You’ve put 100% effort into preparing for your MCAT.
You’ve been studying and practicing for months, gearing up for the home stretch and then…
to your application timeline if your test date is cancelled?
What about your study plan if you were mentally geared up to test in just a few weeks?
How should your study plan change if you weren’t planning to test until late spring or summer 2020?
Note to my GAMSAT students (Aus/UK version of the MCAT): With March exams cancelled and reschedule date still up in the air for this summer, the following information also applies to you. (Singapore has already rescheduled for June).
With the Coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe, everything is currently in flux, where the only certainty is the simple fact that we don’t know.
As I write this on March 17th, schools and facilities (including my sanity outlets: pool, Crossfit/gym) are closed, and the number of confirmed cases is still on the rise.
It’s futile to discuss what ‘will be.’
Instead we need to focus on flexible planning for various outcomes.
No matter what happens, YOU need to know that you did YOUR BEST to be prepared, whatever that looks like for you.
This morning (Mar 17), the AAMC cancelled March 27 and Apr 4th exams.
I suspect this is an early ‘wait and decide’ precaution, with additional cancellations to follow.
THIS is why I advised my Apr 4th student NOT to take an open Apr 24th seat 8 hours away.
Instead, I’m having her (and everyone else) follow the plan I detailed below.
The biggest concern for many students is this:
If your plan was to test now so that you can submit an early application, how will cancellations and delays impact your 2020 application timeline?
Before we jump into new plans and timelines,
Let’s take a look at the ways the Covid-19 pandemic may be interfering with your study time
To the Students in the healthcare field, on the front lines of this pandemic —
I have many students who are currently on the front lines of this pandemic. This includes PAs and nurses, all types of medical techs and medical assistants, first responders, urgent care providers and more.
Not only are you on the front lines actively treating infected patients, you’re also being called upon to work extra shifts and longer hours.
You are our heroes! Your med school dreams are fueled by a desire to serve others, and in this time of crisis you’re stepping up in your current capacity.
You’re tired and overworked, and the last thing you want to do after an extra-long shift is go home and study for the MCAT.
I know you know this deep down, but the MCAT can wait.
Your health as you care for those in need MUST be your top priority.
And if all you can do after work is take a nice long bath and crash, please please do so WITHOUT feeling guilty.
To the Students directly impacted by Covid-19 —
Yet another situation is (and unfortunately will be) the student who contracts coronavirus, or who has family members in their care who contract the virus.
Your health, and the health of your loved ones is top priority.
In the event of hospitalization, MCAT study is definitely out the window.
In the event of milder symptoms, you may feel guilty putting your studies aside for your health.
This is no joke, you must focus all of your efforts on recovery so that you CAN be healthy to pursue your medical dreams, even if this means a slight delay in your timeline.
To the Students indirectly impacted by Covid-19 —
With schools closed and public study areas off limits,
many of my students are indirectly impacted by this pandemic in the form of lost study hours.
Students who now have school-age children vying for attention and relying on adults for education and entertainment.
This automatically cuts into your allotted MCAT study time.
Students now stuck at home in a busy household with spouses or siblings home from work and creating too much noise.
Dedicated study time becomes more distracted.
Students who generally focus better studying at the library or a cafe, who have trouble studying at home once again losing quality study time.
Trying to focus through all the chaos
And last but not least, even if you’re not distracted by any of the above,
the sheer impact of all that’s going on will get to you.
Due to my ADHD I am very attune to my disciplined schedule and focus techniques (such as working in pomodoros and using a distraction list), and yet I’ve found myself reading news articles and checking the CDC for updates.
I share this because knowing how much I pride focus and non-distraction,
I’m sure others just as dedicated may find themselves struggling.
And I can only imagine how much worse it must be if you’re not used to practicing such discipline.
With the media spreading fear along with facts,
with social media creating even more chaos,
with concern over your own safety, as well as your loved ones,
your MCAT study time WILL be impacted.
For the reasons mentioned above, I suspect that MANY students will experience hiccups and distractions forcing them to test and apply later than intended.
Have an honest conversation with yourself.
Look yourself in the mirror, or do this as a journaling exercise and ask yourself:
Have my MCAT studies suffered in the last week due to the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Can I very clearly pinpoint the reason for my distractions?
If someone asks me next year ‘why did your studying suffer?’ will I be ok with the answer?
