Studying for the MCAT takes more than just a few hours of cramming. On the contrary, the Princeton Review states that “most students who do well on the MCAT spend between 200 and 300 hours preparing for the exam”. Of course, if you’re spending all that time studying, you will definitely want to make the most of that time.
Recency, frequency, and exposure duration are the fundamental aspects of memory. Your ability to recognize and recall information relies directly on these factors to contribute to your testing success. The following discusses some studying techniques that are backed by documented, scientific studies and publications. Knowing a few scientifically-proven studying techniques may give you the edge you need to score a few points higher on the MCAT.
Forget the Myths
There are several myths that circulate among educators and students concerning learning styles and ability. Some use these myths as excuses or reasons why one student is better suited for a particular learning style, such as he/she is “left-brained” or a “visual learner”.
You are not a visual learner. You are not an auditory learner. In fact, there is no learning style that is better suited for one person than another. Simply because you prefer to study using a particular method does not necessarily make it more effective.
A paper on learning styles by the University of California – San Diego refutes the idea that there are actually different “types” of learners. The abstract notes that although “research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted”, the lack of scientific evidence to support these assumptions does not exist.
Take More Practice Exams
Half of the MCAT battle is learning to take the exam. The exam not only tests your knowledge and reasoning ability, it also tests your endurance (and sometimes your patience). In the end, practice exams may benefit you more than you think.
A study at the University of Memphis by Frank Leeming suggests that frequent testing improves long-term memory and exam performance. The “Exam-A-Day” study found that students who were tested on at the end of each class on the material learned that day were able to retain information better than those who only took 4 exams over the semester.
Get Better Sleep
Don’t sacrifice sleep for time spent studying. You may already know that adequate sleep prior to an exam is crucial for success. However, you may also want to ensure you get enough sleep on the days you intend to study for the MCAT.
In a paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Paula Alhola and Päivi Polo-Kantola state that sleep deprivation negatively impacts several aspects of memory, including attention, working memory, long-term memory and decision-making. They note that inattentiveness, slowed responses, and decreased alertness are considered direct results of sleep deprivation.
Of course, stimulants are known to be of slight benefit when it comes to attentiveness and alertness. However, you may want to consider trading your hot cup of coffee for a cold glass of water. Need a pick-me-up? Consider going for a run instead as a healthy alternative to increase your heart rate.
The University of Wales conducted a study on the impact of water consumption on memory recall. The study included 50 female college students in an attempt to determine the differences in “immediate and delayed recall of the concrete and the verbal”. Evidence showed that recall was significantly better on the occasions when water had been consumed.
Mimic the Testing Facility
Too many students choose to study in busy environments. Some say listening to music or having background noise helps them focus or relax. If you’re studying for the MCAT, you may want to do so in complete silence. Why? Research indicates that environmental factors contribute to memory, meaning you should try to study in a similar environment to that in which you will test.
In a study on context-dependent memory conducted at Iowa State University, researchers found that “context cues appear to be important in the retrieval of newly learned meaningful information”. Apparently, your brain subconsciously uses environmental cues to help recall information.
Trying finding multiple studying locations. Studying the same information in different locations can help you retain information better than reviewing the same information in the same location.
An article in the New York Times outlines the benefits of studying the same material in different locations. This research may seem to contradict the context-dependent memory study, however, note that there is a difference in recall and reinforcement. While visual cues may help with recall (testing), the result of studying in different locations is that information is reconstructed, therefore leaving a deeper impression (studying).
Break a Sweat
When exercising your mind, don’t forget to allocate some time for physical fitness. Try to incorporate a fitness routine into your studying schedule. Helen O’Connor, a sport and exercise psychologist, suggests in her article on exercise and studying, that there are several indicators that regular exercise may improve memory and concentration.
While there is not yet conclusive evidence that exercise has a direct impact on academic performance, regular physical activity is guaranteed to improve your overall physical health.
What do you think?
Do you have any “tried and true” studying techniques? Leave your responses in the comments section below.