This is an account of my experience with the MCAT. It is not intended to provide a verbatim How To, it is just my experience. As I have learned, Lesson 1, each applicant is different, with different learning needs, environmental influences and academic histories so each applicant needs to develop an individual approach to the MCAT. I hope this is helpful for anyone reading to see that it can be done!!!
15 Lessons I Learned: MCAT 26R to 38O
As per Lesson 1 (each applicant is different) I will give my brief bio as I believe it pertains to my preparation for the MCAT. This is necessary so readers can formulate some perspective of my individual case before making rash conclusions about the additional lessons I learned.
Before my relationship with the MCAT started:
I graduated college 6 years prior to taking the MCAT. That meant I had taken my basic sciences as a freshman almost a decade prior, so I was VERY rusty in the sciences. Additionally, during my years of working/traveling I only read for pleasure. I read fast during a novel (easy and interesting) but slow/lazy with a newspaper. I was a slow and unconfident reader making me useless for verbal. I had recently taken the GRE and done very well with a 670/730/5 in V/M/W. This was due to significant vocab studies and general strategy prep thanks to a Barrons GRE prep book (though my poor critical reading skills regularly kept my verbal score below 700). I felt certain after my GRE performance that I could get the books, study the topics and strategies and do well enough to impress admissions committees. So that is what I did – bought the books and studied. . . but not good enough to impress the admissions committees.
At this point in the Discussion I would like to invite you to read the table I have attached. It is in Office 2003 Word so hope you can open it or route it through another computer. It is titled "Taking the MCAT Before and After" and it is in attachment form because it is in fact a table that could not be effectively pasted into this post
(ADDED: There are several references to the SN2ed study plan, so it could be good to take a look at that thread as well. It is called 3-Month Study Plan, I think)
(ADDED: Also, correction in the attachment, I took the PR tests first and then the AAMC tests, see post below where I explain why)
. . . . Pause for reading the attachment. . . . .
Repeat of Lesson 1: Each applicant is different, with different learning needs, environmental influences and academic histories so each applicant needs to develop an individual approach to the MCAT. I still think SN2eds plan is a fantastic template. In hindsight I believe it is most definitely appropriate for the student with:
o Recent (successful) coursework, especially in gen chem and physics
o STRONG ability to study alone and independently
o Contact with mentors/tutors if extra explanations are needed while studying
o Strengths in reading fast and comprehensively (test? can you even read a verbal passage in less than five minutes? The goal is 3.5 minutes max)
o Unmitigated confidence would also be a plus
Lesson 2: To improve significantly I believe that the MCAT requires:
o recognition of weaknesses
o (above all) robotic, unwavering confidence.
These three elements were key to my improvement. I was able to immediately seek support on subjects/problems that were stumping me. For four months I stayed focused and used the classes and study schedule to track myself. I couldn't fall behind because then the homework built up. I was running uphill and aiming for the long, thrilling glide back to normalcy. My confidence came from my recent performance in chem. and bio classes, my current work which I was passionate about, and a general acceptance of what the MCAT represented vs what I believe it is (a standardized test that holds way too much power!!!)
Lesson 3: You can't do this alone. Each person will have their appropriate support network so find it. If you are afraid to tell anyone, then ask yourself why? If it is because you think they will doubt your likelihood to succeed then this is probably because you are doubting yourself! You need to be able to find help academically when you need it as well as emotionally. Isolating yourself with doubt and physics will negatively affect your performance on the MCAT.
The first time I studied I was feeling old for this process and certain that anyone I talked to about this would think I was crazy or, even worse, want to know how I did in April. I really kept quiet about my studies. My immediate family knew, but I treated it like the elephant in the room and felt that it was something I had to do alone, that other medical students would have to do that so I must meet those standards. I preferred the "dream" of telling everyone I had an amazing score before they even knew I was considering medical school. At my own core I knew I wanted this. Unfortunately I was worried about whether I could do it and if I was worried, then others would certainly be. They would think that it was ridiculous for me to pursue this and then they would start to ask me "questions" at gatherings and family reunions and I really wanted to stay out of the limelight. My husband was a great cheerleader, but I needed more than one voice shouting from the stands.
I also needed coaching. Because I had opted to self study the first time I had to self teach. Acid Base Chemistry and Work-Energy Theorem were not easy to relearn and I wasn't able to get a strong grasp. I would understand the topic summaries in my study books but they were designed as a refresher for recent undergrads, not post-baccs with craniums full of cob-webs. I felt like I needed help, but I was convinced others could do it so I had to. I didn't even know who to ask for help, especially help that was relevant to the MCAT, so I didn't. My plan was to self-study so I was determined to make it happen. . . even though I should have acknowledged my need for support.
Lesson 4: I need someone to answer to. I have epic drive and focus when I perceive some form of authority figure (thanks, Dad). Even if it was only 4 grad students earning an extra dime teaching at Princeton Review, it was enough to lock me into hyper drive.
Lesson 5: Recency of science courses is important. I needed a better foundation in basic sciences in order to effectively study for the MCAT. My course with Dr Trautmann at SFSU (CHEM 215) was extremely challenging and I probably spent 15-20 hours a week studying for that class. I believe that learning the basic concepts of inorganic chemistry was a significant contributor to my improved PS score. Plus, taking the Allied Health Trio (Anatomy, Physiology and Microbiology) along with Ochem Labs was a nitro boost for my BS score.
Lesson 6: School gets in the way of exam prep. I know myself, if I have a class, even if it is P/NP, I will put in 100%. I could not afford to take more than one easy class because I would prioritize my class work over studying for the test. Grade-associated teacher trumped exam-prep instructor on the authority figure spectrum, so I shifted my non-study time to less school and a little more work/volunteering.
Lesson 7: Trust your instinct, not all strategies are useful, some are simply marketable, and you must actively decide which to toss out and which to stick with as early as possible. PR verbal strategy was distracting to me so I dumped it and drilled Examkrackers style for verbal: No skipping, no stopping, no notes. Just read fast for the main idea and Eliminate until you get the least bad answer.
Lesson 8: Afternoon tests are much better for night-owls. Sleeping-in is a gift from the Gods.
Lesson 9: Consider NOT drinking coffee, red-bull or soda. Extra caffeine is not necessary; the MCAT helps you find your own. (Sympathetic Nervous System, hopefully you aim to Fight!)
Lesson 10: Definitely . . . 100%. . . Do Not study the day before. That includes the night before.
Lesson 11: CBTest = CBStudy. Shift into computer based study mode since it is a computer based test. Don't rely on scribbling all over the passage.
Lesson 12: Imaginations are very dangerous places in the verbal section because it is possible to imagine how every answer could be correct.
Lesson 13: Stop convincing yourself that this is a stupid test. Accept that you must do it and your mentality is boosted at least 50%. It is like calculus or algebra or group projects -- they have to get done. You have to do them because they are valuable. Unfortunately you don't understand their value until you are done with them.
Lesson 14: Make time for full-length practice tests. This means Test time + Review time. I followed SN2ed concept that it takes twice as long to review the problems as it does to do the problems. With the current test that is about 5 hours to test (with breaks and the writing section) and 10 hours to review. Second time around I did all the AAMC ones first (since I had taken them before) then did all the PR tests/practices for a total of 22 tests. (Ridiculous. But I still recommend it.)
Lesson 15: Press the pause button on your social time. There is a difference between giving your brain some rest/recovery time and procrastinating with excuses that your brain needs rest/recovery time.
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