MCAT Advice from Ada of The Biosisters

MCAT advice 2018 TheBioSisters Leah4sciMeet Rose and Ada, also known as @thebiosisters who run a motivational and informational blog for pre-health students.

Rose is a 2nd year medical student in New Orleans.

Ada is a Biology/pre-med rising senior who just took her MCAT on June 30th.

Ada first shared this on Instagram, but I asked for permission to publish here so that you can benefit from her journey and experience. Be sure to follow them on Instagram: @thebiosisters!

Hey y’all! Ada here. 

We’ve received many questions about MCAT prep, so I decided to share some aspects of my preparation process here (with some input from Rose who tested in 2016!).

Keep in mind, this is what worked for me – every single person has a unique learning style. The key is to try out different things and see what will work for YOU.

It will require work, but consistency yields results. Don’t stop, keep moving forward, and remind yourself that you are capable!

I want to discuss three main areas of focus:

  1. Planning
  2. Productivity
  3. Progress

Planning – Creating and maintaining a strict schedule is so important for this exam.

I’m a big planner, always making to-do lists and scheduling in my tasks.

Think about when YOU want to test. Specifically, when you will need to receive your score in time for your application.
Think about how long you will have to study between now and then.
Think about how many hours per day or week you will dedicate to the MCAT.

Factor in one day each week for rest, and an extra week in case you need to catch up some days. Things happen, people get sick, we have off days, chapters take longer than expected. Each person’s study schedule will look different due to work, school, and family responsibilities, etc.

For me, I knew I was “preparing” for the MCAT since my first day of undergrad, working my hardest in science courses to understand the concepts and retain as much knowledge as possible.

For those just starting their premed journey:

  • Looking over MCAT review books as you take your pre-reqs: I only really did this for Organic 1 and Biochem. I would look over the corresponding chapters before learning them in class, and it helped me to pick up on more of the big picture concepts.
  • Take good notes or even make Quizlets in your pre-reqs so that you can refer back to them during your MCAT prep if you’d like.
  • Another option is to wait to read the MCAT subject books after finishing each pre-req (at the end of the semester). Technically, once you have taken your final, you will be the most knowledgeable on that content as you ever will be. It would be great to annotate the MCAT books while everything is still fresh in your mind.

I started looking at MCAT books (TPR) last summer (2017) casually and thinking about my study plan. I flipped through some of the books and took notes, but I was doing research full-time, so MCAT wasn’t my primary focus.

I decided not to take an official MCAT prep course, although Rose did and benefited greatly from it. I chose to independently study because:

  1. I felt comfortable with my content knowledge. I know the type of learner I am, and I figured that I would benefit from working at my own pace, dedicating extra time on things that I needed, and spending less time on content I knew well.
  2. Rose still had her MCAT prep course books, so I was able to use those to study.
  3. I purchased access to all of AAMC’s online materials (definitely would recommend – if you plan on buying ANYTHING to study for the MCAT – go there! Their FL exams are the closest to the real thing).

If you plan on testing in the next 18 months, start studying ASAP.

Yes, you still have time, but time flies. You will wish that you started as early as possible. Not saying that you need to finish content review a year in advance – I’m saying at least start thinking about when you’ll get it all done and start exposing yourself to the topics now.

I started my dedicated study time in January of this year. I brought some of my content books to college with me, and would set aside a few hours each week to work through the chapters. I also enjoyed watching Khan Academy as I exercised. I took the free TPR Demo FL test in March to get a baseline score.

But with my coursework, research, half-marathon training, and work, I found myself putting MCAT on the back burner.

Many premeds will agree that studying for the MCAT during the semester is a challenge. It is possible to do, and many of my classmates did it well, but I chose to shift most of my study time to two months of full-time studying this summer, (approx) 8-10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Leah4sci recommends ~500+ hours of studying. I took that into account, and read her post on the 3 stages of MCAT studying (highly recommend). Here are some more things to read from her

Also check out the MCAT posts on Reddit and Student Doctor Network published by other premeds who already took the MCAT. There they share their study schedules and resources. 

Leah’s Note: Check out even more interviews with MCAT students sharing great study tips and experiences from different backgrounds

Productivity – Studying for 8+ hours a day could look like many different things

This is very important.MCAT feedback interview TheBioSisters Leah4sci

It could be 6 hours of reading with 2 hours of educational videos, 45 min segments of practice questions with reviewing at the end, or taking a prep course and making notes during the lectures, etc.

I would wake up at 6AM, get started with my studies by 7:30, study until 4:30ish (with breaks for lunch), and then do a couple hours after dinner.

My first phase of studying consisted of my reading of Princeton books and taking detailed notes.
I only wrote down what I knew that I did not know – things to be memorized, trends that I didn’t quite understand, formulas, theories, and definitions.

When I watched Khan Academy (usually on 1.5x speed and with subtitles), I made sure I understood every concept and term. If not, I’d either write it down or Google it right then and there.

I constantly reviewed my notes, drawing pathways/structures and making flashcards for some things as well. After I felt good with ~75% of content, I started doing all the AAMC Section Banks and Question Packs. Then, with about 5 weeks left, I switched my focus to full-length exams.

Resources: Khan Academy, Quizlet, Anki, NexStep, TPR, Kaplan, MedicalSchoolHQ, Adaptprep, UWorld, Leah4sci, and Jack Westin CARS

Leah’s Note: Do you have your resources gathered? Find out how to start in Step 3 of my Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide

Progress – For me, tracking my progress consisted of taking numerous practice tests

Throughout the course of my studying, I took the following exams: 4 AAMC, 6 Princeton, 1 Kaplan (plus the free Kaplan half), and 1 NextStep.

I simulated real test day conditions as much as possible:

  • woke up at 6 am, started testing by 7:30,
  • used a mouse (instead of laptop keypad),
  • refrained from using my phone on breaks (sometimes, haha),
  • and planned my snacks/bathroom breaks.

Endurance is a large component of the MCAT which must be built and practiced. I felt that this practice helped me greatly on test day 

I knew how my mind and body reacted to sitting and focusing for so long.

During your practice exams, I’d advise you to try to leave at least 5 minutes at the end of each section. (This was easy for me in Bio and Psych Soc, not so much in Chem Phys and CARS.)

On real test day, everything is in slow motion except for the clock… Many people I spoke with said they wished they had a few more minutes.

Practice without those few extra minutes, and you’ll have them on test day!

After each practice exam, I spent hours going through EACH question.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

For my correct questions – I made sure to understand the faulty components of the wrong answers as well as why my answer was most correct.

For wrong questions – I tried to guess what the real answer was and why, and why my answer was bad. I soon learned my weak points and made a constantly-evolving list of topics to master.

At first, I struggled with CARS inference questions, enzyme kinetics, genetics, acid/base chemistry, electrochemistry, and physics 2 content.

This helped me direct my focus. From that first test in the spring (TPR) to my highest practice test (AAMC FL 3), my score increased by 18 points.

Ada Biosisters Practice MCAT Test exam scores Leah4sci interview feedback

You can see the difference in my performance on the Official AAMC versus the other prep companies. For AAMC, I went from 514 to 519 to 516 to ~518. All the others I varied greatly. I tried not to stress myself out about the other scores.

I believe that, more than my content review (which was certainly important), my many hours spent in practice exams caused my scores to improve so much.

You have to get used to the AAMC!

You can look at content all day, but if you never take a practice test, get used to their writing style, and review THEIR rationale for answers, the content knowledge won’t be of much help.

Leah’s Note: Learn more of how to make the most of each Practice Test by reading 3 Steps to Raising Your MCAT Scores with Full Length Practice Tests.

The MCAT is not another undergrad exam. It tests your critical thinking, endurance, and ability to cope with stress.

The week before your exam, the last thing you want to do is cram.

It’s all too easy for us pre-meds to stress, but try your best to supply yourself with confidence.

You put in hours and hours of hard work.
You’ve studied like you’ve never studied before.
And you’re going to get the score you want.

Go give it everything you’ve got on test day!

Things I would have done differently –

I wish I had an extra week or so to review all AAMC materials more in-depth, maybe even redo some of the question packs or section banks.

I wish I would have made more time for exercise, as I could have had more energy to dedicate to studying.

Lastly, I wish I had not compared myself to others.

I had to tell myself that I was taking MY MCAT, no one was responsible for MY score except myself. Don’t spend hours on Reddit reading about those scoring 520+ with a month of preparation or get caught up in the progress of classmates. Let’s only try to be better than the person we were yesterday.

@TheBioSisters MCAT questions Leah4sci Exam FeedbackSome overall testing tips:

When in doubt – think what overall concept they could be testing.
“What fact am I supposed to use to connect the dots?”
When it seems like a question is irrelevant and you don’t even know where to start, think about what you KNOW.

When very desperate – for calculations, if you can’t remember the exact formula, try dimensional analysis and make sure your units cancel out.

For example, if force, time, and displacement are given, but you can’t remember P = Fv!
You may remember P = W/t, and W = Fd, and v = d/t.
You can manipulate the formulas and get to your answer after a little work.

Pace yourself – MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint.

During the exam, take a deep breath if you find yourself starting to freak out.
The first five minutes of my test was “oh my, I’m really doing this?” and I had to take a few seconds to recollect.
I think that’s inevitable. Don’t let your emotions win.

Don’t spend too long on any one question (or passage, for that matter) – they’re all weighted the same!
Make your best guess, flag it for later, and carry on – the answer may pop into your head minutes later!
Or become clearer once you tackle the other questions for that passage.

I remember flagging Psych Soc questions like crazy. Not because they were hard, but because I was tired, and I was 90% confident in my answer but knew I wanted to double check, but also wanted to get through the rest of the questions first.

Don’t change your answer unless you KNOW your initial one was wrong.

I second guessed myself on one of my practice FLs and missed 6 questions on Psych Soc just because I changed my answer when double checking!!

And finally, Expect the unexpected!

  • My pen broke halfway through Chem Phys,
  • A guy in the testing center kept making noise (I didn’t want to waste time trying on the noise-canceling headphones).
  • A classmate of mine was at the wrong testing center and didn’t know it until 7:40!!
  • I’ve heard of people’s computers shutting off, testing centers being super cold or hot, parking and identification issues – not trying to scare you, just want you to know that things happen. Also, personal preference thing but I felt like my computer screen on test day was too bright and it took me a second to get used to that :). 

All in all, I hope that you stay motivated, keep a positive outlook, and never give up on your goals! Regardless of what may come your way.

Keep your eyes on the big picture. Great things are possible when you work hard.

As I tested on 6/30, I have not yet received my score and can’t speak to the effectiveness of my prep, but I can say that I felt confident both walking into and out of the exam and proved to myself the score I could get via practice full-lengths. Fingers crossed that I reached my goal score!!

Thank you for reading, come find us on Instagram @thebiosisters to let us know if you found this helpful. 

With love, Ada

Leah’s Note: The bio sisters regularly share everything from MCAT/premed advice, motivation, host Q&As and so much more. Check out their instagram profile and let them know you loved this interview.

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