Mar 19, 2020
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Hi,

I'm a recent college graduate who is currently studying for the MCAT. I knew that my biology background was weak to say the least, but I am now realizing how poor it is. I took a diagnostic test early into my studying (three weeks ago) and got in the 7th percentile for biology with an overall score of 499, and have been having trouble grasping the biology content. I am still about 3 months away from my exam but am still consistently scoring poorly on biology questions (especially genetics). I am currently still content reviewing but wanted to know if anybody had tips/ tricks to increase my score in this section, even slow-burn tips to improve biology scores. I am using the TBR review books. I do well on neuroscience questions since minored in this, but do horrible in microscopically-based content questions. Any tips at all can help, I'm worried that I will not be able to improve my score.
 

MyOdyssey

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What were your undergrad grades in biology?

Which biology courses did you take as an undergrad?

What are you doing post-grad?
 
Mar 19, 2020
42
4
MA
Status
Pre-Medical
What were your undergrad grades in biology?

Which biology courses did you take as an undergrad?

What are you doing post-grad?
I got straight As (3.95 GPA) undergrad but took two super easy biology courses (the most basic biology courses imaginable). I did not challenge myself, and it is showing with these scores. I took human biology and biological principles which both had some of the MCAT concepts introduced, but they were probably the easiest biology courses that my school offered. I took advanced level neuroscience courses, but that doesn't help much since neuroscience doesn't seem to be high yield in the b/b section. I honestly cannot afford to take more biology courses post-grad, so I am trying my best to increase my scores on my own by my September MCAT date (aiming for a 127/128).

*edit (I also took a biochemistry course)
 
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There's no secret to it, just takes tons of time, more if you have a weak background in bio. Go through every single chapter in whatever review book you have, take notes, and make flash cards. Make sure you are actively learning as opposed to passively, so don't just read the chapters or watch videos expecting to passively absorb information. Make flash cards and go through them every day, and do as many practice problems as you have the time for.

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maikelm

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First of all, don't let the diagnostic test put you down.

If you're telling me that you only have two biology courses under your belt, then I think you need to invest some time to learn more content. Biology includes may topics and many are tested on the MCAT in some way or another. The neuroscience courses may offer you some background though.

If we're looking at a September test, then you would have about 3 months of mastering the material in biology. This may be possible, but requires a huge investment I feel. How would you study for this material? What did you have in mind? I wouldn't want you to get drained investing a huge portion of your time on biology alone.

When did you graduate undergrad and what are you doing in the meantime?

At the end of the day, I would advise against taking the MCAT when you are not fully prepared. It wouldn't make sense to score poorly on one section to barley hit an average score with the other sections.

How come you are aiming to take the MCAT in September?

Best of luck
Maikel
 
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Mar 19, 2020
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First of all, don't let the diagnostic test put you down.

If you're telling me that you only have two biology courses under your belt, then I think you need to invest some time to learn more content. Biology includes may topics and many are tested on the MCAT in some way or another. The neuroscience courses may offer you some background though.

If we're looking at a September test, then you would have about 3 months of mastering the material in biology. This may be possible, but requires a huge investment I feel. How would you study for this material? What did you have in mind? I wouldn't want you to get drained investing a huge portion of your time on biology alone.

When did you graduate undergrad and what are you doing in the meantime?

At the end of the day, I would advise against taking the MCAT when you are not fully prepared. It wouldn't make sense to score poorly on one section to barley hit an average score with the other sections.

How come you are aiming to take the MCAT in September?

Best of luck
Maikel
I am a recent graduate with Psych/Neuroscience. I have actually been studying for the MCAT literally all day/ most days for the past three weeks (when I'm not volunteering). I like studying, so I don't particularly mind. I probably study like 14-15 hours a day, 6 days a week, but I am planning on slowing down after I get through all of the content in TBR. Right now I am reading through the material, making flashcards, doing practice problems, and reviewing them. I'm showing steady improvement in everything but biology, and I think I could benefit from any strategies or tips people have used so that the passages are more approachable/ understandable. I am willing to push my date back if I show no improvement, but would prefer to take it by the fall.
 

