Thursday, March 1, 2012

UCSF and I are Mortal Enemies

For a very unsuccessful while I tried to study in libraries, but I've since given up and retreated back to the messy dungeon that is my room.  Although there are many libraries and school campuses in this city, they're either a) too far and impractical to get to  b) noisy  c) do not have enough outlets  and d) places where I would have to pack up my gear to go bathroom.  The Kaplan test prep material is all online, and I am at that stage where I am trying to do as many practice problems as possible.

For a time, the UCSF library seemed like a perfect spot - it's quiet, the chairs are cushy, there are cubicle-desks with lamps, OUTLETS!, free wi-fi, the knowledge that no one will steal my crappy four-year-old battery-less Sony VAIO,  or my water bottle (serious, someone stole my sister's metal water bottle at the library - gross).  It also has huge windows to stare out of and day dream, and gelato next door.  GELATO!!  It seemed like the perfect combo - I could bomb my practice tests, and then console myself with gelato.

But the free guest wi-fi hates me :(  It would work until around 6-ish, and when it would putter and die.  After some time, I realized it wasn't my laptop or my usb wi-fi adapter, and it wasn't worth going to campus I.T. to fix.

Anyway, I gave that up about a month ago.  The library also has a really nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, perfect for day dreaming, but whatevs.  I can see the Bridge anytime I want by dangling dangerously out my living room window.  I'm probably better off studying at home: no one will steal my stuff, only my mom eats my dried mango slices (which is okay because I'm still living in her house) and nothing's better than lounging in sweatpants and sweatshirts.  I made myself a Doomsday calendar with my test date circled in blood-red.  I'm so tempted to postpone my test, but that would serve no purpose other than to prolong the inevitable.  Every now and then I'll wonder if the May date is still open, so I can register for it just in case I bomb the first time, and then I'll scold myself for thinking like that, because I haven't taken the test yet.

I have days when I do well and I'm proud of myself for studying, more days when I don't feel like I'm making any improvement, occasional days when my coworkers text me non-stop when I'm not even working and I have to turn off my phone, and a few days when I just can't make myself care (like tonight).  I'm probably not doing so bad, in retrospect.  I'm studying more consistently than when I was an undergrad, since I actually had way more on my plate than I do now.  But it still sucks.  And I suck at standardized tests.  I really, really don't care about the gravitational force between planets, or the maximum distance a clown will fly after being ejected from a cannon, or whether the Copper strip acts as a cathode or anode.  But I ultimately do care about how I will do on the test, so I keep trying.

I've actually run out of Q-Bank questions.  Of those, I've done about half of the ones I got wrong twice.  The unfortunate thing with the Q-Bank formatting is that, once you've finished all of them, you can't select specific problems to re-do.  I narrow them down by topic, but there have been occasions when I'll get the same passage 3-4 times in a row, and it becomes a stupid exercise in bubbling because I've practically memorized the letter that corresponds to the right answer.  In lieu, I've started combing through some of the AAMC tests provided and the Kaplan tests section by section and then leaving a few to take as "real tests" on weekends.  Another sucky thing with the Kaplan practice tests is that I cannot opt to take these practice tests as practice - I can't select which section to take.  I guess it's not a big deal, but then in order to find out how I did on the Physical Sciences section (for example), I have to finish the test.  The AAMC tests have much nicer settings - I can take one section at a time and review my answers right away.

I've actually abandoned a lot of the Kaplan-taught techniques because it just wasn't working for me.  I never finished my "database" for the two essay sections.  The instructor told us to come up with examples for topics like business, politics, sociology, human rights, etc so that we would have a general idea on hand, but I honestly could not think of 'examples with inherent conflicts' that were detailed but could be applied to any prompt I encountered.  Also, I get hung up on the fact that I'm scared to make erroneous claims like saying the earth is flat, which may or may not hurt my essay grade, so I might as well be creative and write something that is obviously made-up.  On my last practice essay, I wrote that laws are not effective tools for achieving social change if despotic rulers like Voldemort choose to ignore/bypass them by placing Muggles in concentration camps and claiming that they're "separate but equal" facilities.

Not sure what is worse, writing Harry Potter fanfic for an MCAT essay, or that I don't remember history but can remember enough about the Harry Potter series.  I'll be in my corner of shame.

Other things I've abandoned:  "triaging" the passages.  Just because a passage "looks doable" doesn't mean the questions are similarly easy, and just because a passage "looks difficult" doesn't mean the questions are similarly difficult.  Regardless of the topic, I take care of the discrete (non-passage-related) questions first and plow through the rest in order.

My studying is split up by section:  Mondays/Tuesdays are reserved for Physical Sciences,  Wednesdays and part of my Sundays for Verbal, Thursday/Fridays for Biological Sciences, Saturdays for the practice exam and subsequent review with one movie in between.  I let myself hang out with one person or group for no more than 3 hours each week, and if I exceed that 3-hour limit (which I did last weekend, oops) then I get to be a loner the following weekend.  I haven't been to the gym in a couple weeks, which is probably why I've been antsy and prone to bouncing off walls.  I think regardless of how I do on the test this month, when I finish, I'm going to party like it's 1999 all over again....Except for the fact that in 1999 I was only 12 and my concept of "partying" at that age involved chips and soda in class.


  1. I didn't exercise while I was studying for the MCAT. I gave up all normal routines (eating healthy, exercising) despite my Kaplan instructor warning us not to, but I figured he was smart anyway and I needed more time to study. Don't do this! I really wish I hadn't. You don't have to keep up your normal routine but try to get some aerobic exercise for at least 20-30 minutes a day. It will really take the edge off and you'll be able to focus better. I really, really wish I had done this. Well I took my dog for a walk every day at noon in between my horrible schedule of studying, but that wasn't really aerobic... since she stopped to smell every damn plant.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. I know at my school they put a huge emphasis on students keeping their normal workout routine to deal with stress and anxiety. I feel a lot different when I don't work out. And by work out, I mean watch hulu on my iPhone and walk briskly (3.6) the whole time. Because I screwed up my knees, so I'm THAT person walking on the treadmill. Embarrassing.

    Side note- I also didn't have a database for the Kaplan essays. But I knew a lot of random history from my art history major. I think it's AWESOME that you wrote about Harry Potter!!

  2. Very nice work creating a schedule for yourself and from the sound of it (mostly) sticking to it! Don't penalize yourself too harshly if you surpass your self-allotted weekend hangout time ough; the last thing you want to do is burn out before you get to the actual test date.

    Keep up the great work! It'll all be worth it once that test is over. :)

  3. OK, you sound very very motivated to me. I don't think I've ever studied that hard for anything! Good luck. How you stay away from the library with the Golden Gate Bridge view is a mystery to me though. How cool. You should've posted a picture too.