If you ask any friend who scored exceptionally high on the MCAT for studying advice, they are likely to tell you two things: take lots of practice tests and master the content through self-testing. We’ve already covered how to take practice tests in other blog posts, so for now let’s focus on self-testing.
Self-Testing for the MCAT
Self-testing can involve many layers, from practice problems to mental outlines, but the basic principle is creating scenarios for yourself where you are forced to recall information about the material you studied. The beauty of self-testing is that it doesn’t even matter how accurately you can recall information; the physical act of recall is what strengthens the connections in your brain on a cellular level (this process is called long term potentiation for all the nerds out there). Educational researchers have spent decades trying to understand how we all learn best and this form of self-testing wins out every time. When active recall is paired with spaced-repetition, this strengthens these mental connections more and more. This is the philosophy guiding every step of our FREE Ecourse.
To take advantage of self-testing, we recommend working through the Khan Academy videos, prep books, or both and making flashcards for the concepts and definitions that you don’t already understand completely. Then, at the end of your studies for the day, you can review those cards to solidify the content that you learned.
For most of us, flashcards are the simplest method of self-testing. You may remember making physical flashcards to learn a language or study for an exam in high school. However, with technology at our disposal, making flashcards has never been easier or more organized. You can even find new, creative ways to make flashcards on your own. Or you can buy a stack of notecards and follow in Andrew’s footsteps by making thousands of physical flashcards. However, if you are looking for tried and true methods that have enabled hundreds of the top scorers in the past, look no further than Quizlet and Anki.
Quizlet is probably the flashcard software that most of you are familiar with. The user interface is intuitive and incredibly user-friendly. We’ve created THOUSANDS of high-quality cards for the MCAT that you can use if you don’t have the time or patience to make your own. However, Quizlet recently removed their spaced-repetition software and so there is no great way to only review the cards that you need to revisit. Using our model for spaced repetition in the FREE MCAT Ecourse, we will walk you through the best ways to maximize these Quizlet cards using spaced repetition. Our decks also use the premium Quizlet software, so you would otherwise have to pay just as much if not more to make the same quality of cards for yourself.
If you haven’t heard of Anki by now, you probably haven’t talked to anyone in medical school. Anki, with spaced-repetition self-testing, has truly revolutionized medical education as we know it. Anki allows medical students, and MCAT test-takers, to store massive amounts of information in long-term memory. Think of Anki as a bare-bones version of Quizlet, except with an algorithm that dictates when you see new cards.
After you reveal the answer to a given flashcard, you tell the algorithm whether that card was easy, medium, or hard for you. If it was hard, you may see that card the next day. If it was easy, you may see it in 5 days.
Gradually, the intervals lengthen and so if you choose medium repeatedly for a card you would see it after 2, 4, 8, 12, and then 20 days for example.
Anki also allows you to create cards using screenshots on your computer. You can choose which area of the image you want to cover and then the “back of the flashcard answer” will reveal that area. Again, you can choose whether it was easy, medium, or hard to recall that visual answer.
The only downside to Anki is that there is a significant start-up cost associated with learning how to use the application. It’s free for all computers and for the Android app, which is nice, but if you want to download Anki to an iPhone that will also cost you $25. To learn to use Anki, I would recommend watching some great Youtube tutorials because Anki is hard to figure out at first. These video tutorial channels helped me a lot. Definitely figure out how to get and use the image occlusion addon and close deletions for your card types and maybe a few others. Here is the list the addons that I ended up using.
Whether you end up using Quizlet or Anki, there are options to use pre-made decks. If you are short on time, pre-made Anki decks can help save time. But if you plan on dedicating at least a few months to MCAT studying, please… MAKE YOUR OWN CARDS. This will force you to actively engage in the learning process and your increased score will reflect that. If you don’t have the time, you can easily get access to our higher quality cards as part of the Advanced Pro Plan and use the Quizlet importer add-on to convert these Quizlet cards to your own Anki decks.
Our free ecourse includes 360 AAMC-styled discrete questions, which are built into quizzes within each lesson, and 2,500+ practice questions available with our Advanced Pro and Deluxe Pro plans. One of the best ways to test your ability to answer MCAT style questions is to take these quizzes as you learn the material taught in each lesson of our e-course.
My name is Theo and I am one of the Head tutors for MCAT Self Prep who scored a perfect 528 on test day. Please reach out to me with any questions about tutoring or Anki/Quizlet using the link at the bottom of my tutoring profile.
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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