Major: Biomedical Engineering
Exam score: 515
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 131
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 128
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 127
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 129
Time spent preparing: A few hours a day, 2–3 times a week, for 3 months.
Overall study approach
I used a three-step approach to prepare for the MCAT exam: 1) take extensive notes from textbooks, 2) filter information and consolidate notes, and 3) take full-length tests.
For the first step, I was mostly handwriting notes from the textbook. I took notes ON the notes. Consolidating notes, organizing notes, and organizing thoughts while I was working with the notes was really the bulk of my studying. This was how I started to really understand the concepts and not just regurgitate them on paper. I did this every night of the week, for at least two hours. By the end, I had 45 pages of printed notes that I felt captured the entirety of the knowledge I needed.
Then I looked at the AAMC's What's on the MCAT? online tool. I organized my notes by those sections. I consolidated my notes while looking at this tool.
I got codes for online practice tests and questions through the Kaplan® books I borrowed from the local library because I wanted to take as many practice tests as possible. I didn’t want to spend $200 to $300 on a course, and I didn’t want people telling me how to study, so I did it my own way. I took one full-length practice test online as soon as I had my notes. The purpose was to get a sense of the time and to pace myself well. And I also wanted to see whether there were any particular concepts that I would struggle to understand. I felt comfortable with the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section because I majored in biomedical engineering, but the CARS [Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills] section was different. Textbooks couldn’t really help me with CARS, so when I got to the practice exam phase, the final phase, I was spending 70 percent of my time just on the CARS section.
Top tips for preparation
- Know what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of studying. Correct weaknesses by seeking out help.
- While taking the test, take it as if you want to learn from the test, like you’re interested in what the passage wants to teach you, as if you’re a researcher or prospective doctor and want to learn. While taking the MCAT, think like you’re a student trying to learn from the test, not just someone trying to get the question right.
- The process of organizing notes, categorizing them, and comparing them with the AAMC's What's on the MCAT? online tool is valuable. I could visualize sections of my notes during the exam.
Traps to avoid
- Don’t rush to sign up for a course. You should look into how the course is organized, what it gives you, the schedule of the course, whether it’s in line with what you want, etc. Talk to someone who took the course and see what they have to say.
- Don’t focus too much time on memorizing knowledge. It may help you with a couple of questions, but not the entirety of the test. The exam tests your ability to read through a passage, figure out what’s important, and answer based on the main idea, prior knowledge, and understanding of the underlying concept of that passage.
What types of exam prep were the most useful?
I think the textbooks are really important. Otherwise, you’re studying based on notes from your classes, which would be impossible to sift through to determine what’s important. Textbooks can be more exhaustive than necessary, but it takes stress out of figuring out what to cover.
Also, full-length tests are huge. During the three or four weeks leading up to the exam, I was doing full-length test after full-length test to get comfortable with the format. Some were included in the textbooks that I got at the public library. But a lot of the time, the companies that release textbooks have online addenda to the books. It was helpful to diversify practice tests, from Kaplan® and Gold Standard and Examkrackers®. There are tons of companies that release snippets. When I took the MCAT exam, I thought it was very different from the practice tests. I was a little bit surprised by what’s on the MCAT versus what’s on the practice tests. If you’re willing to pay, there are infinite resources online. Even I, who didn’t want to pay for a practice test, could find plenty of stuff to work with.
Did you encounter any challenges or obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
The big obstacle I had was that I was a full-time college student with research and extracurriculars and a social life I wanted to maintain, and I was taking the MCAT at the same time as my finals. I know lots of students who took it after graduation when they had nothing else. Studying for the MCAT in the midst of college life, maintaining good grades, and still having fun was really hard. For me, I plan. I plan everything. I planned my schedule at the beginning of my week. I’d devote certain hours to a certain activity and reserve certain hours for MCAT studying. I’d say, “two hours to write this paper,” “three hours to study for the MCAT,” and “one hour for a social event.”
Would you have done anything differently?
I probably should’ve [taken the test] a semester earlier. I thought my schedule was great, and I organized my time very well, but I did leave it to the last minute. I wouldn’t have been able to apply to medical school this cycle if I hadn’t done well.
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