Day: March 13, 2014

The 5 Stages of Studying for the MCAT

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1. Denial and Isolation


The denial phase of the MCAT won’t start until you’ve taken your full length. At this stage you’ll find yourself saying things like:

“Maybe the answer key is totally wrong?” — after grading & receiving your practice score.

“Well, I’ve heard of time dilation, maybe I was in one, and that’s why I actually ran out of time” — after realizing how little time you actually have to finish the problems you’ve glanced at while doing the content review and thought “I totally got this”.

2. Anger


This phase usually comes after the first full length, and remains through a few practice tests when you see no improvement, and you realize the number of practice test (AAMC officials) are a limited resource:

“Brownian Motion?!?? What the expletive does this exam have to do with being a doctor?” — says a premed after no improvement from first full length exam to the second.

“Obviously this MCAT? F-THAT!” — says the bitter MCAT studying premed.

3. Bargaining


Eventually, the rage subsides and it turns into bargaining. This usually comes at the halfway point or your studies for the MCAT, the bargaining usually goes:

1. You may find yourself praying to one or more deities, for example in my case Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster.

2. You may find yourself promising you’ll be the best doctor you can be, if and only if the medical schools would ignore your future MCAT score.

3. You may find yourself recalculating your GPA several times, I mean maybe you made a mistake on the 7th re-check, and you don’t need as good a MCAT score as you first thought.

4. You’d give your right foot if only the AAMC would give you “your” best full length exam, customized for all of your strengths and non of your weaknesses.

5. You realize that points 1-4 all won’t help you, and the MCAT is actually way harder than you originally anticipated.

4. Depression


Okay, so it’s now sunk in — this test is hard — no, the hardest test you’ve ever taken in your life. This phase for me lasted a few weeks, if not months, and you may find:

1. You start to think, “Wait…maybe I can’t do this..maybe my best effort isn’t enough?”

2. You start to doubt yourself, “Maybe, if I can’t do this I’m not cut out for medical school”.

3. Hell, you might even start thumbing through alternative careers that don’t require that icky MCAT, “Hmm, well there’s always becoming a…”

4. Eventually you will start to think “Why the hell am I doing this?”, this is especially true when you see your friends living their lives, and you’re holed away like a groundhog until it’s time to take the MCAT. It will eventually start to weigh on you, like everyone else, that you’ll spend about a calender year just to take the MCAT/apply to medical school — then, it may dawn on you, if you don’t get in it’s another possible calender year. Ouch.

The key here is, will you get back on the horse?

5. Acceptance


It may be hard to believe, but eventually you should accept that this is your fate, and that well you are good enough to get into medical school. Eventually, you might even remember that the MCAT isn’t designed to keep you out, it’s designed to make sure you’d like staying in medschool. Embrace it:

The key to doing well on the MCAT is making it to this point, i.e. when you accept that the MCAT is coming + it’s that hard + it doesn’t necessarily measure your competence as a future doctor. It’s better to go ahead and move through the motions now, and know that it’s okay to doubt yourself. Learn how to pick yourself up, because medschool will be hard too, you might even fail a few things. There’s a good chance I’ll be the dumbest person in my class, and I’m okay with that, because I know now that I can pick myself up after a massive face palm (MCAT experience).

When I take my boards I’ll be sure to revisit the 5 stages, but the lessons learned from the MCAT will give me confidence to know I can walk through fire, because if I can study things I don’t care about necessarily then I know I can enjoy myself while studying for the things I actually do care about (medicine).