Or will I feel guilty for getting caught up in this and letting my dreams suffer?
If the answer is “Yes, I have a valid reason for distraction/delay” (first 3 above), what does this mean for your MCAT studies?
Don’t let the ‘excuses’ (valid or not) happen.
Instead, plan for what you’re going to do (or not do) and give yourself permission to be ok with it.
Don’t be the [Insert medical position/title] who works a crazy shift, attempts to study after work, only to quit in frustration when exhaustion takes over.
Be the student who says “my kids require my attention. I accept that I will lose a few planned study hours per day as I see them through this crisis.”
If the answer is ‘no’:
No, I will not be ok knowing that I lost so much study time reading every article and social media post about this.
No, I will not be happy with myself for allowing so much fear and panic (through inhaling the media) take away from my precious study time.
No, I will not be able to shake off the guilt of knowing that just because the library was closed I allowed myself to be distracted.
Therefore, imagine your future self asking you this question: under these circumstances, what could you have changed to still make reasonable progress in your studies?
Before you continue, hop onto Instagram and let me know which category you fall under:
- I accept that I need to postpone my studies as I serve on the front lines
- I accept that I have reduced study capacity due to being directly or indirectly impacted by this pandemic
- I realize that I have been allowing this to distract me but I resolve to get back on track.
Also understand that your situation may change. When it does, have an honest conversation with yourself and make a new appropriate commitment.
Now that you understand your personal situation and have made a commitment accordingly,
Let’s talk timelines
Many students are rushing to test now/soonish for two reasons:
- Early MCAT date -> early MCAT score -> early application.
This is especially true for US students trying to get ahead with the rolling admissions cycle.
- “I’ve been studying for so long, I’m ready, if I have to keep going I’ll burn out or forget everything.”
My approach to #1 will take #2 into account.
Take into consideration, what is the goal of an early application? To get ahead of the competition and maximize your chances, right?
The following is speculation based on my experience working with premeds for the last decade:
As strict as the admissions committee may be, they are still run by human beings. Human beings who are also impacted by the coronavirus.
I cannot see them penalizing students for something this big.
We don’t yet know how medical schools will handle changes in the application timeline and deadlines. With the situation changing drastically on a daily basis, I doubt they know either.
Additionally, as I explained above, many of the competition will ALSO be delayed.
Some due to situations out of their control, and some due to getting so caught up and distracted that they’re not ready in time.
For example, you test in May instead of March, or June instead of April, you should still be on track compared to the volume of students testing.
If you had travel plans and that influenced your earlier testing timeline, chances are that they will be cancelled. (My summer flight to Italy was just cancelled.)
If you have other summer plans, like one student with scheduled military training, that makes this a bit more difficult, but chances are even that may be cancelled or postponed.
“Will I be ok with a later test date?”
If you’re answer to this is “Yes,”
Let’s make a plan!
Here are the 2 main questions that have come in:
- “I’m about to test. How should I study if I’m worried my test date will be cancelled? How should I proceed if my MCAT was already cancelled?”
- “I was planning to test this summer, should I change my study plan/schedule if there’s a chance my test date will be cancelled?”
If you’re about to test = the flexible planning approach is most crucial for you.
If your goal was a summer 2020 MCAT = this is still important, but I’ll discuss more of the longer term changes below.
But DON’T fall into the trap of ‘everything is up in the air, I’ll figure it out when I know more.’
I’m a planner, I need to know the exact dates, times, milestones, deadlines,
every bit of data mapped out before I embark on a difficult goal.
My 3-Phase approach to MCAT prep relies on having exact goals and dates mapped out, especially as you get closer to the end and burn through the highest value AAMC resources.
If you take the AAMC full-lengths, lose your test date and have to study for another month, do you really want to transition back to inferior 3rd party practice full-lengths?
I say inferior because no matter how good they are, they are still NOT from the AAMC.
On the flipside, if you pause your studying while awaiting more data, do you regress in your prep? Will you be caught off-guard and unprepared when test dates become available?
For many students the idea of having a test date (on paper, not registered) adds pressure that leads to increased focus.
If I’m testing in 5 weeks, I have to get this done today!
Lack of deadlines can lead to slacking and falling off track.
The unknown and unknowable is what makes this so hard.
Let’s add a method to the madness and create a definite plan FOR the unknown.
This starts with a milestone to hold yourself accountable to.
