Undergraduate institution: Harvard College
Major: Molecular and Cellular Biology
Exam score: 523
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 132
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 131
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 132
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 128
Time spent preparing: 8.5 weeks, 4–8 hours a day, 1 full day off from studying each week.
As of May, 2019
Where are you now (school, year)?
I'm now in the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine class of 2021.
How’s it going?
Medical school is so much fun! Overall, I'm finding myself less stressed in med school than I was as an undergrad, which has been a pleasant surprise. It's incredible when everything you're learning is actually relevant to patients that could one day be under your care. I just started clinical rotations, which have been a whole new style and pace of learning, but I'm loving it so far. While there are inevitably long days and hard moments, I've felt grateful for the wonderful new friends and communities I've found in med school who have supported me through it all.
How did studying for the MCAT exam prepare you for medical school?
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I honestly feel grateful for the test-taking experience the MCAT exam gave me. Studying for the exam taught me that I am capable of creating and sticking to a dedicated study plan and sitting down for an all-day exam. As I look ahead to medical licensing exams such as Step 1, it's really reassuring to know I've already gone through this process before with the MCAT exam and that I can do it again since I've done it before.
What else should people know about applying for and/or attending medical school?
The process of applying to medical school does not define who you are or what you're capable of achieving. Much of this process is not within your control. Of what you can control, put your best foot forward, don't be afraid to advocate for yourself and seek support where you need it!
Overall study approach
I took the exam before most of my friends did. I didn’t know many people who prepped for it, so I turned to the Internet. People had posted their study schedules, so I looked at what other people did. Keeping in mind my own strengths and weaknesses, I put together a study schedule for myself for about eight weeks. The first four to five weeks focused on content review, broken down into one section per day. For example, Mondays—chemistry, Tuesdays—biology, etc. The last 3 and 1/2 weeks I focused on practice problems and full-length tests.
For content review, I used the 101 Passages: CARS book and practice tests from Examkrackers®, condensed formula sheets from a test prep company, and the videos on Khan Academy. I also bought all the AAMC materials that were available at the time—the Sample Test, Question Packs, the Official Guide, and the online questions from the Official Guide.
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
It was really important to have actual knowledge of the formulas—how they work and when to use them—instead of simply plugging variables in. This section had an experimental tone, so reading science papers was also important.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
The most important thing was just to practice. For the last couple of weeks of studying, I’d wake up every day and review passages. It was important to review not only what I was getting wrong, but also reinforce what I was doing right. You can definitely see patterns in the types of questions: what’s being asked, what’s looked for, etc. People have different strategies for doing this. I think it took a while to find my own strategy, and it came to me through practice.
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Like in the CP [Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems] section, I was surprised by the amount of information presented in the passages. The exam was definitely very biochemistry focused. Luckily, I had taken a class.
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
I think this is probably the most memorization-heavy section. You really just have to know a lot of psychological terms and terms related to sociology. I found it helpful to take intro to psychology courses in college before taking the exam. It’s also the easiest area to self-study via Khan Academy videos.
Top tips for preparation
- Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Talk to your friends who have taken the exam before and find online resources. I think there is a lot of great advice in other people’s study plans.
- Do a lot of practice questions and make sure not to gloss over the stuff you got right. Everyone has a tendency to hone in on the things they got wrong, but I think it’s really important to look at what you got right. It makes you feel better about yourself, and it also reinforces your understanding of the questions.
- Take the practice exams seriously and simulate exam day as closely as possible. Exam day is brutal. It’s a long time to sit in the same place answering questions, and if I hadn’t put myself through it, I wouldn’t have been as prepared to be focused for that stretch of time.
Traps to avoid
- Don’t try to study for weeks at a time without a break. Take a break on the weekend. Having one day a week to relax and spend time with family and friends prevented me from burning out.
- Don’t panic if you feel like you don’t know every single thing. Find your strengths and your weaknesses and build a plan from there.
- Don’t try to do too much the day before the exam. It was helpful for me to do some light studying, but also play with my dog, go for a swim, and relax a bit. If I had tried to study that day, I wouldn’t have felt as rejuvenated on the actual exam day.
What types of exam prep were the most useful?
The AAMC resources and Examkrackers® practice tests were the most representative of the exam. The Khan Academy MCAT video collection was helpful, especially when I couldn’t understand something from reading a test prep book. The condensed formula sheets were very useful in the week or two leading up to the exam.
Would you have done anything differently?
I’m certainly really excited about my score, and I liked the way I prepared.
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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.