little Goat coffee, or eating handfuls upon handfuls of candy corn, make it a priority. It’ll give you something to look forward to!” She also suggests making time each day to spend time with someone you love – even if it’s a quick lunch or phone call – to stay grounded and give an extra boost of confidence when it’s needed.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
Luther: “Recently, when studying for the behavioral sciences section of the MCAT, I learned about Signal Detection Theory. This theory explains that the perception of a stimuli or changes in perception of the same stimuli is due to both internal and external contexts. This means that past experiences with a stimulus can bias how one responds to this stimulus in the future. I found this incredibly interesting as it provides a basis as to how memory and past learned experiences can impact one’s reaction to future experiences.”
August: “While learning about Tryptophan, my favorite amino acid: while it is a precursor to melatonin and serotonin, is not responsible for the turkey-induced food comas at thanksgiving; turkey has no more tryptophan than meats like chicken and beef!”
For more specific guidance on studying for the MCAT, the Honors Program recommends contacting the Center for Health Profession Studies: https://sites.udel.edu/healthpro/