If you are finding that it takes you far longer to get through a content module than expected, it could be that you are trying to take too many notes. While note taking may have been a very effective tool for studying material in college courses, it has limited effectiveness for the MCAT. We have seen students take hundreds of pages of notes, but fail to score above a 500. This is largely because the MCAT does not test pure content - it is a critical thinking test that focuses on relationships between different areas of science and their application to real life scenarios. While the MCAT expects you to know the basic science, it really rewards your ability to critically reason with that information. Thus, a strong content foundation is necessary, but not sufficient for a high score.
Note taking and highlighting are ineffective ways of engaging with the material for a few reasons:
With highlighting, it is easy to disengage with the material, so while the volume of highlighted text would indicate progress through the material, you are not retaining much information.
With note taking, there are a few traps you can fall into: trying to write down all of the information (even material you know), which will slow your progress through the content, or you may be transcribing information without critically digesting its relevance or importance. Either way, you walk away with only a superficial understanding of the material.
There are two main ways that we recommend that students "take notes" as they work through modules, and we recommend trying both to see what works best for your learning style. You may prefer taking questions or making study sheets, or perhaps a combination of both.
1. Taking Questions
Taking questions is a method of note taking where instead of writing down factual bits of information, you write down questions to test yourself on the material after you have finished watching a module. This will allow you to determine if you have really learned the content within the module, and you can go back to your questions a week or so later to check for longer term retention.
For example, if you are watching a module about enzyme kinetics, here are some examples that show the difference between taking notes and taking questions.
Note: Km is a measurement of the affinity of an enzyme for substrate. A higher Km indicates a lower affinity.
Note: Vmax is the maximum rate of turnover for a specific quantity of enzymes when all of the active sites are occupied by substrate.
Question: What is true of the Km and Vmax of a highly efficient enzyme?
Note that this question tests the knowledge of Km and Vmax, but also requires some additional critical thinking.
2. Making Study Sheets
Study sheets are a great way for you to summarize all of the information you learned from a module after you have finished watching it. This will both test your recall of the information and give you an opportunity to critically engage with the material. Study sheets are a time investment, so this approach works well for reviewing material that is more challenging for you.
The study sheet below also covers a review of Km and Vmax. Note that it focuses both on the definitions of the terms, but also how the values can be obtained from graphs. This example is color coded, but you don't need to be fancy with your own study materials!
Just like the questions you write down, you can use study sheets for spaced repetition, reviewing them periodically. Additionally, as you work through practice questions and full length exams, you can update your study sheets with new content connections and information. We recommend organizing your study sheets in a binder for easy access.