MCAT Tips and Strategies From a 522 MCAT Scorer

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PMY 440: MCAT Tips and Strategies From a 522 MCAT Scorer

Session 440

Today, I have Alex, a Blueprint MCAT Instructor and a guest co-host of The MCAT Podcast. We discussed self-learning MCAT content, tips to be a successful MCAT taker, and more!

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:51] New Changes on The MCAT Podcast

This is actually an episode that played on The MCAT Podcast a few episodes ago. What I’ve been doing the last several months is bringing on different instructors from Blueprint MCAT’s live online course. And we’ve been breaking down the Blueprint MCAT full-length one.

We’re rotating instructors every few weeks. This way, we get to have their take on how to do well on the MCAT as well as get their perspective on what students are doing to do well or do poorly on the MCAT.

Alex is one of the live online instructors. He talks about his journey from being in the UK and taking courses there, taking the MCAT without much prep and still doing well, and then researching schools.

So he went to college in the UK and he took the MCAT without really taking any sort of the normal prereqs that a student would take here in the U.S. And it’s a really interesting discussion on an international student, even though he’s an American citizen. Because he’s still an international student preparing for and taking the MCAT.

And so, we get to see his thought processes in terms of school selection. Because a lot of medical schools still want you to have U.S courses or prereqs done. Let’s find out his exploration and research behind that and what schools potentially would accept his degree and classes from overseas and much more.

[03:51] Alex’s Background

Born to English parents, Alex immigrated from the UK to the U.S. when he was eight years old. He went to middle school in New Jersey and did his undergraduate and a graduate degree in the UK.

Then he decided fairly early on in college that he wanted to be a doctor in the U.S., from which started his MCAT journey. What equipped him really well to teach all of these concepts to people was that he had to teach them all to himself.

'The American education system is like a vast and shallow sea. You can imagine the British educational system as being like an ocean trench. We don't have majors in the UK.'Click To Tweet

Having no majors in the UK, you basically go into a degree program,  the closest equivalent to a major. So when Alex took his diagnostic test when first studying for the MCAT, he got like a 121, on Chem/Phys, 125 on CARS, and a 132 on Bio/Biochem, and a 121 on the Psych/Soc.

While he studied experimental design and bio/biochem, he never touched any other aspect beyond those – no physics, no chem, no organic chem, no psych. It was incredibly narrow and targeted, and it lacked the breadth that the MCAT really requires.

[08:35] Preparing for the MCAT

'The MCAT isn't like a normal test... more work and is harder than that. You have to appreciate the scale before you start digging into the material itself.'Click To Tweet

Preparing for the MCAT, one of the things he did to prepare was to listen to this podcast. And it seems he has come full circle from podcast listener to now being a co-host on The MCAT Podcast.

Foundational knowledge-wise, Alex taught himself all of the material. He also took postbac classes later on. He had taken some AP classes in high school, which had been really helpful. He took AP chemistry, which he thought provided him enough depth of content for the MCAT.

Alex devoted an entire summer to prepare for the MCAT. Luckily, he is someone who learns well on his own. Although he was very suited to self-learning, he realized two-thirds into the prep process that it wasn’t going to be enough. He found himself still too weak on the foundational concepts. So he ended up taking another six weeks to basically throw his entire life into the MCAT. At that point, he had taken enough practice tests and felt he had a good handle on the test-taking strategy components of the MCAT.

[11:48] MCAT Strategies Students Shouldn’t Miss

Alex believes that you could have great grades in undergrad, but taking the MCAT requires a very different skill.

'The MCAT relies on a different set of skills that are related to, but ultimately separate from intelligence.'Click To Tweet

Many students approach their undergrad learning experience, holding concepts in their brain, and then regurgitating them on the exams. Alex would describe it as the mental equivalent of a stack of index cards that all have information on them.

And ultimately, the MCAT is a content test. But it’s not enormously interested in your ability to just “concepts.”

For instance, you have to understand the underlying concepts those numbers refer to, and how would they change if you manipulated them? That’s a very different skill, but it’s still one that you can improve with practice.

Alex recommends that students take a diagnostic test, regardless of their approximate level. It’s like dipping that pH stick into the liquid, and seeing what it shows you. That being said, taking a diagnostic test isn’t just a measure of how well you know the underlying content, it also leads to your strategy.

'Every full length or every diagnostic that you take is taking a snapshot of your instantaneous MCAT ability at this point in time.'Click To Tweet

[16:34] How Long to Study for the MCAT

The AAMC reports the average amount of MCAT study time of about 290 hours. And we all know the average MCAT score is about 500. And if you want to matriculate into medical school, the average there is closer to 511 to 512 in order to be competitive. There are obviously exceptions to that. But ultimately, that’s the number you want to shoot for.

And so, if you’re a perfectly average student, you will probably need to put in more than this amount of time, because you’re shooting for a better score than the average. Then from there, you can start shifting this number in either direction. Do you have a really strong background in the sciences? It may be somewhat less, therefore, you have to study on it longer.

Too many students feel like the MCAT is what’s standing between them and happiness and their profession – a greased flagpole they have to climb. And they see so many of their friends somehow scaling it. And so, that’s really stressful and it can weigh on your mental health. And so, Alex wants to remind everyone that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

'So much of MCAT prep boils down to little decisions that you make every day over the span of months, rather than a Herculean effort on any individual day.'Click To Tweet

It’s a compound effect where you just try to be 1% better every day. Unfortunately, students don’t understand how compounding interest works.

Too many students try to go from zero to 100 overnight. And they take their first diagnostic and they get a 495. They shoot for a 520 and then get a 500 on their first full-length. Then they think they’re not getting any better. But 495 to a 500 is actually a huge increase. And so, these students really need to understand it takes baby steps to get there.

People overestimate what they can do in a day – and underestimate what they can do in three months.

[24:18] The Challenges of an International Undergrad

Alex considers America as his home and it’s where his family is. When Alex decided to go to university in the UK, he assumed it would be fine for medical school. And it wasn’t a decision he would make again.

Students don’t realize that going to school internationally when you’re a U.S. citizen puts them at a disadvantage for applying to medical school. Because medical schools want coursework here in the U.S.

Doing an international undergraduate degree and then coming back to the U.S. turned out to be vastly more work for Alex than he could have ever imagined. There are a few medical schools, which explicitly allow the UK in terms of coursework. But there was one medical school that he really wanted to apply to, which had this one year of study in the U.S.

And so, he sent the Dean of the School a personal email, saying he had two degrees, and one was from there. His master’s degree was from the same school that he did his master’s degree. Then he came to the UK to do his master’s degree. And he asked to be considered – but it didn’t work unfortunately. So he ended up putting so much work to do postbac classes in the U.S. and will have them all completed by the end of the summer.

Alex understands why the system is such perhaps due to logistical limitations. Otherwise, accepting degrees from other countries would only mean selecting two dozen countries in the world which they think are equivalent. And that could only invite accusations of discrimination. Plus, that also means they would have to train the admissions officers into interpreting different and varying grading structures of all of these countries. So it does make sense.

Some medical schools though, including NYU, have partnered with an external credential evaluation service. The service effectively does the work of looking at the foreign transcripts to assess its equivalence to a U.S. degree. Alex personally likes this approach, because it shows a commitment to their underlying ideal, which is to accept bright, promising future physicians whatever their background may be.


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