Undergraduate institution: Cabarrus College of Health Sciences. Completed medical school prerequisites at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Exam score: 514
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 131
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 127
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 128
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 128
Time spent preparing: 14 weeks, 10–14 hours a week.
As of January 2020
Where are you now (school, year)?
I am currently a third-year medical school student in my second research year at Duke University School of Medicine, and I am earning my MBA at the Fuqua School of Business. My expected graduation date is May 2021.
How’s it going?
It has been an exciting journey. I graduate medical school in May 2021, instead of May 2020 because I enrolled in the MD/MBA program. I initially had the intention of pursuing my MBA after residency because I have always been interested in healthcare redesign but chose to pursue it while in medical school since I am given protected time to complete the degree. Also, I finally selected the specialty I want to apply to for residency! It was a difficult decision because I liked most of the clinical rotations I took, but my desire to operate remained a high priority.
I want to become an otolaryngologist-head and neck (ENT) surgeon. The intricate anatomy of the head and neck and ability to see a wide age range of patients in clinic drew me to ENT. I also like that it is one of the few surgical specialties that still has an ample amount of clinic time.
How did studying for the MCAT prepare you for medical school?
The process of studying for the MCAT exam, not the MCAT exam material, helped prepare me for medical school the most. Most of medical school education requires students to be independent learners because, as a physician, you will not have a professor spoon-feeding you information to keep you updated on current best practice guidelines. Studying for the MCAT exam ingrained habits in me that increased my self-awareness and ability to adjust my study methods. I learned how to modify my study plan and study resources/tools as needed to retain and understand new topics.
What else should people know about applying for and/or attending medical school?
Applying for and attending medical school is an important part of your life and journey towards becoming a physician, but it should not become a perpetual all-consuming task. You need to maintain activities outside of school that give you joy and keep you healthy because your overall goal should be to become the best physician possible, not just the 'best test taker’. Being a well-rounded person will help you maintain your wellbeing and remain a strong applicant for medical schools and residencies.
Overall study approach
I took an entire full-length test once every two weeks to acclimate myself to taking the 6- to 8-hour-long MCAT. I would usually complete only one section of a MCAT full-length test every two to three days. For each section of the MCAT exam, except for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, I would use the full-length tests to identify my areas of weakness. I would flag questions as I took the full-length test. If I didn’t know the answer or wasn’t 100 percent sure about the answer I’d chosen, I would flag the question to review it later. This included questions where I selected the correct answer by guessing. For me, it wasn’t enough to get the answer correct, I wanted to be sure I had the knowledge and understood the concepts needed to answer that question. I used the AAMC MCAT Sample Test and six or seven full-length tests from The Princeton Review®.
I reviewed every full-length test I took. If I wasn’t familiar with a concept or needed additional help, I would watch Khan Academy MCAT collection videos, YouTube videos, or websites that I found via Google to help me understand the concepts needed to answer the questions correctly. If I repeatedly answered a question incorrectly, or I wasn’t 100 percent confident that I understood the concepts needed to answer the question, I would copy it into a Word document and try to solve the problem without any of the answer choices. Once I was able to confidently answer the question correctly, I would delete it from my Word document and not come back to it since I knew I understood the concepts needed to answer similar questions. This method prevented me from spending too much or too little time on a specific question or concept. I also created lists of topics or words that I did not know or understand. This was particularly helpful when I was preparing for the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section as I was unfamiliar with a lot of the vocabulary in this section.
I did not spend as much time preparing for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section as I did for the other three because that section demands the greatest time commitment for the smallest improvements. One piece of advice that I used was related to properly pacing myself while reading the passages. The Princeton Review® textbook suggests slowing down and reading the passages carefully instead of just skimming them to keep yourself from rereading passages multiple times to find small details needed to answer the questions.
Top tips for preparation
- Review and repeatedly answer new questions. It helps to see different questions and be able to identify what you need to know to answer similar questions quickly and confidently.
- Be truthful with yourself. Spend more time working on concepts that you find difficult and do not understand well. Do not convince yourself you know something when you don’t. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it, and you are not doing yourself a favor for test day.
- Be sure to have a strong understanding of biochemistry and amino acids.
Traps to avoid
- More is not always better. Everyone has different learning strategies and techniques to prepare that work best for them. There are a lot of different ways to prepare for this test, and sometimes more is not better. You know how you learn best, so remember to keep things simple and do what works best for you.
- The MCAT is an important test, but don’t let it take over your life. You need to maintain relationships with your friends and family. You also need to take care of your body and ensure you are eating, sleeping, and exercising.
- You do not have to spend a lot of money. If you are dedicated, committed, and stick to a plan, you can study effectively and receive a high score on your own with the use of full-length tests and free online resources. Every resource I used was free except for the set of full-length tests I bought from The Princeton Review. You do not need to spend thousands of dollars on an MCAT prep course.
What types of exam prep were the most useful?
I primarily used the full-length tests and found them to be the most helpful. I found that reading the MCAT preparation textbooks was not as helpful as I’d hoped because it took too much time for me to read through all of them. However, I did appreciate their test-taking strategy tips on correct pacing for the different sections. The Khan Academy MCAT collection was useful. Honestly, many random websites that had tutorials on certain concepts related to physics, biology, biochemistry, and chemistry were also very useful.
Did you encounter any challenges or obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was the time commitment needed to properly prepare for the MCAT. Not only was I in school, but I was working full time, so I did not have a lot of free time to prepare every week. I made the most of every second I had to study, and that is why I spent a lot more of my time on full-length tests than on reading MCAT preparation books. I would allot a certain number of hours every day to study for class, study for the MCAT, talk to friends and family, and spend time with my wife. This routine was very monotonous at times, but my friends and family helped to keep me motivated.
Would you have done anything differently?
Yes. I would have finished my biochemistry course before taking the MCAT. I think that course would have helped me have a more solid foundation when preparing, rather than my having to learn new material while preparing for the MCAT. But this was something that was not in my control for the timeline I was on.
Third-party test preparatory company names, products, and other trademarks are the property of the respective trademark holders. None of the trademark holders are endorsed by or affiliated with the AAMC.
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.