Owning the MCAT

(sorry for the double post, trying to make my site easier to navigate)

MCAT: The bane of all premeds

This test is a beast, as most people in the know would know. For various reasons, I was not in the know.

When the time came to start prepping for it, I decided to take a mock MCAT to see where I was. I. Was. Horrified. 

I think my initial scores were something like:

  • physical sciences: 4
  • Verbal reasoning: 6
  • Biological sciences: 10

For a grand total of 20! WOOoooooooo /sigh. My ultimate goal was a 30 with a 10/10/10 split. With due diligence and a few a lot of curse words, I came out with a PS 11/VR 10/ BS 12.

I tell you this not because I want to brag or anything like that, but show that it is possible to make HUGE gains in your overall score. In the end, my score was just enough to make me average at UTSW.

Never felt so good to be average.

I’ll share my tactics on how I approached the test, but as you can imagine it is going to dramatically differ from one person to another. AAMC is completely changing the test in a year, so everything I’m about to say is probably going to be useless anyways.

First off, know your weaknesses and strengths

I knew that I was utter crap at physics, and by the time I was scheduled to take the MCAT it had been awhile since I had even looked at general chemistry stuff. (What the flying F is a valence electron?) Therefore, I decided to take the required physics II course at the same time I was studying for the MCAT. Kill two birds with one stone. In the end I think about 60-75% of my studying time was devoted to this one section alone (what can I say, I was really bad at it). If you are anything like me, don’t be discouraged by those “Physics is sooo easy~” people. Intuitive my ass.

Biological sciences was my strength, which is probably true for most people taking the test. I think my initial success (scoring a 10 on the mock) is probably attributable to the fact that I took biology 1 (I never took biology 2), anatomy & physiology 1 and 2, and an upper elective physiology course before I took the mock. Plus, I had excellent teachers and I really REALLY made a point to understand the material from these classes and commit it to memory. Too bad I didn’t do the same with the physical science material. 

*I bought the Princeton Review books, and found their explanations about spot on for what I needed for the physical sciences. They had reasonable detail without bogging me into details. However, don’t do what I did and pay full price for them…  Some random person I knew at the time gave me the Exam Cracker books. They were definitely more concise and I used them as review for biology since I just wanted a refresher. 

Secondly, think about how you learn best

For me, this meant drawing pictures and finding things to listen to. Youtube, especially Khan Academy, was my buddy down in the trenches. The breadth of free knowledge on the internet is outstanding. 

I also made my own review book for physics and gen chem by using a sketchbook I had around. Once I understood a concept I drew it out pictorially with any relevant formulas and so on, that way I could review it faster. If needed I would go back to the denser explanations in TPR or my textbooks. This ended up being really nice later on because I could go through my review book a couple of times in a single day. I find it is always better to review things in your own words.

Also, I think it is vitally important to get a feel for MCAT style questions. They are not kind, they are designed to mess you up. There is a ton of sources out there that can provide MCAT style questions, but I really liked using AAMC’s practice tests. Albeit expensive, you do get one free. Other than using that first test as a general indicator, I didn’t start utilizing practice tests until a month and half before M day. Including the free one I used about 4 or 5 of them. 

Next, make a schedule and keep to it! Seriously! I mean it!

So simple, yet so hard to follow. Discipline is really key, and frankly is something you are going to need throughout medical school. Based on conversations I’ve had with people I feel that most people take about 3 months to prepare for the MCAT, for me I planned for about 4 1/2 months of preparation. It entailed about 6 hours of study per day with one day off per week. (I was still working 20-30 hours per week at the time)

My general day was 2-3 hours of physics, 1-2 hours of general chemistry and I would alternate the last hour between biology/orgo review and VR practice. 

Lastly, try to prevent burn out

Again, this will differ from person to person. For me, this meant scheduling time every week for friends and family. I would go to the movies, or have a board game night, or go to the zoo, etc. Experiment with the effects of ethanol on the human body…you know, meaningful stuff.

Eating well, exercise, sunlight, hygiene, social activities. All important.

On a day to day basis, if I accomplished certain study goals, such as read x amount of chapters or do x amount of questions, I would reward myself with junk television. I think I watched almost 3 or 4 seasons of Star Trek: TNG, a couple seasons of MLP, and a season of Breaking Bad before I ultimately took the test. Free time, who knew?

Everyone has their opinion about how effective the MCAT is as a gauge for a person’s ability to not F*** up as a doctor, but ultimately it is irrelevant. You are going to have to take it. 

I am definitely no super genius. All my success I contribute to simple hard work, perseverance, and organization. So sorry for the cliche, but it is true when I say “If I can do it, then you can do it!”