Studying for the MCAT can feel like drudgery work filled with anxiety.
Stuck inside, hunkered down, head buried in a book
while your friends and the whole rest of the world is passing you by.
It is hard work! But it doesn’t have to be that dreary and scary.
After all, hard work pays off!
Meet Maggie, an MCAT study hall member who overcame the the mental haze and test prep nerves to earn a 515 on her 2017 MCAT.
I want to dedicate my life to helping those who are not as lucky.
I had a tumor when I was younger, but thankfully it ended up being benign.
As a lifeguard at a camp for children with cancer, I realize how lucky I had been.
These children are so inspirational.
I consider myself an average student and a pretty average person overall.
But I work really hard and am very driven.
After watching as my sister prepared for the MCAT,
I knew it was a long and hard process.
I was very intimidated and nervous about my own preparation, to say the least.
How was I supposed to get through all of the information in time? I would never be able to be confident on all the topics.
I was also worried that I would lose motivation and not work as hard halfway through my preparation, leading me to postpone my test.
I was unfamiliar with MCAT-style questions.
I had already taken most of the MCAT-subject courses but I still had a lot to review, re-learn, and teach myself.
I would have had no idea how to approach preparing for the MCAT, but my sister (now a 2nd year med student) used the MCAT Study Hall too and very highly recommended it to me.
I figured it must be extremely helpful if she was able to score so well on her MCAT!
Looking back, I feel like I practically ate, slept, and breathed the MCAT for four months of my life.
Even though I feel like I was always thinking about or studying for the MCAT,
once I actually started studying, I was actually never too overwhelmed or felt too stressed about it.
Leah helped me break it all down with enough time to focus on and cover everything.
She made sure I still had some free time to keep my sanity, and it really helped me get through without burning out.
Some days were really good, I was excited and motivated to get a lot done and try my hardest to ace this test.
I would watch study hall videos on certain topics, and then I would study those topics in my books before doing some practice questions.
I also squeezed in review anywhere I could like by watching videos at the gym or even in the shower.
I would actually put my phone in a Ziploc bag and tape it to my shower wall so that I could watch a quick Khan academy video while I showered!
Leah’s note: not really recommended. I’d personally be terrified of ruining my phone.
Other days were really bad.
I felt too lazy to study or I would want to hang out with friends instead.
Then I would be upset when I was not reaching a study goal each week!
Even with these days, I felt that Leah had given me a good, flexible plan that would help me still be prepared on time:
We would just adjust my schedule a little to accommodate for my good days and my bad days by doing extra or less work respectively.
I got myself back on track by seeing other people studying for the MCAT in the Facebook group and realizing that I was not alone:
Other people felt the same way too.
I also watched medical school Match Day videos on YouTube!
These inspired me to do well on my test so that I could get into med school and match for residency one day too.
These really reminded me that I was not just studying for a test. I was studying for the future I want to have.
Taking this process day by day helped to break down everything I needed to do, and I was able to slowly but steadily make my way through it all.
The study hall was really there for me throughout the whole process.
Throughout every phase, I knew exactly what I had to do, and when I had to do it.
Having that schedule was the biggest help for me.
Without having a schedule for each day and different schedules for each phase, I do not think I would have been able to study as effectively for the test.
Leah’s Note: Review the 3 Phases of MCAT Prep
In phase 1, I felt very motivated to do what I needed to do each day because I felt accountable for it and knew that I would have to report what I had accomplished each week.
In phases 2 and 3, I felt similarly because I still was accountable for the work I had to do, and I did not want to let myself or Leah down by not getting through it all or scoring poorly.
Throughout the whole time, using the Facebook group to see that other people were going through the same experience as me was very reassuring and made me feel a lot better about having to study so much.
Helpful Resources I Used
- Books: I mostly used the Kaplan books as they were easier to get through. TPR was very dense but helpful for Psych/Soc and Biology.
- Videos: I watched the MCAT Study Hall videos which taught me much more than I learned in the books. They were amazing at explaining everything! After, I would watch Khan Academy on topics I still had trouble with.
- Flashcards: I used Quizlet for Psych/Soc just to review terms and theories. Quizlet has a bunch of P/S practice so I just went through a little bit every day.
