Monday, May 14, 2012

MCATs - Study Groups

In undergrad, I didn't like studying in groups.  I didn't like studying with other people during the mandatory library hours that I had to do with one of my community service clubs, and I didn't like studying with classmates/friends for the same class.  Regarding the former, only four of us were really serious about studying, but the rest of the group was seriously distracting.  Regarding the latter, I never found particularly helpful even though we were good about going over concepts or pathways.  Probably because none of us at the time really knew how to run a study group.  Overall, I developed a pretty negative opinion of study groups.  There was a small group of people I could study with, another group of people who I would join for "studying" only to digress into "hanging out," and people who I would help or request help from.

During MCAT classes, the instructor really encouraged us to study in groups.  I think I gave an honest effort but after two or three attempts to actually participate in a study group, I (and everyone else) gave up.  The biggest issue was scheduling - everyone worked different hours on different days.  Some worked nights, some worked weekends, people went home for the weekend/holiday.  After some time, I also went away feeling, "well, that was pointless."  It's a little discouraging to bring up a possible subject for review, and then get shut down by a "Oh, you can just memorize that."  I could have been more proactive and asked people to explain it to me anyway, but.....meh.

Following our instructor's suggestions, we also tried to assign one another problems from Kaplan's quiz bank (Q-Bank).  Everyone would work on a different set of questions at home, and come back to explain the problem-solving process to the group the following session.  In theory, it's great because you learn best by being able to teach material to someone else or learning why you were wrong.  I also think it's good because different people explain things in a different way, and certain ways are easier for a person to pick up and remember than others.  Like how certain professors will integrate sexual innuendos and jokes into lecture in a way that's memorable and can easily be associated with the lecture material.  Students always remember a good joke.  In reality, though, it only works if everyone puts in the time to answer each problem.  By the third study group, it had devolved into an hour or two where we would look at the quiz questions on a computer screen, solve it on our own, and discuss only if someone did not understand the answer.  I think by then, we all felt that we would get more done studying alone.

There was also a girl who, although she was diligent about attending all of the our study sessions, would always say in an off-hand manner, "Man, you guys are way more serious about this than I am.  I'm not planning to take the test soon so I'm not as pressured to do all the homework."  Great.  Thanks for reminding us that there are bags under our eyes from sleep deprivation due to trying to work AND keep up in class.  Not cool.

Later on, I learned that study groups can be great IF you're with the right people who have the right mindset and energy.  One of my high school friends (also pre-med) came back for spring break from her two-year Master's program and we got together to study/hang out and during the two hours we were in the cafe, I got SO MUCH reviewing done.  She is also retaking her MCAT sometime this year, and had me teach her about subjects that I was already having trouble grasping/memorizing.  It was the week leading up to my first MCAT, and it helped.  To be honest, until that day, I had no idea why bimolecular and unimolecular reactions required different reaction conditions.  By the end of our study session I was frolicking down the foggy street.  I also felt brain-dead.  We covered a lot of material from physics, chemistry, organic chem, and bio.

At least now, I'm aware that it IS possible to have a good study group,

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