I got a 519 on my MCAT, working full time. Nontrad/AD military. Thoughts below.


2+ Year Member
Jun 7, 2018
I tested on 14 September 2019. I got a 519 (129/132/128/130). I studied on top of working full time. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot of really great info from online forums in preparation for this test, but there were also things I wish I had heard or read while studying. This post is an attempt to address those topics.
  • Materials/Random Study Stuff
    • I used the Kaplan Books, the EK books, EK practice exams, UWorld, the 86 page P/S doc, the premed95 P/S Anki deck, my own Anki deck, the section bank, and AAMC FL1, FL2, and FL3. I supplemented the Kaplan and EK books with AK, Crash Course, and KA lectures as needed. I took 9 full length exams total.
    • If I was going to do it all over again, I would probably strictly use Kaplan for content but use the mini exams in the EK books instead of those dumb Kaplan quizzes. I know a lot of people on online say that EK is better for people who have the content down, but I disagree. To me it seemed like EK went into a ton of depth and tended to cover content via walls of text, whereas the Kaplan book would have a diagram and a few paragraphs to convey the same information. The best example I can think of this were the sections on the kidney. EK’s bio book had 2-3 pages of straight text explaining how the kidney works. No diagrams or tables, just words. Kaplan had like 2-3 paragraphs and a super good diagram; that was it. Again, just one example, but it sums up my experience overall. I might be biased, as I prefer to learn bio topics from charts/tables/diagrams rather than walls of text.
    • Learn how to do dimensional analysis and practice it! I only memorized a few formulas, maybe like 12 total. The rest of the time I just used dimensional analysis. Also, make sure you are very comfortable doing math BY HAND with a combination of rounding and scientific notation. YouTube is your friend if you need to learn how to do this.
    • I did the section bank one time, 4 weeks before my actual MCAT. I did 60 questions a day (20 of each), so it took me 5 days to complete. I reviewed the questions the same day that I did them and identified weak areas. If I didn’t understand a question, I looked it up on online forums, which was a great source of information. The AAMC explanations are pretty useless.
    • Study materials are expensive! Buy used if you can or start saving now. Maybe even ask for books for Christmas or birthday presents. Think of the money spent as an investment.
  • Working Full Time
    • I worked full time as an AD military officer while studying for the MCAT. I studied for about 300 hours over 16 weeks.
    • For the first 12 weeks, I studied 2-2.5 hours at night after work Monday through Thursday. I took Friday nights off and then did 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Some dude told me that wasn’t enough time per week, but it was all I could manage on top of working in a mentally draining job and also trying to exercise, get enough sleep, and spend time with my husband. I made up for my limited time by ensuring the time I wasstudying was focused. My cell phone was off, I blocked distracting websites on all of my browsers, and I set timers or used stopwatches. (For some reason, setting a timer for one hour helped me focus better for that one hour. I used to do that in college when I had to write code and apparently it worked for the MCAT too.) I studied at home in an extra bedroom, with no one else in it. I also listened to the same playlist every time I studied.
      • Content review took me about 6 weeks. I saved the subjects that were hardest for me for Saturdays and Sundays (chemistry and physics) and did “easy” chapters during the week when I was more tired (P/S and bio). Doing (and thoroughly reviewing!) the mini EK exams sucked because they were so hard, but I think they really did help me in the long run. Some of the best advice I received prior to taking the MCAT was to focus less on content review and more on doing questions. I believe this method is called “sea of questions” but I could be wrong. I didn’t get great scores on those tests but they helped me adjust to what the MCAT actually tests: data synthesis, reading comprehension, and critical thinking.
      • Once I finished content review I started doing EK practice exams on Saturday and thoroughly reviewing them on Sunday. I did 30 UWorld questions a night Monday through Thursday. I broke them into 10 question quizzes on a single topic (biology, bio chem, organic chem, gen chem, or physics) and took them untimed. I reviewed all of the questions, even those I got right. If a topic was really challenging me, I set aside time later that night or week to review it briefly.
      • I didn’t learn about Anki until a few weeks into studying. I started using it seriously about 6-8 weeks away from my test date. AMAZING. Get it. I only had it on my tablet so I wasn’t doing it throughout the day. I still found it to be very helpful.
    • Thankfully, I had enough leave saved up (and a supportive enough supervisory chain) that I was able to take the last 4 weeks before my test off. I highly recommend doing this if you are working full time! Not only did it free up more time for me to study and to sleep, it also allowed me to clear my mind and focus solely on the MCAT. I noticed a huge jump in my UWorld percentages the week after I stopped going to work. Did I suddenly get smarter? NO! I just was taking the quizzes at 1000 after a nice relaxing morning and 9 hours of sleep, instead of at 1900 after a grueling work day, a long commute, and 6 hours of sleep.
      • During this 4 weeks I did 4-6 hours Monday through Friday and then took a full length on Saturday (with the exception of the Saturday before my test). I took Sunday off and reviewed my full length on Monday. The rest of the days were a mix of reviewing topics from practice exams that I really didn’t understand (just simple stuff, like reading up on an AAMC questions here or watching quick Crash Course videos or AK lectures) and doing SB/UWorld Questions. My goal was to do 60 questions a day and then review them. I also did my homemade Anki deck and the premed95 P/S Anki deck every day, except for FL days or off days. Most days I read 15-20 pages of the 86 KA P/S document
    • .I didn’t spend a ton of time reviewing problem areas. I would say on average if something was giving me a tough time I spent 30 min reviewing it. You don’t need to do deep dives on topics to be ready for the MCAT. KA, AK, or Crash Course videos are adequate for any topic. (If it is a discrete topic that is giving you a hard time, spend some time doing 1000-level practice problems to get your skills back.)
    • If you take time off of work to study, resist the temptation to check work email or take on side projects. I lead a team of 20 people for my job and I was very up front with them regarding the fact that I was not going to be working on projects/reviewing items/etc. while on my “sabbatical.” I LOVE my team and would seriously do anything for them, but I needed a clean break from work for studying. Thankfully, they were incredibly supportive. I can’t emphasize enough how much brainpower I saved by not thinking about my job.
    • Be realistic about how much time you can study each day while working full time. This will depend a lot on your job. If you are working a chill job just six hours a day or less, you might be able to get in a decent amount every day. If you are working a job that is a total grind 8+ hours a day, don’t expect that you are going to do 5 hours of studying every night. (Maybe you are superhuman, but probably not.) Better to just do a few hours of high quality, focused studying and actually get enough sleep than to “work” for five hours but not actually do anything productive. Study over a longer period of time if you have to in order to accommodate the reduced number of hours/week.
    • I do not recommend studying for this test and working full time if you can avoid it. It sucked.
  • Percentage Correct
    • Don’t place too much emphasis on the percentage you are getting correct on test prep materials. I can’t tell you the amount of time I spent stressing about the percentage I was getting right/wrong on UWorld, the section bank, EK mini exams, or EK full length exams. Believe me, I know how hard it is not to think about the number you got right or wrong. You are spending all of this time studying and hoping and praying you are doing the right thing every time you sit down to study. All you want is one little indicator that you are headed in the right direction with your study methodology. That desire is totally understandable and appropriate. I just recommend using something other than percentage correct on an arbitrary test prep company product as your indicator.
      • Good indicators are:
        • Are you completing all sections on the FL’s in the allotted time?
        • When you read a passage are you able to comprehend it?
        • When you review your FL’s or SB/UWorld questions can you articulate WHY you got a question wrong? (Not just regurgitate someone else’s explanation from SDN or reddit, but explain your error in your own words.)
        • AAMC FL scores (IF and only IF you take them under realistic conditions)
    • I scored around 40-60% correct on the EK mini exams. Same for the C/P and B/B sections on EK full lengths. I only used UWorld for B/B, chem, and physics and on each section I averaged around 50% correct. If you scroll around enough on this forum you will find plenty of people who say you need to be around 70% on any given practice material. I read those comments and thought there was no way I could be successful on the MCAT because my percentages weren’t that high. Bologna. It is more important that you put in the time doing practice questions, learning from your mistakes, and developing a skills set that allows you to quickly comprehend dense, technical information than to hit some magical percentage correct.
  • Don’t focus on number of hours studied.
    • Similarly to worrying about percentages on practice tests, I also wasted a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t spending enough time studying. DUMB!
    • How do you know if you are studying enough? See the indicators I mentioned earlier. If you are not hitting the scores you wanted on your AAMC full lengths, you didn’t study enough or you didn’t study the right way. Hitting some magical 500 hours number is not going to ensure you get a good score. Focus on your weaknesses and do lots and lots of practice questions.
  • Previous Grades
    • I feel like I need to mention that I am by no means some genius who got straight A’s in all of my science classes. I have B’s in gen chem 1, gen chem 2, and physics 1 and 2. I got a B+ in biochem (missed an A by less than .5%...but I’m not salty at all lol). Gen chem 1 and all of my physics classes were taken in 2013 and 2012. I did make an A in O chem, but I attribute that largely to the fact that I had an awesome professor with a very fair grading scale. (It wasn’t one of those nasty o chem classes where one exam is your entire grade.)
    • The point is that doing well in the BCPM classes doesn’t mean you will necessarily do well on the MCAT. The reverse is also true. Yes, you need to grasp basic concepts, but college exams and the MCAT assess different abilities.
    • Important Side Note: My undergraduate degree is in engineering. I attended a very competitive, respectable Big 10 engineering school. I strongly believe that my engineering courses prepared me well for the MCAT. Not from a physics perspective (took a ton of math and computer science courses and very little physics) but because so much of my coursework emphasized logic. A lot of questions on the MCAT are mini logic puzzles. If you are coming from an engineering background, FEAR NOT! You can do really well on the MCAT! You don’t have to have an undergrad in biology or chemistry to be successful.
  • On Being Calm
    • It is essential that you remain calm throughout the studying process and the exam itself.
    • I think I had a bit of a leg up in this area for a number of reasons.
      • First of all the fact that engineering tests/projects/homework are so hard helped. Once you’ve taken a couple dozen tests where the average is 30% it takes a lot to phase you. Freshman year I had a computer engineering professor who put at least one really long, challenging problem from a subject he hadn’t taught us on every test. He straight up told us that part of his teaching methodology was to test us on subjects we had never learned. It SUCKED. However, those experiences taught me how to keep pushing through an exam when my brain was fried and I was stressed. It took time, but I learned to be calm even when I was staring at my paper thinking, “Wtf, wtf, wtf, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
      • My military training also helped me stay calm. Obviously, in the service we find ourselves in in situations that are stressful. These situations helped me develop the ability to operate under pressure, which in turn helped me to stay calm during the exam. I credit my military experience with helping me keep the MCAT in perspective. No one is going to be screaming in my face while I take this test? No risk of bodily injury or death? Nice! Easy peasy.
      • Mental toughness is invaluable. Perseverance is invaluable. You don’t need to get an engineering degree or join the service to get these skills. Meditate. Exercise. This probably sounds unconventional, but find some way to get yourself out of your comfort zone prior to your test. Doing so builds confidence and forces you to develop the mentality of, “Yes. I CAN do hard things.” Not a runner? Run a 10K. Hate airplanes or heights? Go sky diving. I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t stress enough how good I felt walking into the testing center KNOWING that the MCAT was going to be hard, but it was not going to be the hardest thing I had ever done.
      • If you can’t get through a practice test without having a mental breakdown or you are so nervous during practice tests that you waste a ton of time on one question, you are not ready to take the MCAT. Take some time off, get your mind right, and attack it when you are ready. Nothing is wrong with you, you still have dignity, worth, and the ability to do great in medicine, but you are not ready to take the MCAT.
  • Routine (Sleep, Exercise, etc.)
    • You need to be getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and having regular, positive, and meaningful social interaction while studying for the MCAT. Full stop. You are a human being and you won’t cease to be one if you just ignore your basic needs in order to study more. Instead, you’ll quickly become a very miserable human being and your chances of success will decrease substantially.
  • How to review full length exams
    • I made a spreadsheet with a tab for each full length exam I took. There was a column for each subject (except CARS) where I annotated every question I got wrong and why. I kept a separate list of topics that had given me trouble (for example, circuits) and in the days following my FL review I would quickly review those topics. I also had a massive Anki deck where I added info that I needed to relearn or commit to memory. I added things like formulas, random facts, my amino acid mnemonics, etc.
  • P/S
    • I read the EK P/S book but didn’t find it helpful and wouldn’t recommend using it. The 86 page KA document was good for covering the main points. The premed95 deck helped me solidify everything and commit vocabulary to memory. On a few topics, I watched the KA P/S videos. They were great!
    • Take a psychology class if you can. P/S is basically CARS 2.0 with more graphs but if you have some basic knowledge of P/S (like names of the main theories and psychologists) it will allow you to spend less time memorizing terms/doing content review and more time doing practice questions.
    • Study for this section like it is a reading test. I am a strong reader so I didn’t feel like I needed to do a lot of P/S practice questions, but if you are not a fast/strong reader then I recommend you do the UWorld P/S questions to get used to pulling info from a passage or extrapolating on data or research results.
  • CARS
    • I didn’t study for CARS at all. I didn’t even review the CARS sections on any of my FL’s. I am a really strong reader and have been since I was small. I have always scored really well on standardized reading tests; I have been 95th percentile and higher on the ACT, SAT, and GRE and I figured the skills that allowed me to do well on those tests were the same skills that would be useful for the MCAT.
    • I’m not saying you shouldn’t study for CARS and I’m not trying to brag. The point is that you should focus on your weaknesses when studying. There are only so many hours in a day. I don’t have a super strong bio background (I’ve only taken the required 8 credits + biochem) and I hadn’t taken physics or gen chem in 6 years, so I spent most of my time doing practice B/B and C/P questions. Was it a gamble? Maybe, but I had good data showing that I was likely to do well on the reading portion. (That said, I felt CARS on the MCAT was TOUGH.)
    • The best way to study for CARS is to read. Start now. Even if you aren’t planning to take the MCAT for a few years, make reading a daily habit. Read novels, read journals, even non fiction is good. The New Yorker offers really great rates for students and their writing is at or above the level on the MCAT. The Atlantic is probably a good option too. Truly, I recommend getting a subscription to one of those magazines and reading the entire issue cover to cover each week. Being a strong reader and a fast reader will help you on every single section of the MCAT. (No, sorry, reddit scrolling does not count as reading. Nor do news articles.)
  • Luck
    • I largely attribute my score to luck/providence/good fortune. Let me explain.
    • My husband works full time in a job with a good salary and all of my study leave was paid, so we weren’t put in a tight space financially by my decision to take time off of work to study. I was also able to afford study materials.
    • I tested on 9/14. My C/P section happened to be physics and calculation heavy and didn’t touch a lot of the chemistry topics that I am less comfortable with. A lot of people who take the MCAT don’t feel great about physics and calculations. It was a good day for me with respect to C/P. It also was a good day for me with respect to CARS, because a lot of people found 9/14 CARS to be exceptionally tough and that is my strongest area.
    • My test center was about an hour away from where I live. Since I work full time and make a decent salary, I was able to pay for a room in a nice hotel near my testing center. I got a great night of sleep the night before.
    • As previously discussed, I have undergone some pretty rigorous “stress inoculation.” Those past experiences helped me from having the all too common intra-test panic attack or mental lapse.
    • I scored a 503 on the AAMC FL #1 5 weeks before my test without doing the SB and while I was still working full time. A week or two later, after I had stopped working, I did the SB and got 65% correct. I then proceeded to get a 512 and 511 on AAMC FL #2 and FL #3, respectively. I think my scores increased because I had done the SB and because I stopped working and was finally mentally rested.
    • I was really happy with those scores and felt that it would be a huge accomplishment get around 511 on test day. By some miracle, my actual score shot up a bunch to 519! I have to be honest though: I am the exception, not the rule. Most people score +/- 2 points of their MCAT average. Please don’t read my story and think, “Gee I’m all set! My score is going to sky rocket on test day!” I didn’t think it would happen to me, and if I took the test again I’m not sure I would score quite so high a second time. I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but you must be realistic. If your AAMC FL average is around a 505, don’t walk into the testing center expecting a 512. It is highly unlikely that your score will increase that much on test day. I still can’t believe it happened to me.
  • My MCAT Rules
    • I kept a note on my phone with my three MCAT rules. They are self-explanatory and reflect advice given to me by other test takers as well as my personal goals. I recommend you also develop 3-5 MCAT rules and keep them somewhere you will see them often. It helped me keep things in perspective.
      • Input now equals output later.
      • Adequate sleep and quality nutrition have equivalent value to studying.
      • Anki every day.
  • Actual Test Day Experience
    • The EK practice exams and UWorld both seemed a lot harder than the actual MCAT. The SB and the AAMC full lengths were about the same level of difficulty.
    • I went into the test center feeling pretty good. I had a great night of sleep and a good breakfast.
    • Up until a week before the exam, I was feeling very nervous. I felt so much pressure to do well and got sick to my stomach every time I thought about the test. About 10 days prior, I had a great talk with my mom. She reminded me that I had to be confident and calm if I wanted to perform at my best. So, I spent the last week before my exam telling myself, “I can f****** do this,” every day, multiple times. Essentially, I lied to myself until I felt like I could handle the pressure. Confidence is key if you want to remain calm. Fake it ‘til you make it.
    • C/P didn’t feel too bad. I flagged way more questions than I had on practice tests and I did not have time to review all of them. In the weeks following the test, the fact that C/P didn’t feel super hard stressed me out because I thought maybe I just fell into a lot of a traps. In reality I think C/P didn’t feel that bad because I was comparing it to EK and UWorld, which are freaking hard. Both of those prep companies are notorious for having trick answers and it didn’t seem like the actual MCAT had as many of those. The passages were also shorter than the EK passages.
    • CARS felt harder than the practice tests. I normally finished that section with 30 minutes to spare on practice tests, for the real deal I only had 15-20 minutes to spare. I finished early. I never reviewed my answers for CARS, I just double checked that I clicked the answer I actually meant to and didn’t select a different answer by accident while using the strike out function.
    • B/B felt strangely easy. Looking around online, it seemed a lot of people felt that way about 9/14. I don’t remember anything from B/B except for one discrete question about the heart that I definitely did NOT know the answer to. Seriously, I couldn’t tell you a single topic that was on that section. My bind went blank as soon as I finished the section. Super weird.
    • P/S felt like a slightly easier version of CARS. There was not very much vocab from what I recall (although it is very likely I just can’t remember the test) but I do remember having to read at least a few graphs.
    • I left the test center feeling pretty good. I was proud of tackling such a hard test and relieved that I made it through the entire thing without any mental breakdowns. My honest assessment at that time was that I probably did about the same as my practice tests. As the month passed, I started to second guess myself. By the time I was ready to check my score I was convinced I would barely be over 500. At one point over the past month I even thought to myself, “The fact that I feel good about this test probably means I did poorly.” It took saying that out loud to my older brother to realize how illogical that notion was. The point is, emotions are all over the place after test day. You’re going to think some crazy things and you might feel really bad about your prospects. However, if you did well on your FL’s and didn’t have a mental breakdown or run out of time on test day, you probably will score pretty close to your FL average and feel sweet relief and joy when you finally see your score.
      • Full disclosure: I am one of those people who forgets everything that was on the test immediately after. I don’t mean I forget knowledge or content, I just forget what the questions were. Therefore, my memory of test day is pretty foggy which probably prevented me from freaking out too much after the fact. You can’t panic over something you don’t remember, right? lol
  • Burn Out/The Grind Is Real
    • Studying for this test while working full time was so hard. I felt like I had a freaking house on my chest half the time. There were a few days I just burst into tears while laying in bed because I was so tired and uncertain if I was going to do well enough to ever have a shot at medical school. I could not have made it through those 16 weeks without my incredibly supportive family. Having a loving social network is key, fam.
    • I built in a few “off” Saturdays into my study schedule and they were lifesaving. One particular day about 4 weeks away from my test I was scheduled to take a full length. I felt super burnt out and tired and really didn’t want to take another full length. One of my friends at work told me he thought I needed a day off after seeing me staring vacantly into space during a meeting. My husband and sister said the same thing after talking to me on the phone. I ignored everyone’s advice and grudgingly took the full length. I BOMBED it. It was my worst practice test even though I had been taking them for weeks. I was so frustrated and frazzled after the fact that I didn’t even review it. I took the next day off of studying entirely and started on the SB the day after that. The next weekend I took AAMC FL #2 and got a 512. Moral of the story: You don’t perform well when you are exhausted. If you can feel in your bones that you need a day of rest, TAKE IT. You are not going to do poorly on the MCAT because you took one day (or even a few days) off. It has been said before but I’ll say it again: It’s a marathon not a sprint.
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7+ Year Member
Jul 9, 2012
Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I'm on SDN right now because I was worried about my percentage on uworld then I came across your post. You're so right about not focusing on "percentage correct." Thanks alot!!
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