Da'Kuawn Johnson

Da’Kuawn used a creative strategy: blending disciplines in his class notes to mirror the sections in the MCAT exam. He used the AAMC Sample Test and Practice Exam 1, a set of Kaplan books, textbooks, and notes from his classes.

Undergraduate institution: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Exam score: 511
    Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 129
    Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 128
    Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 128
    Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 126
Time spent preparing: 32 weeks. I started during the summer and was doing a summer internship at the same time, so 4 hours a day during the week and 6 hours a day on the weekends. During the fall semester, 14 hours a week. December into January, 45 hours a week.


Overall study approach

I broke my studying down into different sections. I bought the AAMC Sample Test and took it as a diagnostic. For the sections I did most poorly on, I went through each question looking through each of the options to see why each answer was correct or incorrect. I then made an extensive outline, focused on my weaknesses, and went on to review the things that I was strong on. I used a set of Kaplan® books and textbooks and notes from my classes. I also reorganized my class notes to blend disciplines. For example, I had to rework some of the things we did in physics. Physics classes typically don’t address the biological impact or implications of a physics concept, so I’d rewrite notes to include biological elements.

I approached all sections the same way, but CARS [Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills] was my weakness. So, I read a lot of stuff outside of science, things that were artistic or political. Now I tell students that they should read and read broadly. A friend who scored better than I did on the CARS section told me about the Collegiate Readership Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. You get free access to daily newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Top Tips for Preparation

  1. Study smart, not exactly hard. A diagnostic is really important to start your process. Then, focus on things you’re weak on. If you have a time crunch, focus on your weaknesses.
  2. Make a plan. How are you going to tackle all the weaknesses, what resources and time do you have? Prioritize them.

Traps to Avoid

  1. My biggest warning is if you don’t do your Practice Exam 1 exactly how you will do it on test day, you probably won’t perform exactly the same. Friends who didn’t do it that way got fatigued during test day because the MCAT is lengthy. Make sure that you really prepare yourself physically. So, for example, if you know the exam starts early in the morning, get up at the same time you’ll get up for the real thing, wear what you’ll wear, eat the breakfast you’ll eat, sit down in a quiet room, so that test day has familiar elements, and you won’t feel as much anxiety, and you won’t be as tired.
  2. Even though you may be strong in some areas, it can’t hurt to brush up. It’ll make you a better student.

What types of exam prep were the most useful?

I think they were all equally important. The AAMC Sample Test was a good diagnostic to figure out where I was weak. Notes from classes gave me more information necessary for the exam and jogged my memory. The Kaplan® books gave me tips on test taking and how to break things down.

Did you encounter any challenges or obstacles, and how did you overcome them?

It was mostly time. As a student who gets scholarships for research, a key part of my time is expected/required to be in research. So, during summers, I do 40 hours a week of research. I need to research, prepare posters, prepare talks, and set up experiments even if I’m tired. So, the biggest obstacle was time management. Lots of college students struggle with that. Taking a full course load, volunteering in a hospital, doing research, and then studying for the MCAT was a handful.

Would you have done anything differently?

Yes. I wish my plan had been clearer. In hindsight, breaking things down section-wise was a learning process. But now that I have seen multiple full-length tests and actually taken the MCAT, I know which tools are there. I’m more aware of the information available and where I can find the topic content.


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These students’ testimonials were selected because they represent interesting stories. The views expressed herein are those of the students and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the AAMC. Any reference in these testimonials to a specific third-party product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the AAMC of the product, process, or service or its supplier.

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