Lara Ambrosi

Lara scored a 516, 1 year after scoring a 29 on what she describes as “the worst test in [her] life.” An international student who grew up speaking three languages, Lara overcame her shortcomings on her first attempt at the MCAT by slowly building up from the basics, using practice questions, and even creating her own mock exams.

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Undergraduate institution: Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
Major: Pre-med Health Sciences
Minor: Biology
Exam score: 516
    Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 131
    Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 130
    Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 127
    Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 128
Time spent preparing: The first test: 8–10 hours a day for 5 weeks. The second test: 12 hours a day for 9 weeks.

 

Overall study approach

I gave myself twice as much time to study the second time around, which made a huge difference. I started with the basics, even for subjects I did well in at school, and gradually built up. I studied as if I didn’t know anything. I learned even very simple concepts, like what is a protein. For CARS [Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills], I used practice passages online, Khan Academy videos, and newspapers. The first four weeks I focused on the different sections—biology, biochemistry, physics, etc.—but never in the same order and never the same section two days in a row.

The last five weeks I focused on practice questions from the AAMC Section Bank and Sample Test, Examkrackers® books, and Kaplan® practice tests. I took Khan Academy passages and made my own mock exams with questions from each section. I’d grade my answers and go over what I did wrong.

I think the first time around I overestimated what I knew, or I knew the information but not in the context of the MCAT. As I practiced, I learned how to interpret what information the questions were asking for.

Top tips for preparation

  1. Forget what you know and start with the basics. Pretend you don’t know anything and start from the beginning.
  2. Practice as much as you can. You’ll figure out how the questions are phrased, and you’ll pick up on patterns.
  3. Find your own groove. A lot of people told me to take a course or have someone tutor me because they didn’t think I could get a better score by myself. But I did, and I saved a lot of money, and it was a lot more satisfying. Find what works for you.
  4. Take breaks. It’s important to give yourself a rest and to focus on other things once in a while.

Traps to avoid

  1. Don’t skip something because you think it won’t show up on the test.
  2. Don’t stress too much. You can take the exam again if you need to.
  3. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. I didn’t have friends taking the exam at the same time as me, so I’d ask my roommate, who’s a math whiz, to help me with math questions.

What types of exam prep were the most useful?

I created my own flashcards and mock exams. I also used Examkrackers® books and the Khan Academy MCAT video collection. I wish I’d had a scored test to gauge my progress, but there weren’t any because I took the test early in the cycle.


 

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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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