During the course of your PCAT prep, you’re going to take plenty of notes. There are a lot of subjects to study and a lot of facts to memorize. So, how do you keep it all organized?
Here are 7 tips for staying organized and staying sane while studying for the PCAT:
Turn Off Electronics and Avoid Distractions
This may seem obvious. Still, it’s tempting to check your phone or your social media pages while you’re studying. You may even find it difficult to stop yourself from surfing the internet instead of focusing on the task at hand. Make it harder or impossible to do so and your studying will benefit.
There are sites you can use to temporarily block other websites. Sites like http://keepmeout.com/en/ or https://www.focusboosterapp.com/. There are apps on your phone and browser that you can download too.
Schedule Your Study Time
Having time set aside specifically for studying can really help students stay on top of their prep. You likely have a lot going on and it can be difficult to keep track of everything. Between your classes, your PCAT prep, and a social life, you may not have time for much else.
Time management is something many people struggle with whether they’re in school or working professionals. Having study scheduled ahead of time can really help you plan out the rest of your day or week while making sure you’re getting enough study time in.
Keep Your Notes Clean And Organized
Again, this may seem obvious. But many people struggle to take clean, legible notes while reading/ watching content or while in a PCAT class. You often have to write quickly when taking notes from a video or lecture, which can lead to less than legible handwriting. Sometimes your professor can talk in circles and notes for one topic may be spread throughout.
Having organized, easy to read notes will make it look a lot less overwhelming. It also makes it easier to study. If you had to spend half your time trying to decipher what was written, you’d struggle to retain the information.
If you have trouble keeping your notes organized when you’re actively writing, then you should consider rewriting them afterwards. You can do this by simply rewriting them on a clean piece of paper. Or, you could type them; the writing will always be easy to read if you’re using a good font. Typing them will also make it easier for you to move information around should you miss something.
Keep Your Notes Separated
The easiest way to do this is to assign each subject a specific color. Green for biology, blue math, etc. Whether you use a colored notebook, binder, tab, note card, whatever, this will make it easier to keep everything separate.
You can’t get away with having one notebook for all of your subjects the way some students do. There is far too much information to throw it all into one place and still be able to study effectively.
Color Code Your Notes
Assigning a color to each subject will help you keep them separate; color coding your notes will help you keep them organized. If all of the text was the same color on the same background, it would look overwhelming. This strategy makes the important pieces of information stand out more than the other information on the page, catching your eye much easier.
Some choose to use colored notecards, some highlight, some use colored pens, and some choose to box/underline/circle with specific colors. Choose whichever option makes most sense to you.
Topics and headings should have one color. Formulas, keywords, and important information should each have their own colors. You want your eye to be drawn to the most relevant information on the page quickly.
Keep Track of Important Information Within Textbooks
You’ll likely spend a lot of your time studying from prep books and such. Having a strategic method for tracking important information within the books themselves is important.
If you’re able to highlight, set up a similar color coding system as your notes. Make sure to implement sticky notes/tabs as well so that you can track where this information is. You can also keep a sort-of table of contents on a separate page to help you track the information as well.
Keep Track of Questions You Have
If you have questions while you’re studying, make sure you take note of them. You can keep a separate page or write it on a post-it in the textbook or notebook you’re working with.
You want to keep track of the things you’re not sure about so that you can make sure to study them more in-depth or find the answer later.
You should always make sure to write down questions or notes you have when taking practice exams as well. This will help you to identify consistent areas of weakness, which, in turn, will help you to learn from your mistakes.
There is a lot of information to study when it comes to the PCAT. That itself is overwhelming sometimes. Don’t make it harder for yourself by making a mess of the notes you take. The more organized your notes, the easier it will be to look back on them and study later.
If you’re just getting started with your PCAT prep, consider taking a practice test to gauge your familiarity with the exam. Next Step offers a free full-length PCAT practice exam to get you started. Knowing where you’re starting from can help you build a study timeline that will get you to test day with confidence.