Tips for Studying for Big, Intimidating Exams

Tips for Studying for Big, Intimidating Exams

Those of you who have followed us so far probably know that I am a health nut, preparing to attend medical school in a few years. I just finished my sophomore year of college which means it is time for me to prepare for the MCAT—the national entrance exam for med schools. This test is crazy long with lots of material and is extremely daunting.

A Quick Note on Intellectual Wellness

Right now, I am working in a lab on campus for 2 to 4 hours a day and blogging. This leaves me a lot of free time every day to study. I am a strong believer that if you are not working toward some goal or goals for at least 6 hours out of the day, you are wasting your days. That is not to say that we do not need or deserve breaks, but if you are spending the majority of your day on Netflix, gaming, or anything else solitary and in your space of comfort, you probably did not accomplish much toward your life goals that day. Also, remember that Intellectual Wellness is a really important part of Total Health. If you are not actively learning about something each week, then your brain is suffering. If you are out of school and realize that you are not focusing on your intellectual wellness, maybe start a new hobby you have never tried or start watching a series of documentaries or listening to educational podcasts. You will receive much more respect from others the more topics you are an expert on, and that will help you toward your ultimate goals. Even if some of your areas of expertise are not at all related to your ultimate goal.

My Study Tips

So, 2-4 hours of work and lets say an hour working on the blog a day at least. That leaves me 1-3 hours that I need to be using. This meant that this summer was the perfect time to start really focusing on my MCAT study. Being a full time college student, studying Biochemistry and Spanish and preparing for med school, I have gathered lots of study tips and tricks to be successful. As I begin my strict study for my MCAT, I figure I should share some of those tricks with you all :)

1-     Find yourself a good quality study guide. Every national exam has a study book that you can purchase. This gives you a library of material that you know will likely be on the exam. Learning that material is a no brainer, so take advantage of your study guides. I went for the Kaplan 2019-2020 MCAT study set with full practice exams and online study modules. This gives me multiple ways to take in the information and review. If you are implementing these study tips in just a college course, definitely use the textbook and any online practice material given in your study plan.

2-     Choose a date that you must be finished going over new material. For my MCAT there are 7 books with 12 chapters each. I have about 2 months left of summer to go over that new material and create study materials for each chapter. I decided to do one chapter for each of two days, and then 2 chapters on the third day. That gives me two days of reprieve and one day of hard work. This allows me to complete all new material by that chosen day. It is important to note that my test is not for probably a few months after my study completion date. The rest of that time before the test will be used to go over the study materials I created. If you are studying for a class, the teacher will have a schedule for what to learn each day written up in the syllabus. Follow his schedule—he is the one writing up your exam.

3-     Schedule in review days. Our brains learn material through repetition, so that means going over a topic in depth once is not going to cut it. I like to go over a chapter and make my study materials for that chapter by hand the next day to reinforce the information. For study materials I draw diagrams, make notecards, save review videos on my computer, answer multiple choice questions, and anything else I can think of to help cement the info. Then, on my chosen review days (I chose Saturday and Sunday as my review days) I go over a chunk of my review material. Anything that I answered correctly the first time and felt solid about, I put aside for a few weeks. Anything that I struggled with, I make sure to review again first on my next study day.

4-     Make sure that you have school supplies and study materials that are visually appealing. I find that I am more excited to study when I like the binders and notebooks and notecards and pens that I am using. Additionally, I color code everything as color coding helps our brain to sort and remember information. There is no best way to color code or to study, you just have to experiment until you find what is best for you which can be very frustrating and confusing. Don’t give up though! You will find your niche eventually.

5-     If you do not understand a concept from the book, find a different way of taking in the information. Remember, the book is simply a template. If you cannot take in information from reading a textbook, see what information is being explained and watch online videos instead. I do this all the time when a concept is confusing me or I cannot visualize it in my mind. Usually a video will clear it up. If not, ask your professor or a friend or a tutor. It is very important that everything you are studying is clear to you.

6-     Do not allow yourself to get off schedule! Once you fall behind, it can be almost impossible or at least extremely stressful to get back on schedule. If you have scheduling conflicts—for example, I go to my lake house most weekends where there is no internet—plan your study around those days so that success is still possible. Make your schedule manageable—do not schedule more for one day than is physically possible for you to accomplish.

7-     Schedule in regular breaks. It is psychologically best to take a 15 minute break after each hour of study and a 30 minute break between 2 or 3 hours of study. Additionally, do not allow your study to get in the way of social interaction. I make sure to plan my study around coffee dates, girls nights out, and other events that will be fun and help me to destress. Remember to take care of your emotional wellness!

8-     Finally, remember that this will not be easy, and it probably will not be that fun either most of the time. Studying is draining, takes a lot of discipline, and is extremely stressful at times. However, your success on test day will be totally worth it! So do not quit and do not stop working hard!

I hope that some of these tips are helpful for you guys. I know they are not the quick and easy hacks that you maybe were hoping for, but this is the reality of success. You have to work hard and tirelessly to succeed, and, if you do, you will come out on top with a lot to be proud of!

Comment down below what your favorite and most productive ways to study are!

And check out these ideas for fun ways to decompress with friends in between study sessions here and here.