Despite a rocky start, Kiriat is happy to shares her experiences adjusting to a new culture, raising a family, and pursuing her dream in medicine in the U.S.
Balance IS possible. And success IS possible, despite a crazy schedule!
In addition to an awesome 516, Kiriat received a PERFECT score on the Bio/biochem section of the MCAT (see report below).
I was born in Cuba. I immigrated to the United States, to Miami, Florida at 10 years old. I didn’t know any English.
My brother and I are the first of our family to go through the college process in this country.
After going to Pennsylvania for one year, I decided to enroll at Miami-Dade College as a Sophomore. I was able to complete my Associates degree in no time and received very good grades.
Simultaneously, I had to begin working at a Dentist office to support myself. This quickly became a full and even over-time job. After graduating from MDC, my career was on hold.
I worried about not having enough time to go to Medical School with my current job. But I couldn’t afford to quit.
During this time I also met a guy named Joey and we started dating.
With all these thoughts in the background, I heard about a medical school in the Dominican Republic which caught my attention:
I could live there for three or four years, on student loans, and with a far lower cost of living. There would be no need to work. I could focus on school 100%.
The tuition would be waaay cheaper than schools in the U.S. and I wouldn’t have to take the MCAT! I would just go straight into medical school. In four years tops, I’d be back home. I’d take the boards and practice medicine as a physician!
Dream come true…or so I thought!
Long story short, I decided to move to D.R. Living conditions are obviously not as comfortable as in the U.S. but I was focused and doing great in school.
After one year into the program, the school lost their Federal Loans privilege. This meant I would have to pay everything out of pocket from now on.
Funny, huh? Worst thing was, nothing you do there really counts unless you actually get a diploma. So that year of school was just more debt added to my student loans for…the experience, heh!
Jokes aside, I will say that I learned about myself that year: my only responsibility had been to study. I learned the discipline of sitting and studying for long periods of time.
Honestly, I had never done that before.
Once I got back to Miami, in a way I was happy to be home despite the disappointment. –Joey and I had kept a long distance relationship while I was in DR, though it had not been easy.
But now, here I was back home in the same spot I was a year ago.
Honestly, I felt devastated, anxious, and indecisive about what to do next. I even thought “Maybe this is just not for me.”
But deep down in my heart I have always known that I wanted to pursue a career in Medicine. I couldn’t let myself give up and then wonder my whole life, “What if?”
I decided I had to give it my all this time. Once and for all.
So, I applied to several schools in Florida to complete my undergraduate degree. And Glory be to God, they all accepted me.
I chose to go to the University of Miami. From here on things began to move forward.
Joey has been a great blessing in my life. Thanks to him I didn’t have to work while attending UM.
However, I still had to juggle a few things around:
Joey has two beautiful little girls. They were 1 and 2 when we first starting dating. Now, they are 6 and 7 years old. I take care of them when they are with us which is about 60% of the time.
I do everything a parent would: from cooking, to taking them to school and extracurricular activities, to doctors’ appointments, and school recitals. I help with projects and everything in between.
In addition, I also help Joey as much as possible in our new business venture. Of course, taking care of the house, cleaning, laundry… the usual still has to be done.
So, while attending UM and and starting my MCAT study, I was taking care of the girls. I also had my own classes to go to, and to study for. I was volunteering at the hospital along with my weekly volunteering at my church. I was shadowing physicians, doing research, working on our small business, and running a household.
My greatest fear was failing.
The first time I had heard of the MCAT was in High School. I had been scared of it ever since: English is my second language! It is a timed test! And A LOT depends on it.
Before joining the Study Hall, I had been preparing for the old MCAT. I had the old ExamKracker books, but many times I would feel lost.
I didn’t know what to do next. I would ask myself, “What are other people doing?”
That's when I found Leah's MCAT Study Hall. After joining, I was able to have a community of students in the same position as me.
Sharing tips and resources, getting a questions answered in a matter of minutes: it was amazing.
I felt I was finally IN the loop. There is something special about having a support group.
In addition, having all of Leah’s videos at my fingertips, where she explains things in such a way that makes sense. Being able to play them as many times as I needed was crucial to my success.
Finding the Balance…
I always have my hands full. But I have learned to try to balance everything as much as possible.
A typical day would be, to wake up, cook breakfast, and get dressed.
Then I would get the girls dressed, take them to school, drive to my school, go to my classes, leave class, and go to volunteering or study for school –depending on the day.
In the afternoon, I would then pick up the girls from school, go home, and study some MCAT. Next, I would get dinner going, prepare everyone’s clothes and lunches for the next day, study some more MCAT, and go to bed.
The next day I would wake up and do it all over again.
I remember telling Joey “I miss having weekends,” because it felt like there was always something I had to do.
Once I started working with Leah, she helped me balance things greatly!
Having her schedule my study time gave me the peace of mind that I was dedicating enough time to the MCAT. I was able to work everything else around it.
I always have my hands full. But I have learned to try to balance everything as much as possible.
The most important thing for me about keeping a balanced life is having a plan/schedule. Once that was established, I could rest that I am giving everything the time it needs and that I am not forgetting anything.
Family time was also important. Although, at times, I felt guilty spending time with the family because I felt, “I should be studying now.” But it is very important to take that time to unwind and to keep healthy relationships.
If I had not postponed, I wouldn’t have gotten a 516!
My baseline MCAT score was below 500!
I wanted to take the exam in January so I would have plenty of time to be one of the first to apply in June.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I studied for the MCAT for about 8 months total. After graduating in early May, I was able to dedicate the last two months to more intensive MCAT study.
I graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. While I still had other things on my plate but not having classes was a huge load off.
Don’t feel discouraged because of how long it might take to get where you want to be.
We are all different. It took me 8 months, but others need way less time and others might need more time than me. At the end of the day, it is all about you having done your best.
If I had tested in January as I had hoped, I would not have scored the 516 I got in July.
It is not a race; this is something I have had to learn for myself.
Don’t be scared! This exam is hard, it takes time and dedication.
It is one experience I’ll never forget, but above all, this exam IS possible.
I would say focus on you. Make sure you’re planning your time to study, and stay physically and mentally healthy. It is a long term process, not a one-day thing.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re missing questions. Any question you get wrong today, will be an easy one to get right on test day.
Just make sure you go over every mistake. As Leah taught me, ask yourself, “What can I do to not get it wrong again on a future practice exams?”
Leah's Note: Watch this 80-minute video on how to properly review your full length exams
And very importantly, believe!
Whatever it is you believe in, spirituality is crucial to wellbeing in my opinion.
Having something to put your trust in after you have done all you can do for yourself. This will give you the reassurance and tranquility we all need.
I studied hard for this exam. When my friends were partying, going here and there, I was home with my books.
However, I know had it not been for my God, whom I trust in, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed.
My study phases and most helpful resources
My first studying phase was focused on more review.
What I found most helpful for studying content: I utilized Leah’s MCAT Study Hall videos, Kaplan books, Leah4sci.com, and Khan Academy.
Leah's Note: Use this tutorial to create a Proper calendar with breaking down your studies into 3 critical MCAT phases
I took notes, made flashcards on Quizlet –perfect to study anywhere, download the app to your phone, no need to have a bulk of paper flash cards–.
The second phase was more practice and review.
At this point I would only go back to books or videos to tackle weak areas. I did Lots of practice!
Most helpful resources for my practice questions: the AAMC bundles & section banks, the AAMC Official Guide, NextStep, the MCAT Study Hall Facebook Group, and the NextStep question of the day.
Leah's Note: Find them all on the MCAT Resources Page
Practice problems are crucial! Not only are you reviewing the material and testing to see what topics are weak, but you are training! You get used to thinking how the test authors think.
But answering practice problems is only half of it.
You must review the practice problems! Review the right answer afterwards, along with all the other wrong choices! See why they were wrong and how they were trying to trick you.
For full length practice exams: I took the unscored and scored AMCAS tests, I took 5 NextStep full lengths (Using Leah's discount code on the MCAT Resources page), and 2 ExamKrackers full lengths.
All the resources are good. I just found the Kaplan books to be more on point and easier for me to understand. The AMCAS resources are more reliable since they are made by the test makers.
Other resources I used were ExamKrackers exams & books (old version) and also, I loved a resourced called Acceleread. I’ll talk more about that in the CARS section.
Chem/Phys (And all Graph Interpretation/data analysis)
Graph interpretation and data analysis takes practice. You’ll get this while doing practice problems and full lengths.
Don’t ignore graphs! Don’t feel overwhelmed by them! Look, read, and try to understand them.
If you interpreted it wrong, you’ll realize that while going over solutions and answers.
Ask yourself, “What was it about this graph or data I missed?” and “What did the test author want me to look for and interpret from the graph?”
That’s how you will sharpen your skills. By doing this you’ll notice trends and it’ll become easier.
Keep aware that sometimes you would have different graphs that have different correlations.
For instance, Graph A shows Y being directly correlated to X. And Graph B shows X being negatively correlated with Z. Then the question will ask where variables Y and Z are compared.
When reading graphs, before jumping into questions, tell yourself what is going on. Jumping to questions before understanding the graph might just confuse you even more.
During practice, you could even do a little sketch, like a flowchart, to follow up with experiments. This will become easier and easier until you can do it in your head.
While I was doing research I was given multiple scientific journals I had to read. They were all outside of MCAT material. It did help me understand the scientific language and get used to experimental procedures.
I noticed I was reading too slow for CARS.
Leah's Note: Finding yourself in a similar rut? Check out my Newspaper Strategy for Increasing Reading Speed
I researched a little on ways to improve your reading speed and found this app which has exercises to help you read faster. I found it helpful, it’s called Acceleread. Through different exercises its helps to train your eyes to always keep on going and not stall on one sentence or word as I sometimes would.
With most sections of the test, I would skim the passage –which to me, skim means read really fast, trying to get the main idea. I do not skip sentences– then go to questions.
For CARS though, I would look at the questions first really quick. I would see if there was a question that asked about a specific word. I would keep it in mind while reading the passage and avoid having to go back trying to find a needle in a haystack later on.
I enjoyed Biochem when I took it and I was blessed to have a really good professor as well.
But I believe the key to Biochem is to practice!
Leah's Note: Trust her! Did I mention she got a PERFECT SCORE in this section??
I kept a notebook with all my pathways and important topics. I included what I was weak on. I included things I needed to keep practicing and didn’t want to forget.
I learned all the Biochem pathways pretty early on my MCAT studying. But those last two months I would go over my WHOLE notebook once a week, every week. This made sure I wouldn’t forget anything.
Yes, sometimes it was kind of tedious (since it’s information you already know) but practicing over and over again is the only way to be sure you are not forgetting.
I divided the notebook into the days of the week and every day I would start my studying by reviewing the pages for that day.
Not just reading the notebook, but more like if I was teaching it to someone else.
I would draw the amino acids and pathways, trying to link them together and form the big picture.
Leah's Note: Learn everything MCAT Amino Acids in this tutorial series.
The next important thing for me was to visualize what I was studying. It became easier the more I did it.
If I was reviewing glycolysis, I would think, ok so I just ate, and picture the food in my mouth being chewed and the saliva with its amylase, then the bolus traveling down the esophagus reaching the stomach…
Every little detail I could think of I would mention it, and ask myself questions. Such as “What is the pancreas doing now?” Then I would picture the monosaccharide being transported all the way until we get to glycolysis.
It’s a longer way of studying but it makes sense. Then I’d try to connect other pathways with glycolysis, like gluconeogenesis…
If you have a hard time visualizing things, look up pictures, videos, anything that makes it easier for you. For me at least, being able to study Biochem as an interconnected story was very helpful.
I did my own recordings, especially for Psych/Soc.
I would play it on the car over and over, to the point that I would talk over my own voice when I already had it memorized.
If you don’t keep revisiting, you will forget. Just like with the sciences.
The only way I made sure I wouldn’t forget things was by reviewing them over and over again.
There are some things that you only need to understand and get the idea of. Then there are other things you have to straight up commit to memory.
There really is no other shortcut. Just keep on reviewing it.
If you’re starting your MCAT studying, my advice would be this, when you’re going through and reading the chapters in the book, write down in a notebook or flash cards, whatever fits the topic better (ex. Psych terms are easy to study on flashcards, they are simple memorization).
Other things like the circulatory system for example, might be easier to have a diagram in a notebook all those things you don’t know, and things you are weak in.
At the end of the week, dedicate a few hours to going back to your notes and cards and review everything. Next week keep on adding.
Eventually the list will get longer and longer, and you might find it that you got through it faster.
At some point you might not need to go over very basic things that you didn’t know before but now they’re solid.
However, I would say page your notebook, skim though easy things, and spend more time on the harder topics. But don’t completely ignore the “easy.”
You might forget certain things as time passes by unless you keep on reviewing.
What's next for me:
I am finishing up on the application process (at the time of this interview) and hope to hear from some schools soon, and God willing, be accepted this cycle.
As a doctor, I hope to be not only a healer of the body, but also a healer of the soul and spirit.
I hope to give my best to my community, to achieve great things, and to be able to inspire others that will follow my footsteps in the future.
And I hope this helps you in your MCAT journey! Let Leah know if you have any more questions in the comments below!