MyOdyssey

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I am a recent graduate with Psych/Neuroscience. I have actually been studying for the MCAT literally all day/ most days for the past three weeks (when I'm not volunteering). I like studying, so I don't particularly mind. I probably study like 14-15 hours a day, 6 days a week, but I am planning on slowing down after I get through all of the content in TBR. Right now I am reading through the material, making flashcards, doing practice problems, and reviewing them. I'm showing steady improvement in everything but biology, and I think I could benefit from any strategies or tips people have used so that the passages are more approachable/ understandable. I am willing to push my date back if I show no improvement, but would prefer to take it by the fall.
Given how little time you have and the vast amount of material that's covered in the biology/biochem section, you should seriously consider taking a MCAT prep course from a reputable company.

Memorizing a bunch of biology/biochem facts won't be enough because you have to be able to process the experimental passage questions that are written in the dense jargon of modern molecular biology. If you'd done molecular biology research or taken advanced biology courses, you would have been introduced to many of the most common experimental techniques of molecular biology that you need to understand to do well on the experimental passages.

Many MCAT prep companies save their best question bank questions and content review for people who sign up for their course. I've heard this to be true for Berkeley Review, Altius and Princeton Review.

A subpar biology score (<125) will be a killer to your application. A 125 is a 50% and Biology/Biochem is the most important section of the MCAT .....
 
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Given how little time you have and the vast amount of material that's covered in the biology/biochem section, you should seriously consider taking a MCAT prep course from a reputable company.

Memorizing a bunch of biology/biochem facts won't be enough because you have to be able to process the experimental passage questions that are written in the dense jargon of modern molecular biology. If you'd done molecular biology research or taken advanced biology courses, you would have been introduced to many of the most common experimental techniques of molecular biology that you need to understand to do well on the experimental passages.

Many MCAT prep companies save their best question bank questions and content review for people who sign up for their course. I've heard this to be true for Berkeley Review, Altius and Princeton Review.

A subpar biology score (<125) will be a killer to your application. A 125 is a 50% and Biology/Biochem is the most important section of the MCAT .....
You don't think that I can improve on my own? I spent most of my cash on MCAT prep material, so I am not sure that I would have enough to purchase a prep course.
 

lumya

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People do prepare for the MCAT in as little as 3 months but they’re usually doing content review not learning the content. There are free courses like Coursera and Khan Academy that will cover some topics but I’m not sure how much you could learn before September. That not saying it’s impossible but if you take another practice test a couple weeks from now and you’re not showing a big jump, it might be wise to postpone your test.
 
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People do prepare for the MCAT in as little as 3 months but they’re usually doing content review not learning the content. There are free courses like Coursera and Khan Academy that will cover some topics but I’m not sure how much you could learn before September. That not saying it’s impossible but if you take another practice test a couple weeks from now and you’re not showing a big jump, it might be wise to postpone your test.
That sounds like a plan. I am applying for the next cycle, so I definitely have time to postpone if need be, but I was hoping to get the MCAT done by September so that I could focus on elements of my application which got canceled because of Covid-19 (shadowing, clinical experience). If I do postpone, do you think that it is feasible to self-study the important biology content by January? It's quite a few months, but some of the content is pretty advanced, and I don't have a great foundation.
 

ScrubswithnoSleeves

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First, do not pay for a prep course. Total waste of time and money. Second, don't freak out too much about that 499. Few people score above a 500 on their diagnostic test. Third, 3 months should be enough time if you're grinding the way you said you are (12hr+ days). My friends and I all did the same summer grind and I had the lowest score with a 514 (I also learned the psych basically from scratch lol — to politely refute @lumya). Finally, I suggest you do your best and see where you are at a month before the test. Then you can see if you need to post-pone, don't worry about that now.

I will say a few things towards study tips:
  1. Study by concurrently doing a lot of practice, preferably the Passage based questions. The Discrete questions are going to be tougher for you because they basically directly test your bio knowledge, but after you rip a few hundred PBQs you'll begin to realize that they test your critical reading skills as much if not more than your subject knowledge. Doing questions and REVIEWING them heavily will teach you very well. But make sure and save the AMCAS practice questions for last, use whatever question resource you purchased like Kaplan etc..
  2. This is a Kaplan tip that applies to all sections: Do all the discrete questions first and THEN go do the PBQs. This might seem contradictory given what I just said in #1, but trust me it works. Just don't get hung up on a question; if you don't know the answer make an educated guess, and move on. Also, do not flag questions unless you think you could actually answer them if you simply had more time. No point flagging questions that you really don't know the answer to, it's not going to magically come to you.
  3. Know your resources. Use Reddit, SDN, and Kahn liberally. I also think Reddit is better than SDN for MCAT questions. People tend to be very harsh and pretentious on here and also like to flex how smart they are by giving you very complex answers to your questions.

