My MCAT Recap
Five months, hundreds of dollars, and two existential crises later, I can say I have survived my MCAT preparation and test day. For so long, I looked forward to that fateful day that I can stop saying “Sorry, I can’t, I have to study for the MCAT.”
I’ve learned much more than science and critical reading from this experience. Now that this ordeal is over, I’d like to share my prep strategies and opinion of the exam itself.
Nuts and Bolts of MCAT Prep
As the great American poet Drake once said, “Know yourself, know your worth.” I don’t think he was advising premed students when he wrote that, but I can tell you that these two pieces of advice are critical for MCAT success.
Know yourself. There is no one correct way to prepare for the MCAT. You have to choose the method that works best for you. Last year, I decided I wanted to test in January so, if needed, I would have an opportunity to re-test before the 2016 application cycle begins. It also happened that I had finished all the necessary prereqs before January 2016.[Related: MCAT Test Dates]
During summer 2015, I researched all the options: various test-prep companies and decided whether to self study or take a course. I did self-study because I know that I tend to zone-out in long classes, but marathon library sessions are no big deal for me. On the other hand, the structure and accountability of a prep course works best for some people. Ask friends for their reviews of different companies and resources. And, most importantly, know yourself.
Luckily, my boyfriend also wants to become a doctor, and was studying to test in January as well. We were able to keep each other accountable and share prep materials. If you can’t manage to find a significant other that will agree to (1) go to medical school and (2) take the MCAT on the same weekend as you, fear not, for there are plenty of others out there to use as a study buddy. I would consider a buddy a major key for preparation, especially when self-studying.[Related: 2015 MCAT]
Know your worth. It is so easy to become flustered with the vast amount of information needed to make it through this 7-hour exam. If you plan your work and intelligently work your plan, you will succeed. A big lesson for me was knowing when not to study. After a terrible score on a practice quiz left me laying on a bench outside crying and researching other future plans, I realized I needed to lay off just a little. I took a day off and when I went back at it, things started to click again.
Likewise, do not neglect self-care during this time. Staying physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy are crucial for success. Everyone has different methods for accomplishing this. Personally, I talked to family about my study plan, progress (or lack thereof), and concerns. I visualized my future as a doctor, and how happy I would be to share my score with my friends and family when the day comes.
My adrenaline was pumping as soon as my alarm rung at 5:50 AM. The test center is extremely secure – you will be fingerprinted each time you leave and enter the computer lab. Sine the check in process is so long, plan to arrive far before 8:00 AM. I made it there around 7:15 AM, which worked out well.
The I felt the breakdown of my exam was somewhat surprising and not very representative of AAMC or other unofficial practice MCAT exams.[Related: Check out Next Step Test Prep's Full-Length Practice MCAT Exams (use MSHQ at checkout to save 10%)]
Chemistry and physics had so much biochemistry, I thought I was doing the Biological Sciences section! Do yourself a favor, and memorize the amino acid one letter codes, three letter codes, side chains, and charges. I don’t think a good score is possible without this knowledge. I wrote this information on my scratch paper at the beginning as a “brain-dump.” My test had less physics and organic chemistry than I expected.
CARS seemed easier than usual. Maybe it was because the articles seemed to have some real-life relevance. Some were quite cheeky. Word to the AAMC for throwing me a bone on that section.
Biological Sciences included a good deal of biochemistry and laboratory methods.
Finally, psychology and sociology used a few terms and concepts I had not come across in my studies.
To avoid this, I would recommend using the AAMC materials. Kahn Academy MCAT videos and the AAMC Section Banks seemed most relevant to the information on my exam.
All in all, know yourself, know your worth and #RespecttheMCAT.
Dr. Gray’s Take
Courtney covered a lot of great ideas in her MCAT recap. One thing that you have to keep in mind as you read her recap is that there are several versions of the test being administered each testing day. One students experience will be completely different from another. Don't think that because Courtney's exam had a lot of biochem, you will experience the same thing.
Another important thing to remember is that the MCAT is more about critical thinking and analysis than it is about content. Don't get too wrapped up in the content. Make sure you have plenty of time to do practice tests!
And lastly, a good MCAT prep course will only do you good. Yes, they come at a cost, but this is the MCAT we're talking about. There are many price points to MCAT prep, with most of them giving you the guidance that you need. Check out M Prep, Kaplan, The Princeton Review and Next Step Test Prep for more info!