Let’s just get right into it. The MCAT is hard. I am not here to tell you lies. It is challenging, but if I can do it, then you can do it too. Yes, having a good grasp on the content is important, but what is equally important is knowing “how to take the test”. I’ll start with a little background on the test.MCAT: Medical College Admission Test
The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. In 2015, the AAMC decided to add additional material to the test, making the new version 7 hours and 30 minutes long. The sections included on the new version of the MCAT are:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
In other words, the subjects you would need to know are Biology, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology/Sociology, and CARS. The new section is Psychology and Sociology, which I think was a great idea, because it’s an effort to make future physicians more well rounded as it relates to understanding and communicating with diverse populations. I believe that you can never be the most effective physician if you only focus on the disease or the ailment of the patient. You must have a holistic perspective and care about the patient as a person as well; this is when you truly become the effective physician that we all aspire to be. I mean really, isn’t that why we’re all embarking on this challenging road in the first place? We want to help people! If you have no interest in helping others then you may want to reevaluate now.
So now that I’ve covered the basics, let’s get into how I prepared.
My MCAT Prep: Self-Study Method
I’ll start by saying this, in order to self-study, you must be EXTREMELY disciplined. It wasn’t easy, especially, when there were so many temptations to hang with friends and go out and have fun whether you’re still in college or not. It’s takes focus and determination but it can be done! The most important thing is to have good resources and stick to your schedule.
There are many good resources out there: Princeton Review, Kaplan, Examkrackers, Next Step, and more. I decided to stick to Kaplan for my content review.
In the first month, I took two subjects a day and about 1-2 sections of each subject, depending on how long the section was or how familiar I was with the topic. You should adjust your schedule as needed. If I can find it, I will include my study schedule on this post or in a separate post, but just search on sdn.com and there are PLENTY. So that’s your first step, develop a study plan, stick to it, and reassess when necessary. Also, no matter how demanding your study schedule is, always incorporate at least one free day. It is important to let loose and avoid overload and burn out. The goal is get into medical school, not lose our minds.
I also used Khan Academy to supplement my content review when needed. Khan Academy is a great free, yes I said FREE, resource. There are educational videos on each topic of the MCAT to give you better understanding on your trouble areas. I used this resource a lot and it really helped, so please do yourself the favor and check it out. I also used ExamKrackers 1001 questions books throughout my content review, because it is important to expose yourself to the type of questions that will be on the real test. You need to have a good grasp on how the questions are asked, how much time you should spend reading and answering the question (because trust me, that time runs out FAST), and how to extrapolate the necessary information from the passage and scrap the extra crap they just shove in there to throw you off. You’re probably thinking, “Oh, come on.. you think I can’t read?” My answer: nope, I don’t. No one will know how to read these types of passages if they weren’t exposed to them before, especially the scientific ones. Pretty sure they were written by the devil himself…
So start with the practice books early on, and time yourself. For the CARS section, this is all I used. I did not use the Kaplan book for CARS. The best thing you can do for CARS is passages, passages, passages, and more passages. You can also read leisurely on your own time. This helps just gets you in the habit of reading. It’s all about being able to read a passage, take out the important info, answer the questions, and move on to the next if you can’t come up with the answer. All in a very short amount of time. You shouldn’t spend more than 1 minute on each question. Answer all of the questions you know first. If you don’t know the answer move on, and come back if there’s still time left. This goes for every section of the MCAT, not just exclusive to CARS. And if you still don’t know the answer when you come back, use process of elimination like your life depended on it!! Never ever leave a question blank.
I took my MCAT in May, and reviewed content from January-March. The best advice I can give PRACTICE TESTS, PRACTICE TESTS, PRACTICE TESTS. I started practice test the last couple of weeks in January. You can actually start sooner if you like, because like I said, it’s just as important to learn how to take the test as it is to learn the content. You should take a diagnostic test at the start of your content review to assess your strengths and weaknesses (I used Next Step). So review your material, focus on the areas that you are rusty in, and take practice tests while you are doing so. DO NOT wait until after you’ve completed content review to start doing practice test. This should be a simultaneous process. I used my Saturdays as a time to take practice tests, because it takes up essentially your whole day, and you’ll just to want crawl up in a ball and watch Netflix after. The following day after taking a practice test, I reviewed my answers and took notes on what I got wrong. First try to see if you can come up with the correct answer yourself without reading the explanation and if you can’t, go ahead and read the explanation, and follow up with your notes. I took notes and went back to that topic in my books, notes, and on khan academy to make sure I got a good grasp on the material I missed and the ones I may have gotten correct, but wasn’t too sure about.
Once I completed content review, from March-May, I was exclusively doing practice exams in a more controlled setting as if it were actually test day. I did about 2 FLs a week during the last couple of weeks before my test. I would say I took about 9-10 practice exams total. I used Princeton Review, Kaplan, Next Step, and AAMC. AAMC has 2 full length exams and one sample test. These are the most realistic to the real thing, so space them out. I took 1 AAMC FL in the middle of my study period and I saved 1 FL for the end.
Make a chart and keep a record of your results, so you can track your progress. Like I said, the last couple of weeks should be treated like it’s really test day. Pack your snacks and lunch, and go to a quiet place to take your practice tests. The test starts at 8:00am and you get two 10 minute breaks, and one 30 minute mid-exam break. I woke up each practice test day at 6:45 am, packed my snacks and lunch, and went to my campus library and rented a private room. I treated it just like test day, breaks and timing, included. I believe this played a big part in my success.
So here’s a recap:
- Pick out your primary resource for content review + additional supplemental materials
- Take one diagnostic practice test– access strengths/ weaknesses
- Develop a content review study schedule (and stick to it!)
- Start FL practice tests early on during content review and review each one the day after (there’s no point in taking them if you don’t review, even if you do well, still review and take notes!)
- Take FL practice tests in a controlled setting similar to the testing environment once you get closer to test day.
- Track your practice tests progress (create a chart)
- Do not get discouraged and BE CONFIDENT
little miss md
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton