Undergraduate institution: Penn State University
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Exam score: 525
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 132
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 130
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 131
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 132
Time spent preparing: 15 weeks, 1–2 hours per day. Some days I wasn’t sitting down for a specific amount of time. It was just 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there.
Overall study approach
Every time I took a full-length test, I’d go over what I did wrong, and I’d create flashcards that reinforced the concepts I got wrong. I think the fact that my flashcards were personalized was helpful. The MCAT® is more about reasoning and critical thinking skills than memorization, and I was getting questions wrong because I had the wrong thinking process, not because I was forgetting facts.
Since the test was new, nobody knew that the actual exam would look like. I didn’t have a specific plan and played a lot of it by ear. I took the AAMC Sample Test at the beginning to identify my weak areas and then focused on practice questions in the Question Packs and the full set of Kaplan® books I’d purchased. I took full-length tests once a week to gauge my progress and determine study topics for the following week. I was doing practice questions, identifying weak areas, figuring out where my thinking process wasn’t quite right, and then making flashcards to make sure I didn’t forget what I’d figured out.
CARS [Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills] was my strongest section from the get-go. What helped most was the fact that I read a lot in general. I read broadly and widely as a hobby. That was more influential than trying to figure out test-taking strategies.
Top tips for preparation
- Start taking full-length tests right away. Don’t wait until the month before. Part of succeeding on the exam is just endurance. Take full-length tests at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, especially if you’re not a morning person.
- When you take full-length tests or do practice questions, don’t just look at the right answer. Figure out why you got the answer wrong and learn from that.
- Make time to study for the exam. When I was studying, I reduced my course load and cut back on extracurriculars. You can’t cram for it, and you don’t want to stay up until 2 a.m. every night to study.
Traps to avoid
- Don’t compare your study habits with others’. You might think you need to be studying for 600 hours at a minimum. Your study habits all depend on your personal abilities and how well you study and things like that. You can fall into deep, dark holes on the Internet. Focus on yourself and do what you do best.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Make sure you get plenty of sleep leading up to the exam, not just the night before. You can’t fix three months of sleep deprivation in one night.
- Don’t focus solely on memorization. You need to think through problems, know the concepts and know how, and when to apply them.
What types of exam prep were the most useful?
My personalized flashcards were the most helpfu because they were specific to me and the questions that I struggled with while taking the full-length tests.
I purchased review books, but used the Khan Academy MCAT video collection more as it was the most similar to the actual questions on the exam.
Would you have done anything differently?
I would’ve just focused on Khan Academy and my old class notes.
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