- Practice Passages: Most of my practice passages were from the AAMC study materials.
- Practice Tests: I used AAMC practice tests and NextStep tests.
All of the AAMC material was extremely helpful and representative of my actual test.
I’m pretty sure that there was even a question directly from one of the AAMC flashcards on my test.
The NS tests were very good too, so I definitely recommend using them as well, but focus more on the AAMC materials.
The biggest help was finding the right place to study.
I get very distracted, so I could not study somewhere with a lot of people, noise, or even windows, but I also could not study in my bedroom because I would be too tempted to lie in bed and watch Netflix.
I figured out times when my apartment-mates were not home, and I would study at the kitchen table, and when they were home, I would go to specific rooms in the library that none of my friends ever studied in.
On Test Day
I woke up very early and I ended up being one of the first ones at the test center.
Therefore, check-in was super quick, and I got to start my test a little early.
I was so nervous starting it that I do not even remember my C/P section, but as the time went on, I started to relax.
I took every break offered,
and I made sure to have a little snack
and use the restroom during each one.
I also did 30 jumping jacks each break to keep myself alert and get my blood pumping.
When I left the test, I didn’t think I had done terribly, but I thought it was probably lower than my most recent FL scores.
I was disappointed.
I focused on all of the hard questions, instead of looking at how many I did know.
When I got my score, I was so pleasantly surprised!
So, trust your FL scores. Do not dwell too much on the questions you think you got wrong!
I started my MCAT studying by taking the unscored AAMC sample test,
and my percentages for each section put me at about a 500 for a baseline.
I took the NS exams which a few weeks between exams (phase 1 and 2)
- 508 (C/P 126, CARS 127, B/B 126, P/S 129)
- 507 (C/P 127, CARS 127, B/B 126, P/S 127)
- 510 (C/P 127, CARS 127, B/B 128, P/S 128)
- 509 (C/P 127, CARS 126, B/B 127, P/S 129)
In phase 3 I took both AAMC scored and retook the AAMC unscored exam.
- 512 (C/P 129, CARS 127, B/B 127, P/S 129)
- 512 (C/P 127, CARS 128, B/B 129, P/S 128)
For my actual test, I ended up doing even better!
I got a 515, with C/P 127, CARS 128, B/B 129, and P/S 131.
That’s a 15 point jump from my initial baseline score in just 4 months!
Leah’s note: 15 points in 4 months is NOT typical. I was working closely with Maggie (bi-weekly tutoring sessions and Maggie herself worked harder than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with).
If I Had To Do It All Over Again
I would try to force myself to focus more on the subjects I didn’t like: Chem/Phys and CARS.
I enjoyed studying for Psych and Bio more than those subjects, and I think that it definitely helped me perform better in those sections.
I would also try to relax more before taking exams.
I always got very nervous before taking a full length, and the day of the test I was extremely nervous.
(As I said, I barely remember the C/P section, except for the fact that I was shaking as I started it!)
Being more relaxed would have let me focus more on the questions and think more clearly.
I also would have been a little bit easier on myself and accept that bad days happen
It is not the end of the world if I do not accomplish as much as I intended to
or scored as high as I wanted to while studying.
I know that it seems like a huge uphill battle and such
an enormous amount of material to cover,
but don’t stress about that perceived amount.
You really just chip away at it week by week, and before you know it, you’re finishing up all of the content.
This is only a few months of your life.
While they might seem like a long time, they go by really fast, so stay focused and keep working because it will be here before you know it.
This is a big commitment, and you might have to make some sacrifices during this time, but it will all be worth it.
None of my friends were going through this, so they didn’t understand what a big deal it was.
They would give me a hard time for not hanging out with them or for studying so much.
I felt bad at the time and felt very left out, but looking back at it, I did not miss out on anything that would have been more important than my test!
Since I pushed through, I did well on my test and now I do not have to spend more time studying to retake it and missing out on more stuff!
Also, I definitely, definitely, definitely recommend the MCAT Study Hall to anyone and everyone! I really do not think that I could have done this without it!
Leah’s note: If you are questioning if you need to Retake the MCAT, see what you need to know here first