MCAT studying is challenging, but balancing content review, practice questions, and full-length exams is crucial. Learn the best practices when it...
How to Effectively Review and Retain Information for the MCAT
Your MCAT review plan is the key to test-day success. From the perfect study plan to reviewing materials, we’ll cover all the top MCAT study strategies.
Designing an efficient and effective MCAT review plan is a lot like baking a cake. If you’re going to spend all that time baking up one of the most delicious kitchen confections, you're not going to make it taste perfect for your judgmental Aunt Margaret, right? No way.
If you’re gonna bake a great cake, you’ve got to be selfish. Make sure to follow a recipe that is tailored to your tastes, and use the tools that you are most familiar with.
“If you’re gonna bake a great cake, you’ve got to be selfish.”
Someone at some point, probably
Whether you want to make the perfect cake or the most effective MCAT study plan (or both), Sketchy’s got your back. So forget Aunt Margaret, grab your favorite spatula, set that brain-oven of yours to a scorching 425° F, and let’s outline Sketchy’s 4-step plan for MCAT review perfection.
Designing a Study Plan
Identify and focus on your weaknesses
Students tend to subconsciously study things they understand and avoid concepts they have difficulty with. The solution for this is fairly obvious, though not always easy to accomplish: Take some time up front to really scrape the sides of the bowl to figure out your content strengths and weaknesses.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to take a full practice exam. The results will tell you what content you should focus on until your next full practice test. Fortunately, when it comes to MCAT content review and practice tests, Sketchy’s got you covered. Our MCAT Prep Essentials Bundle includes over 300 Sketchy lessons covering everything on the MCAT AND all of the available AAMC resources. This means you can take a practice test to figure out your pain points, then immediately review those topics with our unforgettable lessons.
As you study, your weaknesses and strengths will change, so it’s important to evaluate your progress and update your plan regularly, which we’ll get into in the next section.
Create a personalized study plan
Of course, reviewing the content you’re a little less amazing at is made even easier with a personalized study plan. And not just a little easier; in fact, creating a personalized study plan is essential for truly conquering the MCAT.
The most popular timeline for MCAT review is ~3 months, which means you should expect at least 20 hours of study per week. If you’d like to extend that period, a 6-month plan works for some and involves ~10 hours of study per week.
This is such an essential step toward MCAT success that we’ve got a whole other blog post detailing how to create an MCAT review plan that works just for you. And better yet, we’ve included a 3-month and 6-month MCAT Study Planner in our Prep Essentials Bundle!
Schedule time for physical activity
This is a no-brainer that bears repeating. Schedule time for some physical activity on most days of the week, whether it’s a structured exercise program, a physical hobby, or a walk between study/cake-scarfing seshes….just get your body moving. The benefits of exercise are numerous and something every pre-med is familiar with, so just remember this:
More physical activity = more blood flow to brain = better retention of material
That’s science, baby.
Plan time to study with others
Discussing difficult topics with peers or teachers provides a whole slew of benefits; it increases engagement, helps solidify understanding, and can provide some fresh perspective when you need it most. The value of studying with others extends beyond the academic gains, as a study buddy can help you stay structured, reduce stress, and keep you motivated throughout your review. So make sure to incorporate time to study with others, and pay no mind to comments they might make about you carrying your spatula with you everywhere. If that’s the tool that works best for you, stick with it!
Now that we’ve got our cherished spatula, a personalized recipe, and only a mild exhaustion with baking analogies, we’re ready to pop this baby in the oven.
When baking up a really tasty MCAT review plan, you want to make sure to reduce it down to just the good stuff, which brings us to our Sketchy MCAT reviewing guide.
Study in consistent and focused study sessions with plenty of breaks
Not all studying is created equal. If you just finished a 6-hour marathon session of acid-base chemistry with a side of stoichiometry, you’re probably not gonna retain much if you try to pound out another three hours of kinematics review. Prioritizing consistent and focused study sessions over marathon sessions will help avoid burnout and keep you alert and focused.
“Prioritize consistent and focused study sessions over long study sessions”
If you like more structure, doing pomodoros can be a great way to assure you stay focused while reviewing. The pomodoro technique involves working in sessions of 25 focused minutes followed by 5-minute breaks (research suggests that taking short breaks vastly improves focus) with a longer break (15-30 min) every four sessions.
Incorporate active study techniques like flash cards, summarization, and mnemonics
Content review is an important component of every good study plan. Reviewing subjects in their entirety can help broaden your comprehension of the subject beyond what you learned in class. However, content review is only one part of a well-rounded study plan, so it’s essential to incorporate more active techniques like flash cards, summarizations, and mnemonics.
Let’s not kid ourselves; taking the MCAT is nervous work. This is especially true if you call all the testing centers in your city and none of them have heard of an emotional support spatula before. Spending time actively learning, especially doing practice questions, will help you conquer the MCAT, no matter how fired up your nervous system is.
Test your progress
If you’re gonna bake the perfect MCAT review plan, you’re gonna have to do more than just sensually lick the spatula clean. Huh, that came out a little… Look, all I’m trying to say is you’ll want to stick something in your cake to see if it’s still moist—to test the cake’s progress, so to speak.
Testing your progress is a little more complicated, and it goes beyond just doing practice questions and reviewing them. One of the most effective ways to discover your weaknesses and improve on them is to take full practice MCAT exams every few weeks up until the big day.
Taking full practice exams is one of the most crucial aspects of studying for the MCAT, as it allows you to practice the timing and structure of the real deal, all while revealing gaps in your knowledge. This allows you to further tailor your studying, so you can focus more on the things that need your attention—like carbohydrates, thermodynamics, and combining them to make baked goods.
“Take regular practice tests to gauge progress and identify areas for improvement”
Well, we’ve been through a lot together—from making a cake to spite Aunt Margaret, to personalizing our MCAT study plan, licking our batter-covered spatulas clean, and even structuring study time effectively—so we hope you trust us when we say: There’s no wrong amount of cake to consume once you exit the testing center and reunite with your emotional support spatula (because with Sketchy, you’ll have the confidence to crush the MCAT without it).