Also, I would highly recommend to anyone studying for the MCAT to take half a day to download and figure out how to use Anki. It is a flashcard system used by a large majority of medical students and is much more effective than regular flashcards.


Thats all I can think of to say besides do not get discouraged and try your best because that is all you can do. Feel free to DM me if you want any additional help.
 
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First, do not pay for a prep course. Total waste of time and money. Second, don't freak out too much about that 499. Few people score above a 500 on their diagnostic test. Third, 3 months should be enough time if you're grinding the way you said you are (12hr+ days). My friends and I all did the same summer grind and I had the lowest score with a 514 (I also learned the psych basically from scratch lol — to politely refute @lumya). Finally, I suggest you do your best and see where you are at a month before the test. Then you can see if you need to post-pone, don't worry about that now.

I will say a few things towards study tips:
  1. Study by concurrently doing a lot of practice, preferably the Passage based questions. The Discrete questions are going to be tougher for you because they basically directly test your bio knowledge, but after you rip a few hundred PBQs you'll begin to realize that they test your critical reading skills as much if not more than your subject knowledge. Doing questions and REVIEWING them heavily will teach you very well. But make sure and save the AMCAS practice questions for last, use whatever question resource you purchased like Kaplan etc..
  2. This is a Kaplan tip that applies to all sections: Do all the discrete questions first and THEN go do the PBQs. This might seem contradictory given what I just said in #1, but trust me it works. Just don't get hung up on a question; if you don't know the answer make an educated guess, and move on. Also, do not flag questions unless you think you could actually answer them if you simply had more time. No point flagging questions that you really don't know the answer to, it's not going to magically come to you.
  3. Know your resources. Use Reddit, SDN, and Kahn liberally. I also think Reddit is better than SDN for MCAT questions. People tend to be very harsh and pretentious on here and also like to flex how smart they are by giving you very complex answers to your questions.

Also, I would highly recommend to anyone studying for the MCAT to take half a day to download and figure out how to use Anki. It is a flashcard system used by a large majority of medical students and is much more effective than regular flashcards.


Thats all I can think of to say besides do not get discouraged and try your best because that is all you can do. Feel free to DM me if you want any additional help.
Thanks, I will!
 

Osteosaur

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I found Kaplan books very helpful. Biology can be difficult compared to physics or chemistry as much of it is not always logical. I highly recommend pushing back your exam until your content is down. At this point it is not. Do it once and do it right. Med school can wait a year.
 
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What have you received so far on your B/B practice sections?
For the Blueprint diagnostic, I got a 121 (6th percentile) and I recently took an FL from blueprint (I'm doing FLs from different companies early on to increase my exposure to MCAT-style questions), and my score for biology increased a bit to 125 (54th percentile), but this exam was heavy on the organ systems and the nervous system and I do better on these, so I do not really see this as an improvement. For the biology qbank questions that I have done, I am averaging around a 40%.
 

maikelm

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I think many of the posts above provide excellent feedback and tips.

I think you should consider the fact that you are learning and mastering content within a few months. Assuming September is still your set date. This is pretty much a semester in college that you have to cram on your own. You know yourself better than anyone else. Do you think you can learn and master this content by September?

Regarding a paid course by a company... I think these companies would provide you some tips and tricks about some content. But at the end of the day, they are not investing too much time on you to master the content. I've taken the Kaplan course in the past and they gloss over the content assuming you will learn it on your own or have learned it in the past. From a cost perspective, some classes can cost up to $2000 or even $3000 so that would be something to consider.

@ScrubswithnoSleeves mentioned how you should skip through to the discrete questions and answer those first. Personally, I don't like that. I remember this was discussed in the Kaplan course. And Kaplan also told me to skim through passages and find the easiest passage to do. I do not recommend skipping passages because your quick 5 second skim told you it was "easy." You can have the easiest passage with the most difficult questions. At the same time, you can have the hardest passage with the easiest questions. I would recommend just going through the questions and passages in order. I don't like to skip to the discrete questions, but I like having them spread through to give me a mental break. These are usually recall-based questions, so it's a few seconds. But those few seconds can help you relax instead of being tensed up throughout the entire passage.

Right now, you are studying for most of the day. Kudos to you on that. That sounds very intense for me. I know I get fried after 6-8 hours, so I need to stop afterwards. As long as you are finding balance throughout your studying, I think it's fine. But be cautious with that many hours. Make sure to take time for yourself and relax.

