How to Study When You’re Sick of Studying

Whether studying for the MCAT or other prerequisite classes, maintaining consistent study habits can be challenging. For some, a lack of motivation causes you to spend hours scrolling endlessly through social media before getting started. Others may find themselves distracted or losing concentration after only putting in 15 minutes of work. Either way, a consistent study schedule is key for success on the MCAT. After analyzing hundreds of students who have created their Customized Study Plan, we have discovered that the students who log consistent hours outperform their peers. Here are 6 practical strategies that will best help you study when… you don’t feel like studying at all. 

My name is Theo, and I took the MCAT in 2019 and got a perfect score! Having gone through the MCAT journey myself and now watching dozens of students do the same, there are two main problems I’ve seen that can decrease motivation when studying for the MCAT. The first problem is feeling like you aren’t doing enough. There is so much material in front of you and so many practice questions to get through, yet we often feel like we aren’t making any progress. Almost every time I tried to sit down to study, I ended up taking 30 minutes before I genuinely started to hit the books. The other problem that I and my students face is stress. Doing well on this exam is incredibly important for success in the medical school application process that you feel like the world is on your shoulders. 

Therefore, your problems with studying are likely not due to a lack of motivation. If anything, we have too much motivation and too much pressure built up in our head to study effectively. Instead of trying to increase your motivation for MCAT studying, you need to remove distractions. 

1. Put Your Phone Away

This simple step is the most important, and I’m sure I am not the first person to give this advice. We are addicted to our phones. While this advice is simple, it’s the hardest for me to follow. If I have access to my phone, it’s almost impossible for me to make it through a zoom class or study session without getting distracted. But I made a switch. Before studying, I try to charge my phone in another room. If I forget and feel my phone in my pocket (or even worse, in my hand), I’ve made a pact with myself to just throw my phone across the room. The key principle is that you should not be able to see or touch your phone from your chair. This phone addiction is linked to the convenience of having phones at our fingertips, so by making it more difficult to access our phones, we can slowly adjust to a new normal.

Pro tip: remove notifications, delete distracting apps, or take a social media detox for a week. 

2. Block Distracting Websites

I use an awesome Google Chrome extension called BlockSite that allows you to block distracting websites and redirect you to a productive page for customizable hours. Similar extensions exist for every browser as well. This method takes advantage of another barrier to changing our behaviors: willpower is not enough. The more you can automate systems to work in your favor, the less you need to choose to follow them. I only had to choose to install BlockSite once, instead of choosing every minute to be productive instead of wasting time scrolling through Instagram. By reducing the number of times that you need to choose to be productive, you reduce decision fatigue. Then you have more mental energy to devote to your studies. 

3. Start with a Daily Checklist

There are a million task managing apps and tools out there to help you prioritize your many commitments. I use Trello! Daily checklists are critical to MCAT productivity because they sustain momentum. Momentum can be important for succeeding in school and daily life, but it’s even more critical for the MCAT. The MCAT feels like an impossibly tall mountain to scale: there’s more content than you’ve ever had on one test and it’s spread out over months. If you can slowly chip away at that mountain and feel the accomplishment of working through the content, those students enter the MCAT Bootcamp with confidence and energy. Momentum on the micro-scale is just as important as momentum on the macro-scale. To take advantage of this in your daily routine, we recommend adding a very simple daily task to the beginning of your checklist. That way you can start the day knowing that you’ve already accomplished something. This is why you should always begin the day by making your bed

Checklists also allow us to prioritize the tasks we hope to accomplish. For this reason, when you sit down to study for the MCAT or school, number your checklist from most to least important. Then, simply start with the most important task, no matter how hard it is. Most of us start with the easiest task first. However, this leads us to approach harder and more important tasks after we have expended lots of mental effort throughout the course of the day. Doing what’s important first ensures that you will never have to cram for a deadline or stress about being behind. It also sustains your momentum; if life gets in the way of your plans, at least you already accomplished the most important things that needed to get done.

Pro tip: Incorporate prioritization into your MCAT Study Plan. After doing the behavioral science modules, I recommend working through the remaining science modules from hardest first to easiest last. This way, if you are behind in your content studying, at least you can rush through the easiest content at the end. 

4. Pomodoro Technique

One of the most popular methods for tricking your brain into studying when it doesn’t want to is the Pomodoro technique. The basic premise is that you set a timer for 25-minute intervals of study with 5-minute intervals of a break in between. In this way, you study for 50 minutes every hour with time to relax so that it never feels overwhelming. There are plenty of apps that can aid you in this method, as well as my personal favorite app: Forest. With Forest, you set a timer for the given amount of time that you want to study. In that time, a little seedling will start to grow and sprout. But if you look at your phone, the seedling dies! I don’t know why this works for me, but something about killing a cute animated tree makes me committed to not check my texts. 

For those who have tried the Pomodoro technique and hated it (like me), try other methods of structured study! Knowing your own study style and what works for you is key to maximizing your effective study hours. I personally take a long time to get into a flow state. Getting in the groove is rare, so if I am in the mood to study I need to stay in it for as long as I can. Having breaks every 25 minutes is the worst for me, because those 5 minutes inevitably turn into an hour. So, I need to remove the amount of time that I take breaks as it gets me out of my rhythm. While I can’t study for 4 hours straight, I aspire to take longer, uninterrupted blocks of study, and then take longer breaks after. This way, during these longer breaks I can truly relax without checking how many minutes I have left before I need to dive back into the books.  

