Today I want to introduce you to one of my Study Hall members who took the MCAT on Friday August 5th. While every story is unique to the student in question, I know you’ll find many gold nuggets in reading about her struggles and triumphs.
My Winding Road to Medicine
I had wanted to be a doctor for a long time, but I drifted away from that for a few years: I moved across the country after undergrad, started an entry-level job in a hospital, got a Master’s in Administration, and then I worked my way up through the ranks.
In the back of my mind, Med school has always been my ideal goal. I've been a patient for a long time, for a genetic oral-maxillofacial disorder (yay, genetics!), and I have a family full of nurses. So the field of medicine is not something I'm new to.
Being able to problem-solve and do work that directly affects the lives of patients as the physicians have done for me since I was a kid, is what I've always wanted. Surgery, in particular: cut it open, fix it, put it back together, and send them on their way 🙂
I’m 27, graduated with B.A. degree in Chemistry in 2011, obtained a Master's degree in Healthcare Administration in 2015, took the old MCAT in 2012. It's been 7 years since I took Physics, 8 years since I took General Chemistry, 5 years since I took Biochemistry or Organic Chemistry.
I work full time, have a house, a bunch of pets. I am a wife, and hopefully soon I’ll have a baby… just in time to go to Med school in 2017 (I just submitted primary application recently). So life is hectic, and studying has been difficult. I started studying in January –so just shy of 8 months.
My MCAT Experience
Chemistry and Physics felt different between NextStep and the AAMC Scored.
There was not as much Physics in the AAMC (no lenses, magnetism, kinematics, Bernoulli's at all). There were mostly some strange ways to calculate energy based on experimental design –at least not in the more standard ways that we learned in physics books.
You really have to think about what things are and how you can get from what you have to what you need. There was one passage that had a couple things related to circuit equations, but even that was not presented in the textbook-way we've seen.
There was lots of O-Chem, such as structures, functional groups, predicting reactions, and intermediates, etc., etc. They touched on some amino acids here, but amino acids had much more presence in Bio/Biochem section.
In the AAMC exam, CARS was quite a bit more straightforward and less dense than in the NextStep exams. Even AAMC Scored felt more convoluted than the real thing. Some basic inferences based on mildly interesting topics –it was a nice reprieve from the dense scientific passages in Chemistry and Physics though!
Biology and Biochemistry was very diverse in difficulty on the actual exam.
For instance, there would be one incredibly dense experimental passage with some questions that were more convoluted than necessary, and then the next discrete question would be really basic stuff.
Glycolysis, glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis, etc., were tested heavily, but more in the details (enzymes and intermediates) and how they connected to each, definitely not just simple regurgitation. NADH and FADH showed up a lot outside of a particular pathway, such as how they carry electrons and how many and things like that.
There was not a lot of questions on hormones or organ systems. Enzymes were a big topic – kinetics, how to get information from all sorts of graphs, Kcat/Km/Vmax, classes and functions, etc.
AMINO ACIDS were present out the wazoo!!
I felt like every other question related to amino acids somehow (binding sites of proteins to different things, how changes in amino acids would affect anything they could think of…). Electrophoresis, spectroscopy also showed up a lot.
Psychology and Sociology has always felt fairly straightforward: either you know the terms and how to apply them or you don't. There are not a lot of ways to figure out or infer the answers in that section.
I had studied Kaplan books, NextStep exams, and some Khan Academy videos, yet I still had never seen some of the terms that showed up on the exam. I don't have a lot of good advice on this one. It felt pretty easy for the most part, just a few questions that referred to things I didn't really know.
There was nothing on big names. Everything was referred to as “according to the behaviorist” or “cognitivist”, rather than the names specifically.
Sleep cycles came up a few times, such as how they vary from birth to adulthood, or what stage has what traits, etc.
Specific Study Resources
I had a variety of study tools throughout the nearly 8 months of study:
Leah (Study Hall), Khan Academy videos, and Kaplan books. I made my own flashcards, and audio notes. I used phone apps with flashcards (such as Quizlet, Brainscapes, Kaplan). I used all the AAMC material (flashcards, scored and unscored exams, section banks, and question bundles).
Leah's Note: See the best resources on the MCAT Resources Page
My Study Process
I was fantastic at being able to stick to my pre-determined study regiment …until I wasn't. Work increased in stress and load, issues with my house popped up (yay, homeownership!), my wife and I were trying to start a family, some financial strain arose.
All the things that make up life also make it difficult to stick to a plan. Particularly, when unexpected things happen.
But, I pushed on. And really felt myself learning and improving my understanding. My scores started at 498 baseline, stagnated at 504-505 for a few weeks, and then increased to 509 just before test day.
Practice exam review was something I didn't put enough stock in until the end. And I don't think I started utilizing the question bundles and section banks early enough.
Learning to apply and utilize what I read/watched in content review really solidified the material in my brain –much more than reading/watching a second or third time did.
Why I Postponed my MCAT
I did have to postpone my exam about 6 weeks…which felt pretty terrible at the time.
I wasn't at the score I needed. I was behind in my studies and I was having issues in the financial department. Plus a lot of stress coupled with not enough sleep.
Looking back, it was a great decision to postpone!
It’s not ‘failure’ to ensure that you're ready before sitting down to take this thing –this exam isn't trivial and it isn't something to go into un (or under)-prepared.
I’m So Happy I Postponed
I understood so many more things than I would have previously. I had the confidence and calmness I needed to actually handle sitting in that room for that long at once! Endurance isn't a joke either –I kid you not! 🙂
We will see how well I did in reality in 30 days, but I felt like it was good.
Probably not outstanding, but I felt like it will be in the range that I ended up with my practice exams.
What I Wish I Did Differently
I wish I had started with practice questions earlier. I wish I had crammed the content review faster, and started with application earlier. I could have seen much higher gains had I done that.
Leah’s Note: Break up your study schedule into the the following 3 phases
If You’re About to Test
Do all the things I wish I had done haha:
cram content review fast (as fast as understanding can go), and begin doing the practice problems as early as you can.
Those suggestions plus thorough review of the practice exams (even questions you got right!) helps more than re-reading the book or re-watching the video.
Leah’s Note: See the ‘All About MCAT Full Lengths Video’ coming next week for help on breaking down and reviewing your full lengths. (Announcement will come via email)
That being said, I did rewatch study videos at least a second time on a pretty high speed (1.8 for things I was really comfortable with, 1.3-1.5 for things I needed a little refresher on or if I was looking for some specific detail that I missed the first time).
Reviewing the videos did help remind me of the little things that slip your mind once you have put so much other stuff in your brain.
I strongly advise you to really learn to endure that long time–there is nothing like sitting for 95 minutes staring at a computer screen. Especially if it isn't something you are even somewhat comfortable doing. I took the old MCAT a few years ago with little-to-no prep. And that wasn't nearly this long, but it still was far too long to sit without some endurance practice.
Working with Leah in the MCAT Study Hall
The Study Hall helped in a few ways: got me set up with a schedule that, even though it was continually updated throughout the process, really kept me grounded and on my way forward.
It also gave me a support system which is something that has been incredibly helpful.
The videos and live sessions were amazing resources. They helped with content review, connecting topics, and having an audio/visual way to learn (rather than just reading black words on white paper in the silence… talk about mind numbing!).
And Leah followed up with my schedule and kept me accountable. She really pushed me forward. It can be easy to just succumb to apathy, but having the group there every step of the way provided the nudge to stay focused on the endgame. The group has been informative, encouraging, and helpful with learning and understanding.