How to study efficiently

by Gabe

One of the key issues you'll face in taking the MCAT is how to spend your time efficiently. Now, I’m sure some of you are currently enjoying the full time studying life (spending all day memorizing the TCA cycle....what could be better??).

But I know a lot of you are also working or taking classes right now. So you don’t have all the time in the world.

If you’ve only got a couple hours a day to study before your 10-hour scribe shift, then you need to focus on making your studying as efficient as possible. You don’t have enough margin to waste time!

And even if you are studying full time, you still should try to make your studying as efficient as possible. If you’ve got 40 hours in a week to study, you want to get as much as you possibly can out of those 40 hours.

So to that end, I want to give you my number one principle for efficient studying:

Spend as much time as possible on active studying and as little time as possible on passive studying

Let me give some examples of what I mean. Passive studying is anything where you’re not really testing yourself; you’re just absorbing information.

Passive studying would be things like:

  • Reading books
  • Watching videos
  • Taking notes (yes, I think even taking notes is a form of passive studying...and you should rarely take notes)

Active studying means things that test your knowledge. That’s things like:

  • Doing practice problems
  • Taking full length tests
  • Reviewing flashcards
  • Writing diagrams out from memory (this is the best way to learn the biochem pathways)

But I want to give you some examples to give you a better idea of what I mean. Let’s say you’re studying physics and you need to learn optics. How do you do it?

The inefficient approach: Read the chapter on optics in your book, take some notes, and then try the practice problems at the end of the chapter to make sure you understood it.

The efficient approach: Start by at least attempting the practice problems (even if you get tons of them wrong). Only go back to the book to clarify what you need to. Then try more practice problems on the areas you missed. Keep doing this until you can consistently get the problems right.

(The only exception here would be if you’ve literally never seen the subject matter before. Then you might want to start with the books or videos.)

So that’s the basic approach I would recommend for physics and chemistry.

But for psych, sociology, bio, or biochem, it might look a little different. Let’s take psych for an example.

The inefficient approach: Carefully read the psych book and take notes as you go along. Maybe do some practice problems/passages to reinforce your knowledge.

The efficient approach: Quickly read the chapter in your book to get the general idea. Then hone in on the things that are mentioned in the end of chapter summary. Make flashcards of all of those ideas so you can memorize them. (For psych/soc most of your time should probably be spent on flashcards).

Basically, the approach that I’m advocating is this: whenever possible treat your study materials likereference material. In other words, use them as something that you don’t necessarily read straight through but only reference when necessary.

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