Answering MCAT Questions & More

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PMY 496: Answering MCAT Questions & More

Session 496

Today, Hunter joins me on my Instagram Live for an awesome Q&A session. Tune in to see if we answered your questions.

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

[00:59] The MCAT Minute

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[11:08] MCAT Prep for Students with No Background Prereqs

Q: I’m right around the timeframe that I should be starting to study for the MCAT. And I’m a little lost on how to self-study if I don’t have to have my last prereqs.

A: A lot of the MCAT prep materials you’re going to be exposed to carry this assumption that you have a little bit of background. If you don’t, that’s totally okay. It’s not impossible. Hunter even had students who were history majors before.

That being said, it’s just going to be a little tougher, which means you might have to spend a little bit of extra time on the content.

One of the biggest mistakes students make is focusing on just content. Instead, practice is the main thing you should be focusing on.

Hunter takes pride in Blueprint MCAT’s modules because they’ve got good introductions. They’re going to walk you through the things that you’re going to need for the MCAT.

'The things that you need for the MCAT biochem are different from the things that you need for your undergraduate biochem.'Click To Tweet

And so, if you don’t have those background prereqs, Hunter recommends spending extra time learning the content. But don’t fall for the trap of living in a textbook. Make sure you do your practice.

[14:13] When Should I Take the MCAT?

Basically, the best time to take the MCAT is when you’re ready, honestly. The average prep period is between four and six.

If you’re working full-time then it’s going to be tough. But again, it’s not impossible. You just have to build out your plan and give yourself a proper amount of time to build on your knowledge and stamina in taking the test.

Moreover, Hunter strongly advises students to be flexible with timelines. If you feel like you need to take a gap year then do it.

'Don't force a square peg in a round hole and take it when you're not ready. It's just going to cause a lot of undue stress and then your score might not be what you want.'Click To Tweet

[16:27] Prepping with Undergrad Books?

Q: Do you prepare for MCAT using undergrad books?

A: Hunter says that’s too much. The MCAT is basically four years of undergraduate science crammed into one eight-hour test. But you don’t have to go as deep as your undergraduate professors will ask you to.

'The MCAT is a mile wide, but it's only an inch deep.'Click To Tweet

Especially if you’re just getting into the world of MCAT prep, you’re going to hear about buzzwords like high-yield topics and stuff. That refers to those topics which are worth spending your time on in the most efficient way.

Undergraduate books are going to be really low-yield stuff as those go into a lot of detail that the MCAT isn’t going to ask of you. You will learn stuff, obviously, but it’s just not the most efficient way when you’re studying for the MCAT.

[17:54] Scribing and Interpreting

Q: When I do scribing, I also do interpreting at the same time. I was wondering, do you put it together?

A: I always talk about separating activities, specifically as a clinical research coordinator, because there are some parts of it where you interact with patients. There are also other parts of it where you’re just shadowing.

In this case, because you’re scribing and interpreting simultaneously, in the experience name, you could put scribe and interpreter. But you probably don’t have to separate them into two activities. Label it as clinical experience because they are both clinical experiences.

'The fun thing and the stressful thing about the activity section is there are no rules for the most part. You can format and do whatever you want as long as it makes sense and it's logical.'Click To Tweet

[21:07] Just Answer the Question!

Q: Some of these schools have open-ended prompts. Would you recommend that I try and answer one of them really well, or make sure my answer is comprehensive and addresses multiple parts of the question.

A: Secondary prompts are so nuanced that you have to make sure you’re answering the question appropriately. In short, just answer what is being asked.

[22:50] Give Context

Q: Some schools have an optional essay around academic disruption during COVID. And I wouldn’t have an answer that won’t be as generic as online classes were difficult. Is it okay to leave it blank? I transitioned to online classes.

A: Transitioning to online classes is an academic description so talk about that. Talk about what the process was like for you and how did you adapt? They want to learn more about you. Everyone goes to the extremes that if they didn’t fail their classes then they won’t have anything to write about. You have to give them context.

[27:31] How to Break Past Your Plateaus

Q: How do I overcome a hard plateau if I’m in the 490s? 

A: Hunter says plateaus are caused by two reasons: first content gaps. And the second reason is maybe you’re not addressing them or properly reviewing them.

Therefore, you have to review your full-length. Review the work that you do. Understand why you’re making the mistakes. 

There’s a reason why everything is the correct answer. So you have to start recognizing those patterns. Really understand why you missed it and what you are going to do to not miss it again.

[29:10] Career-Changer Proving Academic Capability

Q: I need both the prerequisites because I haven’t really done any of them. But I also need some pretty significant things like GPA repair. So I’m trying to figure out how many classes at a time I should be planning for? How many credits should I take at a time to prove that I’ve got that academic capability and show an upward trend?

A: Hunter recommends doing as many as you can handle without doing poorly in the classes because the upward trend is the most important part.

Now, if your undergraduate GPA is fine, then just go get the prereqs and continue to do fine. Go take the MCAT and get in. If you have a poor undergrad GPA, and you need to show that academic ability, then figure out if you need 20 credits, 30 credits, 40 credits or as close to a 4.0 as possible to help you get there.

At the end of the day, strive to get those upward trends and your GPA. Crush those prerequisites, and then crush the MCAT. Show that you’re more than capable of doing this. And it sounds like you’ve already got the makings for a great personal statement.

[33:33] When the Issue is Not Around the Content…

Q: I was the one who asked about MCAT plateaus. I took at least 15 practice exams, if not more, but I’m always plateauing in the 490s. I took the MCAT three times. Most likely, I’ll have taken it a fourth time, probably next cycle. And I was just wondering, like, what’s the best way to get over that plateau?

A: When Hunter probed him for more information, our student revealed he first took the MCAT in 2020 which was the shortened version. He used the Kaplan books to review and got a 485.

The second time around, he used Blueprint MCAT’s asynchronous prep and he thought it helped him fill a lot of the gaps. He scored around 498 in his practice tests but only showed a three to four-point improvement on the actual test. The third time, he joined a study group but still got the same score.

Fifteen is a lot for practice exams as Hunter would normally recommend six to eight. Hunter thinks this is not a content issue. By process of osmosis, he would have absorbed a lot of this stuff.

Double Down with Your Review

Our student also adds that he would be highlighting the specific part in the passage but then still miss it on the question. And so, he feels like he needs to build up on his critical thinking skills.

Hunter ultimately recommends taking practice questions then having somebody who can walk you through your review. 

He also recommends training yourself to find the clues because usually the MCAT would leave clues. And when you review your questions, really look into those you got correctly as well and really understand why you got them right.

Being an ESL Put You at a Disadvantage on the MCAT

Our student also mentions being an ESL student. And the fact that your ESL immediately puts you at a disadvantage for the MCAT. 

It makes it hard to do well on the MCAT when you’re sitting there doubting your ability to understand what’s going on. And that hangs students up so much that it wastes so much brain power, which only sets you up for failure.

And so, this student probably has a good understanding of the science and of critical thinking and all this other stuff. And when he’s putting too much pressure on himself, then it’s not going to help. Maybe he also has to relax and do some meditation and relaxation techniques to help him ease his anxiety and let things go.

To take the pressure off yourself, Hunter also suggests doing an untimed practice test. For instance, dissect a CARS passage and really break it down sentence by sentence to understand what the passage means.

[49:48] Her First Foray Into the World of Science

Q: I’m going to be a postbac student starting in September for the first time. I’ll be doing my prereqs and going on this journey. I have a Bachelors of Arts back in 2011. So I haven’t been in school in over a decade. I’m really nervous. I have these butterflies. I don’t know how to navigate my first year. What kind of mentality should I have?

A: Come to this journey with an open mind. Don’t transcribe everything to the point you’re sacrificing your understanding of the content. Just sit, listen to what the professor is saying, and engage. Listen more than notetaking.

'Concepts over content. Don't just sit and memorize formulas. Understand the formulas more than anything.'Click To Tweet

And when you memorize the things in your undergraduate, don’t immediately dump it from your brain because you’re going to use it for the MCAT. Hold on to everything that you learn.


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