Best of luck!
Maikel
 

robinson annulation

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don't waste money on a course. you can find plenty of free resources online.

i advise AK Lectures for all the science content on the MCAT. completely free, completely competent. https://aklectures.com/

he made these videos before or during med school (he's in residency rn) & the info felt pretty geared towards the MCAT. he goes into too much depth sometimes but hey, it's better than lacking.
 
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I have also struggled with the biology section of the MCAT and am potentially retaking. My biggest return in terms of score increase (on practice exams at least) has been practice questions. If you have time for a long-term review, I would recommend reading content in the book set of your choice (I used Kaplan initially, and then purchased used TBR books for a more thorough review since I felt I needed it). If you can afford it, I would recommend UWorld as a must, their explanations are wonderful and really help to solidify content. I am not sure if this applies to you, but I personally found that what I really struggled with were the experimental passages in Bio. I am a non-trad, and I had never been exposed to research papers or wet lab experiments etc. Even in cases where I remembered content, I would get lost and overwhelmed just trying to navigate passages. Based on web research, I learned that the Altius exams feature intense experimental passages, and purchased 10 as a means of practice. It has helped me a lot. When I purchased them, they were offering discounted pricing due to Covid-19 (10 tests/$100), I am not sure if this is still the case, though I would highly recommend if that's something you can swing. Good luck!
 
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I have also struggled with the biology section of the MCAT and am potentially retaking. My biggest return in terms of score increase (on practice exams at least) has been practice questions. If you have time for a long-term review, I would recommend reading content in the book set of your choice (I used Kaplan initially, and then purchased used TBR books for a more thorough review since I felt I needed it). If you can afford it, I would recommend UWorld as a must, their explanations are wonderful and really help to solidify content. I am not sure if this applies to you, but I personally found that what I really struggled with were the experimental passages in Bio. I am a non-trad, and I had never been exposed to research papers or wet lab experiments etc. Even in cases where I remembered content, I would get lost and overwhelmed just trying to navigate passages. Based on web research, I learned that the Altius exams feature intense experimental passages, and purchased 10 as a means of practice. It has helped me a lot. When I purchased them, they were offering discounted pricing due to Covid-19 (10 tests/$100), I am not sure if this is still the case, though I would highly recommend if that's something you can swing. Good luck!
I ended up deciding to push my exam back due partly to the advice on this post. I think it's overall the best decision for me, especially because my schedule as it was was so crammed and I was consistently losing sleep to finish the TBR material. Right now, I am focusing on solidifying my foundation in biology and watching Khan Academy videos and going through TBR b/b books. I had a couple of questions for you, 1 - how did you end up doing on the MCAT after your preparation? I ask because you seem to have used a lot of the resources that I used and we were on similar boats. 2. I wanted to know if you used Altius for untimed practice questions rather than take the exams like timed exams? That's what you seem to be saying. If so, did you find that you were able to complete similar passages more efficiently?
 
Dec 10, 2019
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@marie9132433


That sounds like a great plan, I wish you the best of luck!

I am scheduled to retake this month and will PM you with my results. I really resonated with your question as I did well in my Gen Bio and Biochem classes, though that foundation didn't translate in my MCAT score (125 for bio). Currently, my average B/B subsection score for AAMC 1-3 following all of my retake prep (likely inflated as I did the material one year ago) is 129. I would be very pleased if I score in the range on my retake.

Because TBR is so time-intensive, I have used it for only B/B as UWorld helped me with other sections. To save money I got the 2013 version of the TBR books on Ebay, but I have heard the new versions of the books have a lot more relevant biochem material. I used the material in this order: TBR Bio books in full with all questions done un-timed, UWorld in full (minus CARS, personal preference) untimed, Altius timed, then AAMC (untimed q packs, untimed section bank, timed officials). Altius definitely helped me improve efficiency, just by virtue of practice and then intense review of each exam. Something cool about their exams is that they include video explanations for every passage and question--not all the explanations are amazing, but it's a nice feature. I think they're helpful whether timed or untimed, as they just offer good practice material. After doing the first Altius in full, I decided to only do their BB and C/P sections (timed) and skip their CARS and P/S. Again, personal preference, it just didn't feel similar enough to the real deal. They're painful, but really good practice.

A Youtube channel I also really love for bio material is Ninja Nerd Science, they often go into more depth than necessary for the MCAT, but they make amazing content.
 
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