A weekly milestone that lines up with
- Phase 1 completion date for early students
- Phase 2 completion date for students already past content
- Phase 2 maintenance goals for students who were in, or about to enter Phase 3.
The following modifications work along with my 3-Phase approach to MCAT prep. Review it here if you’re not familiar with the 3 Phases.
For students who were in or about to enter Phase 3:
This includes students who were scheduled to test on March 27th or early April, or students scheduled to test later knowing there’s a chance of additional test center closures.
(Exams through April 4th have been cancelled. I speculate additional dates will be cancelled shortly.)
On a recent hike at Canyonlands National Park I was relying on my phone GPS to track our progress. We were on a strenuous 10+ mile hike, feeling hot, tired and sore halfway through.
When my phone said 9 miles, we did not appear to be just 1 mile from the trailhead.
We came across the ‘2 mile’ marker when my phone had us at 10 miles.
Woosh, it felt like a sucker punch to the gut, knocking the wind right out.
Not only did 2 miles feel unedurable, even that next mile (next step) felt like torture.
You’ve been studying so hard with the finish line finally in sight,
Then woosh, sucker punch to the gut.
Light at the end of the tunnel extinguished with no clear end point in sight.
It’s going to be SO EASY to lose motivation, but this is the point where you CANNOT give up.
Your key objectives:
- NOT regressing or forgetting due to this delay
- NOT burning out by continuing to study at the same pace as before
- NOT burning through your AAMC resources before the final few weeks
- NOT slacking off and letting panic/distractions undo your progress
If you are/have been ready to test, and you maintain the plan outlined below, then 3 weeks should give you enough time to ramp up to 100% readiness for your new test date.
My suggested plan is going into a ‘Phase 3 maintenance mode’ for now, waiting for things to become a bit more certain. When things calm down, look for a test date at least 3 weeks out.
Make a new schedule that REDUCES your study time by about 20%
Why? You’re already ready for the MCAT which means you’re not looking for intense progress.
Instead you’re looking to remain sane as you simply focus on NOT regressing with your MCAT progress.
Add the following into your reopened schedule:
1- More Downtime and Personal Rewards
When you commit to studying, you commit to making a short-term sacrifice knowing that the end result is totally worth it.
But when the endpoint disappears, the sacrifice becomes more and more painful.
Think of all the fun things you’ve given up to study for this exam.
What can you reasonably add back in while still maintaining your social distancing and personal safety?
Can you reward yourself with ONE episode of a Netflix series per day?
Can you watch one new movie per week (New movies may go right to streaming following theater closures)?
Can you plan a fun day in, date night including a home-cooked meal? A good ol’ fashion board game or computer game with your cooped up family?
Something online and interactive with your cooped up friends?
I’ve personally found that the best way to remain healthy/sane while avoiding cabin fever is through physical activity.
I had a lot of personal things going on during undergrad, and the pool was my best therapy.
When we deployed to the middle east in support of OIF/OEF, a third of our unit was diverted to Haiti to assist with the earthquake relief efforts.
The rest of us worked overtime to make up for the lost manpower.
Following a strict fitness regimen was how I kept up my sanity.
If you need an instructor/class to follow, go to YouTube and search for x Minute at home [style] workout. For example: 25 minute at home HIIT workout ; 30 minute yoga workout ; 45 minute at home cardio workout ;
Make it a priority!
Consider starting your day with a workout, or using the workout as you break between study blocks.
And the remaining 80% of your study schedule?
Phase 3 is the fortification phase. This includes a weekly AAMC full length on the same day and time as your actual MCAT. since third party exams are not as good as the real thing, I have my students wait until phase 3 to use up the AAMC exams.
If you’ve taken most or all AAMC exams, push them aside and try to forget so that you can reuse them in your final 3 weeks.
Instead of entering or resuming Phase 3, go into a Phase 2 maintenance mode which will look very similar to the final weeks in Phase 2 outlined in my Sample 6 Month Study Plan.
Aim for a full-length every other week IF you have enough time to review your exam in 1 week.
Aim for a full length every 2.5-3 weeks if you’ll need more than a week to review (with your newly reduced schedule).
Assuming you are indirectly impacted by Covid-19 and have reduced study hours as a result.
Follow the Full-Length review week schedule in the plan above, with 20 minutes of Active Writing built into each study block to ensure long-term retention.
Follow the ‘practice passages’ plan until your next scheduled 3rd party full length.
I discuss and rank 3rd party FL on my MCAT Resources Page.
Take a look at the AAMC and pandemic status after each full length so you can evaluate if you’re still in limbo or not. We should have a better idea of what’s going on in a few weeks.
When things are looking ‘semi’ certain, consider using the AAMC sample, and AAMC 1 full lengths. Since these are easier, I’d rather see you save the 3 most realistic for the end.
When things calm down and new dates open, choose a test date at least 3 weeks out, and put yourself back into phase 3.
Use these final 3 weeks to ramp up your studying and ensure that you are 100% ready for your new test date. Mentally and academically.
If you’re still in phase 2 and more than a few weeks out from your exam:
If you were planning to test this spring or early summer, you’re still quite a few weeks out from entering phase 3.
You cannot afford to slack off NOW, based on something that may or may not happen later.
At the same time you need some flexibility in your schedule in the event of longer term MCAT cancellations.
As much as we don’t know, you still want to proceed as if your May/June MCAT will proceed as scheduled, as follows:
If able, proceed with your study plan as intended until you complete phase 2, with one modification.
With 5 AAMC exams I have students take AAMC 1 as their final full length in phase 2.
By the time you reach this full length (6 weeks out from test day), evaluate if things are still up in the air.
Have things calmed down? What’s the chance my MCAT date gets cancelled or postponed?
If your exam still appears to be confirmed, take AAMC 1.
If not, take a third party exam and finish phase 2 strong.
Then enter ‘phase 2 maintenance mode’ and proceed as I explained above.
Remember, given all that’s going on, a May 2019 MCAT could have the same weight as a June or even July 2020 MCAT.
While this is my own speculation, understand that even in a regular cycle, June and July applications still give you a very strong chance; even August isn’t as bad as many believe.
This is based on my personal experience of working with dozens of premeds each year, and being in contact with hundreds more through my email newsletter and social media.
Why not modify your phase 2 plans now?
The worst thing you can do is tell yourself “I have extra time”
Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Don’t give yourself a mental ‘out’ until you’re DONE with phase 2 and thus ready to react to any scheduling changes in a mere matter of weeks.
If you’re more than 2-3 months out from your test date:
This is potentially the most emotionally taxing scenario.
Why? There is current speculation (not fact, speculation) that this virus will be a big problem for at least another year, but will hopefully be 🤞 under control in a matter of months.
Meaning, even if the spread is not contained yet, we’ll slowly get accustomed to this new ‘normal’. We as a people will find a way to work around the limitations and setbacks, and try to move forward with our plans.
Life must go on!
And so I speculate that summer MCAT dates will become definitive soon enough, albeit with some changes to administration format and testing center health rules.
So why is this the trickiest plan?
Say you’re planning to test in August, it’s difficult to imagine life not being so chaotic THEN, given all that’s going on right now. Can you calm yourself down enough, and tune out enough distractions to continue charging forward with a diligent study plan?
The answer may feel like a resounding no, but I challenge you to find a way to make this a YES!
Unless of course you have a legitimate reason for postponing or slowing down your MCAT studies as discussed above.
If you CAN continue to study, I beg you to find a way to tune out the chaos.
Quickly glance at any important updates, then sit down to study study study.
Turn your home office, bedroom, bathroom or closet (if the others are distracting) into an ideal study environment.
If you’re too distracted and have trouble focusing on such a far out goal right now, choose a more immediate and shorter-term goal to focus on.
For example, if you’re still in phase 1, watch the video below to figure out your phase 1 timeline.
Use the numbers to estimate your phase 1 completion date along with your weekly target numbers.
And then go hard core ensuring you hit those numbers on a weekly basis.
Until you finish phase 1, any MCAT testing changes should not impact you.
Once you complete phase 1 (assuming you had a test date in mind) check to see if things have changed.
Did they add more dates?
Did they extend the testing cycle?
Did they extend that application timeline and deadlines?
These are all premature questions for now, and won’t serve you other than providing unnecessary distractions.
If this pandemic has you so disoriented and you’re not sure where you stand right now, start with my new article: Am I Ready for the MCAT? How to Evaluate
And if you need more help, from evaluating and reaching your goals, to being held accountable to your studies rather than media distractions, come join my 100% online guided MCAT prep program.