MCAT study groups feel sooooo much better than solo studying. For starters, they commit you and hold you accountable to studying; they can help you attack your weaknesses; and, bonus, it’s fun studying with other people.
But (big but … bigger than a Kardashian butt) MCAT study groups can also be a terrible distraction. The real risk with studying with other people is that you don’t learn nearly as efficiently as you do when you’re on your own.
Still, though, there is a time and place for an MCAT study buddy and in this article, we’re going to tell you how you can use MCAT study groups as your secret weapon for kicking butt in the exam!
Who are we?
We’re Brainscape, the world’s smartest study app and a team of supernerds who are super passionate about how humans learn. In fact, we’ve spent years studying the scientific literature on cognition, learning, and memory. This has become the platform upon which we’ve engineered our study app, certified MCAT flashcards (image below), and other resources, like this article you (virtually) hold in your very hands!
So, with that said, here’s how to use MCAT study groups or an MCAT study buddy to your advantage and NOT your disadvantage!
The benefit of MCAT study groups
As I touched on previously, MCAT study groups can be a huge help when you’re in the midst of your study prep:
Advantage 1: Creating motivation and accountability
A good MCAT study group will create motivation and accountability. Sure, you’ll have to keep studying on your own using books and effective tools like Brainscape’s MCAT flashcards, but the outside pressure of a study group can compel you to keep up the momentum when you start buckling under the pressure.
Advantage 2: Teaching what you know
Study groups give you the opportunity to teach what you know well to your MCAT study buddies, which is one of the most effective tools for permanently memorizing information. In med school, they say “See One, Do One, Teach One.” It’s that final step—teach one—that really solidifies the learning.
[See our article on the Feynman Technique for more on learning through teaching.]
Advantage 3: Getting help on your weaknesses
At the same time, MCAT study groups make it easy to actively seek help for your knowledge weaknesses, allowing you to drill down on the concepts or facts you’re struggling with.
These are some pretty juicy advantages! But you have to remember:
Studying in groups can HURT your studies if you don't do it right.
How do you do it right? I’m so glad you asked because, next, we’re going to look at the most beneficial and efficient ways to study for the MCAT in a group! By the way, we wrote a whole article on (general) group study, which dives much deeper into this important topic so I really encourage you to check it out: ‘When to study in groups, and how to do it.’ I also share my own stories of failed group study, which you won’t want to miss!
How do you run a MCAT study group?
We suggest you follow the Rule of Three: Three people. Three meetings a week. Three hour meetings.
- Three people means that if one person can’t make it , you still have a study buddy. The more people who attend, however, the more distracting and disorganized things become (and the harder it’ll be to schedule meetings).
- Three meetings per week will allow you to work on individual prep work in between MCAT study groups, which is actually what you should be dedicating MOST of your prep time to.
- Three-hour meetings are key because it is hard to stay focused and productive for longer than three hours. Anything longer than this will simply be inefficient.
Now, during the MCAT study group session itself, the goal is to create accountability and to teach each other the material. So you should create a study plan together where each person is given an assignment to prep and teach to the group. (Read: The ultimate three-month MCAT study plan.) You might say something like this:
“Okay so over the weekend, we will all complete the first three chapters in the biochemistry book. It’ll be my job to carefully review the practice passage about amino acids and to teach that passage to the group. Rob, it’ll be your job to prep and teach the enzymes passage, and Ameera you can prep and teach the gluconeogenesis passage. Then we’ll all review a verbal passage together.”
Just remember: the goal of MCAT study groups is to solidify what you’ve learned during your solo study sessions and address the areas of knowledge you’re shakey on. It’s not to learn stuff from scratch. So, you need to go into your sessions PREPARED. And if a MCAT study buddy doesn’t do the necessary work, don’t waste any further time on him or her. This is your career and you sure as sh— ain't carrying anybody else’s weight!
This brings me to my final point of advice ...
Breaking up with an MCAT study buddy or group
It happens and it can be uncomfortable but don’t be afraid to “break up” with MCAT study buddy or group if things aren’t going well. Your number one priority is the MCAT and if you aren’t getting what you need out of the group—if they aren’t preparing properly, are late, disorganized, or have constantly conflicting schedules—there’s no reason you should waste time trying to make it work.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be friends or friendly with these people anymore! Just politely explain: “Hey! You guys have been great but I won’t be joining this study group anymore.” You could even say “I have a little too much fun with y’all and I need to get serious sooooooo, byeeeeee!” if it’ll soften the blow.
That, or you can just ghost them. But I never recommend the cowardly path.
Also, don’t feel limited by geography when looking for a decent MCAT study group. There are tons of free online collaboration tools out there , which can help you look for good study partners.
Finally, remember to read ‘When to study in groups, and how to do it’ for even more guidance on this subject, and for all kinds of (totally free) awesome MCAT study tips and advice, check out Brainscape’s MCAT Academy and Medical YouTube channel.