May 25, 2010
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15 Lessons I Learned: MCAT 26R to 38O
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!!!

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)

:):ninja::smack::lock:. . . . Pause for reading the attachment. . . . . :):biglove::poke::zip:

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 endurance
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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typicalindian

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Great score improvement! And I just read your whole post (minus the attachment because I'm on my phone) the post had some solid advice for sure though!
 

sevenhabits

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Feb 12, 2012
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Thank you so much for all the lessons and the document! I'm planning on starting SN2ed's study plan this May after my second year of college (finishing all pre-reqs this semester).

You've just given me so much moral support. I've never considered the fact that I will need a tutor/teacher/mentor and probably study partners to clear up any questions I have over MCAT material. Also, I'm weak in general chemistry and pretty rusty on physics, so I'll probably have to watch chad's videos now for review before I jump into TBR books.

After hearing your story, I couldn't be any happier that you made a 38O. I couldn't help but smile after I finished the "second time around" section. Keep us all updated on your medical school application process!
 
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Congrats on the great score and story! What was your score breakdown per section and any words on writing section?

Also you have any practice score breakdowns too? It would be nice to see how those went for you too.

Thanks!
 
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moto_za

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May I ask why you retook certain science classes? I have been away from the basic sciences and just wanted to see if I should maybe do the same. I did pretty well in my science classes but can't really remeber any of the info.
 
May 25, 2010
112
10
Tucson, AZ
Status
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Congrats on the great score and story! What was your score breakdown per section and any words on writing section?

Also you have any practice score breakdowns too? It would be nice to see how those went for you too.

Thanks!
.1st: 26R, 10Bio, 9Phys, 7Verbal
2nd 38O, 14Bio, 12Phys, 12Verbal

I am attaching a word file with a copy paste from my practice tests last year. I do not have a record of my first round of practice tests the year prior, but I remember starting at a 23 or so and making it to a 35 with my average around a 31-32. . . .I just realized looking at this record that I actually took the PR tests before the AAMC tests and I remember why. . .

I felt that the PR tests were HARDER therefore I was more sad and frustrated after taking them. However, I decided that the PR tests were more beneficial in training me to test at a higher level. I felt that the AAMC tests were easier than the PR tests because I felt much more positive after these with better score results. I had already taken them a year ago, but to be honest I only remembered a few of the passages from the previous year so it felt new when I took them the second time. So I weighed up the pros and cons. . . gain skills vs gain confidence . . .so I decided to gain skills first by starting with the PR tests then gain confidence in the last weeks by taking the AAMC tests. I also realized in my first post I said 22 practice tests. It was actually 19. I think the horror of it all felt like 22. :) I will make appropriate corrections in my original post.
.
 

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May 25, 2010
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May I ask why you retook certain science classes? I have been away from the basic sciences and just wanted to see if I should maybe do the same. I did pretty well in my science classes but can't really remeber any of the info.
It is kind of a funny story . . . (that is a very good movie by the way, all should watch it!)

Reasons I retook classes:
1. I originally was taking Anatomy to head into nursing.
2. When I switched to pre-med I had to take Ochem lab because I never did during undergrad (labs at my undergrad seemed very tedious, lab TAs were known to be notebook Nazis, I have bad handwriting so I avoided labs at the time, but LOVE them now!). I searched the bay area for a campus that offered the first semester Ochem lab course over the summer. I found SFSU with a 5 week course that fit in with my schedule so I commuted from the south bay. I LOVED Ochem lab. . . I think because my teacher taught and tested very directly from his lecture notes which was great for my learning style (I hate studying from textbooks). Plus my lab instructor was a cool guy that made science feel fun instead of like a requirement. We would look up funny O-chem people like I'm Diene and that sort of geeky stuff.
3. I liked my Ochem lab and instructor so much I wanted to take the second semester of the series. I felt that it would benefit my experience and application since I had very little lab experience. So I planned to commute the fall semester two days a week.
4. Since I would be paying so much in time and train fees I thought it would be smart to take a second class that fell on those same days. Searching through the course catalog I came across the second semester of the Inorganic chem series. I thought this was a good idea since my undergrad Gen Chem series were finished with a B, C-, B back in my undergrad years so I felt that I needed to show I could do better. I had to go through some wait-listing as an open campus student and have my transcript reviewed, etc, but I was patient and added both classes.
4. At this stage, post summer school and pre fall classes, I was accepting that my 26R was not my best work and also that my lack of science-based letters of recommendations was crippling to my first amcas application. I knew I needed to find more mentors and instructors who could write about my awesome-ness. To do that I needed to meet more instructors and to meet more instructors I needed to take more classes.
5. As for Micro and Physiology I REALLY REALLY loved Anatomy and knew instructors a tthe same community college who were teaching these classes so I wanted to take them out of interest. This was fueled by affirmation that more, recent science courses would support my GPA, ~ 3.5 at the time. Not to mention more opportunities to solicit letters of recommendation.

Benefits of the effort:
1. went from barely 3 letters of recommendation (one pathetic one from a teacher who did not remember me from undergrad) to 10 letters of recommendation, 4 science based.
2. sGPA and overall gGPA boosted
3. Confidence that I was still good at school!
4. Knowledge of systems very relevant to the MCAT
5. Discovery of the benefits of making friends in class and studying in groups!
6. Recognition of my learning styles

Hope that helps!
 
