Thursday, April 12, 2012

About My "Store-To-Be" - MCAT Notecards

Update: The Store is now live - click the My Store tab above, or just click here to visit.

The most frequent question that I get from readers (I never thought I would have this many pageviews, by the way - thank you for reading!) through the Contact Me page centers around my method of preparation for the MCAT. Many premed students have a hard time finding productive ways to cram all that biology, chemistry (organic and inorganic), and physics into their heads and still be "with it" enough to actually take that monster of a test. The process requires a huge amount of dedication and organization, and many students are searching for the "right way" to study. While I don't believe there is one "right way" for everyone, I definitely believe that some ways are better than others for many people.

I was in that exact situation one year ago, and the method I found that worked for me was digital notecards, specifically using the Mental Case software - read here for Mac, here for iPhone, and here for iPad. While the paid versions are great, you can use free versions if all you want to do is use previously-created notecards. While the software does give you access to some cards that were made and posted for free download through online exchange servers, those cards never had any quality images or chemical reactions (which you CONSTANTLY see on the MCAT) and frequently had errors. I didn't trust them. When I was going through all the free cards I could find, I constantly worried that if I used them, the material I was studying would be wrong, forcing me to relearn things once I found the errors. I decided it would be better to start from scratch and create my own study materials.

Before taking the practice tests and the actual MCAT, I used a variety of textbooks and all my old notes from premed classes to retake notes and create notecards. I ended up with 3,630 notecards of MCAT prep stuff - 620 cards for Organic Chemistry, 236 for Inorganic Chemistry, 2,371 for Biology, and 403 for Physics. I've added another 1,200+ for Biochemistry since taking the MCAT. Obviously, I went into much greater detail with the biological sciences for MCAT prep, but that was because it had been twelve years from the time I took freshman year biology in high school to when I was taking the general bio sequence over the two semesters leading up to the MCAT.

I made all those notecards, hundreds with hand-drawn images, chemical reactions, and atomic structures either done on paper and scanned into my computer or done on my iPad and digitally copied into Mental Case. I used them to study for the MCAT and was very happy with my competitive score, which helped me get accepted to med school, which I will be starting in the fall. Obviously, this system worked great for me. I now have all these notecards just sitting here - what am I to do with them?

I'll tell you what.

I'm going to make them available for other students to download. Unfortunately, this cannot be done for free, as it takes a lot of time to get everything ready for public delivery and presentation, and the online storage / hosting services are far from free. I am going back through to clean everything up, rewriting messy chemical reactions, rescanning images, and bundling everything together for online service. So far, I have most of the Organic Chemistry cards hosted online, and hope to have that subject and Inorganic Chemistry available (along with a "soft opening" of an online store here on my blog) within the next two weeks.

I really believe in this method of studying, both for its convenience and efficacy. Not only does it make a great way to study wherever you are without having to carry around inconvenient notebooks and flashcards, but all the stacks of cards are fully searchable. This was probably more useful to me than the ability to set up lessons or even tracking my learning progress (see the next paragraph). Can't remember the Henderson Hasselbach equation? Just type in "Henderson" in the search, and it immediately shows you all cards where that is mentioned. Can't remember the three stages of transcription, how an SN1 reaction rate can be increased, what reagent to use in preparing a vicinal diol in anti- conformation using epoxides, Bernoulli's equation, Coulomb's Law? It's all in there, just a quick search away.

It's easy to set up lessons, and the software automatically remembers the cards you get right and wrong using unique learning algorithms to create schedules based on spaced repetition. You can also opt to use an interpretation of the Leitner System, which moves notecards left or right through a series of virtual "boxes" - left if you get it wrong, right if you get it correct. When the card ends up in the right-most virtual box, the software considers that card "learned," automatically presenting cards you get wrong more often. It's simple, and it works. I highly recommend this software, which is already very widely used among students with Apple devices. I am way more productive in my studying than I was when I just used more traditional methods of simply reviewing notes and reading the textbook. I still do those things, but when it comes time to prepare for a test, this is how I study - and not just for the MCAT.

I plan on continuing to create these notecards as I go through medical school, posting the cards on this "store-to-be" for each class so that people who come after me won't have to spend the time creating the cards if they don't want to. I will send out an update once the store becomes available, and I plan on making sample notecards available for free in each subject. I will also update as each subsequent stack/subject gets released to the public. For now, feel free to ask me any questions you might have, either in the comments below or by using the Contact Me page. Also, please let me know if you (or someone you know) would benefit from this, as I'm trying to get a feel for just how many people might be interested in study materials like these.


Larissa said...

Wow, yes I would be very interested in using your cards! And of course you should expect people to pay your for your efforts. Thanks for making them available!

Amrin said...

Oh, that sounds good!! I will be willing to purchase the notecards. And I'm sure other students will definitely benefit- not only for mcat studying, but for regular college classes as well. Thank you for sharing your cards and thank you for your insights. Keep rocking!! :)

Amrin said...

Oh, that sounds great!! I'm willing to purchase the notecareds. I'm definitely sure the notecards will benefits many students, not only for mcat but for regular college classes as well. Thank you for sharing it to the public and Thank you for sharing your insights. Keep rocking!! :)

Anonymous said...

question: what did you get on your mcat?

Justin said...

@Anonymous - Nice try, but I prefer to not give out the exact number. I will just say that it was a competitive score. :)

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