I'm excited to introduce Jerold, a long time Leah4sci subscriber on his way to medical school having just earned a 517 on his MCAT!
The advice shared below is how he specifically approached and ace this exam. Don't take it as a model for your schedule. Instead, learn from his approach and use it to craft your own!
After earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Georgia (UGA) in 2005, I became a police officer. Most of my time with the police department was spent as an investigator, I reconstructed fatality car accidents.
In 2010, with the vision of becoming a physician, I continued my university studies. After a brief stint at UGA, I was accepted to Columbia University where I earned a degree in Neuroscience and Behavior in 2015 (cum laude). I am married and have a 2 year old son. I hope to begin medical school in 2017.
I studied for 4.5 months.
Each morning I would study for 3 to 4 hours before going to work. In the evening, I attempted to review for 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed.
Leah’s Note: I recommend the Equation Strategy as part of your pre-bedtime study routine
On Saturdays, I completed full-length practice exams.
Resources Used to Prepare
Rather than reading through all of one company's materials (Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc…), I first used the AAMC MCAT content outlines to determine my strengths and weaknesses.
Beginning two months before my exam, I reviewed the MCAT cheat sheets available at Leah4Sci and Kaplan’s Quick Sheets daily. For full-length exam practice, I used AAMC’s scored and unscored, NextStep (using the Leah4sci discount), and ExamKrackers (see MCAT Resource Page).
Here are my scores with several of the resources I've talked about. You'll notice I followed Leah's advice and started my preparation with the AAMC Unscored exam.
- AAMC Unscored (63%/91%/71%/71%)
- ExamKrackers #1 (68% – 38/59, 38/53, 41/59, 40/59)
- NextStep Diagnostic (508 – 125/127/126/130)
- NextStep 1 (510 – 128/127/127/128)
- NextStep 2 (510 – 128/126/127/129)
- NextStep 4 (508 – 128/127/126/127)
- NextStep 5 (510 – 128/127/128/127)
- AAMC Scored (518 – 128/128/130/132)
- Actual MCAT (517 – 130/127/129/131)
What I Found Most Helpful
Reviewing full-length practice exams I found was one of the most useful prep tools.
I reviewed any word or concept from the passage, question stem, and answer choices I did not know.
I reviewed all answer choices to be sure I could articulate why it was either the correct or incorrect answer. I reviewed each graph and data table, then explained its meaning to my “invisible study buddy.”
Lastly, I tried to reduce each question stem to its simplest elements; I learned to see through the sometimes unfamiliar and/or unusual concepts/wording.
Leah’s Note: Not spending enough time reviewing yours exams? Learn how here: How to review your Full Length Practice Exams
What WASN'T Helpful
What I found least helpful was the continuous review of material to the exclusion of answering questions.
Initially, there was a temptation to keep reviewing the material listed on the AAMC content sheets. I felt that in so doing I was cementing my understanding of that material.
This was not true and can only be learned by completing practice passages and exams. However, certain items I did review regularly including the names, abbreviations, side chain structure, and pKa of the amino acids. But in general, though, after the basic review of concepts, continuing to reread was a waste of time. I should have spent that time answering questions and refining my test taking strategy.
Leah’s Note: Learn to break up your MCAT prep into 3 effective phases
Advice for Students About To Test
Once you are at, or within, two months of your exam the vast majority of your study time should be spent completing and dissecting practice problems and full-length exams.
This will reveal not only your content weaknesses but will allow you to learn how you are reasoning though each question, how you mentally outline passage material, and if your strategies are useful.
Also, complete CARS (verbal) passages, at least three per day, using the strategy you know is most effective for you.
The CARS section provides an opportunity to earn points without needing background information, you only need to teach yourself, and practice, a strategy.
And if you’re Just Starting Out…
- The AAMC practice exam that is not scored is not like the actual exam, the passage structure and types of questions are very different.
- Find one set of review books you think are useful and stick with it. Do not spend time reviewing books from multiple companies with the idea one may have the “secret” to your success with certain content.
- Take NestStep’s diagnostic exam. I found their passages and question stems to be most representative of the actual MCAT, although more difficult.
This will familiarize you with the types of questions asked and is the point from which you need to develop your MCAT strategy.
- Do not take the scored practice exam until you feel comfortable taking the actual MCAT.
- Develop your MCAT strategy first, this will keep you from learning material to a degree not required by the MCAT, and will allow you to refine and practice that strategy so come test day, it is second nature.
- Complete CARS (verbal) practice passages daily!!!
Here is a section that requires no advanced knowledge. It only requires that you create a strategy that works for you and that you can execute on test day. Do this, do this, do this!!!
- Get the cheat sheets from Leah4Sci and Kaplan.
Review them often!
Know the structure, pKa, names, three letter abbreviation, and single letter abbreviation of each amino acid. This is likely to net you 4 to 5 question in the bio/biochem section.
- Set an MCAT score goal and write it down before you begin each study session. Spend a minute envisioning yourself achieving that goal.
- Focus on your goal and maintain a singular focus during your study months. Be realistic, you will have to sacrifice Facebook Time, Youtube time, friend time, etc…if you want to achieve a 95% score or higher.
What I'm Really Proud Of
I was sure to do my research before the exam because I wanted to reduce the likelihood of being surprised as much as possible. Fortunately, there were no surprises.
I would like to emphasize how important completing practice problems and full-length practice exams was for my success. Not only did it allow me to discover my content weaknesses, but it also allowed me to develop test-taking strategies specific to AAMC style passages and questions.
Remember, this process is likely to be slow and painful at first but your hard work WILL PAY OFF!
Be prepared to experience frustration and upset during your study months, it happens. Use those opportunities to learn and to drive you forward so when you see your official MCAT score you can rejoice.
I want to hear from you!
Were you inspired by this interview? If so WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?? Commit to taking action RIGHT NOW and dive right in! Let me know that first action step in the comments below