Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
I've seen loads of threads about different study plans, but very few suggestions of what to do before diving into books and videos. I want to share what I did, not because everyone should do it, but because it worked for me and it includes some of the wonderful advice I got along the way.

First, a little background on me and my situation. I'm an average student who did average on the SAT and ACT and ended up at an average school. My sciGPA is hovering around 3.6 and when I first started to grasp what exactly the MCAT was, I was hoping I could get a 510. I took the MCAT this past September following my sophomore year. Against the advice of pretty much everyone, I took the MCAT having not taken biochemistry. While I don't recommend doing this, I was able to learn it from my review books and my test was lighter in biochemistry than what everyone had warned me about. I didn't do so well on the Reading part of my SAT or ACT and guess what? I struggled on the CARS section as well. But I knew that going in so I should have been better prepared.

Before You Do Anything Else
The first thing I did, at the advice of my big sib, was to look at the Official Guide to the MCAT by AAMC. I cannot emphasize this enough. I did this ten months before my MCAT and it took me about a week to work through the book. This will tell you exactly what to expect on the MCAT and best of all, you get sample questions to see the style they use to ask their questions. The reason this is so valuable is that what you don't realize at first is that you are learning how to take their test more than you are reviewing material. It also lists the subjects tested on the MCAT. Once you have looked through that book, it is time to decide what materials and sources are best for you.

Choosing Your Materials
I dove into Reddit and SDN to read everything I could about the various materials. Honestly, at first this confused me more than anything because rather than narrowing down from the four sources I knew about, I instead learned that there are like six or seven sources for each section. I kept a tally sheet about the different books and videos noting which ones people recommended and which ones they didn't like. What else I did that made a big difference is that I also included a tally of what people who did poorly used, so I could avoid those materials. It took me a few days but I had a ranking of the books and resources for each section: C/P, CARS, B/B, and P/S. After all that work, it ended up that I reached the same conclusion as Zenabi90 and KoalaT (TBR for C/P, EK and TPR for CARS, TBR for B/B, and TPR for P/S), which made me feel confident in my choices.

From here, still nine months before my exam and five months before I planned to start studying, I looked at my big sib's MCAT books and her friends MCAT books. I think they had nearly everything ever made for the MCAT, LOL. I was taking physics and organic chemistry that quarter and decided to compare three MCAT books side-by-side on the topics I was covering in my classes. It became clear very fast the TBR matched me, so I bought their science books. I used them in conjunction with my classes the rest of the year.

People will try to tell you that which books you use doesn't matter (I've read this at SDN a few times), but they're wrong. At least they were for me. If you are genius and you know everything, then sure. But if you are average like me, then it's worth your time to find the books that match you. I swear by TBR for chemistry, physics, organic, and biology and I did far better on C/P and B/B on my MCAT than I ever dreamed, but that doesn't mean they will work for everyone. I swear by TPR for P/S, where I also did well. Do your own homework on what will work for you. Spend time looking at the various books, especially the questions and answer explanations. You will be glad you did.

Make A Schedule
This is a no brainer, but what matters is that you make a schedule that matches you. I am not one to micromanage my life, much to my detriment in some classes, so I did not opt for a daily planner like most of my friends did. I instead set weekly goals. I looked at all of the materials I had and estimated how much time it would take to complete. I wanted to be done with my reviewing two months before my test date. Be sure to sign up for an MCAT the day registration opens. Get the date you want so you know exactly what your schedule is going to be. Each week I completed six to eight TBR science chapters, two TPR P/S chapters, and did at least twenty CARS passages. This included thorough postgame analysis of EVERY question I did. It takes a [insert profanity here]ton of time, but it is critical to learn from doing questions.

Once I was done with the book portion of my review (and occasional Khan video, which are superb for P/S BTW), I switched over to AAMC materials. DO NOT SKIMP ON AAMC MATERIALS! I didn't get as much from the Q packs as the section banks, but you should still do them both. Do the Q packs first and Section Banks last. This will take about two weeks give or take. You also want to look at the 300-page P/S document from MCATKings, it is pure gold!

From here it's time to take practice exams. I planned to do two a week, but due to events getting in the way, it never quite worked exactly like that. Give yourself at least one full day of review to go over your exam in its entirety and another day to do general review. I wrote out two to three pages of notes following each exam and spent that day reviewing that information. This helped solidify my weaknesses.

Materials
Get all of your materials early so you know what you are up against. I worked better on paper than computer, so I printed some of the online stuff I had. I started an Anki deck for P/S terms from day one and this helped. Some materials are better suited for early review and others for later review. While I didn't use EK for my review, I used them in the last six weeks for quickly double checking myself and testing my recall. Their answer explanations are pretty bad, but at that point in my review I wasn't using them to learn. So they were a valuable resource late in my studies where they would not have been helpful early in my review.

Do the unscored AAMC exam first, before any other FL, so you can get a bearing on where you're at and so you get exposed to the MCAT way of asking things. For my next exams I mixed the different sections from three different companies (EK, TBR, and the company that shall not be named) to get a different feel for each section. This was at the behest of my big sib's friend who scored 520 and it was brilliant advice. This more than anything prepared me for the completely random material I saw on my MCAT. For my last three exams I did AAMC Exams 1, 2, and 3. Even though everyone says, me included at times, that AAMC is the best indicator of what to expect on the MCAT, the truth is that everything I did on practice exams helped me about the same and nothing can fully prepare you for your exam.

