How to Master Anything, including the MCAT

Medical school. That’s your goal. You’ve prepared your whole undergraduate career to get there. It’s the next big step in achieving your dream of becoming a doctor and practicing medical. The only thing in between you and medical school: that wretched MCAT.

We’ve talked before about what knowledge is required to master the MCAT and you can revisit those posts to review (see "What the MCAT Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills (CARS) Section is Testing") but in this post we’re going to talk about the actual mastery process. This not only applies to the MCAT and its Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills (CARS) section but also applies to anything you want to master. Mastery is a process and we’re going to describe that process to you now.

Mastery consists of three levels, and, unfortunately, most of us only get through the first level, if even that, when we’re trying to master something.

The first step is Cognitive Mastery. Now what’s that? To have achieved cognitive mastery means that you have achieved a cognitive understanding of the concept. You understand the details, the process behind it, how to apply it, etc. You’ve gathered enough knowledge in the area to be competent and well-versed. You don’t have to continuously look up the meaning; you are familiar enough with it to recall it from memory.

Once you have this solid cognitive understanding of the area you’re trying to master, the next level is Emotional Mastery. Emotional Mastery occurs when you are able to consistently apply and use what you’ve learned. This level is achieved by repetition. But where’s the emotional part? It’s the emotional aspect that is key to mastering this level. Your repetition has to have stimulated feelings inside of you. It isn’t beneficial to emotionlessly work on something over and over again. As you do it you need to experience the various feelings inside of you: your desires, hungers, fears, concerns, excitement, etc. It may sound out there but it’s proven that actively and consciously experiencing the emotions of what you’re working on while doing it greatly contributes to your mastery of that area. Your emotions are a powerful thing and can be used to your advantage, especially in studying for the MCAT. You’d be wasting a cheap and easy resource if you didn’t harness them.

The next and final mastery level is Physical Mastery and this is what you should strive for. Once you’ve achieved Physical Mastery you can proudly say that you’ve truly mastered something. At this level, you don’t even have to think about what you do; your actions are natural. The knowledge and process is so ingrained in you that it’s like muscle memory: it just happens. The only way to get to this level is through consistent repetition. It’s a lot of work but just think of the results.

Imagine going through an MCAT Passage, reading it for the first time, and being able to correctly answer the questions. Sound impossible? It’s not. It just requires Physical Mastery.

Think back to when you learned how to ride a bike. The first couple (or several if you were like me) times you had to consciously think about balancing yourself on the bike without training wheels. Then came pedalling. Then steering. And it wasn’t enough to be good at each of these areas separately; you had to put them all together. And after enough practice, you did. Now when you ride a bike you don’t have to consciously think about balancing and pedalling and steering; you just do it. It’s natural.

And with enough practice, working through MCAT passages can become natural for you too. It’s at that point where you’ll find yourself scoring in the top 20% and receiving multiple admissions to top medical schools. It’ll be what puts you one step closer to your dream of practicing medicine. You just need to work through the three levels of mastery.

In a future post we’re going to describe what working three those levels looks like in regards to the MCAT Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills (CARS) section, so stay tuned.