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How I Write and Learn

Studying for the MCAT

By Simone, a Learning Center Tutor

The MCAT tests every pre-med prerequisite in ways that may be unfamiliar and, frankly, quite daunting. This summer, I’ve decided to buckle down and start studying. In the process, I have learned more about my own learning styles and how I study best. I want to share some tips that have been helpful for me so that they can be beneficial for others!

As I review my content books, it’s sometimes incredibly hard to stay focused. When I find myself starting to reread sentence after sentence, I turn to classical music. Classical music not only helps drown out the various noises in my house, it also provides noise that isn’t as distracting as songs I would tend to sing along to. I also use a highlighter/pencil/pen to follow along with my reading because I find that as I get tired, my eyes wander more.

When taking notes, I always make sure to read through bolded terms in the summary section of the chapter first, take down notes from there, and add to these notes as I read the chapter.

This has allowed me to focus more on really understanding the material I’m reading, and not just reading for the sake of taking notes. Additionally, I’ve always been the classic “over-highlighter” and “over-note taker.” I’ve found that taking the notes before I read the chapter has reduced my urge to write down every detail and helped me highlight effectively.

An excel sheet with headings for chapter, section, page number, familiarity, high yield, term, and description.
Here is my excel sheet for taking notes on terms. I ranked 1-5 how familiar I was with a certain term and I noted the terms in that section that were high yield. I could also organize the sheet to show me the high yield terms first or the low familiarity terms if I wanted a quick review.

Multimodal learning, a technique that uses multiple methods for learning material, has helped with my understanding and reinforcement of material. It exposes me to different perspectives and explanations that I can mold into my own approach to the material. I’ve taken advantage of Kaplan review books and a Blueprint online course; these resources have given me readings, videos, and quizzes to reinforce my knowledge.

Color-coded MCAT study schedule from Blueprint
My Blueprint study schedule.

For flashcards, I use a wonderful app called Anki, which is based on the idea of spaced repetition of material. After seeing a card, I select the ease with which I remembered the information, which determines when I see the card again.

Screenshot of Anki, which includes decks for each subset of the MCAT and a summary of how many cards had been studied.
My Anki home screen.

Most importantly, I’ve made a point to focus more on my mental health as I study. I have found some new outlets for my stress like painting watercolors, or even just binge watching shows on Netflix with friends. I also remind myself to look at my progress holistically by keeping track of my study hours and scores on quizzes.Whenever I get discouraged, I remember how much time and hard work I’ve put in so far and remind myself to see any “bad” quiz scores as opportunities for growth.

Series page for Netflix' American Vandal
My latest binge watch.

Even as I fumble through my studies, I find it reassuring to know that thousands of other pre-med students are facing the same struggles. I know that all the work put in throughout my undergraduate career will pay off. Until then, I’ll keep doing my best to aim high, stay motivated, and take care of myself!

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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