Zoe Cosner

Zoe achieved a 520 on her first attempt at the MCAT exam by starting with a thorough review of the content to identify her weaknesses, moving through full-length tests, Question Packs and the Section Bank, and slowly building up the intensity of her study sessions.

Undergraduate institution: University of Miami
Major: Biochemistry and Mathematics
Exam score: 520
    Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 132
    Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 130
    Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 130
    Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 128
Time spent preparing: 23 weeks. Initially 16 hours a week, increasing gradually until about 40 hours a week for the last 2 weeks.


Overall study approach

I started by identifying the content that I wasn’t as strong in, such as chemistry and physics, which I took as AP courses in high school. To help with these sections, I read through review books and made flashcards for every equation that I thought might be on the exam. I also took up to three practice passages a day for the CARS [Critical Analysist and Reasoning Skills] section. I realized that this section was really about understanding what they were asking for, so I felt that more practice was needed to understand how to answer the questions.

Then I went into overall content review, using practice questions and the full-length tests to identify weak areas and reinforce what I was learning. I would check back in with how I was doing and review content as needed—my strategy was to take the full-length test one day, and then the next day I would review it, even the questions I had gotten right.

Top tips for preparation

  1. Make flashcards.
  2. Full-length tests are very important. You don’t necessarily need to take each one timed, but you need to gain enough experience taking the full-length test so that you know what to expect going in on test day.
  3. Don’t psych yourself out! Focus on getting done what you need to get done. Don’t worry so much about the score.

Traps to avoid

  1. Don’t get too worried if one of your full-length tests doesn’t go as well as you had hoped. You just have to keep moving forward. It does not mean that you will ultimately get a bad score on the real exam.
  2. Don’t study the day before the exam. I did that and it stressed me out. Take the day before off and relax.

What types of exam prep were the most useful?

I did not take an actual prep course, but created a self-study plan using test prep materials available for purchase, as well as my own textbooks and class notes. I used all of the resources available from the AAMC—the Sample Test, Practice Exam 1, Question Packs, and Section Bank, as well as a set of Kaplan® study guides and three online tests. I also used the Khan Academy’s MCAT resources, particularly the videos, to reinforce concepts in physics and anatomy.

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

I planned on studying for the MCAT during my junior year of college, but I also had the opportunity to study abroad then so I decided to do both. I managed to do the prep by studying on the bus while I traveled from one country to the next, or I found time between classes to study, maybe going to a café so that I could at least be in the city. So, it is something to consider if you decide to study abroad but also want to prepare for the exam.

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

I would definitely have taken full-length tests and answered questions earlier on in my preparation.


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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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