This summer, I began the daunting and lengthy process of studying for the medical school entrance exam, or as most people know it, the MCAT. (Cue gasps of horror!) Scary, I know. I was nervous but excited to take this next big step in my academic career. When I had signed up for the exam, it was February and the start of the spring semester. My actual test day, which was at the end of August, seemed ages away. I took my time getting organized, finding study materials, and even purchasing a prep course—though not a necessity, it seemed like the right choice for me and my situation. While I did prepare for the many months of studying ahead of me, I was leaving my bad study habits untreated.
So, as an aspiring doctor, I am going show you how I diagnosed and treated some of my bad study habits while studying for the exam. My hope is that even if you are not a pre-med student planning to take the MCAT in the near future, or a student preparing for any other entrance exam for graduate or professional schools, these treatments will help any college student looking to remedy their bad study habits this semester.
- Symptoms: Despite beginning to study for the exam during the spring semester while taking classes, my intention of signing up for an exam in late August was to have the whole summer to study without the distractions of school. While this was good and all in theory, taking the exam, no matter what time of year, was going to take up a great deal of my time. So, after finishing finals in May, I got right back to studying for this next, more intimidating exam. However, spending upwards of 20 hours a week practicing and reviewing content became monotonous and exhausting. I would work at my desk just looking forward to when this would all be over. This was in June—I still had another two and a half months until the exam.
Diagnosis: Early signs of burnout.
Treatment: Take more breaks. When I felt like there was no end in sight, I made sure to take days off. Every Sunday was dedicated to just spending time with friends and family and not thinking about the exam. I would bake, work in the garden, or go on walks with my dogs. Even during the week while studying, I would be sure to take breaks using the Pomodoro method—a study technique that works in fixed intervals of study and break time. If you are feeling the same way, even when just studying for your next calculus exam, be sure to take breaks. Trying to push yourself and study when your body needs rest is not going to help. You will feel better and retain more information when you give yourself time to focus on other activities that don’t involve sitting in front of a textbook.
- Symptoms: As the hours, days, and weeks passed by and my exam date approached, I found myself feeling overwhelmed and struggling with anxious thoughts. I was preparing for an exam that was the cumulation of my entire undergraduate coursework thus far. From introductory biology to physics, this exam felt like too much to handle. Sitting in my room pouring over practice books and flashcards day after day, I felt so lost and alone on this journey.
Diagnosis: Lack of a support system.
Treatment: Communicate with friends and family. Undertaking such an endeavor like studying for the MCAT is not to be done alone. Did Frodo journey to Mordor alone in The Lord of the Rings? No, he had Sam there with him providing support and sometimes food. So, whether you are about to embark on the treacherous journey of studying for the MCAT or just studying for that next big midterm exam, make sure to take a buddy with you. Talk to your friends and family, let them know your situation, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your support system is there to help you, whether that means asking your parents to send pictures of the family pet while you’re at school, or finding friends to study with. These little steps can make the studying experience less stressful and isolating.
- Symptoms: In that last little stretch before the exam, it became really easy to get bogged down in all the questions I got wrong on the practice exams I took. I would focus on all the mistakes I was making thinking I would never get the right answers. It felt as though I would never be ready to take the exam.
Diagnosis: Suffering from a fixed mindset.
Treatment: Develop a growth mindset while studying. What a growth mindset means is seeing these mistakes as opportunities to improve rather than being unfixable. Studying takes time. I was not going to see the results I wanted immediately, especially when I was just focusing on my mistakes. Instead, I learned it was just as important to acknowledge my strengths just as much as my weaknesses, and these weaknesses became areas where I could improve. All this is to say, when studying in college, sometimes those undesirable grades discourage you. But make sure to also look at the progress you have made and see these setbacks as opportunities to grow. It takes time, sure, but also know that when all the work is done, it’ll be worth it.
So best of luck to all the new and returning Honors College students this semester. Whether this is your last year or your first year, I hope these study habits will help you this semester and going forward. Happy studying!
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