5. Schedule your day with a calendar

Another powerful tool to get you to study when you don’t feel like studying is planning how long a task will take. Breaking up your day into manageable chunks simplifies your definition of success. Even if you’re easily distracted, you will still know exactly what you are supposed to do. I use Google Calendar to schedule everything, from MCAT tutoring to when I need to leave to catch the bus. A calendar is also a great way to set deadlines for yourself when they aren’t set by a professor or research administrator. When applying for medical school, I used calendars to keep track of every deadline and missing pieces of my application. This organization was a large contributor to getting accepted. 

6. Create Your Own Study Plan

Getting and using the create-your-own Study Plan Course was the most important key to my MCAT success. Not only did it help me track my progress, but it also gave me daily accountability to myself to reach my goals. The method is simple, to improve your MCAT score, you need to put in the work to get there. Based on the difference between your current score and your goal score, the customized MCAT Self Prep algorithm will tell you roughly how many hours you need to study. This course helped me see that in order to be successful, I would need to set daily and weekly goals for the hours that I needed. I wanted to say that if I ended up being unhappy with my score, I had done my part. Therefore, I held myself accountable every week to study the amount of time that I promised myself on my study plan.

There are many, many days that I don’t feel like studying. But we’ve all made a goal to be component and compassionate doctors one day. The reality is, there is a massive amount of work that goes into becoming a great doctor. With these strategies, I hope you can chip away at the work to be done and together we can look back and be proud of all the work that we’ve accomplished.

Warm regards,

Theo Bennett

 

Theo Bennett scored a perfect score (528) on the MCAT and has been accepted at Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, UCLA, and other top 10 medical schools across the country. You can learn more and sign up to work with him one-on-one here.

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How we Matched up the Khan Academy Passages with the eCourse Lessons

Each lesson of the eCourse contains links to 1 to 5 Khan Academy science passages for the purpose of providing you with non-AAMC material to practice your science passage reading skills on. By completing all the linked passages within every lesson, you will have finished all the freely available Khan Academy science passages.

To match up the Khan Academy Science Passages with the eCourse lessons, we carefully examined the passage and question content of each one. Then we decided which lesson of the eCourse best correlated with that content. You may notice that some passages don’t match up perfectly with the current lesson. If they don’t match up with the current lesson, they should match up with one of the previous lessons in the module. We did this carefully so that you could practice your science passage reading skills on passages that contain the content you’ve already learned.

Why we don’t recommend non-AAMC CARS practice questions

We recommend practicing CARS by reading non-AAMC CARS passages but not doing the associated practice problems. The reason we don’t recommend doing the practice problems is because the MCAT is written by the AAMC. They have a very unique style in which they write CARS practice questions that third-party companies (try as they might) are unable to replicate. When students spend time on non-AAMC CARS practice problems, they get familiar with the wrong style of questioning, leading them to overthink and incorrectly respond to the questions written by the AAMC. Thus, it is in your best interest to solely practice on AAMC CARS practice questions.

That said, we highly recommend practicing your reading skills on non-AAMC CARS passages. In our Ultimate CARS Strategy Course, we provide you with 1,000 free CARS passages and 100+ homework assignments, giving you ample material to practice on. Reading countless passages while practicing the proper reading habits and strategies will prepare you well to conquer the CARS section as it was written by the AAMC.

Which books do the lessons match up with?

The books we use in each lesson are linked below. We plan to stick with these older editions of the books since very little has changed and the older editions are much more affordable:

First Edition of the Kaplan 7-book Series
First Edition of the Princeton 7-book Series

Do the chapters match up perfectly?

The Kaplan Books, Princeton Books, and Khan Academy Videos were all produced by different authors. For this reason, there are some chapters in the Kaplan Book or Princeton Book that are not even found in the Khan Academy Videos and vice versa. For instance, the Kaplan and Princeton Books have chapters that cover certain experimental procedures that the Khan Academy Videos do not cover.

Our goal in matching up the books with the videos was to correlate the content as best as possible while also covering ALL the content from every resource. For this reason, when nothing in the Kaplan Books matched up with one of the video playlists, instead of leaving the reading assignment for Kaplan blank, we inserted material that did not fit in anywhere else (i.e. one of those chapters on an experimental procedure that was not covered by Khan Academy). So, when the assignment doesn’t appear to match up right, please know that this was intentional.

*If you follow the reading assignments outlined, you will finish the entire Kaplan 7-book series and/or Princeton 7-book series by the time you finish all 10 content modules.

Do the sections match up perfectly?

If the sections assigned in our eCourse do not match up with the sections contained in your content review book, you may have a different edition. The sections should still match up the large majority of the time, but in the rare instance that they don’t, I’d recommend simply reading sections that do match up and saving the ones that do not for a future lesson.

MCAT Launchpad Required!

Before jumping into our free eCourse, you’ll need to complete orientation by watching MCAT Launchpad. During this free 35-minute intro session with Head Tutor Andrew, you’ll learn 6 Keys to Earning a Top MCAT Score, the 5 Essential Elements of an Effective Study Plan, 12 Tips for Taking the Best MCAT Study Notes, and more! Andrew will also provide you with a detailed overview of the Free MCAT Prep Course, teaching you how to get started.

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