This interview is from a student I've worked with closely. She took the April 2015 MCAT and shares her opinions based on personal experience.
Real MCAT vs Official AAMC Sample/Practice Test + Packets
Have you taken the AAMC sample test?
Yes, I have.
If so how do you feel it compared to the real MCAT?
I think that it provided a good comparison, although the real thing was slightly more difficult.
What about the AAMC sample test do you feel was most and least helpful?
It was most helpful to get an idea of AAMC’s format.
Compared to non AAMC Test Prep Material
Have you taken any 2015 MCAT full length practice tests in preparation for your MCAT? if so which company?
I used Kaplan.
Do you feel that it prepared you for the real thing?
I do feel that it prepared me well, because these exams were more difficult than the real thing.
Which books did you use to prepare? Do you feel it prepared you?
I used the Examkrackers series, Next Step Test Prep for CARS, and Kaplan’s review books. (Buy them here) I certainly feel that they prepared me well, especially Examkrackers since they highlight the most important facts you need to know. Kaplan is way too detailed. I only recommend using it to thoroughly review a struggle topic.
Comparing the Old and New MCAT
Have you taken the old MCAT prior to taking this one?
I’d taken many practice tests for the old MCAT (I originally planned to take it in January), but to be honest, I’m very glad that I decided to wait. This new exam has an additional section (Kaplan likes to call it “Psych/Soc”), which I enjoyed studying on my own for. The Physical Sciences section also placed more of an emphasis on putting passages and questions in biological contexts. I appreciate the overall switch that the AAMC has made, and I’ve come to enjoy preparing for this new exam, which I hope you will too.
Does it have the same “feel” as the old MCAT questions? (So, is reviewing old MCAT exams worth it?)
I think it would be worth it to review the Biological Sciences and Verbal Reasoning sections of previous tests (although, in my opinion and from what I’ve experienced, the VR passages are slightly different from CARS in terms of difficulty and length). Reviewing Physical Sciences would be good to solidify understanding of content, but I think it is most important to familiarize one’s self with the new formatting of this section (“Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems”); passages will be structured in such a way that chemistry and physics topics are related in some way to biological systems. On the old MCAT, such a combination was not as commonplace.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – CARS
How many avg questions per passage?
On average, there were about 6 per passage. It ranged from 4-7.
Did it seem similar to the old VR section?
It is similar in terms of the question types (main idea, application, reasoning outside of the text, etc), but I found that the passages were slightly longer and slightly more difficult. By difficult I mean a greater incorporation of passages that many students may not be familiar with reading, such as Philosophy and History.
Were the passages dense or not dense or somewhere in between?
The majority of the passages were in between, but there were 1 or 2 that were fairly dense (i.e. Philosophy) and took me a bit more time on.
Were you able to finish all passages?
Yes, I was able to finish all passages.
Did the questions seem more main idea or paragraph/detail specific or something else?
The questions seemed more main idea. I believe that if you’re able to extract the main idea of a passage well, you will be able to answer the majority of the questions, even the detail ones. It’s important to map out the passage as well! (Create an outline)
Science Sections – Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem…
How much focus on equation/concept memorization was required?
I think this is very important. I created many flashcards and an equation sheet, which I recall myself referring to oftentimes throughout. However, I would place more an emphasis on understanding rather than memorizing in your studies. Of course it’s important to, for example, memorize the 20 amino acids (which are recurring on the test by the way!), but for example, don’t memorize every single enzyme in Glycolysis. Understand the general process, the inputs, outputs, and how it fits into the overall process of aerobic (or anaerobic) respiration. This idea goes for many other concepts as well.
Did you see a lot of organic chemistry?
I do recall a passage or two (in both the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections) dealing with Organic chemistry.
How difficult are the sciences compared to the old MCAT?
I personally think that these science passages were slightly (very slightly) easier than the old MCAT because of the constant biological contextualization of chemistry & physics passages.
Psychology and Sociology Section
Was it similar to CARS strategy, meaning more about reasoning than knowing the concepts?
It was similar to CARS strategy in that you need to be able to extract the main idea, but it’s much more about data interpretation and analysis. This is a skill you must absolutely hone for this section of the exam.
Having gone thru it, what would you tell a student how to study for this section?
I watched all of the Khan Academy videos for this section of the exam, and I found it incredibly helpful. If you have time, watch those videos, take notes, and make flashcards. Review your notes and flashcards every now and then to keep the material fresh in your mind, and do practice questions (through a test prep company, the AAMC, or buy a few prep books here). Make sure that you also understand how to interpret data, be able to identify the independent and dependent variables in an experiment (very important), know different types of studies, and for the rest of the topics, go through the “Complete MCAT2015 Exam Description” packet.
Was the psych section very specific or general?
This section was general. It encompassed many different topics.
Looking Back – Advice for Future MCAT Takers
What advice can you give to students who are about to sit the new MCAT?
My biggest piece of advice for students is to thoroughly go through the official AAMC MCAT Exam description packet and check off topics as you progress in your studying. Be sure to understand those topics listed, and to more or less ignore those that aren't.
What would should someone spend more time doing to excel on the exam?
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I cannot stress that enough. Take a practice test every week (if you have access to several), review it thoroughly, make a list of your weakness, STUDY your weaknesses, and start the process over again. If you feel that you’re not making progress, take a break. Breaks are important too. You don’t want to burn yourself out (read: how to avoid study burnout). Once you’ve refreshed yourself, get back to hitting those books. Best of luck!