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General Strategies and Tips for Retaking the MCAT

Discussion in 'MCAT Discussions' started by SN2ed, Aug 8, 2010.

  1. SN2ed

    SN2ed Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Jun 27, 2007
    Since this topic comes up often, I decided to write a few thoughts on it while I have the time. I'm sure there is stuff I might be forgetting, but it's a good start.

    If you’re reading this and you haven’t started studying for or taken the MCAT, there are a few things you can do which will reduce your chances of needing a retake. First, you need to gain confidence that you can tackle this test. You shouldn’t be reading a thread on retaking. People that plan to retake, shouldn’t take the MCAT. You’re planning to fail and that’s a horrible mindset for anything. Secondly, do not study for the MCAT with other commitments. While the second point is not as applicable to non-trads who have to work to eat, for the majority of pre-meds, there is no reason to study for the MCAT while in school. None. That’s simply poor planning. Next, start studying for the MCAT AFTER YOU FINISH YOUR PRE-REQS. Finally, make sure you take TONS of timed practice passages.

    Do I have to retake?

    Before anything else, that is the first question you should be asking yourself. However, one cannot answer it until they HAVE their score. Do NOT schedule a retake because you finished your MCAT and felt bad. How you feel and how you do on the MCAT have little in common. Furthermore, you’re not in the best frame of mind to make such a decision directly after your test. As long as you’re getting your test scored, there is no reason at all to schedule for a retake.

    Now that you have your score, it’s time to decide if you actually need a retake. Before reading these tips, check out the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) book. It will tell you the typical MCAT and GPA range for the schools you’re looking at. Additionally, it will help you pick schools which fit your scores. While everyone’s situation will be different due to their ECs and whatnot, here are some general guidelines meant primarily for those interested in MD programs. I’m not that knowledgeable about DO schools.

    Link to MSAR: http://www.aamc.org/students/applying/msar.htm

    1. If any section score is 7 or below, you should probably retake. Most schools rarely accept students with a 7 or lower in any section. The few schools that do are typically in-state schools. I suggest you consult your MSAR to see if your in-state schools frequently admit students with your score.

    2. If your score is +30, as long as your GPA is solid for the schools you’re looking at (again consult the MSAR), there’s no reason to retake. Should your score be in the low 30s, you’d be better served by applying broadly and strengthening the other aspects of your application over retaking. Do NOT get hung up on one school or one set of schools (a.k.a. the top tiers).

    - A quick note, you may read posts about people with unbalanced scores. As long as you don’t fall under #1, you’re most likely fine. For instance, schools don’t care if you scored a 15-10-15. That’s not unbalanced. On the other hand, if you scored 15-7-15, then schools may be a little concerned. Also, one section score of 8 probably won’t hurt you too much, though your score is somewhat unbalanced. Typically, a 9 is your safest bet.

    3. If your score is below 30 by a few points AND in-state schools aren’t much of an option (ex. CA), you should consider a retake.

    4. If you don’t think you can raise your score by at least 3 points, there’s no reason to take the MCAT unless one of your sub-scores was 7 or lower. Otherwise there’s no point in a retake when you can’t significantly improve your score. Even in cases where you have a 7 or lower section score, you should still be aiming for an overall improvement of 3 or more points.
    Again, these are guidelines, they won’t fit for everyone. Yet, they should give you an idea about whether or not you should retake.

    If you still aren’t sure whether you should or not, post in the Official “Should I Retake” Thread. I will not answer any questions about this topic in here.

    - Official “Should I Retake” Thread (http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=412739)

    Analyzing your past MCAT experience

    Alright, you know you need to retake, but where to begin? Take a break. It’s tempting to drive right in after a poor MCAT score, but you must take some time off. You’ve just been studying for quite awhile, so give your brain a break. Fortunately, if you’ve been waiting until your scores come out doing nothing MCAT related, you should be rested up. However, any studying, during that period means it wasn’t a break. Additionally, make sure you approach the test with renewed confidence. Going in with a defeated attitude will not work. So relax, and then tackle your retake refreshed and full of confidence.

    The next major step is analyzing exactly what went wrong during your past MCAT experience. Scrutinize everything; from content weaknesses to sleeping habits. It’s vital that you discover your weaknesses in order to address them for your retake. Once you find them, develop a plan to eliminate them.

    The two most common mistakes people make which lead to a retake is studying for the MCAT with other commitments (especially school) and taking the MCAT before completing their pre-reqs. There is absolutely no reason to fall into either of these traps the first time, let alone for a retake.

