Now what, PCAT?

So I borrowed the latest Kaplan PCAT book from the library a few weeks ago, and that fear came over me. You know the fear. The one that says, It doesn’t matter how much you study, you’ll never do well because it’s too hard muahahah !!!!

I don’t know where that fear came from. Seriously, it’s like a demon mocking me. I used to take it seriously when I was in high school. I think I let it usher me out of Bio 101 during the shopping period my freshman year of college (though, it makes sense now that I was looking for a major that seemed instantly understandable and applicable) and convinced me that I should major in economics. I wanted to shoot the breeze with people, sound smart, and do well (and get a job where I could dress nicely and seem important) without having to work in the way that science makes you work.

And learning science does make you work. When I was in high school and college, I don’t think I ever really learned to study properly. For econ, studying isn’t tough. It’s not a foreign concept. It’s based on behaviors and theories we can see everyday. In biology, you have to remember a lot of stuff that the Wall Street Journal won’t reference. It’s not reinforced through the things we read everyday (though I should read Science Daily, or something everyday — but I’m aware that the state of science journalism isn’t very good anyway).

Anyhow, I plunged right in this afternoon. I googled a few phrases that I thought would lead to content that would help me feel as though I were studying the right way (as well as efficiently), but I struck out (“how to study for the PCAT” isn’t really helpful because it just leads to recommendations for guides, etc.). So I did what I did when I took Bio 101 last summer. I started reading, and then googled “How to study for biology.”

I came up with this, and there are some really important points overall about studying that I want to emphasize:

  • You can’t expect to read the biology textbook/assigned reading like a novel. This isn’t Jane Eyre, or Oprah’s book club selection.
  • Beware of giving into doing low quality work. Your goal should be to be able to figure out how to teach the material to someone. That’s the best way to figure out if you’re learning this thoroughly enough to be tested.
  • Cal Newport has an idea for how to study for non-technical science courses (such as biology). He recommends using a focused question cluster study method. (I forget to do this, then I panic, then I calm down and do it, and everything is fine.)

Practicing is the most important part. I always worry that I’ll remember the answer to the question, but this is a great thing for learning non-technical science. So much of it ends up being memorization. And so practicing is a great way to study. After all, as the amazing Jaime Escalante said, “Ganas replaces the word in America “gifted.” I cannot accept “gifted.” You’re going to measure IQ ā€“ and I say no. Any student, any [person] to me is gifted. They have something they can do, and I ā€“ especially the students ā€“ I hold them accountable for what they do. And that’s where I make the transformation to motivate them to go for mathematics. You become “gifted” from practicing. Practice assures success. I give you a simple equation and you do it and do it over and over and you store that information.”

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