All About the MCAT
The MCAT was one of the hardest academic challenges I have ever overcome. The first AND second time. Being on the other side I realize it made me prepared for medical school. I hope I can prove that your persistence + strategy evolve you. I became a medical student studying from the MCAT. Not during my pre-med courses. Not during volunteering in the ER discharging patients. Not even during my post-baccalaureate. It was during those weeks spent self-studying for your goal- conquering the MCAT. Let's get into the details:
I was pre-medicine and sociology major at my undergrad- Chapman University. I honestly chose both because I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, as a lot of college freshman do, I chose things I was slightly interested, which were a lot of things! I was taking classes aimlessly. I was the leader of way too many clubs on campus. I had three jobs at the time. I was "finding myself" by involving myself in everything at once. I was spreading myself thin because I had no purpose other than to find my purpose. Unfortunately, I burnt myself out, and my "commitments" out. Needless to say, I got C's and D's in all of my classes during my Junior year.
Do I regret it? No. I learned a lot about my boundaries, about myself, and found the next several years of my life trying to repair what I had done. It was time to truly find what I was passionate about, and it was time to stop giving D effort to things I was involving myself in.
I was somehow able to pull it together by the end of my Junior year. Senior year I rushed and enrolled myself in a Princeton Review MCAT Prep 3 month course. I was so stubborn in my idea about going to medical school immediately after college, you couldn’t tell me nothing! My science knowledge was POOOO I tell you. POOO. I knew enough to pass onto the next course. I graduated with a science GPA around 2.5 or something. I remember going through the Princeton review course- my God it was the hardest thing I had ever done! I didn’t know anything! I had no exposure to Anatomy and surface level physio. It was honestly my first time learning about organ systems in detail, during my MCAT prep class (what a mess!). Nevertheless, I was so determined, I studied my ass off. The course went right into summer and I was studying for 10+ hours a day for 2 months, 6 days a week. I self-taught myself anatomy and physiology. Relearned what I didn’t grasp in chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. Had a few breakdowns (my best friend/ roommate at the time Brittany probably hated me during these months), had a few "F-it" moments, but I was surprised with the amount of progress I made. My first practice test I ever took, I got a 14. Moment of silence, please. 14. Moving on. By the end of my practicing, I was scoring a 24 on Princeton review and AAMC tests. 10 point increase for someone who didn’t know how the kidney worked?? Pretty impressive!
Mid-Summer of 2014, test day! I took that damn 4-hour test (yes I was lucky enough to take the old test). Got my score back a month later and I broke down- Got a 23 MCAT.
For those that don't know, the way I was taught was you need at least the average score to get into a US MD medical school (24 old MCAT/500 new MCAT) and 30/ 508 to be competitive. Not only was I not competitive, but now I was below average.
My initial reaction was really disappointed. I had posted it all on my Instagram. All my friends and family knew I took it, and when I was getting my score back, I was so embarrassed. I felt vulnerable after I posted publicly just to realized I "failed". All my friends were calling me and asking if I got the score, I eventually just stopped responding. Fortunately, it was never an option in my mind to quit. The next day I was already thinking and researching ways to conquer it the next time. I am very fortunate that I reacted in that way, or else I might not be in this same position.
To fast forward to the second MCAT experience, things drastically changed. I am going to be writing a specific blog post about my experience in a post-bac, but it literally changed the game for me. I chose the perfect program for me: a GPA enhancer program for pre-meds who need to get it together.
What changed the second time around:
- My post-baccalaureate gave me a solid science foundation, and I was focused. I was no longer spreading myself thin doing a million things that had nothing to do with science. I cared about what I was learning and passionate about mastering science. This is SO SO SO SO KEY. Lawd Jesus it should be a commandment. Your science foundation needs to be SOLID before you study for the MCAT. I worried so much less about trying to understand science concepts and focused more on strategy/ practice questions and tests. Before, I had never even seen the kidneys, lungs, etc. because these weren't required for pre-medical certification and medical school admissions at the time. This along with other classes like biochemistry (life changer), Neuroscience, Genetics, Physiology. I took my time, and it was a very important successful change.
- Practice questions and practice tests! I know this isn't your first time reading this, but let me just say it one more time, practice questions and practice tests! All of dem! (Well not all of them). But if you have a good foundation of basic sciences, the only way to past this test is being exposed to it as many times you can before you take it. And that is NOT by studying content. It is by studying how the AAMC is asking questions, what they want you to know, how to get the answer right. Testing strategies. Do you remember in high school math, the teacher would assign like 40-50 problems a lesson, and after completing them, you got about half of them wrong? You really don’t understand anything you just did and you feel dumb AF because you did 50 questions and got half of them wrong? Well. Let me tell you. It's not that you and I were dumb. It's because 50 questions were simply not enough. Assigning a homework problem set of 50 questions is signaling to the student that if they do all these problems, they should understand the concept, and that is absolutely wrong! Those 25 out of 50 problems you got wrong is the perfect first step. After getting the 25 questions wrong, you have to figure out why you got them wrong. Then you evaluate why you got the other 25 questions right (and hope it's not because you found the answer in the back of the book like I used to do). After that, you gotta find another 50 problems to do! Rinse and repeat until you are at your desired grade! I had no idea this was how studying was supposed to be until I got to my MCAT. I encourage you to do the same during your practice questions and practice tests.
- Be practical because the new MCAT is about an 8-hour test. You not only have to get through taking the practice test, but you have to get through reviewing the test which takes even longer. Every single question, not just your wrong answers! Review every explanation and write down concepts you truly don’t understand. Promise you it won't go away, and it will keep on popping up on your wrong question list until it drives you insane.
- Set your schedule: This was my average MCAT week during my 2 months of dedicated study time. I did not have a job, I did not do research, and the only social media I had was my Tumblr-
- Wake up 6:30am
- Library/ Coffee shop by 8:30am
- Lunch break 12:30pm-1:30pm
- Workout 5pm-6pm
- Dinner and light review until 9 pm- do at least 5 verbal passages
- Sleep by 11 pm
- Monday: Review wrong questions from last weeks practice test.
- Tuesday: Review general concepts
- Wednesday: Learn new psycho/social chapter and do practice questions
- Thursday: Prepare for practice test
- Friday: Practice test day at the library! 8 hours! Identify wrong questions for group review
- Saturday: AM group review with my girlfriends from post-bac! We met every Saturday and went through our practice tests (we all took the same Next Step practice tests)
- Sunday: Relax, hang with friends, church, brunch, mimosas, day parties. Light review Sunday night.
I really appreciated reviewing with my girls on our practice tests. First of all, it's really hard to independent study without human interaction. It's really nice to talk and work with people that know exactly what you are going through. It was my getaway for the week, and we had a lot of fun with it. Laugh through the pain, together.
Sundays during MCAT season for me: getting mimosa drunk after church. It was everything I needed. A lil' jesus x lil' rose. The perfect combo for a new MCAT week! But honestly, that worked for me. Whatever works for you- just please detach. And try not to talk about the MCAT the whole time with your friends because they will start to hate you lol. You need a break, and they need a break. The last thing they want to hear coming out of your mouth is "MCAT".
4. I get this question all the time: Is there anyway I can change my score if I can't stop working/school? This is all my personal opinion, so add that to the list of personal opinions who have no idea what the truth is but their own. I do not think so….unless you change your time frame and you are fully committed. Fully committed. If there is no way you can take off a month or two from working/studying full time, you should probably extend your MCAT studying plan to a 6 month or year. I know friends that tried to hold their full-time job, and kept pushing the MCAT date back, eventually giving up on their dreams. Not their fault, at all. Studying and pursuing medicine is easiest for privileged folk, and an impossible uphill battle for anyone not. I am privileged enough to come from a family where I was supported during this time. My dad made sure rent was paid for, food was paid for. Even my gym membership was paid for so I could sustain peace of mind. Try your best to finesse a month or two of dedicated study. If you can't do that, try a part-time work/school schedule and give yourself a year of dedicated MCAT studying. I've observed that this is one of the main obstacles that keep people from finishing their MCAT goals.
5. Last but not least. Discern and stick to what works best for you. Just because the guy at your school got a 530 on their MCAT and studied for 3 weeks using Princeton review does NOT mean it's going to work for you. During this time period, everybody has input and advice about what you should be doing. Even people that are not in the medical field. And because you are so desperately trying to pass this test, you start adopting what everyone else says. Usually it just straight up isn't right orrrr it does not work for you! (Even this blog, please discern and know this is my journey and what worked for me, may not be for you). I remember a teacher I absolutely adored told me that practice test scores are lower than the real test, and I should add a few points to my practice score because people always perform better in test day. At the time, it didn't register that he was speaking from his LSAT experience. Y'all, this is so far from the MCAT. What you get on your practice tests (specifically the AAMC official test and Next step) is almost identical what you are getting on your actual test. Believe it from someone who took it twice. It was spot on. Lesson learned. Please take all your advice (from people that have gone through it) and apply what works best for you.
My second MCAT experience was interesting. The day before I didn’t feel as prepared as I wanted to be (I don't think you will ever feel prepared enough). I was scoring above average (not competitively) on my practice tests, so I was feeling good. The day of the test, I had horrible testing conditions. The air conditioner broke on a hot summer day in the test building. I got food poisoning from my lunch. I had an anxiety attack and threw up in the bathroom. It was a mess.
With all that said, I scored above average on my MCAT. YAY I did it. That was my personal goal and I achieved it. I was hesitant at first to apply without a competitive score: (above 30/508), but I went for it. So glad I did not talk myself into retaking the MCAT again to get a "competitive score". With my above average score, I got over 20 interviews, 7 acceptances- some with scholarships.
Now that I am in medical school, I can confidently say: the MCAT was the hardest thing I had ever done academic wise. The key here that I want to drive home- If I hadn’t gone through hell and back with that test, I would NOT be prepared for medical school. I didn't realize those study skills and habits are exactly what I utilize every day as a medical student. I do practice problems, I set up my schedule, I focus on practice tests, I group study, etc. I learned how to be a med student while studying for the MCAT. For that, I have a love/hate relationship with it! Writing this I am having lowkey anxiety and it gives me terrors, but it prepared me so well for these didactic years. I have no idea what it is going to be like in my clinical years, but for now, I am grateful for all the ridiculous lessons learned during MCAT season.
I know it was a long post, but hopefully I got down to the reality and things no one wants to talk about- failures and staying persistent. Message me if you have any other specific questions.
List of resources I used. I tried not to overload myself with resources. This was enough. You won’t have time to dive deep and do everything, but this was a perfect combo for me:
1. I found Leah online and subscribed to her emails. She sent out helpful success stories, motivation, cheat sheets for memorizing organic chemistry, proteins, etc., and if you want to pay extra, she does personal tutoring. She's incredible.
2. Next Step- Practice Tests and Questions- $250. I know it's a lot… I know! But if you don't do this then IDK what to tell you! This is a must! (On the low low low low key split the price with friends and switch out your days of taking practice tests, I never did it though) Next step books are incredible as well, and their passages/practice questions bank.
3. Princeton Review: I loved princeton review material the best. I literally self taught myself anatomy and physio from princeton books and going to their course. So I give them 2 thumbs up. If you are having difficulty with content and need good science review I suggest signing up for a course ($2,000), but if you don’t have the funds buy the books you need. Their psych/soc book is incredible.
4. Khan Academy: During my cardio portion of my workout I always had a khan academy video up. And if I didn’t feel like reading and I was burnt out- KHAN ACADEMY DAYS were my savior. They have every section broken down and it is literally sent from god. Also It is for the free! When I say sent from GOD! They also have practice questions. Incredible.
Good luck fellow pre-meds, post-bacs- master students, self-studiers. You can do this! Stay persistent and stay true what works for YOU!