Sarah Becker

Sarah achieved a 512 on her first attempt at the MCAT exam by creating a 26-week study plan and setting manageable daily and weekly goals to build the confidence she needed to do well.

Undergraduate Institution: Smith College
Major: Biology
Exam score: 512
    Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 129
    Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 127
    Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 129
    Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 127
Time spent preparing: 26 weeks. The first 22 weeks, about 90 minutes a day; the last 4 weeks, 8 hours a day.


Overall study approach

I bought a seven-book test prep kit from Kaplan® and outlined the content I covered each day. I also used Khan Academy videos to bolster my knowledge of concepts that I had not studied in some time, particularly organic chemistry and biochemistry. I recorded my notes into my iPhone® so I could play them back as audio files as I went to sleep. Later in my preparation I took full-length tests—three tests from Kaplan as well as the AAMC Practice Exam 1.

Top tips for preparation

  1. Don’t get discouraged early on.
  2. Start as early as you possibly can and start with a lot. Dive in.
  3. Take as many full-length tests in real MCAT test conditions as you can.

Traps to avoid

  1. Don’t get used to testing with distractions. You shouldn’t complete full-length tests or study with music, while snacking, etc.
  2. Don’t get hung up on topics you don’t fully understand.
  3. Have a broad understanding of many topics instead of an expert understanding of one particular topic; you’ll perform better on the exam.
  4. Avoid using just one type of test prep. You may not adapt well to actual exam conditions if you only read books or solely watch Khan Academy videos, for example.

What types of exam prep were the most useful?

I definitely like to study with the hard copy of materials, and I would prefer to take a test in a booklet as well, but the online practice is essential, and way more beneficial, for preparing for the actual exam. It was important to practice taking the test in the right setting, with the same timing and conditions as a real exam.

What challenges or obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?

I paid for the test preparation materials and the exam fees myself so I had to balance the need for extra money with the need for time to study. I ended up having to quit several part-time jobs when they got in the way of my study time. Students preparing to take the MCAT in the future need to remember to plan ahead financially. Working, studying, and finding a way to pay for the whole application process was the biggest obstacle for me.

Is there anything that you would’ve done differently to prepare?

Even though I budgeted more than six months for study, I still would have given myself more time to prepare for the exam. And I would have paid more attention in biochemistry.


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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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