Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
Hi all -

I wrote my MCAT on 6/17/2017, and scored a 526 (132/132/130/132) with 6 weeks of study. In this post, I want to outline my overall approach to the test, study plan, approach to the test, and practice test scores, and also make myself available to answer questions about all of this.

I'm a Canadian at a local university that's affiliated with a medical school - respectable institution, but not a big name. Studying in a writing-intensive science degree with a strong academic background. I wrote the MCAT halfway through the summer after my sophomore year.

Overall Approach

Overall, I think my performance came down not to my study period, but to years of work on the concepts and skills that the MCAT tests. During my freshman and sophomore years, I worked very hard in gen chem, organic chem, physics, calculus, and biochemistry, in order to perform very well and to gain a strong intuitive grasp of the course content. The same applies for math, physics, and chemistry throughout high school.

Much of the same also goes for CARS. I worked very hard during high school English to push up my scores on the challenging, CARS-esque reading comprehension provincial exams, and also to enhance my test-taking skills. As a result, my CARS skills were strong going in.

I can't imagine myself doing nearly as well had I not put in the deliberate work to perform well and really understand test taking and the sciences throughout my last few academic years. I also think this permitted my study schedule to be as condensed as it was.

The other thing that guided my approach was a very deliberate, principled review of mistakes. Each time I made one, I identified why I made it, and how to prevent it in the future. In this, I considered any content knowledge I might be missing, whether I needed to improve the strength of my understanding of the concept (knowing something doesn't mean being able to apply it), and whether my approach to that test question could be improved.

Study Schedule

In setting up my study schedule, I sought to maximize the return on my time investment. I didn't spend ages memorizing minutae, and barely skimmed content that I knew I was confident in. This included gen chem, organic chem, and much of biochemistry - I'd just taken the latter two courses, and they'd drilled gen chem concepts into my head so hard that I don't think I could have forgotten them. In contrast, I'd never taken a psychology or sociology course, and hadn't looked at physiology since high school.

I gave myself about 6 weeks to study, and did so part-time while also doing part-time research for the first 4 weeks. Overall, I probably studied about 15 hours weekly in the first two weeks, 25 in the second two, and 35 in the last two - which I took off from research altogether.

First 3 Weeks: Focused Content Review

Like I mentioned, I focused on what I didn't know at the expense of what I did. I spent about 1 week on bio with the Kaplan books; and about 2 weeks on P/S with the Kaplan books, KDPsych, and the Khan 100 page notes. I interspersed other content review throughout this, including skimming over gen chem and organic chem, and learning some biochemistry and physics content that wasn't covered in my undergraduate courses.

Last 3 Weeks: Practice Exams and Questions; Improving Weaknesses


Focused on doing all the AAMC practice material, with a FL weekly - test conditions. Interspersed this with focused review of the questions I got wrong, using the method I mentioned above, and with content review related to each question that I got wrong where I had a content or understand deficiency. I generally reviewed practice questions same day, and full lengths over the next day or two. I got through all of the AAMC material besides the CARS question packs.

Study Resources

Kaplan books - used all of them (2015 editions) except MCAT 528 and their CARS book.
Audio Osmosis - used this for passive physiology review
Khan Academy P/S 100 page notes - these can be found on Reddit and were a godsend. Having a second perspective on the psychology and sociology material was very helpful.
KDPsych - think Audio Osmosis, but for Psych and Soci. Sometimes a bit crude, sometimes not the best organized, sometimes not the best explanations - but it's the only comprehensive P/S audio resource I am aware of,
All AAMC practice material. Get it - it's great.

Test and Content Scores

Practice Exams
NextStep 1/2 Length Diagnostic (5 months out): 512 (128/129/128/127)
AAMC FL1 (3 weeks out): 519 (130/131/131/127)
AAMC Unscored (2 weeks out): Using a converter, 521 (93%/96%/88%/92%)
AAMC FL2 (1 week out): 522 (132/130/131/129)
MCAT (6/17): 526 (132/132/130/132)

Section Bank - 1.5 Weeks out.
C/P: 88%; B/B: 83%; P/S: 77%

Official Guide - 0.5 weeks out.
B/B: 87%; C/P: 83%; P/S: 87%; CARS: 87%

Ask me Questions!

Feel free to ask any questions that you may have - I'd be happy to elaborate on any of this or answer questions that I didn't touch on! Keep in mind that, given my circumstances, I might not be the person to ask about studying as a non-trad or deliberate MCAT-focused studying over extended periods of time.

If you benefited from my post or have a question to ask, and know something about admissions to US med schools, I'd also love to hear your thoughts on my circumstances. I'm a Canadian and a rising junior who has just now started considering some US schools in light of my MCAT score, and am curious to know what a realistic school list for me looks like and what I can do to improve my application in the time I have left. I made another thread to ask about this at this link! If your circumstances, in citizenship or school goals, are similar, I'd also be interested in chatting about that - shoot me a PM. Thanks so much!
 

JustinM88

2+ Year Member
Nov 5, 2016
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Pre-Medical
While putting in all the hard work during your pre-med classes, did you happen to use a flashcard app like Anki and continue reviewing them through studying the MCAT? The reason I ask is because another person on here got a 526 and mentioned doing this and it got me a bit worried because I did not think to do the flashcard thing, BUT I worked my ass off to get really good at each pre-med class...
 

Gilakend

7+ Year Member
Aug 24, 2012
1,527
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Thanks for posting this! Did you do your SB timed or untimed? Did you split them up into sections or do all 100 questions in 1 go?

Any opinion on Kaplan Quicksheets?
 
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Pakora

Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
While putting in all the hard work during your pre-med classes, did you happen to use a flashcard app like Anki and continue reviewing them through studying the MCAT? The reason I ask is because another person on here got a 526 and mentioned doing this and it got me a bit worried because I did not think to do the flashcard thing, BUT I worked my ass off to get really good at each pre-med class...
I did not use Anki for that purpose. The timing of my courses didn't really require that - I took genetics and cell bio in 2nd year, had organic chem that year, finished biochem the semester before I wrote, and also taught physics during that year. If I'd had the foresight to do it during high school physiology, I could see that having been helpful. If the timing of my courses hadn't been as conducive, Anki might have helped me keep studying down to 6 weeks by keeping content fresh; in that case though, I think I could have done just as well if I'd extended my study period and allowed additional time for review and to refresh my understanding. In any case, you working hard in your premed classes will not be wasted just because you didn't use Anki; you may just have to take a bit of extra review time, depending on when you took those courses relative to your MCAT.

Thanks for posting this! Did you do your SB timed or untimed? Did you split them up into sections or do all 100 questions in 1 go?

Any opinion on Kaplan Quicksheets?
No problem! I did my SB untimed but in a focused environment. I didn't split them up into sections very deliberately but did about half of the SB at a time. Overall, it was much closer to a timed and split into sections approach than an unstructured one.

I like the Kaplan quicksheets. They emphasize key content - honestly, you don't need to know much more than what's covered in there to perform well. You just need to know it very well, both from a knowledge and an understanding perspective. With that said, I feel that it's more effective to make your own quicksheets that emphasize the content that you're shaky on, and whittle the size of those down as you become more confident in certain concepts.
 

Coltuna

2+ Year Member
Nov 2, 2015
1,545
1,140
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Medical Student
Didn't score near a 526 but Kaplan Quick Sheets are a must. If any new members are stumbling upon this thread in the future, know that 6 weeks of prep is NOT optimal for the average MCAT taker. It should be noted again that OP has basically been preparing for years with his work ethic and pre-req classes.
 
OP
Pakora

Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
Didn't score near a 526 but Kaplan Quick Sheets are a must. If any new members are stumbling upon this thread in the future, know that 6 weeks of prep is NOT optimal for the average MCAT taker. It should be noted again that OP has basically been preparing for years with his work ethic and pre-req classes.
Coltuna, thanks for chiming in. I think the Quick Sheets are great. What I did was make my own 'quick sheets' that only included content that I was shaky on - as with the rest of my study plan, I wanted to emphasize working on my weaknesses for efficiency's sake. As I gained confidence in certain parts of my quick sheet content, I removed that content from my quick sheet, to leave only content where my knowledge and understanding was lacking. I repeated that process multiple times over the course of studying. The same strategy is quite effective for me in the academic setting, and I think it also works here.

And yes, you're absolutely right. Atypical study schedule, which worked because my approach to undergrad and high school also helped prepare me for the MCAT. For those of you who see this and still have a ways to go until your MCAT, though, I can't emphasize the importance of excelling in your MCAT content classes (focusing on knowledge but especially understanding and intuition) and of working on your test-taking skills. It'll pay dividends for your MCAT and also for other classes that you take down the road.
 
Oct 15, 2017
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58
Coltuna, thanks for chiming in. I think the Quick Sheets are great. What I did was make my own 'quick sheets' that only included content that I was shaky on - as with the rest of my study plan, I wanted to emphasize working on my weaknesses for efficiency's sake. As I gained confidence in certain parts of my quick sheet content, I removed that content from my quick sheet, to leave only content where my knowledge and understanding was lacking. I repeated that process multiple times over the course of studying. The same strategy is quite effective for me in the academic setting, and I think it also works here.

And yes, you're absolutely right. Atypical study schedule, which worked because my approach to undergrad and high school also helped prepare me for the MCAT. For those of you who see this and still have a ways to go until your MCAT, though, I can't emphasize the importance of excelling in your MCAT content classes (focusing on knowledge but especially understanding and intuition) and of working on your test-taking skills. It'll pay dividends for your MCAT and also for other classes that you take down the road.
I still have to take my bio, chem, and orgo courses so this sounds like a good idea.

However, how exactly do you gain understanding or intuition in a subject where the material lends itself primarily to memorization? If it's an equation, I need to learn, I can gain an intuition of it. I could derive pretty much most equations I need from Bernoulli's (conservation of energy), continuity (conservation of mass), and momentum equations. I got pretty good at that as an engineering student. But what if I need to learn about a cell and the functions of its organelles? How does one gain intuition on that?

I really need to take more hard science courses... The learning styles required are pretty different to engineering courses.
 
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OP
Pakora

Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
I still have to take my bio, chem, and orgo courses so this sounds like a good idea.

However, how exactly do you gain understanding or intuition in a subject where the material lends itself primarily to memorization? If it's an equation, I need to learn, I can gain an intuition of it. I could derive pretty much most equations I need from Bernoulli's (conservation of energy), continuity (conservation of mass), and momentum equations. I got pretty good at that as an engineering student. But what if I need to learn about a cell and the functions of its organelles? How does one gain intuition on that?

I really need to take more hard science courses... The learning styles required are pretty different to engineering courses.
AVI8R: Coming from an engineering background, what you describe as a technique to gain intuition should work well for physical/thermo/electrochemistry. Organic chemistry is not as quantitative, but it is very principles-based, so I suggest that you focus on understanding concepts in that course in the context of the underlying principles.

Biology and biochemistry are a bit different in that sense. Those courses still have large potential for understanding and application - for intuition. However, reaching the level of understanding, application, and intuition requires a high level of conceptual knowledge as a prerequisite. My suggestion is to first build a framework into which each of ideas fit, and then to understand and remember details within that framework. Having a strong sense of how ideas fit together as well as the details of each of these ideas is required to synthesize and apply the seemingly disparate details that you need to know for any class in those fields.
 
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AVI8R: Coming from an engineering background, what you describe as a technique to gain intuition should work well for physical/thermo/electrochemistry. Organic chemistry is not as quantitative, but it is very principles-based, so I suggest that you focus on understanding concepts in that course in the context of the underlying principles.

Biology and biochemistry are a bit different in that sense. Those courses still have large potential for understanding and application - for intuition. However, reaching the level of understanding, application, and intuition requires a high level of conceptual knowledge as a prerequisite. My suggestion is to first build a framework into which each of ideas fit, and then to understand and remember details within that framework. Having a strong sense of how ideas fit together as well as the details of each of these ideas is required to synthesize and apply the seemingly disparate details that you need to know for any class in those fields.
I've never studied orgo or biochem so bear with me. So I know that transfer RNA carries amino acids and according to the messenger RNA sequence, assembles a chain of amino acids. If my reasoning is correct, the way they fold/wrap up into their distinct 3D shapes is due (probably in part) to the attraction and bonding among atoms. The specifics of how they fold then rely on understanding other details about the nature of the protein. Studying orgo or biochem (not sure where proteins fit in to which subject) would be about establishing a framework around this. At least that's my best guess. Is this sort of thinking what you are referring to?
 
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Pakora

Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
I've never studied orgo or biochem so bear with me. So I know that transfer RNA carries amino acids and according to the messenger RNA sequence, assembles a chain of amino acids. If my reasoning is correct, the way they fold/wrap up into their distinct 3D shapes is due (probably in part) to the attraction and bonding among atoms. The specifics of how they fold then rely on understanding other details about the nature of the protein. Studying orgo or biochem (not sure where proteins fit in to which subject) would be about establishing a framework around this. At least that's my best guess. Is this sort of thinking what you are referring to?
Yep! A framework for the topic you mentioned might center around the 'levels' of protein structure. To quickly sketch this, proteins have four levels of structure:
  • Primary structure: involving the sequence of amino acids based on the mRNA sequence
  • Secondary structure: caused by interactions between the 'backbone' of each amino acid
    • Alpha helix: a secondary structure element, related to specific backbone angles... can fill this in here
    • etc...
  • Tertiary structure: caused by interactions between the side chains of each amino acid
    • Ionic interactions: due to electrostatic forces between charged residues
    • Disulfide bonds: between the side chains of cysteine residues; formed by oxidation of two -SH groups to form a -S-S- bond
    • etc...
  • Quaternary structure: structure due to interactions between multiple amino acid sequences (protein subunits)
Does this make sense? Yes, you're organizing facts - but those facts are rooted in their basic science mechanisms, and organized into a hierarchy of detail so that each 'fact' makes sense in the context of the whole.
 
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Oct 15, 2017
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Yep! A framework for the topic you mentioned might center around the 'levels' of protein structure. To quickly sketch this, proteins have four levels of structure:
  • Primary structure: involving the sequence of amino acids based on the mRNA sequence
  • Secondary structure: caused by interactions between the 'backbone' of each amino acid
    • Alpha helix: a secondary structure element, related to specific backbone angles... can fill this in here
    • etc...
  • Tertiary structure: caused by interactions between the side chains of each amino acid
    • Ionic interactions: due to electrostatic forces between charged residues
    • Disulfide bonds: between the side chains of cysteine residues; formed by oxidation of two -SH groups to form a -S-S- bond
    • etc...
  • Quaternary structure: structure due to interactions between multiple amino acid sequences (protein subunits)
Does this make sense? Yes, you're organizing facts - but those facts are rooted in their basic science mechanisms, and organized into a hierarchy of detail so that each 'fact' makes sense in the context of the whole.
Thanks. Hope I can get As my premed courses using these techniques. Can't imagine that having been possible for me a few years ago when I had terrible study habits.

Do you make use of a lot of flowcharts?
 
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Pakora

Pakora

2+ Year Member
Jan 9, 2017
13
14
Status
Pre-Medical
Thanks. Hope I can get As my premed courses using these techniques. Can't imagine that having been possible for me a few years ago when I had terrible study habits.

Do you make use of a lot of flowcharts?
Good luck!

Yes, extensive use of flowcharts - for pathways of all sorts, anything that involves regulation, etc. Sometimes, I find it more helpful to write than draw them - but to each their own! Teaching the material is also an excellent way to test your understanding and challenge its limits.
 
Oct 15, 2017
103
58
Good luck!

Yes, extensive use of flowcharts - for pathways of all sorts, anything that involves regulation, etc. Sometimes, I find it more helpful to write than draw them - but to each their own! Teaching the material is also an excellent way to test your understanding and challenge its limits.
Good luck to you too with your med school applications.
 
Oct 15, 2017
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How do you determine whether or not you have an intuitive understanding versus having just rote memorized (or worse, short-term memorized) the material?
 
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