Use any leftover sections from FLs to do mini exams during your last two weeks. This was exceptionally helpful for getting more CARS passages. You will run out of CARS passages!

Big Picture
More important than anything is that you start your first day of reviewing in the right frame of mind. You will have your emotional ups and downs the entire way. I felt like throwing my general chemistry book against the wall a few times, but those moments pass. And you grow. Don't overemphasize content review. Become a really good multiple-choice test taker. When you don't fully grasp a passage, relax and attack the questions like they are free standing. Don't let the anklebiters slow you down.

Absolute Musts (in no particular order)
There are a few things everyone should do for this exam.
1. Buy all of the AAMC exams and practice questions
2. Download the 300-page P/S document
3. Read TBR's Organic Chemistry book 2
4. Don't ignore CARS.
5. Focus on doing questions and not on content.

Good Luck to You All!

I want to thank so many helpful people at SDN that gave me insight into the exam, sound advice about how to prepare, kind words when I was feeling low, and support throughout the six months I was studying. The SDN community is a treasure! :love:
 
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
Thank you PapaGuava. Many of the tips are things I read here at SDN that were true when I studied.
 

BerkReviewTeach

Company Rep & Bad Singer
Vendor
10+ Year Member
May 25, 2007
3,883
654
281
Great advice! There are so many useful tips here. Do you mind sharing how you did on the MCAT?
 

esob

Protomolecule
Moderator
Lifetime Donor
2+ Year Member
Sep 28, 2015
1,757
1,537
181
Texas
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
Lots of good advice in there and a well-written post. However, it might not work for everyone, especially those on a limited time frame and/or those who learned the material well the first time. The very first thing anyone should probably do is assess their situation and what type of learner they are before formulating a study plan. I tried a bunch of the stuff here on SDN and the one thing I realized was that I am very much a context learner and prereview was not helpful for me personally. The point is, there is no one size fits all for the MCAT, but I do think there is a lot of useful advice in this post that will probably work well for many learners.
 

esob

Protomolecule
Moderator
Lifetime Donor
2+ Year Member
Sep 28, 2015
1,757
1,537
181
Texas
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
Thank you. I hope some people find the suggestions to be helpful. I got 132 on C/P and B/B and a 516 overall. I faceplanted the CARS section.
This is pretty standard to see opposing scores in CARS vs the science sections for extremely high scorers of either section; it's almost as if they inversely correlate at the fringes (90+ percentile). Being from the opposite side of the spectrum (someone who generally finds CARS easy), I would say it is just because the two worlds don't overlap much. As a liberal arts major, I spent years performing critical analysis of dense works but literally had no idea until about a week before the MCAT that only data values with an asterisk next to them were considered statistically significant for the MCAT. The hard sciences are just that; concrete. Critical analysis is a more nuanced practice, and if you are entrenched in either mindset (black and white or everything is a shade of grey), then it is hard to quickly adapt, which is probably why they stick CARS right between C/P and B/B, lol.
 
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
I LOVE your post Esob. That describes me perfectly. I never read much as a kid, I went to a high school that emphasized science, I go to a college that emphasizes science, and get really scared at poetry readings. On the SAT it was night and day between math and English and on the MCAT I was at both extremes in terms of percentiles for science versus CARS. I honestly cannot think the way you describe and I'm quite certain I have an uncanny sixth sense for choosing the distractor answer choice on every CARS question ever written. I've decided to go for it and apply with my 122 CARS this summer and hope that at least one adcom member is illiterate and takes mercy on me.
 

esob

Protomolecule
Moderator
Lifetime Donor
2+ Year Member
Sep 28, 2015
1,757
1,537
181
Texas
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
I LOVE your post Esob. That describes me perfectly. I never read much as a kid, I went to a high school that emphasized science, I go to a college that emphasizes science, and get really scared at poetry readings. On the SAT it was night and day between math and English and on the MCAT I was at both extremes in terms of percentiles for science versus CARS. I honestly cannot think the way you describe and I'm quite certain I have an uncanny sixth sense for choosing the distractor answer choice on every CARS question ever written. I've decided to go for it and apply with my 122 CARS this summer and hope that at least one adcom member is illiterate and takes mercy on me.
Best of luck to you. If you find that you want to retake it, I took Jack Westin's CARS course and he really caters to teaching a method of getting to the right answer on CARS that resonants with hard-science-minded individuals. The class was full of people that had perfect scores on C/P and B/B but that had bombed the CARS section, and I saw those people make big improvements because he teaches a systematic way to get to the right answer. For me, personally, it was harder to implement at first because it was slower and I ultimately went back to mostly my own methods for CARS because his focus is not getting a 132 on the section, its getting a 127-ish, which will get you into just about any school you want. I probably wouldn't say it was worth the cost for someone who is an English or Philosophy major, but for someone who had the hard science down, it might be a game changer.
 
