If your MCAT is coming up, you know that studying for the MCAT is really stressful. Personally, we all hate the stress. We hate the anxiety.
Once it's there, especially when it's regarding something important, it just sits there in the pit of the stomach. It's the same for everyone....
And what happens when we're feeling that stress? We try relieve it by doing the only thing that we think will help...
Studying more. Studying harder. Locking ourselves in our room or in the library for hours on end, thinking we're being productive.
It's like the anxiety forces us to keep studying. It puts our mind and our body into 'hyper-drive', releasing tons of cortisol, as we attempt to ease ourselves by (ironically) stressing ourselves more.
If you're writing the MCAT, you'll likely experience this as the date gets closer and closer...
In this article, we want to show you:
We're sure you've felt it...
When you're out with friends, you're thinking about how you should be studying for the MCAT.
When you're watching a show, you're thinking about how you're not studying for the MCAT!
Most premeds who are studying for the MCAT right now believe that if they're not studying, they're wasting time.
Those who are successful on the MCAT and in all aspects of life, know something completely different to be true...
What if we told you that most 510+ scorers studied LESS than the average MCAT writer?
It's counterintuitive but it's true...
Those who have mastered the MCAT know that spending all of your time studying can actually be detrimental to your score.
Charles Duhigg in his New York Times Bestseller, The Power of Habit, highlights strategies used by those who have achieved success, so we can learn from the patterns that shape every aspect of their life... (*ahem* sound familiar?)
One of the key insights of his book (which we highly recommend you read btw) is that setting some time aside for pursuing your interests and doing things you enjoy has tremendous psychological value.
When you make time to pursue your interests and do things you enjoy as a break from studying intensely, your brain associates these times of pleasure as a rewardfor your hard work.
This tells your brain that the habit of studying rigorously is worth it and over time, it will strengthen your routine/reward habit loop making it easier and easier to open your books and get to work!
This will allow you to replenish your mental resources. It will not only make the time you spend studying more efficient, but also prevent you from burning out (which is extremely common amongst premeds studying for the MCAT).
This is why you'll notice top performers actually make time to do what they enjoy and not just study all day...
And still achieve outstanding results.
This is what we call studying smarter.
We believe studying smarter is the key to success on the MCAT, not just studying 'harder'.
So starting today, if you're not already doing so, we want you to start giving yourself permission to take some time out of your day to do things you enjoy...
And if you ever feel guilty for taking a break and doing something fun, remember this...
According to Scientists at the Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science at New York University, taking a break while awake can help strengthen memories.
“Our data show enhanced functional connectivity between the hippocampus and a portion of the lateral occipital complex (LO) during rest following a task… These results demonstrate the importance of post experience resting brain correlations for memory for recent experiences..."
"Taking a coffee break after class can actually help you retain that information you just learned”
“Your brain wants you to tune out other tasks so you can tune in to what you just learned.”
So not only is taking a break good for focus and productivity, it's also good for memory and retention!
The key is to know yourself. Find out how long you can stay focused while absorbing information and then time your breaks accordingly.
Tony Schwartz, author of The Power of Full Engagement (another book we HIGHLY recommend you read) said:
"The fittest person is not the one who runs the fastest, but the one who has optimized their rest time.”
Let that sink in.
What this means is that you need to make sure that when you take a break, you're ACTUALLY TAKING A BREAK! No thinking about passages.
If you don't stop thinking about MCAT stuff, you won't reap the full benefits of taking the break.
Let the material go because break time is time to allow yourself to be distracted.
"Optimize your rest time."
Go for a walk. Meditate. Talk to someone. Or be like us and dance!
Most MCAT writers tend to feel guilty with every passing second that they aren’t studying.
What most MCAT writers don't know is that focused, well-timed breaks can actually give them the edge over people cramming every waking hour...
You know this now so use it to your advantage.
Next, now that we've established the importance of taking well-timed breaks during study sessions, here's a quick trick to implement into your prep that'll give you almost instant focus and an increase in productivity...
A lot of top MCAT scorers study using The Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique can help you power through distractions, get hyper focus, and get things done in short bursts. All while you also come up for air frequently to relax.
Here's how you do it:
Keep in mind, the longer you study for the longer you can break for. So it doesn't have to be 25 minutes study and 5 minutes break. It can also be 50 minutes study and 10 minutes break. Some people use 40/10. Use your judgement with what works for you.
Usually, if you're in the 'zone' or in 'flow', keep it for longer. If you're doing grunt work like checking answers, or doing some analysis, do shorter intervals.
When we don't use focused study time techniques like this, our brain has 'permission' to go ahead and check facebook or phone notifications at nearly any time. Even if it doesn't have 'permission' per-se, it still gets tempted.
But with this technique, your brain knows that time to check all these distractions will come in next break so for now it can focus. It has a set time to 'play' so it doesn't bother you when you're trying to study.
Then, when you're done your entire study session, you can add up all the 25/30/50 minutes intervals that you studied, and you'll know EXACTLY how much full focusedtime you put into studying.
You know you didn't do anything else but work during that time which is a great feeling at the end of the day.
This way you can also get an accurate calculation about whether you're hitting your XXX+ hours of MCAT studying goal and if you'll hit it few weeks before the test date.
Give this a try right now if you're studying - or if not, make a note to try it. Please don't just close this post without giving it a shot. Once you see how great this technique is, you'll never go back.
When people go for hours straight studying, they burn out fast. This technique lets you slow down and regain energy regularly so you eventually get so much more done.
Top scorers worry less about time management and focus more on energy management.
Lastly, remember that balance is everything.
Whenever you feel the stress coming in during your MCAT prep, whenever you feel like you're not retaining anything you're reading, it's your signal that you're suffocating and you need to come up for air...
You might feel like you're being 'productive' but you're not.
It's time for a well-deserved break.
It's doing proven strategic hacks and techniques like this, that give you the edge over all of those who will be writing the MCAT with you on the big day...
Ultimately, these 510+ scorer MCAT prep strategies will give you the edge to get into med-school...
Which is the most important goal for you right now.
The smartest MCAT test-takers are those who replicate the behaviours of experts and top-performers.
If you want high scores on the MCAT, learn from top scorers on the MCAT.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors