MCAT studying

Study Strategies I: “Time is Money”

This is part one of a four-part series on study strategies. I’ve received a few emails in the past requesting advice on general study tips or any advice on studying while working full-time (which I did during my gap years). So in this series, I’ll be presenting strategies that I currently use and have found to be effective. To kick it off, I’m starting with the major requirement for any study session and successful endeavor:

Time

Time pic

Time management is a skill most people struggle with at some point; it’s something I find myself constantly fine-tuning. Although I consider it one of my strengths (years of experience juggling competing priorities), I know it’s something that can always be improved on. During orientation this past August, one of the speakers, Dr. Alvin D. Pelt gave a workshop on study skills that changed the game for me. BIG TIME. I’m going to focus on the time management technique I gained from the presentation and have been using everyday for almost 3 months now. It’s a system that has been immensely effective for me, particularly with my challenging schedule (to be disclosed later).

“Time is like money. You always think you have more than you actually have.”

This was an analogy Dr. Pelt made and I must admit he was quite right. Ever look at your bank account and go “How in the world did I spend that much?” or look at the time, perhaps in panic, and wonder “Where did all the time go?!

Yea.

Time and money are two peas in the pod. Similar to how you would budget your money i.e. a certain amount for rent, bills etc, is the same way you should budget your time. This brings me to my first point:

Schedule daily

study

Make a “budget” for your time that day. When do you have free time? What amount of time is spent in class? commuting? Eating dinner or talking on the phone? Basically account for each hour of the day. This allows you to see the potential times during your day which can be made more productive. Once you’ve blocked out potential times during the day, then comes the crucial step:

Log actual study time

No, this doesn’t mean logging in 4 hours in the library, when you actually spent 2 hours on Facebook, half an hour in the bathroom, another half hour getting situated, and only one hour in the books. Nope not that. As Dr. Pelt put it, your actual study time is different from your perceived study time. So here’s the key ingredient, the magic to this technique:

Log in & out each time you start or stop studying. Exclude bathroom breaks, naps, phone calls etc.

pic study 2

Please excuse my chicken scratch handwriting 🙂

Boom. That’s it. It sounds so simple and perhaps you’ve done a version of this in past, but this method requires discipline and definitely some behavior adjustments. The picture above is my log book. This notebook is EVERYTHING. I carry it everywhere.

Seriously.

It’s always in my backpack and folks who have studied with me, have seen me whip it out and scribble in a time as soon as we stop studying or take a break. I personally aim for 4 hours/ day or a minimum of 20 hours/ week of focused studying. Although I may fall short on my 4 hour goal on some days (unexpected interruptions, my mood etc), I consistently exceed my 20 hour/ week minimum (weekends to the rescue!). This leads to the last point:

Graph the results. Place the graph where you will see it everyday

Now, I’ll be honest, I typically don’t graph the results because I find tracking my daily progress in my small spiral notebook very effective just in of itself. However, this last point was mentioned by Dr. Pelt. As he noted, it’s particularly important if you’re studying for a major exam for a long period of time i.e. USMLEs, MCAT etc. It allows you to see if you’re on track or should perhaps, postpone. There’s also something gratifying about seeing a visual representation of your work and discipline.

charlie-sheen-winning

Success takes discipline. Budgeting my time and tracking actual study time has definitely worked for me. Give it a try. Stick to it. You might find yourself being more efficient and having more productive study sessions.

Thank you to Dr. Pelt for his awesome workshop!

Time: Image source

#Winning: Image source

A Dose of Encouragement

As mentioned in a previous post, writing is one of the strategies I use to manage stress. It allows me to release the emotions I am feeling and reflect on the situation at hand. Last summer, I spent the entire 3-4 months self studying for my first MCAT exam. I moved back home to rural Pennsylvania and was indoors majority of that summer. This was the first time since the summer going into 8th grade, that I did not work/ have a job – not exaggerating. I was fresh out of college, slightly nervous about my future and applying to numerous full-time positions as well. As you can imagine, it was a stressful period. Studying for the MCAT can take a toll on you mentally. My solution?

Writing motivational messages to myself. 

Yes, I am not kidding. Sometimes you have to encourage yourself, and that’s precisely what I did. I forgot about these notes (which were written on my phone) until today. I write in this app quite often, so it’s easy for some notes to get forgotten – that is, till I go looking for them.

I figured I’ld share these motivational messages with you all. They are all original, all written by me, and as you can see by the dates, unedited.

I hope you all get encouraged as you continue to study for the MCAT, write secondaries, prepare for interviews, and pursue your personal goals. That said, here is a dose of encouragement:

july 17 13

july 17

july 19

july 19 134

july 19 13

july 21

july 29 13

aug 4 13

aug 10 13

9 21 13

 Thanks for reading ladies and gents. Ciao!