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!
How I Write and Learn
It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn how important sleep was for my basic functioning. In high school and early college, I found it difficult to get myself to go to sleep at a reasonable time, usually due to chatting late into the night with friends. I remember being very proud of being able to hightail it out of bed and plop down in my morning class in less than ten minutes. I did go to class, which is what I took to be some measure of success. But I certainly wasn’t enjoying my time rushing, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying how lost I was in class due to still being groggy.
2020 has been… quite a surprise, has it not?
It feels so long ago now, but I remember how my 2020 began. I was in the midst of fellowship writing and making preparations to return to Cuba for my dissertation research. I knew that the process would be challenging, and I knew that there was going to be a great deal of work and sacrifice ahead, but I felt that over my years in graduate school, I was prepared for just about any challenges that would come my way. Then, COVID hit. I, along with most of my generation of scholars, was thrown into total limbo!
Last fall, I realized that many of the study strategies and time management systems that I used as an academic coach could be helpful in my own life as a graduate student (and as an adult, in general). I was in the middle of reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and desperately needed a better system. (A list of nearly three hundred books to read in roughly a year felt daunting, to say the least.) Watching as my coaching students revelled in their newfound organizational skills and improved study strategies, I thought to myself, Gee, I should really try these, too.
With the shift to remote learning, it has been extremely hard to prioritize my plans. Instead of following through on my academic goals, I often end up spending time with my family, watching shows on Netflix, or even browsing through my emails. Knowing that I had a midterm approaching, I decided it was time to break this cycle and search for tools to increase my productivity. I went to the Learning Center website and found the Goal Tracker, which let me set goals and reflect on my progress over three days. At the end of these three days, I was able to complete most of my goals, reflect on what strategies worked well, and adjust strategies that weren’t working for me.
At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I wanted to use tech to help me write more efficiently. When I took notes for my research, I didn’t have a system that helped me organize which quotations or information went with which source. My overall disorganization made transitioning from research to writing a bit of a pain. I could never cite quickly. That all changed when I found my dynamic duo: TheBrain and Zotero.
I find word choice to be one of the trickiest parts of academic writing. Even if I’ve used a dictionary or thesaurus to make sure that I’m using a word correctly, there’s still the chance that my reader will find it odd if I use a word that’s uncommon in academic writing or that has an implication I’m unaware of.
When I chat with my peers about study tools, many of them are familiar with Quizlet. Essentially, Quizlet is a website for making and studying digital flashcards. Over the years that I have used this website, they have added tools and study methods that go beyond just flipping through flashcards. Although I do not use it as a replacement for in-depth studying, Quizlet has always been a great starting point for familiarizing myself with the important terms or baseline concepts of my classes.
Once upon a time, I had to defend the “prospectus” or plan for my dissertation to my committee members. I spent many months researching, drafting, and revising my prospectus. I focused on making my ideas clear. I memorized the main points of my argument. When my prospectus defense began, I shared with excitement everything I had learned and planned to do. And the first question a committee member asked me in response was: “So… what’s your dissertation about?”