Everyone and their mother will give you MCAT advice. Some of it is really good and should be taken to heart. But not everyone who gives you advice knows 100% what they're talking about. As an MCAT tutor I share advice based on my personal MCAT studies and my years of experience in working with hundreds of premed students.
But the best advice, 0r should I say the most listened to advice comes from other students, especially those who've worked to hard to achieve the very same goals you are striving for.
Meet Erin, my former tutoring client and premed student who surprised us both with a 36 on her MCAT. I emailed my subscribers for a list of questions then begged Erin to do an interview to answer these questions. Here is a transcript of our discussion.
(Dec 2015 Update: Erin is currently a first year at New York Medical College and loving it. Congrats Erin!!)
Leah4sci: What advice do you have for students who are about to take the MCAT?
Erin: I say, don’t give up. Study hard and make sure that you get some time for yourself like to exercise or if you like to go shopping or something just to keep you balanced.
Leah4sci: While studying for the MCAT what else did you have going on in your life?
Erin: I worked, I volunteered and I’m a member of the UB club swim team so I would make sure that I got up early on the weekends or earlier before my classes to fit in studying.
Leah4sci: What was your regular study plan and routine including scheduling time per subject?
Erin: I would try to do between two to three hours of studying during the week and then on the weekend I would do five hours a day. It’s hard for me to sit for an extended period of time in the library so the shorter segments where I study hard is definitely more effective for me.
And for the subject, the studying would depend on what I did on the previous practice exam, so if I didn't do well in a topic in General Chemistry I go back and review that the most and then likely review other topics.
Leah4sci: What was your score in the beginning? On your diagnostic exam?
Erin: On the first practice test I ever took, I got a 16.
Leah4sci: Did you ever get stuck on a topic that you just really got stuck and didn't understand, and if so, what did you do?
Erin: I had a lot of trouble in some of the General Chemistry topics since those are the classes that I had to re-take so I wasn’t as confident or strong enough in that material. Like Acid Bases, Salts and Stoichiometry. In addition to Leah helping me, I would go on youtube or the internet and just like look up conceptual information information about it so I can understand more than background. It wasn’t really the Math, it was more the understanding of WHY the way it was the way it was.
Leah4sci: How did you review the material that you covered weeks or months prior to the test and still balance the material you haven’t yet covered?
Erin: I would every so often go back and look at the beginning topics I did to keep it fresh because the MCAT has repeating topics on it. So if you’ve done one AAMC exam it's bound to come up in another. It’s good to just go back and review the conceptual side of the information. Not so much the Math problems in it, and in addition to new information which I will study harder and try to grasp more.
Leah4sci: What was your weakest area prior to taking the MCAT? Was the Physical Science, Verbal or Bio?
Erin: My weakest area was the Physical Science and that ended up being the section I scored the best on the actual MCAT.
Leah4sci: why do you think that is?
Erin: I think it’s because I studied the hardest and try to prepare myself the most in that particular section.
Leah4sci: Within the Physical Science, was it the Math, the logic, the understanding, time, what was the most difficult for you?
Erin: I think the most difficult part was the logic behind all the subject matter and learning like what type of question they were asking me. Of course they’re not gonna be straight off and say ‘Oh this is it, the acid base question' I’m like what’s the answer and they’re not going to ask in an obvious way. So you have to pick up what type of problem it is, what subject it is.
Leah4sci: Are there any books or practice test questions that you would recommend. I mean there’s so much material out there, which ones did you use and find most helpful in preparing for the MCAT?
Erin: For practice exams I did the Princeton review and AAMC exams, nothing is closer to the MCAT than AAMC so I save those in the beginning for my diagnostic and for last few weeks. I filled up the middle with the Princeton review which I found decently comparable except for the Verbal part. I found that ExamKrackers (purchase on amazon) was the most like the AAMC exam.
Leah4sci: Other than the practice exams, what did you do to prepare for Verbal?
Erin: Other than verbal I would read newspaper articles
Leah4sci: Do you mean my ‘Newspaper Strategy’?
Erin: Yeah…so I did like the newspaper strategy but I wouldn't just try to read. There’s difference between reading it and then like REALLY reading it so I would, while reading the newspaper article, I will try to like pay attention while keeping a good pace and then at the end I would like tell myself ‘what was it about' summarize it so I know that I absorbed the information rather than just quickly skimmed through it and read it.
Leah4sci: Are there any specific portions of the material covered on the test that you recommend spending extra time studying?
Erin: I would definitely recommend being comfortable reading the different types of charts they’re gonna throw on the Science section. Not that they’re hard but the way they present it is more confusing than it has to, so be comfortable reading charts you've never seen before.
Leah4sci: When you were going through passages, how did you not fall for the tricky questions especially in Verbal when the choices look so similar?
Erin: For the passages, they wanna trick you but I just always tell myself to always keep it simple stupid because when you over think that’s where you get it wrong.
Leah4sci: How did you deal with the whole pressure of having a timer going on during the exam?
Erin: The timer is definitely really stressful. But if you time yourself from the start, during your practice AAMCs by the end you’ll be so used to it that it won’t matter.
Leah4sci: What did you do the month prior to MCAT and how did that strengthen your weak areas?
Erin: The month prior to my MCAT, I focused a lot on the old AAMC exams and I even went back and looked at the first few that I took. And the last month I studied super hard the first two weeks and then, and I kinda lightened up the last two weeks to more mentally prepare myself and like to give myself a little bit peace of mind before the test.
Leah4sci: What would you recommend for a student who is stuck in a scoring plateau?
Erin: I would say look for the little things that you’re doing wrong. because for me my mistakes was always stupid math mistakes and not my actual material, so look carefully at your exams to see what you’re doing wrong because it’s most likely the same thing on each test.
Leah4sci: You had an 8am exam. What did you do the morning of the exam to make sure you were prepared.
Erin: The morning of the exam, I got up extra early. I give myself plenty of time to drink my coffee, eat breakfast, go to bathroom, drink water so I was fueling my body and then I got to the exam earlier than I needed to but that was kinda nice so I was the first one in and first one out.
Leah4sci: What about during the breaks, what did you do during the actual MCAT breaks?
Erin: During the break I ate fruit or piece of chocolate, go to the bathroom, jog on place a little bit and then go back in.
Leah4sci: You mean like the jumping jacks strategy I gave you?
Erin *chuckles* yeah
Leah4sci: If you had to take it again and you have to start preparing from the very beginning what would you do differently?
Erin: I would spend a little bit more time in verbal and pick up on the small problems that I would get wrong because I scored the lowest in Verbal and I would try to familiarize myself more with the charts that you would see in passages with the graphs that they present you and like learning to analyze that.
Leah4sci: What last minute advice will you give to the students who are getting ready to take their MCAT in the very near future?
Erin: I would say don’t give up, trust there’s a lot of tears and a lot of discouragement but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll have to do but if you just keep going at it and don’t give up you can do it.
Leah4sci: Remind us again, how did you do?
Erin: I got a 36 on my MCAT!
Leah4sci: Congratulations again and thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.