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How to start studying for MCAT?

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krazzydhoom

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Hi everyone! This is my first time using sdn so I hope I have made it to the right place.

I am going into my junior year this fall and I plan to take the MCAT (hopefully) next January. Currently I am taking physics 2 over summer so when I go into the fall, the last prereq Biochem I will be taking fall semester.

I plan to start studying this summer and I am so confused where to start. I bought someone's 2019 Kaplan MCAT and one of my friend gave me her 2019 Examcrackers books. I just feel overwhelmed and I don't know where to start. What subject do I start with? And should I be taking practice tests?

Anyone else have this struggle with starting? I would appreciate any help at all :) Thanks!
 

JimKimSlim

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You should start with reviewing the concepts. I’m assuming you have the Kaplan 7-book review, which is also what I used for my preparation. Start with ones that are memorization-based, like biology and Psychology, and create your own Anki-decks to memorize difficult concepts. Since you haven’t taken biochemistry, you should review it the last. Once you’re done with the reviews, start doing practice problems for about a month and then move onto practice exams (third party, and then AAMC). Finally, start practicing for CARS as early as you can : use third party to practice pacing and use AAMC materials to practice using their logic. Good luck!
 

ismyexistenceamemeyet

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A few disclaimers: I was enrolled in a Kaplan test prep program already, so I used their tests, as well as the AAMC tests. I’m also naturally good at test-taking and CARS emerged as a strength early on. I went through 2 rounds of Kaplan test prep (pretty light though) but had only 1 month of intensive prep (took my MCAT June 15th last year, NOT RECOMMENDED AT ALL because I was jeopardizing my apps with a July score). With your timeline though, you have a lot more time for growth and progress, which is great.

I would start with taking a practice test. Get a baseline for what areas you need to focus on and what areas you excel in. It also helps with getting a feel for just how long the test is. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re floundering or didn’t do great on the first practice test; consider the first practice test a starting point for climbing upward. For context, I started in the 490s (~30th percentile) and ended up with a 512 (85th percentile; 130/129/126/127) on the actual thing.

Once you’ve taken that first test, go back and look through all the questions-right or wrong. For the wrong questions: ask yourself why you missed them. Did you misread something? Did you not know the concept being tested? Did you rush or run out of time? You’ll also want to question yourself on the questions you got correct. Did you know the concept really well? Or did you guess? Did you use process of elimination? How did you arrive at the correct answer?

I actually set up a spreadsheet for my tests outlining what questions I got right/wrong and why I got them right/wrong (check out the attachments below; each section has its own spreadsheet and the boxes highlighted green are questions I correctly guessed on). It’s time-consuming at first, but once you set it up, you can see the topics you need to go back and review. You’ll also get a feel for your test-taking strategies and pacing. You might take too much time at the beginning of a section, causing you to rush the last 10 questions and miss easy points. You might not be using process of elimination as effectively as you could be. This test is not just about knowing science concepts; it’s also about test-taking strategy. You’ll find that even if you don’t outright know the answer to a question, you can maximize your chances by process of elimination. Even narrowing down the choices to 2 or 3 is better than nothing! (This is especially the case for CARS, since you‘re not required to have background knowledge for this section!)

If I remember correctly, both the AAMC and Kaplan tests provide rationales for the correct answers. Once you have a baseline and understand the areas you need to work on, go work on them! Review them using the Kaplan books, Khan Academy, resources you can find online. Certain resources address certain subjects really well. A few of my recs (biased towards Kaplan since it’s what I primarily used, but will provide other suggestions):
  • Orgo: Master Organic Chemistry + The Organic Chemistry Tutor. MOC has fantastic summary sheets with the major concepts and chemical reactions. The Organic Chemistry Tutor is good for going into depth with concepts and walking through examples. I’ve heard great things about The Berkeley Review (apparently it has great passages + explanations), so throwing that in there.
  • Gen Chem/Physics: Khan Academy + The Organic Chemistry Tutor. Gen chem was one of my stronger subjects, just needed some review via the Kaplan book and looking over some of my chem notes from class. Physics is one of my weak subjects, so I needed a lot of help here. Much of the physics I’ve seen in my practice tests and on the MCAT dealt with material like electricity, fluids, density, and pressure. Kaplan + Khan Academy is good for refreshers imo, while Organic Chemistry Tutor is more in-depth. For passages, Kaplan is okay, have heard great things about TBR.
  • Psych/Soc: Kaplan psych/soc book. I thought it covered much of what you needed to know conceptually. Once you have the concepts down though, practice hard with questions to cement what you learn. I didn’t use Princeton Review while studying, but have heard great things about using it for soc.
  • CARS: Kaplan book for general strategy, otherwise practice hard with passages. CARS is more of a test of pacing, analysis, + test-taking strategy than anything else. Get a hold of as many passages as you can.
Bio/biochem was by far my weakest section, mainly because I hadn’t taken biochem lab and biochem II (and guess what I was tested on a lot MCAT day? :blackeye:). The Kaplan book is good for a refresher, but I’ve heard great things about The Berkeley Review and Examkrackers (the former for content review, the latter for lab techniques and questions on experimental design).

Through your concept review, practice with questions. The more of them you see, the more you get used to wording and how concepts might be applied! I’m not sure how much time you have outside school to study, but take a practice test every 2-3 weeks, on the weekends. This will build your test-taking stamina and get you used to wording.

When you’re about done with content review, I’d go all out with sections (1 section a day is good; 3-5 passages if you’re not feeling up to a full section). Towards the end (last 4-6 weeks), it’s really all about hitting practice questions. You can use Qbanks, practice tests, almost anything really. But like I mentioned earlier, review what you got right/wrong and why.

Phew, that was a lot, but I hope it helps. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions!
 

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krazzydhoom

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You should start with reviewing the concepts. I’m assuming you have the Kaplan 7-book review, which is also what I used for my preparation. Start with ones that are memorization-based, like biology and Psychology, and create your own Anki-decks to memorize difficult concepts. Since you haven’t taken biochemistry, you should review it the last. Once you’re done with the reviews, start doing practice problems for about a month and then move onto practice exams (third party, and then AAMC). Finally, start practicing for CARS as early as you can : use third party to practice pacing and use AAMC materials to practice using their logic. Good luck!

appreciate the advice. I will definitely begin by just reviewing the material thank you! :)
 

krazzydhoom

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Joined
Apr 16, 2020
Messages
11
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A few disclaimers: I was enrolled in a Kaplan test prep program already, so I used their tests, as well as the AAMC tests. I’m also naturally good at test-taking and CARS emerged as a strength early on. I went through 2 rounds of Kaplan test prep (pretty light though) but had only 1 month of intensive prep (took my MCAT June 15th last year, NOT RECOMMENDED AT ALL because I was jeopardizing my apps with a July score). With your timeline though, you have a lot more time for growth and progress, which is great.

I would start with taking a practice test. Get a baseline for what areas you need to focus on and what areas you excel in. It also helps with getting a feel for just how long the test is. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re floundering or didn’t do great on the first practice test; consider the first practice test a starting point for climbing upward. For context, I started in the 490s (~30th percentile) and ended up with a 512 (85th percentile; 130/129/126/127) on the actual thing.

Once you’ve taken that first test, go back and look through all the questions-right or wrong. For the wrong questions: ask yourself why you missed them. Did you misread something? Did you not know the concept being tested? Did you rush or run out of time? You’ll also want to question yourself on the questions you got correct. Did you know the concept really well? Or did you guess? Did you use process of elimination? How did you arrive at the correct answer?

I actually set up a spreadsheet for my tests outlining what questions I got right/wrong and why I got them right/wrong (check out the attachments below; each section has its own spreadsheet and the boxes highlighted green are questions I correctly guessed on). It’s time-consuming at first, but once you set it up, you can see the topics you need to go back and review. You’ll also get a feel for your test-taking strategies and pacing. You might take too much time at the beginning of a section, causing you to rush the last 10 questions and miss easy points. You might not be using process of elimination as effectively as you could be. This test is not just about knowing science concepts; it’s also about test-taking strategy. You’ll find that even if you don’t outright know the answer to a question, you can maximize your chances by process of elimination. Even narrowing down the choices to 2 or 3 is better than nothing! (This is especially the case for CARS, since you‘re not required to have background knowledge for this section!)

If I remember correctly, both the AAMC and Kaplan tests provide rationales for the correct answers. Once you have a baseline and understand the areas you need to work on, go work on them! Review them using the Kaplan books, Khan Academy, resources you can find online. Certain resources address certain subjects really well. A few of my recs (biased towards Kaplan since it’s what I primarily used, but will provide other suggestions):
  • Orgo: Master Organic Chemistry + The Organic Chemistry Tutor. MOC has fantastic summary sheets with the major concepts and chemical reactions. The Organic Chemistry Tutor is good for going into depth with concepts and walking through examples. I’ve heard great things about The Berkeley Review (apparently it has great passages + explanations), so throwing that in there.
  • Gen Chem/Physics: Khan Academy + The Organic Chemistry Tutor. Gen chem was one of my stronger subjects, just needed some review via the Kaplan book and looking over some of my chem notes from class. Physics is one of my weak subjects, so I needed a lot of help here. Much of the physics I’ve seen in my practice tests and on the MCAT dealt with material like electricity, fluids, density, and pressure. Kaplan + Khan Academy is good for refreshers imo, while Organic Chemistry Tutor is more in-depth. For passages, Kaplan is okay, have heard great things about TBR.
  • Psych/Soc: Kaplan psych/soc book. I thought it covered much of what you needed to know conceptually. Once you have the concepts down though, practice hard with questions to cement what you learn. I didn’t use Princeton Review while studying, but have heard great things about using it for soc.
  • CARS: Kaplan book for general strategy, otherwise practice hard with passages. CARS is more of a test of pacing, analysis, + test-taking strategy than anything else. Get a hold of as many passages as you can.
Bio/biochem was by far my weakest section, mainly because I hadn’t taken biochem lab and biochem II (and guess what I was tested on a lot MCAT day? :blackeye:). The Kaplan book is good for a refresher, but I’ve heard great things about The Berkeley Review and Examkrackers (the former for content review, the latter for lab techniques and questions on experimental design).

Through your concept review, practice with questions. The more of them you see, the more you get used to wording and how concepts might be applied! I’m not sure how much time you have outside school to study, but take a practice test every 2-3 weeks, on the weekends. This will build your test-taking stamina and get you used to wording.

When you’re about done with content review, I’d go all out with sections (1 section a day is good; 3-5 passages if you’re not feeling up to a full section). Towards the end (last 4-6 weeks), it’s really all about hitting practice questions. You can use Qbanks, practice tests, almost anything really. But like I mentioned earlier, review what you got right/wrong and why.

Phew, that was a lot, but I hope it helps. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions!

Wow thank you so much. I really like the spreadsheet idea (I'm gonna have to steal your layout for it!). I have heard lots of great things about Kaplan so I am glad I got that. I am giving myself a lot of time to study bc due to being home for the summer with all my clinics and internships cancelled, I have so much time on my hands to begin studying. Hopefully this will make it easier on me in the fall when I take all my classes.

Thanks again so much and congrats on your amazing score! :)
 
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