Saturday, December 28, 2013

The MCAT

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.


Final Thoughts


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. 

10 comments:

  1. The MCAT is useful for selection purpose, especially for allopathic medical schools. Some students are lucky to get accepted with not too high scores. Osteopathic schools look more at the overall picture of the student.
    I have almost no issues understanding concepts and getting As in class. But I have a big issue with "speed." God I work so slowly. I'm working on my speed and hopefully will do well on the MCAT in a few months. As you said, having other obligations don't make things easy. I'm using TBR and I feel like I'm wasting too much time on content. Based on your comment I think I should definitely change the way I study. I should do more passages and review only what I get wrong, and make sure I got the other answers correct for the good reasons. My main weakness is the verbal section. I really need to work on it. Thank you for sharing your experience

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    1. I think I'm the opposite of you when it comes to speed. I tended to zoom through the passages and questions and make really stupid mistakes. Ugh! I also would completely over-think questions that were super easy. The key is realizing that the MCAT only tests basic material that you learn from first semester classes. Also, yes definitely focus more on passages and problems. TBR is great, but there is just way too much information. I'm sure you'll completely rock the exam! Good luck to you :-)

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  2. I was scheduled to take the MCAT this April 24th but have been scoring consistent 21's. I am in a prep course at my university and have plenty of resources including the EK package TPR Hyperlearning, Kaplan, and Berkley, I definitely think doing passages after learning the content is the best way to go about it to simulate exam conditions. I brought my PS up to an 8 by doing this and plan on taking the same approach for BS and Verbal. My question for you is how much time do you think you should have really given yourself before retaking it the second time. I do not know if I should retake it in August or earlier than that. I definitely think a minimum of a month is needed to prepare especially to bring the verbal score up. But since you mentioned that perhaps you just overdid it in the prep time before retaking it, I would like to hear your opinion on how much time is reasonable given that I have been preparing since January.

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    1. I think that I should have gave no more than 3 months for content review to get a good foundation, and then spent the rest of the time strictly doing practice passages and questions. I learn best by making mistakes though, so that's why practice is so good for me. If you can go through the EK Verbal 101 book that might help a lot.

      I definitely overdid my prep and the burnout was huge, so my best advice is to get the content down and then work on the questions at a pace that doesn't stress you out too much.

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    2. Thank you for your reply! And I actually have gone through the verbal EK book it was part of the prep class we would take an Ek test every friday and we have gone through all the AAMC's available this Saturday will be my last practice one. In terms of content review physics and orgo are fresh in my mind since I have taken them in the past year however bio and gen chem not so much. What I plan on doing is going over the basic chem and bio stuff first and then tackling the passages/questions. I think the prep course I took this year has given me the structure I need to study for this exam for this reason once I am done with my junior year semester I plan on just going hardcore studying. Thank you for your input once again!

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    3. You're welcome and it sounds like you have a solid plan! Best of luck to you with studying and taking the test!

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  3. Verbal is mostly everyone's weakest area. How did you manage to score well on it without practicing for it

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    1. I said it is everyone's weakest area because People usually complain of not finishing on time or the passages are too long

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    2. My verbal score actually went down when I started studying for it, so I'm a bit different from everyone else. Verbal scores have always been something that came naturally for me, so I don't have any really good tips on conquering it. Sorry I can't be of more help with this.

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  4. Preparing for these certified exams gives an indefinite phobia to students. My sister was suffering from lack of interest in studies just before two months of her law exam. Someone suggested about Best LSAT Courses and their interesting methods to build confidence among students. Covered her syllabus in the same time and gave good revisions too.

    ReplyDelete

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