    Here are some questions to get you started:

    1. Why do you think you did poorly?
    2. Were you getting plenty of sleep?
    3. Are you weak in any content areas?
    4. How was your post-test review?
    5. Did you have other commitments?
    6. Did you score dramatically lower than your practice test average? In other words, did you choke?
    7. Any personal issues prevent you from focusing?
    8. Did you try a short 1-2 month schedule?
    9. What materials did you use?
    10. How did you best learn the material?
    11. Did you take enough timed practice passages?

    Get New Material

    The most important thing you can do is GET NEW PRACTICE MATERIAL. Do NOT reuse old practice material (this includes practice passages AND FLs) for anything other than analyzing your past MCAT experience. From my schedule thread:

    Should I retake FL X?

    I don't suggest it for a few reasons. First, your score will be inflated. This alone negates the predictive power of the test. If you don't need it to gauge where you are, fine, retake them. For instance, you could simply be going over the problems again to, as others have mentioned, understand the thinking behind it. However, if you are using it as a practice FL, don't.

    One of the most important aspects of a FL is that it's material you've never seen before. It forces you to quickly analyze an unknown passage, tap into your knowledge, and answer questions you've never seen. If you knew exactly what was going to be on the test, it would take away from the somewhat frantic experience of getting that weird passage. It also makes you more relaxed overall because you know what's coming. Unfortunately, you will not have the luxury of either on the test. You will have to deal with weird passages. You will have to get out of your comfort zone of knowing what's ahead.

    Then, you get into the timing issues which you MUST get down before the test. When you have prior knowledge of the material, you miss the chance at gaining more experience with the clock. Too many people underestimate the effect of the timer. Again, you have to get used to it and retaking problems won't help.

    Think of the whole thing like sports practice. Sure, you go over some standard plays again and again to get a feel for them. However, to practice for a real game, you have a scrimmage match or an exhibition game. The other team doesn't tell you what plays they're going to run. If they did, it would eliminate the usefulness of the scrimmage or exhibition game.

    Practice passage sources

    - BR series offers plenty of passages (http://www.berkeley-review.com/TBR/home-study.html)

    - TPRH Verbal and Science Workbooks, check the For Sale forum (http://forums.studentdoctor.net/forumdisplay.php?f=230)

    - EK 1001 Bio (http://www.amazon.com/Examkrackers-1001-Questions-MCAT-Biology/dp/1893858219/ref=pd_sim_b_2)

    - EK Verbal 101 (http://www.amazon.com/Examkrackers-MCAT101-Passages-Verbal-Reasoning/dp/1893858553/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243226173&sr=8-2)

    - Nova Physics (http://www.amazon.com/MCAT-Physics-Book-Garrett-Biehle/dp/1889057339/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281233526&sr=1-1)

    - BR Verbal, ONLY if you used up TPRH Verbal Workbook and EK Verbal 101
    because BR Verbal is pretty bad (http://www.berkeley-review.com/TBR/home-study.html)

    - Rest of EK 1001 series is good for nailing down the basics

    Practice test sources

    - AAMC FLs, if you didn’t use these the first time for some strange reason, get all of them now (http://www.e-mcat.com/)

    - BR FLs, expensive, but good (http://www.berkeley-review.com/TBR/home-study.html)

    Making a schedule

    Using the information you gained from your analysis and your new practice material, you should make a new schedule. For the majority of retakers, I strongly suggest you go with a standard 3 month schedule. Except, make sure it addresses your weaknesses. Once you craft your schedule, follow it. For an example schedule, you can check out the one I made (http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=623898). Make sure you schedule in plenty of breaks. Also, sign up early for your test. Don’t wait until the last minute because seats can fill quickly.

    When you create your schedule or use the one I made with some slight modifications to address your weaknesses, make sure you TAKE A COUPLE FULL LENGTHS A MONTH BEFORE YOUR MCAT DATE. If your practice test average isn’t where you want it, you should delay your test and reevaluate your schedule. Something isn’t working for you and before you burn through more FLs, you must analyze what’s going wrong. Check back over your previous weaknesses and verify that you’re addressing them.

    However, you shouldn’t get to this point because you’re supposed to be taking and analyzing tons of timed practice passages THROUGHOUT your schedule. Try to identify and alleviate your weaknesses before you start taking practice FLs.

    Remember, your goal should be an improvement of 3 or more points on a retake. Finally, DO NOT RETAKE THE MCAT IF YOUR PRACTICE TEST AVERAGES ARE NOT A SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2011
    j9260 likes this.
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  3. SN2ed

    SN2ed Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Jun 27, 2007
    Space reserved just in case.
  4. g8orlife

    g8orlife chomp 7+ Year Member

    Sep 15, 2009
    A quagmire
    Great Post!:thumbup::thumbup:

    Along with your 3-Month schedule, retakers can also use LostInStudy's advice to create a baseline schedule:

    LostInStudy's (LIS) Official Advice Thread

    I think it works best for retakers, because it's mainly for those who have already done content review and where re-reading all content won't help much.

    His advice goes something like this:
    a) 1-2 weeks - complete ALL EK 1001 - to destroy ALL weaknesses
    b) 2-3 weeks - complete ALL TPRH passages - to better understand material
    c) 1-2 weeks - complete BR phase I - to better critically think
    c) 5-6 weeks - FLTs and BR phase II+III - to perfect test-taking strategy

    Comes out to 2-3 months.
  5. leagall

    leagall 2+ Year Member

    Jul 14, 2010
    Hello SN2,

    So you are saying if you might need to retake the MCAT in the future and have completed all the AAMC full-lengths, you should not redo them? And it would be a better idea to purchase Kaplan, BR or Gold Standard exams and only use them for your retake?

    Thanks a lot!
  6. dandi

    dandi 10+ Year Member

    Oct 15, 2007
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
  7. epsilonprodigy

    epsilonprodigy Physicist Enough 7+ Year Member

    Jun 17, 2009
    Hi SN2ed, thought I would spare you the PM by posting here.

    I most definitely fall into the "choked" camp. The problem is, I'm not sure why... I didn't have any sort of nervous meltdown during the test. In fact, I scored only 2 points ABOVE MY DIAGNOSTIC on the real thing. Also lower than the notorious GS and Kaplan #12. I have never heard of anyone having this situation before. This puts me 8 points lower than my AAMC average.

    I wonder if you wouldn't mind elaborating some advice for the people who did indeed choke.
  8. wendiehime

    wendiehime 7+ Year Member

    Oct 5, 2010
    Indeed... I would really appreciate your help on that. I did like 10-11 points(!) lower than my practices. I did have a bad day on that day, and that probably is why, but I think I have some problem too. The diagnostics and AAMCs are not the actual things... but if it shows that much of difference, I think I should have done something differently.

    Thank you in advance! :)
  9. SN2ed

    SN2ed Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Jun 27, 2007
    I'll try to write something up on that after this set of exams.
  10. Linette

    Linette 7+ Year Member

    Aug 26, 2009
    first time around I took all the full lengths AAMC exams
    and did poorly on my July MCAT..(ONLY VERBAL WAS weak)
    Would it be OK to reuse those AAMC FL's again as practice for my 2011 MCAT exam since its been some time since I've looked at them?
  11. aali112


    Sep 14, 2009
    I am confused about the part when we have to do BR in Phases? DOes each section have phase one, two and three? Do I have to purchase all of the section books? Can someone please explain.
  12. g8orlife

    g8orlife chomp 7+ Year Member

    Sep 15, 2009
    A quagmire
    Yes, Each section (ie. Gen Chem, OChem, Physics, and Bio) has all 3 phases.

    Yes, LostInStudy did complete all BR passages from each section.

    Click on the link I provided. It leads to his thread and it goes into an extreme amount of detail which will answer all your questions.
    (If not, you can post your own and he will answer.)
  13. maritri


    Dec 4, 2010
  14. DrCheerful


    Nov 28, 2010
    @Sn2ed can you please see my question on the retake thread? thanks
  15. djwarp64


    Jan 9, 2011
    Hi SN2ed,
    I'm retaking the MCAT in April which is a year after I initially took it. I'm trying to increase my verbal as everything else was strong.

    Are the AAMC FL changed annually? Are they different year to year. I saved mine and briefly looked at one (very briefly to see if I remembered the problems) and I couldn't recognize them. I am wondering what people think about taking them again with your schedule if I took them a year ago. I don't remember them and it seems like a long enough time.

    If anyone thinks it's a bad idea what are my options for FLs?
    I got the TPRH Verbal 2009 edition yesterday!

    I'm taking the April 28th exam. I'm gonna kick butt! Just like all of us!
  16. Grayce

    Grayce 2+ Year Member

    Aug 1, 2011
    Lexington, KY
    My practice full lengths show an average improvement of five points overall. Unfortunately, my first test was so bad that even five points of improvement is not competitive. Is it unrealistic to think I should be able to improve by ten or more points? I have another month to study but can wait until January although I will be working full time.
    My official exam was a 23 (p6, v7, b10) and my averages now are 28 (p9, v8, b11).
  17. paul411

    paul411 ANES 7+ Year Member

    May 27, 2010
    I reused the same practice materials and FL's after about 9 months and it turned out okay. I pretty much didn't remember anything.

    Maybe you could add a qualifier for people retaking after a significant time (>9 months?) that reusing at least some materials is fine. Because otherwise, if they used all the good stuff (esp. AAMC FL's) the first time around, prep the second time around might not be as good.
  18. doctor712

    doctor712 Banned 2+ Year Member

    Nov 14, 2008

    Kudos for all your hard work and advice. On your behalf, and QQ's as well, I'm going to log in in a second, and make a donation to this site. It's too valuable not to.

    I'm a retaker having just learned a poor score last night. A kick in the teeth surely, but I'm going to get over this, being angry at myself, and fix it.

    I have a question I hope you have time to answer in re: old materials. I have about 30 books (counted them), from TPR, Kaplan, BR and EK. A friend gave me all her old books. With a TON of advice as well. I'm about to start your 3 or 4 month schedule. I'm actually looking forward to it. Oh, I took AAMC's also, for my 9/2 exam, but only a few in full form (all sections). I did not go near 10 and 11, so I'll save those for down the road. Having said that, and this is such a silly simply question, but all of these books are really marked up, and even when I go into them to erase (50 pages worth), I get glimpses of notes, cross outs, circle answers etc. If it were a science experiment these would be invalid data.

    Do you suggest sifting through passages and having a small 11 year old offspring do erasing on a large scale for me, perhaps, for a hockey stick in reward, :D, or, buying new books and calling it a day? You know, if you see that faint outline of a circle, it affects the answer and your thinking. Some of these 30, many of them, BR Orgo for example, Kaplan MCAT Advanced and 45 and HY Problem solving, I didn't even crack open. Others, like Repro Endo and Bio in general in BR, I painted like the Mona Lisa.

    How to handle the simple issue of erasing and decontaminating the crime scene, or starting over and laying out the cash? I appreciate your advice as I know you treat the MCAT very methodically and scientifically and I'd like to hear what you have to say. I'm a non trad with a job (flexible, tv writer) so I can goto Barnes and Noble and buy brand new shtuff, but it doesn't grow on trees... (hockey sticks are pricey you know). :)

    Lastly, Jan 28 2012 versus March 2012, any significant advantage other than the obvious Jan 28 report date in February which would allow (yet another) retake? Study habit and time frame identical for me. I don't actually think that I will need to retake, following your schedule, I will be doing 1000 times the studying did for this exam. And I know the scores will jump. If I got 3 points in each science and 2 in verbal, I'm there. And I can tell you, when I answered your RETAKE 10 or so questions in my mind (why did you do poorly, did you study 1-2 months, do you sleep well, were there areas of weakness), I had to laugh. So, I expect significant improvements.

    All the best
  19. S198


    Feb 18, 2013
    A 28 is lower than average for some schools. I scored an R in writing which is in the top 90%. My advice is to approach the test with confidence and concentration. If you have any issues from outside your training, weaknesses appear and hinder your performance. Focus is paramount and relaxation and proper technique are essential to working well in all sections. I plan to retake the test and score nine points higher than what I have now which would put me in the range for most schools. Good luck and for better advice talk to your counselor sooner rather than later.
  20. njabulo


    Feb 11, 2013
    I just signed up to retake on 8/22 and I was surprised by my scores from 5/30 exam. Completed Kaplan in-person course while finishing up Physics 2 and Orgo 2 so the info was fresh (even though I am terrible at physics and very strong in BS)

    Kaplan: PS VR BS
    Diagnostic: 7 10 7
    FL1: 7 10 10
    FL2: 9 8 12
    FL3: 11 9 12

    Actual Score 5/30: PS-9 VR-7 BS-8
    I have no idea what happened here as I felt the VR went fine and I was strong in the BS!

    Is 6 weeks enough time to study for a retake? I have the complete set of BR books & TPR and EK Verbal books to do a lot of practice passages.

    I'm aiming for DO school & hope to be able to improve my score without dropping in PS which I struggle with.
  21. girl22

    girl22 2+ Year Member

    May 8, 2013
    I just took the MCAT on May 17th, and totally choked. Voided my score and everything. I want to retake on August 20th. Is this too soon to retake it? I was wondering which set of books has the most difficult bio passages because the bio passages on the actual MCAT were much harder than the ones on the AAMC practice tests.
  22. soccerfeet

    soccerfeet 2+ Year Member

    Feb 4, 2014
    I took all of the AAMC and Kaplan FLs for my first test. Is my only choice to buy the BR full lengths?

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