Feb 21, 2012
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That's so nice! Congratz! Another reason for me to keep trying even if things don't look so wel! :)
 
May 25, 2010
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I have had several emails about verbal strategy tips which I responded to in this thread:
http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=899528

As always, this is what worked for me so it is important (though overwhelming) to mold the many study techniques into the type that suits your learning style. My verbal technique was a hybrid of EK and Marathon (like, the running thing, not as in marathon studying, though I did that too). I treated it like a sport with stopwatches and argued with the refs, but eventually accepted the "bad calls" so I could move on with the game. :D

Also, To some other questions: I took the tests in April 2010 and April 2011 and so far this cycle I have one acceptance, two waitlists and I turned down one interview invite.

Happy Studying!!
 
Feb 19, 2012
277
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I think your advice on imagination and verbal is awesome... so true! Thanks for taking the time to write! It just proves once again that with hard work the MCAT can be taken down! Congrats!
 

Bean Counter

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Congratulations on a fantastic score and thank you for making such a thoughtful and helpful post
 
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May 25, 2010
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Went from an R writing score to an O? Tisk tisk. :D
Weird huh? I totally knew i had sucked at the essays too. I think Verbal scrambled my brain.

Funny thing was after my first test i hoped that they would be impressed by my R.. . Glad it turns out they are dropping it altogether. Even funnier is for my first test i barely studied verbal, convinced it was unimportant. Silly rabbit.

I think a big problem was i abandoned my plan: 3 min brainstorm, 2 min brief intro, 5 min per body paragraph (point, counterpoint, synthesis), 10 min to expand and edit. I made the mistake of starting to type before brainstorming on paper, so i could never establish good counterpoints.
 

csn897

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May 28, 2010
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First of all, congrats on your awesome score and taking the time to write this post! My goal is a 38+ but after scoring really low on my practice tests my confidence and motivation plummeted. This was compounded with getting burned out studying constantly all summer. I'm happy to now say your success gives me hope and revived my confidence!

Second, how long did you study for the MCAT the second time around? Did you mainly stick to TPR material?
 
Aug 2, 2012
4
1
Status
15 Lessons I Learned: MCAT 26R to 38O
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!!!

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)

:):ninja::smack::lock:. . . . Pause for reading the attachment. . . . . :):biglove::poke::zip:

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 endurance
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.
nicely done, sir!
 

ridethecliche

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Glad things worked out for you!

I'd only disagree with the 'pause on social time' recommendation.

In life, the rest of the world doesn't stop moving because you're busy. If you're interested in keeping relationships more than superficially, you need to be able to expend some energy doing so.

I did much better on my retake and I honestly credit a lot of it to actually being slightly more social and not disappearing from my friends.

Life keeps happening as you keep studying. You don't want to miss out on events for your friends, etc in the interim. I guess it's different if you're in college, but in the post grad life you don't want to end up a workaholic with no social life. I guess it's fine if you don't care about the social element of life, but if you need a break others will often have their own agenda if you're flaky or have disappeared.

You can do it all if you manage your time right.

nicely done, sir!
OP is a woman. She references her husband...

Though OP could be a guy too I suppose, nttawwt.
 
May 25, 2010
112
10
Tucson, AZ
Status
Medical Student
Glad things worked out for you!

I'd only disagree with the 'pause on social time' recommendation.

In life, the rest of the world doesn't stop moving because you're busy. If you're interested in keeping relationships more than superficially, you need to be able to expend some energy doing so.

I did much better on my retake and I honestly credit a lot of it to actually being slightly more social and not disappearing from my friends.

Life keeps happening as you keep studying. You don't want to miss out on events for your friends, etc in the interim. I guess it's different if you're in college, but in the post grad life you don't want to end up a workaholic with no social life. I guess it's fine if you don't care about the social element of life, but if you need a break others will often have their own agenda if you're flaky or have disappeared.

You can do it all if you manage your time right.



OP is a woman. She references her husband...

Though OP could be a guy too I suppose, nttawwt.
I see your point, but for me the pause time was essential. . . I think that finding the right balance for maximized performance is a huge challenge here. I urge that this test should be viewed as one of your "olympic moments" in life that requires short-term, special attention to health, well-being and skills and that non-essentials need to be scheduled post test date. . . in my case that meant saying no to a lot of activities that I do outside of crunch time. . . .

My problem was that I was bad at setting limits with friends and loved ones, so I end up over accepting offers to hang out and do fun things. I did pretty good and everyone quickly supported me, esp because I would schedule things in the week after my test date so they knew my loser-style was not infinite. I still managed a dinner date with a friend and movie with hubby now and then, but I really did pause most of my activities. . . I gained most of my social fix/fun from my work. My job turned out to be more of a hobby (being an Anatomy SI Leader) since anatomy is like candy for me and like a true science geek I had fun with my students.

At the end of all discussion, however, every one of us must find our individual balance and methodology. It is important to modify all strategies to your own and trust your own instinct on what sounds like it will work and what sounds like a crock. Good luck!!!
 

BB8730

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Great points. Thanks for contributing this!
 
Apr 16, 2013
46
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This is wonderful. I can almost guarantee you that I'll be reading this weekly for the next 3-4 months while preparing for my exam.
 
Jul 17, 2017
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Pre-Medical
Hi,

Were the practice tests you took mostly from PR and aamc? I have a hard time decided what practice exams to get.

Thank you,
 
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