Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback on previous ‘MCAT prep and test day’ stories, here is yet another MCAT interview, this time from one of my study hall members who had taken quite a few (too many IMO) full lengths before joining the program.
Please remember, this is ONE STUDENT’S perspective and what worked for him may or may not work for you. As you read ask yourself ‘how can I apply this to my own situation’ and make adjustments to plan accordingly.
He tested late April 2018 and shares his experience, especially a detailed breakdown of the many exams he took.
Overall, I found my MCAT to be difficult. I was familiar with all the topics, and nothing really caught me by surprise. I was thrown off by a couple questions that I found to be very specific and presumed ‘low yield’ and those questions were either you know it or don't.
I didn't let those few questions get to me, as I guessed and moved on. I'll get to this in more detail as I go section by section.
It was tough, but definitely doable. Got more difficult towards the end.
It required A LOT of math. I had to use about a page and a half of scrap paper (maybe because I write big?) of calculations/conversions. They weren't difficult, but required knowing your formulas/units and extracting the info from the passage.
I didn't think there would be so much math – I thought it'd be more conceptual. The math wasn't only for the physics sections either, I needed math for biochem/gen chem passages as well.
My test wasn't physics heavy. Besides math, the passages were based more on analyzing info and applying known information. Some of it was pure content, but not much.
The discretes were doable and it was either you know it or you don't. Not terrible.
There was some low yield topics that I hadn't thought about since my content review in phase 1. I definitely lost one question because I completely forgot the definition for it. I was annoyed but now I'll never forget it.
This section felt the most like the AAMC Practice exams/passages. Some passages felt really good, about two passages were tough for me and I had to guess some questions.
The passages seemed normal in length. None of them seemed to long, but they were SUPER boring. Not interesting at all. In fact, after the section was over, I completely forgotten what I had read and how I answered. I still don't remember the passages. Overall, AAMC practice is best for this section and the style was exactly the same.
Leah’s Note: prepare for this using the Newspaper Strategy on a regular basis
By far the hardest section on my exam. Not only did I get low yield discrete such as the names of certain structures not emphasized or the lifespan of a random cell, but the passages were tough as well. This section was all graphs and application of knowledge. Few questions were purely “What is this/what does this do” as the rest was determining how one system/hormone/reaction most likely or least likely affects another part of the body. I had to make a lot of educated guesses.
Leah’s Note: prepare for this by applying the Newspaper Strategy to scientific journals
This section was normal in terms of having a mix of hard and easy passages/questions. Everything was familiar and probably only one or two questions had terms in the answer that I hadn't seen before where I had to use my knowledge to make the best probable guess. This section was about half recognizing/naming/apply the theory and half applying passage information. In fact, some questions seemed really ridiculous and some felt way too easy.
I spent about 6 and a half months studying part-time for this exam (about 570 hours logged). I used Leah4sci Study Hall videos and the Kaplan review books to cover content. I took full lengths from multiple companies including, Kaplan, Altius, Next Step, Princeton Review, and AAMC. I used untimed exams as practice when I did passage practice. I'll speak about each separately.
Leah’s Note: Every student is different, learn how much time you need
Kaplan Review Books
I really liked these books. Yes, they are super detailed, but they really do cover most of the content that you need to know. Of course, it doesn't cover everything, but it helps you get exposure to the possible questions that could be asked.
Plus, their diagrams and colorful pages really made the reading better. The questions at the end of the book were helpful for review and to make sure you got the content. They were harder than actual discrete questions, but if you want a really detailed knowledge and you have enough study time, Kaplan is a good resource. I also had access to the Examkrackers books. They were good as well, but did not cover as much info as the Kaplan books.
MCAT Study Hall Library
I used the Leah4sci Study Hall videos throughout my study period and they were super helpful. Leah’s methods of approaching questions and understanding content really fit my learning style. Throughout content review, I would watch the videos first, then cover the material in my review book and answer questions. As I finished content review and went through all the videos, I would re-watch the videos on topics I needed more understanding on at a speed of 1.5x and even 2x to quickly refresh my memory. This especially helped in the final month and a half during my exam reviews.
Next Step Full Lengths
I liked these exams. I took about 4 of them early on in my studying before I had finished content. I feel like their tests were good practice and were pretty representative of the actual MCAT, except for the CARS section. I feel like Next Step CARS is not the same as AAMC and I had an issue shifting from this company to AAMC.
Leah’s Note: Save 10% on Next Step exams: Discount code on the MCAT resources page
Kaplan Full Lengths
By far the hardest FL I'd ever taken. Their tests are super content heavy, testing you on every detail. I only took one of their exams, but it really made me feel like my content wasn't as strong as I thought. Regardless, it was good practice because it helped solidify the little details that I often forgot about. I felt Kaplan CARS was great practice for AAMC. Slightly harder, but it was very useful for me.
