I Keep Getting a Bad MCAT Score. What Do I Do?

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ADG 211: I Keep Getting a Bad MCAT Score. What Do I Do?

Session 211

This student struggled with getting the score they needed from the MCAT after taking it twice, and now they don’t know where to go from there. She admits that testing is her weakness and taking standardized tests is a challenge for her.

Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[00:23] Question of the Day

Q: “My first original plan was to apply this year. I have now taken the MCAT twice. I just got my results last week and they were not as expected. I originally took the MCAT in January, and studied for it for quite a bit of time, but didn’t do too well. I think I was just way too stressed about it and my score started plummeting. 

I figured, I’ve gotten a decent score in the past on an exam, maybe I’ll just take it and see what happens. Maybe my fear was getting the best of me.

I took a little bit of time off to get married. I got married in April and studied for about two months again, trying to get my score up. The first time I took a course but I really didn’t like how it was formatted. I honestly feel like I didn’t study as effectively as I could have. 

This time around, I just tried to do a lot more practice questions. The only content review I used was Sketchy, just to give me something to do. But I felt that most of the work I needed was in testing because that’s my weakness. 

The second time I took it, I only got one point higher, which was not represented on my practice tests where I was getting six to nine points higher than my original score. So I don’t know what to do anymore.”

[02:22] Getting Through College

This student did not start off with highs and lows all throughout the first couple of years in college. There were classes that she resonated with more and classes that she didn’t. For those she did not resonate well, she felt she didn’t do as strongly.

Somewhere in her junior to senior year, she figured it out a little bit better in her last 100 credits. She only had one C and the rest were all A’s and B’s. She felt that it was a strong enough upward trend. 

She took some courses after college and had to retake Ochem. But she felt that she finally figured out her groove. And then she started studying for the test and all of it had left her.

[03:31] Taking the MCAT for the First and Second Times

The first time she took the MCAT, she was just extremely nervous. She felt like she second-guessed a lot. She did not want to avoid the test because she was able to finish all of the sections. She felt that she would not benefit from never knowing what she got.

The second time around, she was still nervous. She started second-guessing herself. She has been struggling with getting a score over 500 for the last year now. She thought maybe it’s content. But the only time she really saw improvement was when she was doing almost strictly practice questions and when she was content reviewing. 

The second time she took it, she definitely felt more confident. And then towards the end of the test, which is where she normally does her best, she felt like she plummeted. She got quite a low score in the last section and she was very surprised by that. Scores went up in those sections where she was down before and they went down where she was up before. To her, it was like they almost switched.

Sometimes it is reflected in attention and where you put your focus. She admits she might have just put a lot of brainpower into those two sections, thinking she is always doing good at those.

[05:55] MCAT Scores

Her MCAT score is still below 500 after having tried twice. The first one was a 492 and the second was a 491. Both are significantly below 500.

Typically, with scores that low, it usually comes down to content. She said she was using a lot of Q banks but she also took three or four practice exams before taking the second MCAT and got 496, 496, 497, and 499. The last one was a AAMC but it was a sample test where she did her own calculation. But she was expecting her score to still be at least six or seven points higher.

[07:08] AAMC, Kaplan, and Princeton Exams

She had already taken the other two AAMC exams in her previous studying and did not want to reuse them. She was afraid she was going to remember them and they would not be effective. For her first test, she took three AAMC, one the closer to the beginning, because she did not know that you should save them. And then she stopped using them.

The other ones were at the free Blueprint and all Kaplan ones because she was in a Kaplan course. She also used Princeton and did terribly. That started her nervousness and she got almost her diagnostic score on that one.

[08:14] Stamina for Full Lengths

The first thought about this would be on the full lengths. Check what could be going on there and how to go about doing full-length exams moving forward to prepare and make you ready for that full eight hours of testing.

It could be that you didn’t do enough. If you only took three or four full-length exams going into your full-lengths and you bonked at the end, your stamina was not where you needed to be. And that’s because you weren’t used to sitting for eight hours to do well.

