One of the questions I get asked a lot is what I did to prepare for the MCAT. I realize that I am probably not the best person to ask about this, but I figured it would still be useful to write about my experience with this dreaded test. I have taken it four times, and have tried my best to remove it from my mind, but I will do my best to remember everything. I’ll also break it down into different sections to make it easier to read.
What resources did I use to prepare for the MCAT?
I first took the MCAT in 2008, and I only used Examkrackers at the time. I studied for it during the spring semester and I only took 14 hours of classes (one of my lightest semesters) which included microbiology, cell biology, physical biochemistry, a literature course, and physics lab. Looking back, it probably would have been better to wait until the semester was over and take an August exam, but I thought May was when everyone took it. I did the 10-week at-home study program which you can find on their site, but with my course load and other obligations, I was not able to finish the program. I ended up with a score of 21M (9VR, 6PS, 6BS).
When I re-took the exam in 2011, I combined the examkrackers with the Berkeley Review. I will say that the TBR material was very in-depth and was great preparation. I also took the AAMC free practice test along with practice test 11 (and 2 others that I don’t remember). I took the exam the first week of August and ended up with a 22Q (8VR 6PS 8BS). I was very disappointed with this score, but I’ll get into why I think I scored this despite all my studying in a bit.
For my 2013 exams, I used examkrackers, the Berkeley Review, AAMC practice tests/assessments, and the Princeton Review Hyperlearning Science workbook. For the first exam I took in July, I literally only used the Princeton Review Hyperlearning science workbook (my focus was on increasing my PS score). For the one I took in September, I would say that I relied mostly on the EK material, TPRH, and AAMC assessments. I do not think I practiced any verbal for either of the exams (I didn’t practice in 2008, so I thought over-practicing was decreasing my score). For the July exam my score was 20 (6VR 7PS 7BS), and for the September exam my score was a 21 (7VR 6PS 8BS).
Thoughts on each resource
I think examkrackers is pretty good if you have a firm understanding of the content. A major problem I had in undergrad was that I would just learn what I needed for the upcoming exams and then forget the material. I don’t think I really developed a firm understanding of the material in undergrad to a point where I was able to connect and tie together all the different subject matter I learned.
I thought the Berkeley Review was pretty awesome, but you really do need to take the time to go through it. Unfortunately, this was time I did not have. I do remember taking the MCAT after using TBR, and I could have sworn that I saw some of the exact same material and passages. This is why I would recommend it. A suggestion for biology would be to only do the passages and use Examkrackers for content review though.
The Princeton Review Hyperlearning science workbook was extremely helpful too. I was so focused on content review that I did not work out a lot of problems. Had I had bought this book from the start, I probably would have scored a lot higher. I received it two weeks before my exam, and since my focus was only on physics, that is what I used it for. I increased my score by a point in that short timeframe, so I would definitely say that everyone should have this resource.
I think it goes without saying that the AAMC practice tests and assessments are extremely useful because they are made by the people who create the MCAT. Nothing beats true simulated testing conditions.
Why I think I did so poorly
I would say that having too many other obligations and not focusing my energy on the test was a major part in some of my low scores. I also tended to over-study for the exams. For the MCAT that I took in 2011, I devoted 3 months to studying for the test and was doing at least 8-10 hours a day. I would come to work and study for most of the day in between doing research, and then I would come home and study until I couldn’t take it anymore. It got to a point where I couldn’t even think about the exam without becoming sick (literally). I also think that taking advanced science classes may have hurt me as well. The MCAT tests just the basics, and I think it is really easy to overthink things when you have learned more than what an introductory course teaches. I also could have benefitted from doing more practice problems instead of trying to re-learn the material. I was too busy trying to learn the material that I never really learned the test.
Overall, I am so glad that I never have to worry about the MCAT ever again! I was prepared to do a January re-take when I got my scores back a week before I received an interview, and now I have one less thing to worry about. I have met other great physicians who admit to scoring poorly on the MCAT and scoring high on the boards. This makes me wonder how indicative the MCAT is of one’s success in medical school. Only time will tell if it has a negative impact on my time in medical school though. I really wish the MCAT would not be as regarded as highly as it is, but I guess that’s life.