So your friend studied for the MCAT for 2 weeks and aced it. Yet, here you are on the 10th week of a 15 week MCAT prep feeling like you are about to break. Alright, let's cut to the chase.
Factors That Cause Burnout:
1. Major change in time spent studying (3 hours a day to 12 hours a day)
2. Large chunks of study time with no break (more than 40 minutes if just starting or more than 1.5 hours of in the middle/end of prep)
3. Not setting reachable "time spent on passage& # of questions completed" goals and failing to reach them)
4. Change in support structure (Forgetting to call parents or not seeing your loved ones as often as you used to)
5. Setting test score expectations high from the start (expecting a 520 while scoring 500)
6. Forgetting to release those endorphines due to lack of exercise & outings with friends
7. Lack of adequate nutrition or excess calories in diet causing stomach-related distractions during studying
8. Sitting for long amounts of time when you are used to walking often
9. Guilt associated with missing class, volunteering, family & friend outings
10. Pressure induced by a major exam in your life causing you to feel stressed when taking practice exams
11. Fixed mindset that initial (first 2-5 weeks) test scores & pssage scores reflect how poorly you may do in the real exam
12. Sleep deprivation because of being overbooked or wanting to pull all nighters to study for the exam
13. A competitive nonsupportive environment that prevents confidence in the student to believe they can score high enough to apply to medical school
& Much more
Even though these seem pretty clear, most people do not realize they are close to burning out! Here are some common symptoms you will see in an MCAT student that may indicate burnout.
Ways To Detect Burnout:
1. Test Score & Passage Score is consistently lower than before
2. Having trouble interpreting chapters & paying attention to tests/passages therefore SLOWER at completing questions as compared to before.
3. Sleep frequency is higher as a sign of less motivation
4. Eating increased fat & refined sugar in diet (comfort food)
5. Lack of communication with others about the change in mood
6. Crying, taking out anger on others, excessively (+4 hours) googling about the MCAT in search for key
7. Questioning life path to becoming a physician even though committed for a long time
8. Easily irritable at surroundings (gets upset when studying at coffee shop due to noise).
& Many more!
Okay. So let's say you, your friend, or your premed child are having a burnout. Can we fix it? Yes! A true burnout can result in the student giving up completely. This exam should not be the determining factor of a student who wants to go to medical school. Preventing burnout can save days of studying and possibly save the student from flipping careers to somethings they may not love!
How To Prevent & Get Rid Of Burnout:
1. Study for ~1.5 hours a day and take a break before returning. Not a break on your cell phone or the Internet! A real break! If you are an extrovert who feels introverted: go talk to someone during your break (also okay to use that phone to CALL not text). If you are introverted: Walk around! It makes time go slower so your break feels longer.
2. Sleep 7-9 hours a day. What! There's no time for that? Well that's too bad, because your long term memory sure thinks so. Remember, this is NOT cramming. To improve long term memory, you have to be sleeping A LOT. It also helps you believe the MCAT is a vacation. The more you sleep, the better quality your study time will be. That extra hour in bed will be invaluable to your memory retention & your excitement towards studying the next day. Get some sleep!
3. Eat less fat & sugar. Eat protein & fibrous foods before bed together. Eat complex carbs such as oatmeal (brands like oatfit at 100 cal a serving with very low sugar) during every study break. Prepare your meals in advance if it is difficult to cut some fat & sugar. Having a balanced diet will help your brain function much better & prevent you from having gastric issues that may affect you during that long study day or test day.
4. Have someone who knows what your going through. This does not always mean another MCAT prep student. Calling your mom, dad, sibling, aunt, etc every day while help them know what your going through while also giving you someone to talk to who you don't feel any sort of competition with. They will be your support system so that those who feel they have lost their connection with many of their friends can have atleast one face of interaction everyday. Talking to strangers at the library or study area is also refreshing as you can end the conversation quickly by saying you need to study again.
5. Exercise or find another way to release endorphins. Being with a loved one or running for even 5 minutes can help you release endorphins. Just remember that even as a weightlifter you will need some sort of cardio so that there endorphins can be released. During MCAT prep the lack of stimulation by the surrounding (music, phone, TV) causes students to become more sensitive to become happy from even the smallest things. You may notice you have reached this point when a passage about railroads becomes fun to read ;).
6. Stop studying! I know I know, this is torture for the premed student. It's tough but if you are about to burn out you need to add a rest day. Think of it this way: if you don't take a rest day, the next week may be 1/4 as productive! So it adds up to take one. Let's say you absolutely cannot stop. Then cut your study time down to 1/3 (or 1/2 if you are studying for less than 4 hours a day). It works wonders! And taking a break gives you fresh eyes for why you might have gotten questions wrong.
7. Meditate in the morning. This might sound silly if you don't like to meditate but what I really mean is motivate yourself before you jump into that text book. Give yourself 5 minutes to look at something motivating, think about how far you've come, and recall (or pretend) why the topics you are study are helpful to becoming a doctor.
There's many more tips for burnout which are all specific to individuals but this is all for now!
All the best,