Many students believe that they must take 3-6 months off to study for the MCAT with very few other commitments. But I want you to know that's not the case!
I was all set to go to dental school, but when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I decided to go to medical school. I was in a time crunch to take the test quickly to be able to apply in the next cycle.Whatever situation you find yourself in, we know that taking so much time off is not feasible for many students.
Psst! MCAT Mastery Team here 🙂
Set Priorities When Studying For The MCAT WIth A Busy Schedule
First, recognize that you can’t do everything!
Pick what is important to you and let the other things go for the time being.
Remember: the MCAT is just a short period in a long journey.
There might be some students who are wondering if they should quit their jobs or go down to working part time during MCAT prep. The answer to this is different for each individual and depends on factors.
Here are a few things to consider when making this decision:
1. Can you afford to? Would it require a lifestyle sacrifice that will only hinder your MCAT performance had you not quit in the first place?
2. If you can’t afford to, is there an alternate way you can create an income that’s more flexible on your time? (tutoring high school students, etc.)
3. Different jobs require different amounts of cognitive load - the more burned out you are after work, the harder it is going to be to study then. Does this job take a significant amount of brain energy for you?
4. If you’re working full time, there’s no harm in asking your supervisor for lighter work or time off throughout your prep or closer to your MCAT date.
Create A Schedule When Studying For The MCAT As A Full Time Student/Worker
Having a consistent schedule is one of the most important aspects of succeeding when you’re trying to study for the MCAT with an already full schedule.
When making a schedule, focus on the bigger picture for the time frame (i.e. six weeks for content review), then narrow down for each week what your realistic goals are.
A common mistake students make is overestimating how much work you are going to get done each day. A good practice to keep is building in a half day/ day dedicated to things that didn’t get done earlier into your schedule.
For example, imagine you or your child/family member gets sick, and now you need to go to the doctor. You can use this catch up time built into your schedule to make-up for what you missed.
This allows for adjustments when things inevitably pop up but also keeps you focused on the big picture.
Also, build in buffers - if you assume something will take you six weeks, plan for 8. That leaves you two weeks for anything that comes up.
Look ahead at the calendar and make note of any big dates (grants due for your job or finals week, for example). You won’t get much MCAT studying done here, and you don’t want to schedule your test during this time either!
Best Practices to Study Effectively and Efficiently For The MCAT As A Busy Student
You MUST do practice tests! If you work full time or are in school 5 days a week, this means that you will probably have to take them over the weekend.
Ideally, give yourself enough time to study so that you are taking a practice test every other weekend and can use the "off" weekends to catch up on life. Also, don’t schedule practice tests before the big dates mentioned above!
Study efficiently. This means not having your phone around and your email open; you should only be focusing on the material. You only have so much time, so use it to your advantage.
Flash cards will come in very handy during this time. Use them when you are getting dressed in the morning, eating lunch, waiting in line, and before bed. This quickly adds up to an extra hour or two a day of review.
We teach you how to strategically create flashcards to maximize your learning in another video lesson in the MCAT strategy course.
Be sure to watch that video so you’re getting the most out of the flashcards you make!
Use the breaks in your schedule wisely. If you get an hour lunch break, use some of that time to watch videos on a tough concept. If you ride the bus, listen to Khan Academy videos or read a book chapter on the route.
If possible, use school breaks or any time off as an opportunity to get some additional studying done-- this is also a great time to do additional full-lengths.
Preparing For Burnout and Getting Support Throughout Your MCAT Prep
Some days are not going to go according to plan. You may be tired or burned out and need a break. That’s ok, and prioritizing mental health is very important.
However, don’t let this become an avoidance habit and keep pushing your studying back. Those with busy schedules need more motivation, willpower, support, and encouragement than those who have the luxury of studying for the MCAT full time.
We recommend getting a study buddy and/or surrounding yourself with those who are holding you accountable, and encouraging you to study. You may have some friends who are fun, but also serve as distractions!
You don't need to start cutting people out of your life completely, but you will need to set boundaries.
If you prefer, you can also work with me or any one of our MCAT Mastery coaches and tutors who can hold your hand and act as your support and mentor throughout your MCAT prep!
It’s Not About The Hours You Have To Study, It’s About The Quality Of Those Hours!
It’s not about the number of hours you study, it’s about the way you study during those hours.
It’s about the quality of your studying in those hours. If the quality of your studying isn’t at it’s maximum, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re wasting time and energy.
So even though you might feel like you have a limited number of hours to study than someone who is studying for the MCAT full time, know that you can still achieve a competitive score if you put your focus on making sure you’re studying with the best study and test-taking strategies, like knowing the most efficient, proven methods to take and review MCAT practice exams, creating a smart schedule, and so on.
This is our focus here at MCAT Mastery and it's why when we tutor our students, our focus is on maximizing your efficiency in studying which gets you to your score goal faster. It's also why we've created these strategy resources you can go through on your own time to learn how to study effectively.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re on the right path!
I hope this blog post and video helps you, and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions!
You got this,
Ariana from MCAT Mastery
Your MCAT Success Mentors