Of Medicine and Motivation

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Sophia Glisch

If you are readying yourself to write the MCAT, then it is almost certain that you have previously met with standardized assessments. Earlier in life, you will have – if you are studying in the United States or applying to a U.S. college – faced the SAT: a three-part, three-hour-and-forty-five-minute test that leaves most students, in between ragged breaths, boldly declaring that they, uh, don’t need to go to college. Among others, the LSAT, GMAT, or MAT may’ve also, if you’ve considered paths other than those involving medicine, woven their ways into your undergraduate experience. In brief, these examinations are realities of any student’s existence. They quickly become particularly prevalent, however, in the lives of those who choose to take the road that, if not less travelled by, always nevertheless seems just a little wild.

To continue with the conditionals, if you’ve met with standardized tests, then you probably know that they take time to prepare for. This is primarily because all these exams demand that you sharpen skills that you may not have to regularly use. The MCAT has you, for example, facing quantitative problems calculator-less. While you won’t exactly be mentally evaluating partial wave integrals on the test, being rusty on your trig is definitely not an excellent idea. With its medley of this form of computational work, passage-based reading, and a scored writing sample, the MCAT asks that you prove you’ve mastered several of these subject-specific specialized skills in a variety of ways – all in about five hours.

Intensive study well ahead of time is important precisely because you only have these five hours. You know that, on test day, you need to be working at optimal levels – quickly, accurately, and confidently. And while classmates may attempt to convince us that we can handle the material with “just a couple of practice tests”, and we really should skip the study session today and go out for a bit, I think we all experience that little nagging sensation informing us that we do, in fact, need to prepare.

Why is then that the vast majority of us, despite our knowing that preparation is integral to success, don’t manage to adhere to a study schedule? I suppose life takes over. A particularly heated debate with a family member, the end of a relationship, an unfortunate result on a difficult problem set, a momentary lack of confidence in one’s ability to even write the test. All of this and more can be grounds for an unplanned break of days or even weeks.

I am certain that all those reading this are presently wondering how you go about avoiding the aforementioned things. You don’t, as again, they are aspects of life that will most definitely greet all of us at some point in time. What you should do, however, is strive to remain motivated when these things occur. Every student has a different method of doing this, but I think that one of the best has been, particularly for me, reminding myself of why precisely I seek to write the MCAT. This may sound like a question that has an exceedingly obvious answer, but it is surprisingly important to (despite the fact that this may seem a waste of study time) occasionally remind yourself, step-by-step, of why it is that you’re sitting this time-consuming, rather demoralizing examination.

When the going gets tough, I run through my reasons. As fabricated as this may sound, I have always wanted to learn more. Early in life, I found within science a means of understanding more and more about the fascinating universe within which I live. This, then – wanting to learn more – is my primary reason for doing most of what I do, and the most general reason for my wanting to take the MCAT. From it stems the fact that, in order to further my ability to carry out the protein folding and medical biophysics research that I am presently involved in, I constantly need to enhance my knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics. The MCAT requires that I check up on all my fundamentals, and successful completion of it, therefore, at least partially signals that my knowledge base and reasoning capabilities are adequate. Finally, though I am not presently contemplating a career in non-research medicine, writing the MCAT will assist me in presenting an interesting profile to universities that require successful applicants to showcase a broad range of capabilities. A good score will, too, permit me to apply to medical school should I later be interested in doing so.

Attempt to think of your reasons. If they seem obvious to you, all the better – work on simply ensuring that you don’t lose sight of them. If you find yourself in a patch of slightly nebulous thought where your priorities are concerned, write them down. Share them with friends. However you do so, ensure that you always keep in touch with your purpose. It is, after all, exceedingly difficult to truly do something if you don’t understand why you are doing it.

Bio: Sophia Glisch is a student currently residing in Toronto, Canada. Presently, though, she spends most of her days blogging, eating sushi, and working in a protein folding lab; for the past three months, she has also been preparing extensively for the MCAT.

Because Sophia is slightly younger than the average student writing the test, and because she has decided to make her MCAT journey an experiment in self-studying, some unusual challenges (and some useful insights) have come her way. She hopes that she can, through her writing, offer a perspective that will be somehow enriching, and somehow entertaining.

You can read her blog here, and follow her on Twitter.

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