The Problem With Your MCAT Study Approach (& How to Fix It)

posted by Kevin Jubbal, M.D.

If you’re like the majority of students studying for the MCAT, you’re likely focusing on content review during the first half of your study period, and practice tests in the second half. If this approximates your MCAT study approach, you’re leaving several points on the table by not approaching your MCAT studying more strategically.

These are the problems in your study approach that are holding you back, and how to overcome each.


1 | Focusing on Memorization over Comprehension

Despite what people may say, crushing the MCAT isn’t rocket science. It isn’t about how smart you are, how hard you study, or even how many hours you put in. Doing well on the MCAT comes down to three main factors:

(1) Understanding
(2) Memorizing
(3) Applying

You must first truly understand the material that you’re learning. It’s not simply enough to know what pH and pOH are, but also how they relate to each other.

Next, you must commit important facts to memory. More on this shortly.

Last, the MCAT tests your ability to apply your understanding and memorization in a standardized format. This is best accomplished through proper use of practice exams. Ultimately, one can only apply their knowledge on test day if the foundational components of (1) understanding and (2) memorizing are properly addressed. Otherwise, there simply isn’t anything to apply.

To best address memorization, the scientific literature has consistently demonstrated spaced repetition with active recall to be most beneficial. There are a variety of tools, called spaced repetition software (SRS), the most popular of which is Anki. Anki is a powerful tool that has rapidly grown in popularity, but students often completely miss (1) understanding. Through Anki, they’re encouraged to focus on (2) memorizing, without the critical preceding step of (1) understanding.

Without a foundation of comprehension to build a mental scaffolding, it’s far less effective to memorize facts in isolation.


2 | Using Low Quality Resources

Speaking of Anki, it’s a great, free tool, and users share premade decks specifically for the MCAT. The problem is that these premed decks are subpar. There are issues with the accuracy of facts, comprehensiveness, quality of question stems, and failing to focus on flashcard best practices that facilitate effective learning and memorization over unfruitful pattern recognition. Even within the community of premed decks, some decks are better at one section within the MCAT, and others are better at a completely separate section.

While spaced repetition with active recall is an incredibly powerful tool, the quality of those spaced repetition resources is critically important. It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym 5 days a week if you don’t have proper intensity, volume, and form. The same concept applies here.


3 | Studying Both High- and Low-Yield Content

Studying more is better, right? Not always.

There is an upper limit on the amount of information that can be memorized in a given period of time. It’s maximally beneficial to focus on memorizing high-yield concepts — those which are most likely to have an impact on your score come test day.

As we only have a limited number of productive hours of studying in a day, that means deprioritizing low-yield information. Why not just include the low-yield information and study for more days then? That’s because of the forgetting curve.

The forgetting curve demonstrates the reality of memory decay, meaning that despite committing MCAT facts to memory, over time we will forget them. We can work against this by strategic use of spaced repetition, but this is ultimately why you don’t quite remember what you learned in class a few months ago.

This is why students who spend more than a couple months studying for the MCAT have diminishing returns and plateau with their score. After a certain point, you will learn at a rate nearly equal to the rate of you forgetting information.

Ultimately, studying high-yield information is the most logical solution, but the issue is that it’s not clear what content is high- or low-yield if you’re a student studying for the test.


The Solution

Understanding these shortcomings in the average MCAT test taker’s study approach, how can we address each one? Luckily, there’s an app for that, and it’s called Memm.

Problem 1: Memorizing without Comprehension

In combining comprehension with memorization, rather than each in isolation, we find that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Memm combines memorization and comprehension with a novel approach.

First, students go over Sheets, which are high yield summary sheets of all the facts you need to know for a given section of the MCAT. These are interactive, allowing you to toggle high yield facts, thus incorporating active recall and memorization practice.

After reviewing sheets, students move on to Cards, which are expertly curated flashcards testing the information from Sheets. After flipping a card to see its back, not only are you shown the answer, but also an excerpt from the Sheet with the relevant and related information. This further reinforces context and comprehension to the process of active recall.


Problem 2: Low Quality Resources

Memm was created by two physicians who scored in the 99.9th percentile on their MCAT, who also have extensive experience tutoring premeds to stellar scores themselves. Sheets and Cards are designed from scratch with MCAT score optimization as the singular goal and follow flashcard best practices. While some premade Anki decks place too much information on each card, don’t use effective question stems, or reinforce pattern recognition over learning, each piece of Memm content was carefully crafted to maximize effective MCAT learning.

Content can still be customized, as users are able to leave notes on each card and even upload their own images for those sweet mnemonics and dank memes. And unlike other resources, Memm is a web app that is continuously updated with built-in reporting, allowing users to submit feedback.

Problem 3: Not Focusing on High-Yield Content

Understanding that not all content is created equal, Memm prioritizes high yield content on both Sheets and Cards. On one end, it’s comprehensive, including everything you need to know, built off extensive research on the MCAT and close study of the official AAMC guidelines and materials. On the other end, it’s not bloated with superfluous fluff that will slow you down and not contribute to a score increase.

In summary, Memm addresses all the major deficits in current study approaches for the MCAT. Interesting in trying it yourself? Memm offers a 7 day free trial, and you can sign up here . No credit card required.

Last edited on: July 09, 2020

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