Are you considering joining or creating an MCAT study group? Are you already in one and want to find a better one? Or do you want to learn how to better utilize the one you're already in? If so, then this article was written for you.
Our focus at MCAT Mastery is on one thing; how can you hack your MCAT studying. In other words, what are those few key things you can do to get maximum results in your MCAT score.
This is why we've interviewed and researched 90+ percentile MCAT scorers over the last 6+ years, constantly refining our understanding of the highest yield paths to a top score.
And guess what? Being in an MCAT study group is a great hack (IF you know how to create/choose and utilize one to its full potential).
Why is it a great hack? We'll cover that as well...
But first recognize that an MCAT study group is a commitment. Just like any other commitment, you need to be picky because you're dedicating your MOST valuable resources to it; your time and energy.
Too many premeds join any random MCAT study group, just because their friends are in it, or just because they don't want to invest a little more effort into finding or creating a great one.
In this article, we'll cover how extremely advantageous having an MCAT study group can be, how you can find one or create one, and how you can make the most of the group when you're in one 🙂
Are MCAT Study Groups A Waste Of Time?
Preparing for an exam as gigantic as the MCAT is stressful and could be a lonely endeavor spent pouring through books and study material.
As we were studying for the MCAT, we all hit a point where found ourselves stuck on a difficult problem in a particular topic or just plain losing interest and energy in studying.
If it hasn't hit yet, you're almost guaranteed to feel uninspired and increasingly stressed from all the MCAT studying there is to do, which can get lonely and depressing...
But this doesn’t have to be the case!
After all, one important aspect in readying yourself for the MCAT is being with your own kind - people who understand your struggles because they’re going through the same thing...
And what better way to find them than by joining or creating an MCAT study group!
Now the average premed might think, “study groups are a pain” or “it will only slow me down or distract me.”
Note however, that we emphasized “good” and “strong” as characteristics you need to get the most out of a study group.
After all, it's true that MCAT study groups can be a double edged sword in the way that it can waste your precious study time if you don’t know how to find or form a good one properly.
With that said, let's look at the benefits you'll reap by being a high quality MCAT study group...
How Joining An MCAT Study Group Can Help Boost Your MCAT Score
Let’s say you’re more of an achiever and might be thinking, “I can take on the material on my own, so why should I still get a study group?”
One way to actually check your understanding of a topic or concept is being able to teach it to others.
When your groupmates start asking questions, not only are you getting to review the topic, you’re also able to delve into it more and find your weak points in a subject.
It’s sort of a litmus test of your mastery of the topic plus you’re helping another person out and moving your group’s progress forward!
Having people from different undergraduate courses, schools and backgrounds also gives you a way to have different study resources.
Some topics you might have not thought to cover may present itself in a study group. Really, study groups are likely to show you more possibilities of what could appear in the exam and get you ready for it.
Sometimes studying alone can give us room to procrastinate. After all, we get to make our own schedules and implement it to ourselves. And having no one to supervise us can make the temptation to push schedules harder to ignore.
On the other hand, having a timetable within a study group gives you an actual thing to look forward to and being held accountable for it by your groupmates.
Finding the right people for your study group can not only support your learning, it will also help you find people in a similar situation as you are!
You might have the same worries and anxieties. They know what burdens you are carrying and so they can be the ones who can reassure you. You might be worried you’re going too slow or too fast; your study group gives you the security of a planned schedule.
A positive support group can carry you through the darkest moments of your review period and motivate you!
If done right, an MCAT study group can ease your burden by helping you cover more material, share and learn new techniques and difficult concepts, alleviate stress and anxiety and give you the support you need!
It can give you the motivation and maybe a little competition to encourage you to aim high for the exam!
How To Create/Find The Best MCAT Study Group
Now that you’re convinced or even just considered the idea of having a study group, the next step is knowing how to get a good one. As we mentioned, MCAT study groups are only effective if done right!
So here are some key guidelines you will need, to get a good group and make it your secret weapon in acing the MCAT!
Form a group with applicants who share the same MCAT timeline as you. This will help you in plotting your schedule efficiently in order to cover the various subjects.
It can seem to be tempting to have a lot of people in a group to have more input and energy while studying but remember you’re not putting together a party.
Having more people than enough can make the study group harder to manage and bring a lot of distractions. Too small a group size such as two can be problematic when one is not available.
We recommended having 3-4 people in a group.
This way even if one person is absent, the group can still go on with the schedule. You can take on a wider scope of study material, tutor each other and at least one can make sure everyone is doing their part/tasks.
Having the smartest person you know in your study group doesn’t automatically make it great. What you should focus on is getting the right people.
By that, we mean getting those who balance the group’s academic strengths and weaknesses.
One way to do that is by ensuring everyone has taken at least one diagnostic or practice test. This will help everyone know what each person’s best and worst subjects/topics are, and where each person stands in terms of their scores.
The ideal scenario is that everyone is in a similar score range and you're all progressing together. However, if you compliment each other in terms of weaknesses/strengths it can still work.
For example, if you're scoring a 505 and someone else is scoring a 495, but she has a 127 in B/B and you have a 123, you can still learn from her. And vice versa for other subjects.
Be sure to talk more of which subject you feel you lack mastery in and be open about it. Not only does this help you choose your groupmates, it also gives you an idea where everybody is in their timeline and how to start your schedule.
Before you start the intense group studying, you will want to start thinking what milestones you aim to reach as a group and make sure the people you study with are on the same page.
Clear out your ‘little’ group goals which you all agree to reach like frequency and hours spent on studying.
Having concrete goals will help you feel your progress and give you little celebrations that can motivate you to work harder!
How to Make Most of Your MCAT Study Group
If you’ve already assembled your study group according to those guidelines, it’s important to stay focused on the goals you’ve decided on.
It can be daunting when you start to dive deep into the details on how you’re going to study as a group. But don’t worry, here are a few tips so that you can maximize the benefits that a study group offers.
Once you’ve decided on the collective goals, timeline and needs of the group, it’s time to create your official calendar.
Although flexibility is good, it’s better to have a clear view of long term plans to make it easier to work your way through your individual schedules and maintain discipline in the group. Consistency is key here!
Although cafes are a popular place to study, this often only works for solo studying wherein you can go into zen mode by drowning out the noise with your headphones.
Group meetings on the other hand, work best in a quiet environment where you can freely make noise without disturbing other people.
Many institutions and establishments offer meeting rooms you can reserve to ensure you can have the best learning environment.
A good way to balance individual and group study work is to study three times a week for about three hours per meeting.
This allows you to work on your own schedule in between your group meeting days. Also, studying for three hours is an ample amount of time to ensure you’re not rushed but at the same time not taking too long so that productivity decreases.
In order to take advantage of your individual strengths, establish a rotating teaching schedule for your meetings.
Have one person per meeting be the ‘facilitator’. This gives each person a chance to review their mastery on the material and pick up the pace for the group’s progress.
This also creates accountability and gives members the drive to study harder in preparation for their schedule.
The ‘facilitator’ of the day can also be assigned to keep the session structured and does not devolve into a chat.
It’s important to be diligent with your rigid schedule for each meeting but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
Boost the group morale by inserting interactive activities each week.
You can have mini quiz bees and games with stakes to keep members motivated to give their best.
One idea that can apply to the previous tip is to have days dedicated to sharing a unique technique and reference.
This broadens the group’s knowledge and to keep learning new methods and gaining access to new material.
To make sure you make the most of the three-hour sessions, skim through the material you’re going to tackle ahead so that you can prepare questions to raise and identify which points you find difficult.
This will save your group time by going directly to the members’ weak points.
Keep your group updated with current medical news and issues. Check up on each other and exchange advice on habits to keep you focused and motivated. With the current situation of the pandemic (2020), most test takers will opt to do study sessions online.
Maintain a culture of respect and professionalism in your group. This creates less conflicts and distractions and lets you practice good ethics which you can use later in medical school and in the medical field itself. Remember, your studymates can be your colleagues in the future!
Lastly, don’t be afraid to voice out concerns with your group. Maintain good communication within your circle to make learning comfortable and efficient.
Don’t hesitate to break away when the situation gets toxic. Remember, study groups should support and help you, not stress you more than you already will be studying.
In the end, you have the control and the knowledge of how best to help yourself. If you feel like MCAT study groups are for you, follow the tips and recommendations above to create a great experience and support for your MCAT journey.
If you want to learn more about the best ways to unleash the top MCAT scorer in you, we at MCAT Mastery have all the strategies curated from years spent on researching and taking notes of techniques used by top scorers! Check that out here.
We also have a team of MCAT tutors ready to pave the way to your medical school dream. You don’t have to walk blindly, we are here to guide you!
But know that you can make it through. We believe in you.
Even though we don't know you personally (yet), reading this all the way through means you're committed.
There's no stopping you from achieving your doctor dream...
You got this!
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors