May 23, 2020
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  1. Pre-Medical

Hi everyone! I scored a 525 (131 C/P, 132 CARS, 132 B/B, 130 P/S) on the MCAT a while back, and very recently got into medical school, so I decided that I wanted to give back to the premed community with an overview of my own studying journey. I made a minipost here about two weeks ago that seemed to be well received, so I'm going to try to make a little bit more of a comprehensive guide this time around! DISCLAIMER: this is what worked for ME. Above any other advice I can give you, the most important thing I can say is that you need to figure out what works for you specifically, whether or not that aligns with what I did personally. Constantly reassess what's working for you, and make changes to your studying routine based on that feedback. I tutor the MCAT as well, and I see that a common issue students face is relying too heavily on what worked for other people. There are those youtube videos or reddit posts with clickbaity titles about getting a 520+ score in less than a month or something like that, and for 99% of the population, that kind of advice or studying routine isn't feasible.

When to take the MCAT (in relation to school and personal life):

I generally recommend taking the MCAT the summer after your sophomore or junior year, depending on the pacing of your prerequisite courses. Ideally, you'll have finished your standard biology/genchem/ochem/physics courses by then. I also highly recommend taking biochemistry and to a slightly lesser degree, upper-division cell/molecular biology courses (the kind that require you to read dense research articles). The former is critical in terms of content, and the importance of the latter comes from the fact that you'll have to quickly analyze dense science passages with stuff you've never seen before on test day, and that in itself is a skill that needs to be honed. Far less important but still at least marginally helpful would be general/introductory psychology or sociology courses.

In terms of timing and length of studying, I recommend a minimum of 10 weeks studying full time, and more ideally, 12-14 weeks. I myself took 12 weeks to study and felt that it was fairly ideal. I also cannot stress the importance of not doing anything else while studying. I realize that this is a luxury - we don't all have the privilege of not having to work, or to study while out of school, but if you can afford to, by all means, do nothing else but study for the MCAT while you do it. Light commitments are more than fine to keep you sane - I myself took a community college class and worked 4-8 hours a week at my part-time job - but when you're racing towards test day, you want to spend 100% of your effort on this test that unfortunately dominates so much of your medical school application. If you have other obligations for personal or financial reasons, I would double this estimate for how long it takes (20+ weeks). If this sounds like an absurd amount of time to spend studying, it's because it's a slightly conservative estimate. Only you can determine how much time and energy you'll have to spend on the MCAT after working 8 hour shifts or a full day of classes.

What I used:

Another disclaimer: this is just what I used, and is by no means the best. However, as an MCAT tutor, I've had the luxury of watching students study from a variety of materials and seeing how it pans out for them, but take these observations with a grain of salt. Every resource has its pros and cons, and we all learn differently, after all.

For content review, I thought that the Kerplan 7-book set (I used the 2018 books but they're all pretty similar as long as they're reflective of the 2015 version of the MCAT) was perfect, if a tad on the too-informative side. I used the Bio/Biochem/Ochem/GenChem/Physics books, while very sparingly using the psych/soc one. Additionally, the infamous "300pg Doc" for Psych/Soc is definitely top-tier, and I would strongly recommend reading through it at least twice. For CARS, I personally utilized a combination of the NS booklet and Jack Weast (more on that later). Over the course of my 3 month studying journey, I also compiled a huge huge list of resources that I thought were helpful (well-made quizlet sets and anki decks, crowdsourced infographics like the Lab Techniques guide and obscure flash card psych term guide, biochemistry videos that covered the scope and depth of metabolism to the perfect degree for the MCAT, and so on). I think that these immensely helped my studying more than anything else during my content review, and definitely helped boost my score into the higher side of 52X. I can send these out if there's interest, I have everything still compiled somewhere on my old laptop. (edit: ive started getting DMs and I hate that so I made a google form for people who want the resources, PLEASE do not message me directly im begging you compiled mcat stuff from ya boy )

For practice, I used USwag and ALL of the AAMC official resources.

How I studied:

Hoo boy. I'm gonna shove a lot of random assorted advice into this section because I don't really know how to organize it. I'll begin with study plan structure.

Below is what I recommend (if you're working with the standard 10+ week study journey), with explanations underneath that.

Week 0

Get your resources and study plan together, and identify a place that you can study at consistently without distraction. I would take a diagnostic test to get a baseline understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

Week 1-5

For the first 5 weeks, I want to say that you should devote yourself almost entirely to content.

End of Week 5: Take the AAMC Sample Unscored test, and use the r/MCAT sidebar converters to convert your score.

Weeks 6 and 7:

If you find yourself within 5-7 points of your goal score based on the AAMC Sample Unscored, I recommend moving onto uSwag.

Otherwise, if you are still many points away from your goal score, I recommend doing an accelerated second pass of content review, as your deficits are likely still in content and foundation as opposed to test-taking strategy.

Additional weeks, if you have them

With additional weeks, I recommend taking additional full lengths from third party sources, and I would take one FL per week that you have. This will occupy 2 days of 7 for each additional week that you have. Assuming you take a rest day, with your remaining four days, I would spend 2 days doing uSwag practice, and 2 days reviewing uSwag problems and doing pinpointed content review based on your weaknesses.

Weeks 8-10 (or, if you have more time, the last three weeks of your studying.)

You should be taking one of the AAMC official FL’s per week, and spending the day after taking them reviewing them.

The rest of your time should be allocated towards doing and reviewing the 3 section banks, doing the CARS Qpacks, a review of the KA psych document, and more uSwag + content review as necessary.

Again, this is highly subjective, but I'll give my reasoning. Some people will likely question why I don't schedule any full-length exams for the first 5 weeks, and instead devote them entirely to content. One of the biggest mistakes I see students make is focusing excessively on practice over doing content review. I think that this is really tempting, especially because content review is so boring, but this is a terrible, terrible way to study. The act of doing problems doesn't teach you anything until you actually review it, and reviewing questions also doesn't necessarily lend to a full understanding, especially if you guessed or had flawed logic. Taking practice tests is an excellent way to identify your deficits, but in terms of test preparation, it's only likely to help if you see that exact same question again on test day, which is unlikely. PLEASE spend more time on content review than you think is necessary, especially if you're scoring under 127 consistently in a section.

I also recommend a second round of content review after you've got some practice test/question bank problems under your belt, wherein you go back and study the material that covers the types of questions you tend to miss most when studying. If you consistently panic when you see lens equations, or ochem mechanisms, go back and study those until you feel a sense of mastery and competence with those types of questions.


Other miscellaneous tips:

CARS - as someone who went from scoring 126 on my diagnostic to 132 on the real thing, the best advice I have for someone struggling with CARS (besides fostering a lifelong habit of reading) is to be methodical. There are tons of basic strategies out there - taking notes, highlighting, reading the question first, etc. What you should do is test all of them over a large volume of questions and see which one works best for you. It's important to note that the one that gets you the most points may not be the one that feels the best. Do I hate writing notes while I read a passage? Yes, but that's what works best for my testing style and mindset, so I do it even though it feels unnatural and like its interrupting my flow. Go by the results, not how you feel. How you feel is not a good metric of how you're performing. As for timin - honestly, it requires some individual reflection to figure out how fast you normally go, and if you're the kind of person that needs to abandon ship on difficult passages/questions. My one general piece of advice is to avoid triaging questions to come back to later - it sounds good in theory but taking the time to assess a question's difficulty and then come back to it later takes up so much time.

CHEM/PHYS - For physics (and orgo as well) I condensed all of the formulas / reaction combinations into two sheets of paper that I looked at every day for a few minutes to try and have all of them in my mental library! Then I would tackle all of my practice problems with that memorized (and if I realized I was missing anything, I'd add it to the formula sheet). I think it often comes down to realizing which formula/application you have to use and when, so the first half of the battle is having all that stuff memorized. Oftentimes, when you do physics content in a targeted way (like telling yourself you're going to practice flow equations or something), you're unwittingly priming yourself to use a certain set of formulas or to tackle the problem in a certain fashion. On the real thing, when you have to take the actual exam, you'll have no idea what kind of problem you're doing. Understanding that identifying the kind of question you're facing is half the battle and often goes unpracticed in studying conditions!

B/B - For this section, I think an underrated skill is going through the content books and learning to filter out what is and isnt worth your time. I'd say when going over the biology books, about 90% of it COULD be on a test, but only like 50-60% of it is worth studying and losing sleep over. Figuring out where the line is while studying is most of the challenge in content review, not a blind memorization of all the content in front of you.

Parting thoughts:

In your last week, the game becomes just as much a mental one as it is about grinding through studying. I think setting up my last week of study in advance to make it relatively easy but still important (memorizing discrete bits of knowledge, setting aside simpler but important material), really helped me feel calm the last week. I primarily focused on content review targeting the areas i was weak in like metabolism, with the understanding I was unlikely to make large strides in CARS or scientific reasoning. I went over psych and b/b terms I wasn't super strong on, and spent a lot of time making sure I had important pieces of discrete information committed to memory.! I think doing that also helped alleviate my anxiety since it was something I could assess as concretely improving my chances once i'd memorized something. Definitely don't burn yourself out, but also realize this is some of the most crucial time in terms of memorization - this close proximity to your test date means that memorizing stuff is much more likely to stick around for the exam if you do it now!

I also know that for me, simulating testing conditions precisely helped with being calm on the day of. I don't think the real exam is much harder than the FLs, but I think that people don't agonize over choices and difficult questions on the practice FLs the way that they do on the real thing. That kind of pressure makes an already difficult test harder, but it's something you can get accustomed to with practice by taking tests in the exact same conditions as test day, and worrying about your FL scores as much as possible while you're taking them.

If anyone has questions, please feel free to comment on this post (don't message me directly). Happy studying and get those 528s! <3
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2+ Year Member
Jul 28, 2017
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  1. Pre-Medical
Hey! Awesome writeup.

Two weeks out for me now. (FL3/FL4: 519 in the past two weeks, one per week). Do you recommend I try to hit Kaplan practice exams too? Or should I focus more on UWorld and strengthening weaknesses? At this point my CARS is locked into 130 but I am wondering if it's possible to hit a 520. At this point I have taken 5 practice exams, planning to take FL2 next week.

Did you take a practice test in the last week before the exam? If not, when was your last practice test?

Thanks for your help!
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