[08:55] Review After a Full-Length Exam

The second would be the review after a full-length exam. It’s good to go one by one through a QBank where there is no pressure and you can take your time. It is good for the ego, and it is good for anxiety and test stress but it’s fake. It is not giving you what you need to do to do well on the exam.

Sitting for eight hours and getting a score that is still 490 is okay. That would mean you can now spend the next two days reviewing this test figuring out where you went right. Figure out where you went wrong and continue moving forward.

[10:30] Working while doing MCAT

Because she was also working, she would take her review on her day off and felt that she was not equipped to review anymore. The goal was at least five points or more, which was not her original goal at all. At this point, her goal is to try her best to at least improve if she cannot get above 500 before taking it again.  

She thinks a big part of this was having to work too much in order to fully dedicate to it. If the general consensus is for her to take it again, she could take more time off to treat it like a full-time job.

[11:40] Dedicating Time for the MCAT

Respect the MCAT. That would be the direction where you need to go. But there is a lot of privilege in that statement, to be able to take time off of your job and afford to do so. Not everyone can.

That is why MCAT is not the fairest test in the land, to figure out who can be a doctor and who cannot. It is frustrating, unfortunately. Moving forward, this is what it takes for you to do it.

“Respect the MCAT.” Click To Tweet

If you have the ability to take some time off, you are going to study and take these full-lengths. You will need not just one day but one full day to take it and two extra full days to review it.

[12:34] Setting a Goal and Doing Some Reflection

Q: Should I apply this year? And based on my results, do you think that it’s beneficial that I take another class? And if so, what should I set my goal to be, score-wise?

A: No, you should probably not apply this year. Score-wise, 528 is always the goal but you don’t have to go with that in mind. The goal is just to get better, period.

Don’t worry about what your goal should be. You should figure out what you want. You said you did not like the old course that you took. Ask yourself why you did not like it and what was about the course that did not jive with you.

It could be just the MCAT course and like most people, it is something that they don’t want to do, which could be the reason why you also rejected it.

[13:52] Course Expectations

She was expecting the course to be more structured. She expected that they would be covering major topics throughout the week and they would go over some of them in the class. Instead, it was more like they were given 2,000 videos on every topic they could possibly learn from and just watch the ones they think you need to watch. They would then talk about a topic for six hours in class and use three of them for some testing strategies.

She admits that she hated the testing strategies because they just didn’t work for her. She tried and tried with no improvement. She finally saw improvement only when I stopped using them. With regard to the content, they were going over what was not prevalent and could never be prevalent. She found that she ended up never using those topics that much.

For her, it was not the structure that she was against. As a nontraditional, it could be the need to focus more on things like Intro Chem, which she has not taken since 2015, rather than complex structures.

[15:17] Advantage of Using Blueprint MCAT

The Blueprint live online course is one that will potentially work for you. With a free account, you can use their study planner tool.

If you have to retake the MCAT in January 2023, you have about six months from July to January which is a perfect timeline to study for the MCAT. You can tell Blueprint how much you have to study and what days you want off. It will create a schedule for you so that you’re not just dumped with 2,000 hours worth of videos to watch. And if you get behind, you just drag and drop to figure out what you want.

The live online course is specifically more suited for you versus the course that you were in before. But it’s all strategy and how to implement the things that you learned on the test. It is not tips and tricks. It is about the format that is right for you. 

There are lots of different formats out there and a lot of MCAT test prep companies that can potentially help you. But regardless of course, you still need to do full-length exams.

“You need to dive into the eight hours, real test environment, timing-wise, and then take the two days afterward to review as thoroughly as possible.”Click To Tweet

[17:39] Letter Writers and Letter of Recommendation

Q: If I’m no longer applying, can I just expect my letter writers to hold on to their offer and hold on to that letter for the next year?

A: Don’t expect anything but you can ask. Reach out to them and tell them that you got your MCAT score but did not do as well as you would have wanted to. Tell them about your plan that you are not going to apply this year but will be submitting the letter for the next cycle.

Thank them for agreeing to write you a letter of recommendation and you would love to come back to them in a few months when you are going to apply. Just ask for their permission to keep in touch with them and have them upload it later.

“Ideally, the perfect case is the letters are dated the year of your application.”Click To Tweet

[18:40] Having Enough Upward Trend

Q: “Those last 100 credit hours of my degree which are generally A’s and B’s and more than half of it being science courses. Do you think that justifies my saying that there’s enough of an upward trend? Or do you think that I need to go take courses? 

I graduated during the pandemic so all the classes that I had signed up for in-person had turned either into online or immediately got canceled because they didn’t have anything to adapt to it. 

Do you think I should try anatomy courses, and histology courses to show that I’m still working on academics? The only reason I’m worried about doing that is that I would have to again, pull away from the MCAT and not put my full attention into it.”

A: It’s hard to just answer it without looking at your graphs. If you have a Mappd account, you can tell. Depending if you have a Mappd Pro which gives you access to ask one of our advisors, almost every feature on Mappd right now is free.

It is about what those trends look like on the graph that would tell the whole story. If it’s a roller coaster all the way around, then it’s hard to give you the green light. If your overall GPA is okay and those last 100 credit hours of A’s and B’s are more of A’s, then that gives a better feeling of moving forward.

[21:20] Letter Writer with English Limitations

Q: I have a letter writer who is a physician. He is not originally from here and he feels that he’s having a hard time articulating the letter because of his English limitations. Do you think that’s going to affect how a school sees the letter?

A: At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we all have our biases. Someone reading it may get frustrated which is unfair. But that potential is out there.

We have a lot of physicians in this country who are non-native English speakers. They are immigrants to this country who are practicing amazing medicine. But their English just isn’t great.

“Most people will understand that not everyone writing a letter is going to be a native English speaker and the grammar may not be great.” Click To Tweet

Technically, you are not supposed to see the letter but maybe this is a situation where you just offer to give feedback if you are comfortable with that. But that technically goes against the rule.

[22:44] Applying This Cycle

Q: A couple of people, advisors, and friends tried to still recommend that I apply this year to a couple of schools. I don’t know if I agree because I know that being a reapplicant does lower the chances. I’m also worried about applying to a couple of schools and spending all of that money and they would say maybe then you could contact them and see what went wrong.

A: No, being a reapplicant does not lower your chances. But you got a 491. They are not going to do the hard work of looking through your whole application when right staring in their faces is a 491. They could say they did not look at your application because it was a 491.

Don’t don’t apply. It’s a waste.

[23:40] Time to Figure Things Out

Q: “My goal is to get over that 500. But assuming, worst comes to worst, I do a course for six months and if I still can’t get over a 500, I need to figure something out.”

A: There is still a lot of time to figure out what’s going on. Maybe you need to talk to a test anxiety specialist. If you look at The Premed Years, I had a psychiatrist who does a lot of test anxiety with medical students. You might need to go talk to someone like that.

You might also need to go talk to someone to see if you have an undiagnosed learning disability like minor dyslexia that is causing you issues of understanding.

There are students who went through the same and once they were able to figure it out, they could compensate and figure out strategies to support that.

[24:53] The Scientific Method of Daily Life

There are lots of questions that can still be asked at the end of the day. This is the scientific method in our daily life to figure out what is going wrong and how to fix it. If it’s not improving, figure out why it’s not improving.

For you, moving forward, don’t wait six months until you take the test again. Constantly check if you are improving and if you are not, figure out why and ask what is going on. Keep asking those questions and keep asking people to help you figure it out as you go.

[25:29] It’s Not Over

“Nothing on this journey, so far, is telling you that you shouldn't be a doctor, that you can't be a doctor, that you're not going to be a kick-ass doctor in the future.” Click To Tweet

The MCAT is just telling you that you suck at taking the MCAT right now.

If you are worried about the other tests in the future, they’re nothing like the MCAT. They are big, scary, standardized tests. From a test anxiety standpoint, you need to work on that with some meditation. But they are not like the MCAT.

Keep breathing. Keep asking questions. Keep trying to figure it out. But it’s not over, far from over. It’s only over until you say it is.


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