Princeton Full Lengths
I only took the first free Princeton exams, and it was probably the least representative of the actual MCAT in my opinion. Again, it was super content-detail heavy and really made you think far beyond the material. Great for analyzing, but again, you have to really know the small details. One thing to note about this FL is that the passages are WAY longer than the actual MCAT (or so it feels that way). It felt as if the reading never stopped.
Altius Full Lengths
I took a couple of Altius exams (about 7) and I really liked them. They were tough exams but definitely doable. Their C/P and P/S were great practice as it drilled information that I encountered in AAMC practice. Their CARS for the first few exams was NOT the same as AAMC in my opinion. It got more representative on the 7th exam. Lastly, this company had the best B/B practice that I encountered. Their B/B was graph heavy with lots of experimental passages, which I encountered on the actual MCAT.
Of course, the most representative source for MCAT prep. I took all the exams (Sample + FLs 1 – 3) and did all the practice questions. Full length #3 felt the most representative (especially the Psych section) with FL #2 and #1 following. I don't really remember the sample exam as much, but I know it is good practice.
As for the practice questions, I'd recommend every student to do them ALL! They don't have enough Psych questions, so use psych sections from as many other companies as you can. The section bank questions are most representative of the actual MCAT, especially the difficult Bio passages.
If you can understand and do well on the bio section bank, you'll be fine on the actual MCAT. AAMC CARS is the best practice, so use them once you're nearing your date and can devote enough time to really reviewing those problems. Lastly, all their questions are helpful, so make sure to review the ones you got wrong and really understand the solutions by supplementing it with another source (the AAMC solutions aren't the greatest).
Leah’s Note: Save AAMC passages for the later part of phase 2 and finish (or review again) in phase 3
Looking Back – Advice to Students Preparing To Test
Looking back now after having taken the exam, I would recommend for students to go over content as quickly as possible (phase 1), and to spend most of your time practice.
At the end of the day, the MCAT is a standardized test, and there is only so much you can see. Building strategies for answering questions, understanding how you think and feel, and having the endurance to take the exam is just as important as knowing the content.
I learned that there is ALWAYS content to know. I never felt like I knew it all and I was constantly learning. If I had to do it all over again, I would spend 2 months going over all the content, 3 months of practice tests/passages while reviewing notes and everything I get wrong.
The 2nd to last month I would do all the AAMC practice and review that. Then the final month of the exam I would focus on the AAMC exams and reviewing my reasoning.
I feel that I spent too much time on content, trying to learn every process, instead of just learning them as part of my review. I also feel I took tests too close together. If I did it again, I'd take more exams during phase 2, maybe 3 for phase 3, and none for phase 1 aside from untimed section exams for practice. This is what I would do, but of course it will vary for each individual. However, the same suggestion holds true, which is cover content quickly and practice, practice, practice.
Leah’s Advice: I recommend 4-6 weeks for Phase 1, 2/mo in phase 2 and weekly in phase 3.
Testing Center Experience
Regarding testing conditions, I was very impressed with my test center. I tested in Brooklyn, NY by the Barclays Center. The chairs were comfortable, the rooms were clean and quiet, the staff was nice, and the computers were working fine. I don't recall anyone having an issue.
We got earplugs which helped, and our belongings were stored in lockers. We had to check in and out for every break and it slightly was annoying, but it didn't affect my attitude or focus.
I took the full amount for each break and I used them to eat fruit and a nice healthy, light lunch (chicken and broccoli) to keep me going.
I also sipped on a small black coffee during the breaks. This kept me energized and not sleepy so I'd recommend all students to bring satisfying, but light snacks. The check-in for me wasn't that long, maybe a minute or 2 tops, so I felt I was able to use the most of my break.
Before you start each section, you get 2 minutes to click next. I used this time to meditate before every section, which helped calm me down.
I had no real issues, though i will say I did go to the wrong center in the morning (there are two testing centers in Brooklyn) and I had to Uber it to the right place.
If you're testing, remember to recheck the address for your site and to leave your home early. I'm lucky I arrived super early and the locations were close enough that I was still 10 minutes early when I arrived to my actual site.
We didn't actually start at 8am. Due to signing in and the whole process, my group actually started around 8:30 – 8:45am and I ended at 4pm. Aside from that, I had a great testing experience.
One last thing I will say is that on practice tests, I often doubted myself and spent too long on questions that were difficult. For the actual MCAT, I made sure I didn't doubt myself at all, and I went with my initial gut feeling when I had to guess.
I knew I had prepared my best and I wasn't going to undermine that. I was super nervous, but I gave it my best effort.
Regardless of my score, I'm happy that I went through with this process – the grind, the success, the failure.
Studying for the MCAT is like science classes all over again but without the fun of classmates. I'm hoping I did well and I have no regrets. For those reading this, good luck and remember you can do it! This process is hard, but I believe if we continue working at it, we'll one day be doctors.
Thanks for all your help Leah. I will keep you updated.
I want to hear from you
what was your biggest takeaway from this interview? what type of questions would you like to see addressed in future interviews? Let me know in the comments below