Disclaimer: This post is not an all-encompassing advice for acing the MCAT. Rather I am simply to giving you an insight into how I navigated this supposed “monster” test.
If you are reading this, you are probably a premedical student worrying about how to begin this journey of MCAT studying. So, I am trying to be the been-there-done-this person, attempting to alleviate your worries. I am telling you it is totally doable. Believe that and internalize it.
The MCAT is a 7hr 30 minutes test with 230 questions and 4 sections. These sections are:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (MCAT CARS)
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
I scored a 509 (80th percentile) when I took the MCAT, with 129/124/127/129 on the subsections as listed in order above. Although it is not a mind blowing score, it is around the average of the national medical school matriculants’ MCAT score. I began studying for the MCAT in my sophomore year in Spring 2016. This was early on but I was not studying squarely for it. Instead, I was trying to understand the structure of the exam and also retain high yield topics that were taught in class. So, I skimmed through my prep books every now and then just to familiarize myself with the tested topics. That way, I can streamline my attention towards specific topics discussed in class. This helped solidify my foundation in the tested concepts.
In Spring 2017, I started studying 1 chapter a day and did practice questions at the end of each chapter. With 7 subjects to cover and each with roughly 12 to 13 chapters, it is definitely tasking to study and retain every detail. But I have to tell you, paying attention in class really helped me in covering that much content within the spring time. I take notes while studying. Cornell note-taking system worked out well for me combined with the regular note-taking style. I made flashcards for psychology and sociology contents, and annotated my prepbooks, especially those with diagrams. I switched up my studying style to find out which was best for me. I used the Pomodoro technique a couple of times. It was helpful but I felt restricted, given the amount of material I had to cover. So, I modified it by creating my own time blocks and break times as the test date approached. Taking breaks in between helps with retention. For instance, on some weekends, I don’t study at all. As summer approached, I started wrapping up studying all the subjects, and began to look into other prep books to fill lapses in material coverage. No one test company can cover the entire scope of the material on MCAT in details. Hence, it is important to have other resources to supplement your study.
I did not have a concrete study plan for the summer. After choosing a date in May–August 11, 2017– I made monthly study schedules and followed duly. I found all the free practice test available online and spaced them evenly on my schedule. I haven’t taken Biochemistry course when I took the MCAT. Since I pretty much self-study most of the time, I began to watch lots of video tutorials and read each chapter slowly. This took up a chunk of my study schedule. Also, I knew I was weak in the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, partly because I am not a native English speaker. So, I did extra practice everyday on that section. It is important to tackle your weakness early on and build on your strengths simultaneously.
Although I did not have a study buddy, I found an online support group for the MCAT via my connections on PreMed Star. We would schedule MCAT jeopardy nights, review full length practice, and do daily CARS practice together on Skype. This helped me stay motivated to study and improve on my test taking skills. Other things I did to stay motivated was to shadow physicians, volunteer at the Alzheimer center, and most importantly, constant thought of the end goal. All these acts help fuel one’s internal drive to keep studying.
So based on my experience, here are a few tips:
- Choose a date early but not too early. Remember to finish all the prerequisite courses before your test date, unless you have prior knowledge on the course’s topics. It’s mostly advised that you should allow 3-8 months interval between the start of your MCAT study and test day. Also, the best time to take the MCAT is at the end of your junior year, provided you don’t want to take a gap year. This time is best because if you do not do well, you will have enough time to make plans and retake it. Aim to take it once. In this case, the more isn’t merrier. Some schools choose the highest scores, some average the scores, others choose the most recent ones. So, taking the MCAT once is the safest route. And remember, you can only take it three times a year and seven times in your lifetime.
- Get the right preparation resources and make a realistic study schedule. Remember not to overwhelm yourself with resources because there’s a lot of information out there. I will suggest that you get a main prepbook and supplement with other prep books. I personally used the Kaplan 7-subjects Book Review as my main prep book and supplemented with other online resources like Princeton, NextStep, Altius, Barron, Khan Academy, MCAT Gold, and so on. For extra practice in CARS, I used Exam crackers 101 passages. Check your local library for some of these books. It could save you lots of dollars. Take advantage of free online webinars also. I know kaplan organizes lots of webinars on strategy and practice test on a monthly basis.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. I cannot stress this enough. Do practice questions after reading each chapter and do evenly spaced out full practice test in a simulated test center setting. The library or a technology lab would be a great place to do this. The concepts on the MCAT are tested in a interdisciplinary/applicable manner. Hence, doing practice questions would train you to think in such way.
- Review both right and wrong answers. Sometimes, the reason why an answer is right might be different from the reasoning one apply to get to a similar conclusion. Hence, reviewing all answers and questions could help you up your game while studying. Also, keep a journal for accountability. Write down why you think you got a question wrong. It would help you understand the materials better.
- Stay healthy and motivated: Take care of yourself while in the “MCAT cave.” Exercise, stay hydrated, well-nourished, and do fun things outside of studying. Take breaks and do not feel guilty. Remember to take a deep breathe and remind yourself: You got this!
If you have any other tips that you have employed to ace the MCAT, feel free to share your insights and share this post as well. Let me know if you have any questions.
See you in my next post 🙂