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
***This was a reply to a spammer promoting a YouTube video about the same MCAT I took, but that post has since been removed it seems. Thanks Moderators for looking out for us!***

Be careful making major study decisions based on one Youtuber. Before I began studying I looked at hundreds of reddit and SDN posts, I spoke to my big sib and her friends, and I kept a detailed tally sheet of what people used to study and how they did. I went overboard but needed to because if I didn't I would probably have second guessed myself.

I took the MCAT on the same day as the person in your video and my experience was nothing like what she describes. I thought the C/P section was straight forward and the reddit comments I read through in my manic postMCAT phase said the same thing. The C/P section had less biochemistry than I expected, but it was pretty much what I expected based on the AAMC materials, including FLs and section banks. The organic chemistry was completely doable and easier than the section banks.

Be careful not to study the wrong way for organic chemistry. IMHO, I think she studied the wrong materials because like many posts I saw when trying decide what to use, she felt confident going into the MCAT and believed the materials she used were good, but then she was shocked by the exam and apparently didn't do well.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: BobbyKoch and Ad2b

Ad2b

SDN Gold Donor
Gold Donor
2+ Year Member
Nov 3, 2014
2,830
2,610
81
Status
Pre-Medical
I took my first MCAT in Sept 2017 (that I scored) and it was ochem sprinkled with some ochem and then for a topping it was ochem. Had I done the basic ochem studying, like I am now, I would have been fine. I still remember one of the passages and :smack: the physics on my exam was easy peasy and the gen chem was pretty minor

During the summer of 2017, I scoured the reddit and SDN forums, like @PlsLetMeIn21 and wrote down all the topics; found some of the exact things on Khan Academy - almost verbatim - and honestly, wasted time.

If you want to do well, follow the tried/true paths of those who seem similar to yourself and at a minimum:

1. Print out the AAMC 63 page (120+ single pages, 63 double) thing with all the topics listed on it; make sure you can talk about each topic in some scientific detail
2. Make sure you can do the mechanisms listed for ochem (Grinyard, Gabriel and one other)
3. Make sure your content knowledge is solid (Ka v Ksp; pH v pka v pOH; etc.)
4. Do practice exams - any that you can afford from any of the known vendors PLUS all the AAMC FLs
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: PlsLetMeIn21
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
Those tips are genius Ad2b. I took a different exam than you, but can say without a doubt that your list would have worked perfectly for my exam.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ad2b

Ad2b

SDN Gold Donor
Gold Donor
2+ Year Member
Nov 3, 2014
2,830
2,610
81
Status
Pre-Medical
Those tips are genius Ad2b. I took a different exam than you, but can say without a doubt that your list would have worked perfectly for my exam.
Send me thy C/P vibes and good joo-joo :) I love physics and chem; ochem is meh, biochem is the best BUT counting on no hurricanes, no in-house guests, no parental heart attacks or deaths for the last, final, never-ever again exam I take. As in never-ever. This is it.
 
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
Send me thy C/P vibes and good joo-joo :) I love physics and chem; ochem is meh, biochem is the best BUT counting on no hurricanes, no in-house guests, no parental heart attacks or deaths for the last, final, never-ever again exam I take. As in never-ever. This is it.
I will send you vibes and good joo-joo, but it sounds like you already have plenty. In looking back on my science sections, I owe how well I did to my big sib for hew wonderful suggestions and to TBR for amazing passages and even better answer explanations. I learned concepts better than ever before and I mastered test tricks I haven't seen anywhere but TBR books. The biggest thing I learned to do was use my time efficiently.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ad2b
Jul 20, 2018
112
26
21
i agree on pre-review being useful.

just print out kaplan quick sheets and/or the AAMC list of topics. and go through those for the first week. i.e. expose yourself to all the material at a very early stage, especially if you haven't taken the courses for a few years.
 
Jul 20, 2018
112
26
21
almost everything on the exam is highly doable........ it's moderate depth and miles wide.... not that many tough questions if the exam were open book.

i figure it's not fair to ask about obscure stuff because the main study content suppliers all have different obscure stuff or no obscure stuff. and AAMC knows that.
 
Dec 5, 2017
369
169
41
Status
Pre-Medical
i agree on pre-review being useful.

just print out kaplan quick sheets and/or the AAMC list of topics. and go through those for the first week. i.e. expose yourself to all the material at a very early stage, especially if you haven't taken the courses for a few years.
I think the AAMC list of topics was a great place to start before actually studying. Looking through it and seeing familiar terms made me believe in myself that I could do this.
 

Biology4Life84

5+ Year Member
Mar 9, 2014
27
2
91
Status
Pre-Medical
After looking at the mcat outline, I wonder if the creators wanted to confuse the average student? Some of the wording seems general and not specific enough. For example, Amino Acids - Describe the absolute configuration at the alpha carbon. After reviewing an organic text and biochem text, all I could absorb was that "most" biological compounds containing amino acids... have their amino group on the left side of the alpha carbon projecting towards the viewer, thus many are L-amino acids.

My question is did I actually learn what I needed to know about absolute configuration at the alpha carbon?