So I took the MCAT a while back and did pretty well. Well enough to get into my top-choice medical school anyway, which I suppose is all that counts. Now, it’s been driven home to me that people love success, and assume that anyone successful must have mounds of useful advice for people who are on a similar path. My friends, you came to the right place.

Now, it’s widely acknowledged the MCAT is, to use a technical academic term, a bit of a bastard. Premeds, hitherto having sailed unmolested through the sea of mediocrity that claims to be our nation’s education system, suddenly find themselves being bent over and used roughly by a test that is living proof of the seething hatred for premeds that dwells in the heart of the medical establishment. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the writing of MCAT questions involves a lot of dubious arcane paraphernalia wielded by people in black robes who cackle more than is probably healthy for well-adjusted citizens. Other theories propound that the MCAT is written by failed applicants, the ink comprised of the blackened husk of their spirits mixed with their bitter tears of rage. Alternatively, I suppose you could say that the MCAT is merely a test designed to bring a measure of standardisation to a group of applicants from diverse academic institutions, and contains difficult but fair questions answerable by the calibre of students expected to attend medical school. Such a wild and unlikely speculation as that, however, is something that I can’t be associated with.

So, here’s my advice for the MCAT: relax.

“But Coldstream,” I hear you cry, “it’s the most important test I’ll ever take before being admitted to medical school. Not to mention that you just scared the crap out of me with all that black-robe ranting”

Yes, yes, the MCAT is important. Many things are important, but none of them should reduce us to the quivering mass of stress, fear, and pure venom that many premeds turn into when faced with the MCAT. Before beginning your study period for the MCAT, you should do a few things. First, take a deep breath, find your mental space that keeps you centred, and then go and get good and drunk. Enjoy being drunk, as it’s just like the moment when you’ve finished the MCAT: you’re staggering, incoherent, surrounded by strangers in much the same condition, and feel slightly ill with the absolute knowledge that tomorrow’s headache will be the worst since you bought that slightly dodgy mushroom from the bloke in the alley.

Lest you think that this entire post is entirely full of mocking analogies, however, permit me to offer a bit more advice.

1) Decide on your learning style. If you’re the sort of person happiest in a classroom full of people, waving your hand to eagerly answer a question posed by a lecturer, then consider a Kaplan or Princeton Review course. Also, smack yourself as hard as you can, as I hate you lot. If, on the other hand, you’re a bitter, cynical recluse with surplus brain-power who prefers to study at your own pace, I cannot highly enough recommend Examkrackers. Despite the criminally stupid name, the material is well-presented and is everything you’ll need to do well. Taking an overpriced class isn’t mandatory, despite what some neurotic premeds will tell you.

2) For the love of whatever improbable deity you believe in, get the 101 Verbal Passages Examkrackers book, even if you’re taking Kaplan or PR. You wouldn’t believe the number of perfectly intelligent premeds who do really well on the Physical and Biological sections, and then completely bugger up the Verbal Reasoning. Friends, if you’re saying to yourself “I had a great score on the SAT/GRE” then you’ll be the one curled into a fetal position on the floor come results day, with my disembodied mocking laughter ringing in your ears. Do you think those black-robed MCAT bastards give a crap if you know what a bunch of words mean? No, they ask questions related to supernaturally boring passage and if, like the ignorant science nerd that you are, you start pecking around the passage for specific words, the fuckers will have an answer waiting for you. Dismiss this advice at your peril! If you don’t believe me, check out some of the profiles on MDapplicants and note that the Verbal scores are…shall we say suspiciously low.

3) Give yourself a bit of time to study. Two months is fine, three perhaps better. Don’t try to cram all of your studying into a couple of weeks. All of those effortless ‘A’s you earned in college while barely studying don’t mean a thing to the MCAT. That thing is hungry and it will eat you if you screw around.

4) Take a practice MCAT at the AAMC website after you’ve been studying for a bit. They have a nice breakdown of where you’re strong and where you’re wobblier than a unicyclist with a razorblade for a seat. When you’re about two weeks out from the MCAT, take another and see if you’re scoring well. Treat it as a real test, which means that your loser friends who are just dying to see that new movie will just have to deal with your voicemail for once. If you get a decent score, do a last bit of studying to fill any last weak points and then call it good. If you screw it all up, wave off and reschedule your MCAT a bit further back.

5) Take at least a few days off before the MCAT to let your brain recover. If you don’t know it by now, you won’t know it. Sure, there’ll be some pasty premed gunner who’ll tell you that he was listening to some MCAT podcast up until the moment that the test administrator ripped the headphones from his ears, but piss on that guy. While he was doing all that useless last minute studying to try to silence the screaming insecurity that churns in his soul, you were out remembering what sunshine and sex felt like. Good for you. Now go make the MCAT your bitch.

Much love,