Preparing for the MCAT as a Non-traditional Student

Curious what it’s like to be a nontraditional student taking the MCAT? One of our students talks about her experience and advice when returning to the MCAT.

When I decided to apply to medical school, I was 7 years out from my Bachelors degree and well into my career. The thought of getting back to studying and taking the MCAT was daunting. I had no idea where to start, and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you might feel that way too! In all transparency, I’ve taken the MCAT twice. My first time taking it, I spent the majority of my preparations doing content review and a limited amount of practice questions. After taking the exam and learning from that experience, I knew I wanted to take the exam again without having even received my score yet and how I was going to prepare myself to perform significantly better the second time around. Take it from my own personal experiences to set yourself up for success the first time!


Preparation for the MCAT

The first step in approaching the MCAT as a non-traditional student is assessing where you are at and where you need to get to. I believe for non-traditional students most medical schools are taking a more holistic approach to applications and that can work to your advantage but doesn’t take away from the importance of this exam. Take a moment to consider how long you’ve been out of school, your background. Do you already have a good understanding of the content on the MCAT or is it entirely new? How much time do you have to dedicate to your studies for the MCAT? If you’re able to focus full time, you may be able to prepare much quicker than if you need to study while also working a full-time job.


Focus on Practice Questions

In my own experience, I was working a full-time job, (and pregnant with our first baby!) when I decided to take the MCAT. I knew that I would only have about 1-2 hours a day to set aside for studying. I was working in healthcare, and had taken all the prerequisites, so I decided to focus my energy on content review. During my exam, I realized I should have spent far more energy on doing practice questions each day than on content review. (And unfortunately, Sketchy MCAT didn’t exist yet!). I also was 7 months pregnant at the time and realized that I should have applied for accommodations because I was extremely uncomfortable sitting for the length of the exam. 


Taking the MCAT Again

I knew walking out of the exam I was going to take it again. I was already planning how I was going to make significant improvements. I was going to focus heavily on practice questions and content review of questions I was getting wrong. I applied for accommodations for the ability of extra time to stretch or take bathroom breaks (as I was 9 months pregnant on my second MCAT). I was much happier with my performance the second time around and while the MCAT is far behind me, a lot of the tactics I used to prepare my second time around are some of the same study strategies I use to this day in medical school. 


Take A Diagnostic Exam

After you take the time to assess your timeline and where you are at with your knowledge, take a practice test! I still struggle to this day testing myself before I do a thorough content review, but trust me, even if you feel like you are getting every question wrong, this will be the best way to be efficient with your time and energy. After you evaluate your performance on each section of your practice exam, set a strategy and timeline for reviewing and understanding why you got the questions wrong. In addition, as you complete your review, you should be focused on using spaced repetition to retain all the information that you have covered thus far. As I learn content in medical school, I start by watching Sketchy’s video on the topic and then use an Anki deck with the symbols from Sketchy to practice spaced repetition. This has served me well my entire first two years of my studies. My exams are cumulative, and there may be questions from topics covered all the way back from term one. I can still picture the Sketchy image to remember the answer without having watched the video in well over a year! This is the magic of using spaced repetition to enhance your study strategies!


More Practice Exams

When you believe that you are getting close to being ready to take your MCAT, this is the time to take your second full-length practice exam. You should see a significant improvement from your baseline practice exam and use this to re-evaluate where you were successful and what areas still need additional focus as you get closer to exam day. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing as many practice questions as possible! As a non-traditional student, you may have a career, family, or many other obligations to attend to and practice questions are where you will be most efficient with your time!

Taking the MCAT as a non-traditional student can be overwhelming, but you are capable and you are needed here in medicine! Evaluate your baseline, develop a study schedule, incorporate Sketchy MCAT and spaced repetition into your routine, and take a full length practice exam prior to test day to ensure you are ready. Before you know it you will be hitting submit on your application, and one step closer to your goal!

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