Aaaahhhh! Time just keeps flying by so quickly. I cannot believe in less than 6 months I will be heading to medical school…CRAZY!!! Everything has just been so surreal and amazing, and I am so grateful. Currently, I am really taking a moment to enjoy all this free time that I have before med school 🙂 And while I am slowly preparing mentally and physically for this new chapter in my life, I am aware of those of you out there who’s shoes I was in just one year ago. THAT’S RIGHT! Last year at this time I was prepping for the dreaded MCAT exam. Dun, Dun, Dun. While I mentioned in my 3 things I wish I knew as a premed post that I do believe the MCAT is a necessary evil and extremely important for admission, the process of obtaining your goal score can be difficult and stressful. There were definitely times I felt overwhelmed and discouraged, so I can absolutely relate. But in the end my hard work paid off and allowed me to attain the score I desired.
So in order to help those of you who are prepping for the MCAT at this moment, I am going to share with you my MCAT story, how I studied, and some tips that helped me.
First let’s start with a brief background. I took my MCAT in early June of 2016, and started my prep fall of 2015 by signing up for an MCAT prep course. I used KAPLAN but I know the Princeton Review also has one. There are also many private MCAT prep courses and tutors available. Although I attended the classes, I did not begin doing formal content review for the MCAT until my winter break in the beginning of January 2016. I focused primarily on the subjects that needed the most refreshing; for me this included General Chemistry, Psychology, and Biochemistry since it had been a while since I had taken those courses in school ( I actually hadn’t taken Biochem yet, but was going to take it that semester).
DISCLAIMER: This is the strategy and approach that worked for ME! Things may be different from person to person.
My strategy was:
- Review my weakest subjects first: General Chem, Psychology, and Amino Acids, pH topics of Biochem
- Brief Content review of Body Systems (cardiovascular, immune, excretory, respiratory)
My methods included:
- Kaplan review books
- Making flashcards
- Making review sheets
- Review videos
- Listen to the audio book my friend shared with me
In addition to content review practiced for the CARS section by doing 1-2 CARS passages a day throughout the month of January (more on the side of 2 per day). I started untimed to get the feel of the types of questions asked, and then later timed myself per passage. I limited myself to 10 min per passage although I typically finished reading and answering in 7-8 min.
This is what I did for all of January and February 2016. While my focus was on content review, I slowly incorporated timed passages for each test section until I did more timed questions and less content review. Sounds good, right?
Now it’s STORY TIME!
At some point during your MCAT prep you will have to take your first full length practice exam. When I was prepping I read online that the ideal time to take your first full length practice was 4-6 weeks before your scheduled exam date. So me not having any prior advice or knowing anyone who already had been through this process with the new 2015 exam (I had a friend who took the MCAT but she had taken the last of the old exam which didn’t include Biochem or Psychology and was only 4 hours long as opposed to 7 hours), followed the online advice and planned to take my first Kaplan full length 6 weeks before my test date. I walked into the library at my university early on a friday morning in mid-March, and spent 7 grueling hours taking the exam. When my score appeared on the screen at the end, my jaw dropped. 498. I was devastated. All the hours I had just spent on this practice exam, and studying, and this was my score? Why did I get so much wrong? My test is in about a month, how will I bring this score up to my goal? Everything at that moment felt impossible. It felt like I had failed and I was lost in terms of what to do next. I remember planning to meet up with my boyfriend that afternoon after I finished the practice test. When I walked outside of the library to meet him, I broke down. I was so overwhelmed and disappointed and worried that I couldn’t contain myself. I basically hyperventilated and cried for a good half hour to my boyfriend in the cold as we sat in Washington Square Park. After a bit of encouragement from him and some thinking, I ultimately decided to push my test back to June so that I could give myself more time to prepare and feel comfortable.
Side note: apparently Kaplan scores its tests really low so if you end up getting a 506-507 on the Kaplan practice tests, you will most likely end up with a score around 5-10 pts higher on the actual. Just an FYI to keep in mind!
I personally think postponing was the right decision for me, as it allowed me to re-evaluate how I was studying and adjust my methods. I focused on reviewing topics I was still weak in, and thoroughly went through each question to see what I got wrong and why. Finally, I stepped away from content review and just focused on completing as many questions as I possibly could by doing full length sections, test bank questions when I had a moment of downtime, and full length practice tests almost every week until exam day. I truly believe doing a lot of practice questions helped tremendously and I think I learned more from those than I did from straight up content review. By my next full length I started to see results. My practice scores on Kaplan went from a 498 to 502 to 504 to 505 to 507. On the AAMC practice full lengths taken right before my exam I scored a 512 and 513 respectively.
So if you’re at that moment in your prep where you are feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, or discouraged, my tip to you is to re-evaluate your situation. If you would be more comfortable pushing back your exam, then push back your exam. If you are not seeing results in a particular section, then find out why. Determine if you are a visual learner or auditory learner, or if you would benefit most from just doing loads and loads of questions. If you put in the time and effort and I promise you, you will see results!
Anyway that’s my story and MCAT experience!
Hope you enjoyed this post and hope to see you in the next one!