The NICHD Office of Education receives a lot of questions from incoming postbacs about preparation for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The NICHD Connection is happy to make a small contribution to the answer pool. Two NICHD postbacs who recently left for medical school have shared their different experiences and approaches to studying for the daunting exam.
Rim Mehari, former postbac in the Yanovski lab
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Class of 2021
I prepared for the MCAT using The Princeton Review. I took a live, online course four nights a week for about two months, and I studied an additional month on my own. I appreciated having the structure of a class without having to go far for an in-person class. The instructors had a good balance among test taking strategies, practice passages, and content review. Moreover, you have access to a lot of practice material and full-length exams. If you don’t have financial resources to pay for the class, the Princeton Review does offer a form of financial aid. You can contact one of their representatives who will be able to send you a form you will have to fill out in addition to writing an essay about why you need financial assistance. You may have to submit a document, like a financial aid letter from your previous school or a loan deferment application, in order to demonstrate your financial need.
I would highly recommend taking a course of some sort because the amount of material you have to cover could be overwhelming. A live-course gives you focus, accountability, and structure. The challenge was being able to fit a three-hour course at the end of a workday. If I could do it differently, I would recommend finding a class schedule that budgets a maximum of two hours of studying per weeknight. If you are studying on your own, use weeknights to focus on practice passages or one section of a full exam. For me, weekends were when I had the mental capacity to absorb new information, so I reserved weekends for reviewing content I was struggling with. Whatever your study strategy may be, make sure to manage your time wisely, pay attention to areas of weaknesses, adapt your strategies to improve on such weaknesses, gets lots of practice, and don’t forget to take care of yourself and your wellbeing! Best of luck!
Nicolas Johnson, postbac in the Lilly lab
University of Kansas School of Medicine, Class of 2021
One of the biggest things I learned from my experience preparing for the MCAT is the importance of doing practice questions and practice exams. I realized that knowledge about MCAT content isn't really effective until it is applied through questions. Once I did enough questions and exams, it became easier to see the pattern between subjects that were most important. To cover content for the MCAT, I used books from Kaplan and the Khan Academy website (a free resource that has very informative videos and practice questions for various concepts). If I could go back and give myself advice it would be to RELAX and believe in yourself. Make sure to take care of yourself during your studies. You perform at your best when you are the best version of yourself!
Editor’s Note: The Association of American Medical Colleges offers official MCAT practice exams that can be purchased on their website.