How I Scored a 523 on the MCAT with a Busy Schedule

What did you major in? (or what are you majoring in?)

I am majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Philosophy.

How Much Time Did You Give Yourself to Study, and Do You Think it Was Enough (why/why not?).

I started studying seriously in January, about five months before I took the MCAT at the end of May. I had also reviewed a set of MCAT books the previous summer to help me remember the topics I had learned Freshman year (Biology and Chemistry).

I think it was enough because I was able to finish reviewing all content before May and had over a month to focus on taking practice tests and reviewing my weak areas.

When Did You Take the MCAT and What Was Your Decision on When You Took It?

I scheduled the MCAT at the end of January, and took the MCAT on May 24th.

I decided on May 24th for several reasons. It was after my school year finished, so I would have finished learning Physics II in class. That date also gave me two full, free weeks at home after I finished final exams to focus on taking practice tests and reviewing. Finally, May 24th was one of the last dates I could take the MCAT and still have my score uploaded at the end of June, early enough in the application cycle to receive secondaries at the end of June/start of July.

Were You Done With Prereqs? If Not, How did You Decide to Which Ones You Were Okay Self-Studying?

I finished all my prereqs before taking the MCAT, but I did take Physics II the semester immediately before taking the MCAT, so I had to self-study that topic a bit.

I also took Biopsychology, which focuses on the biology of the brain, instead of Introduction Psychology, so I had to teach myself most of the Psychology concepts which were not covered in the class I took.

What Did Your Study Schedule Look Like?

I studied for about two hours a day, usually in the evenings with the rest of my other homework. Occasionally, I would miss a day due to exams or papers from other classes, and would make up the missed hours on the weekend.

My schedule was pretty hectic due to a heavy class load and sports practice every day, so I had to squeeze in MCAT studying wherever I could. Because of this, there were some times when I became overwhelmed with the amount of work I had left.

For example, one Sunday after a team trip for an away match, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I would have to do to keep to my schedule. It was 2:00 AM and I had at least four more hours of studying if I wanted to complete the amount I had set out for the week.

The key for me in situations like these was being ok with pushing my deadlines back. It was really important for me to begin studying early so I could have some breathing room built into my schedule if I needed to push it back a week or two if necessary.

What Else Were You Doing Besides Prepping for the MCAT?

I was taking classes full-time, and also participating in a varsity sport that took up much of my time and weekends.

How did you prepare for the MCAT?

I used the Kaplan Self-Paced MCAT prep primarily, which consists of a content book set, online teaching videos, lots of online practice resources.

The Self-Paced worked well for me because of my hectic schedule and confidence that I could keep to a studying schedule without attending an MCAT class.

I found that the Kaplan book set was very detailed and the Kaplan practice tests were a little harder than the AAMC practice tests and my real MCAT, which I appreciated

I spent the first 3 and a half months studying the content by reading through the books while also watching the corresponding teaching videos online. I think learning the material in two different formats (reading and video) every week was very helpful.

I took one or two full-length practice sets during this time. Once I had finished content, in late April, I spent the final month taking multiple full-length practice tests and reviewing the areas I had trouble in.

How Many Practice Tests Did You Take?

I took a total of 7 full-length practice tests (4 Kaplan, 3 AAMC)

[Related Post: How Many Practice Test Should Take?]

[Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” for 10% off Next Step full-length practice tests or “MSHQTOC” for $50 off MCAT tutoring or the Next Step MCAT Course at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!]

How Did Your Review Your Practice Tests?

I went through every problem on the test the next day, even the ones I got right.

I had a large Excel sheet with every problem I got wrong, and a short explanation for why I got it wrong along with the content (if applicable) that would have allowed me to get it right if I had remembered.

I also had a separate excel sheet for specific topics that I was uncomfortable with and wanted to go over again in detail. I would write topics in this sheet when I noticed that during a practice test I thought to myself “Oh no, not this topic,” which signaled to me that I needed to go over it again, or if I noticed I had gotten a number of questions from that topic wrong. I would try and go over these topics the day after taking the practice test.

[Related Post: When Do I Need More Content Review vs. MCAT Test Skills?]

What were your top MCAT resources?

For the first three months, the Kaplan Self-Paced videos and book set because I was reviewing content. Then, the Kaplan Practice tests, AAMC practice sets, and Kaplan Adaptive QBank for the time when I was taking tests and reviewing.

How Many Times Did You Take it To Get a Score You Were Happy With?


How Did Your Actual Score Compare to your Practice Tests? What was the Most Accurate (AAMC/Kaplan/Next Step/etc)?

My Kaplan Scores were lower than my actual score, while the AAMC scores were accurate/slightly higher.

Roughly How Much Did You Spend on your MCAT Prep?

About $1,800 on Kaplan Self-Paced MCAT.

[Related Post: MCAT Prep on Any Budget]

What did you Score?

I scored a 523.

How Did You Keep Yourself Motivated?

I tried to have something to look forward to every day, an activity that allowed me completely forget about the MCAT and relax. For me, this was usually my team practice every morning. I also tried to have at least one activity at the end of the week to look forward to, like going out to eat with my girlfriend or with friends.

[Related Post: 10 Traits You Need to Succeed in Medical School.]

Best MCAT Tips (Studying, Test Day, etc)

–  Review every question on a practice test, even those you get right

–  Keep track of every question you get wrong and write down why you got it wrong

–  Don’t study the day before the test

–  Be very familiar with the test center you are taking the test at and their rules

–  Start early, set firm deadlines, but then allow yourself some breathing room if you have to adjust those deadlines

What Would You Do Differently?

I am very happy with my preparation for the MCAT, but I think having taken a gap year could have made it much less stressful. Taking a gap year would have allowed me to space out my classes, MCAT prep, and AMCAS application instead of doing them all together.

Dr. Gray’s Notes

Justin’s story is similar to most students. How do you fit in studying for the MCAT when you have so many other obligations? With a 523, he obviously figured it out. One of the biggest takeaways is that he reviewed every question on his practice test. It’s something most students won’t do because it takes a long time, is boring, and why the heck would you review questions you got right? Because that’s how you improve!

Want to share your story?

If you’ve done well on the MCAT, or you’ve struggled and learned something, and want to share your story with others to encourage, inform, and motivate them to crush their MCAT score, go here and fill out the form: