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I will never forget how it felt to be over and done with this test. For better or worse, I made a committed effort and came away more aware of my potential to be self-disciplined and ambitious. I was mentally drained and apprehensive, but nonetheless on a cloud of relief. The MCAT quickly fell from my everyday concerns until a month later – judgment day. My score was 37Q (14P, 11V, 12B). I hope my story may advise your own preparation with the understanding that everyone is different. You will have to identify your own strengths and weaknesses as I have. But I promise you this: the satisfaction of hard work paid off is worth every shred of agony along the way.
I studied for eight weeks in the summer after my second year of undergraduate study in the life sciences. At first, I was anything but inclined to put down the beer and fishing rod for that tedious road of preparing for another exam. But as I grew aware that the MCAT is as much a personal challenge as it is competitive, my early diligence became addictive. I was working two jobs upward of 50 hours per week and had neither the time nor money for a prep course. But with my own self-disciplined routine, I remained consistently focused, motivated, and ultimately successful.
I spent my first two weeks of preparation with a near-full content review, refreshing major concepts and dusting off old skills. Initially, I studied two to four hours each day and wrote my first practice test after this period of review. In retrospect, doing a practice exam before anything else would have allowed me more time to learn the MCAT language. Over the next three to four weeks, I engaged in a detailed study of the entire content, gradually increasing my time commitment. I was then in a position to do another brief content review and grind out my weaknesses. I wrote practice exams after weeks four, five, and six, and then three more, for a total of seven, on alternating days during a far more relaxed final week.
Most of my time was spent on the biological and physical sciences, which can be neatly divided to conquer. I relied on the Examkrackers review books as a primary resource for these subjects and kept a reserve of secondary resources borrowed from friends and the public library, mainly for extra practice questions and more difficult topics. I strongly recommend the Examkrackers series for its efficient detail and concise, holistic presentation.
My main course of preparation included a thorough study of a new lecture each day, annotating and highlighting key points, followed by a lighter review and the Examkrackers chapter exam the next day. Overlapping chapters in this fashion, I focused on one subject at a time. I became absorbed in each and tailored my approach accordingly. For instance, my physics block was focused on practicing until perfect, whereas biology was more detail and concept-oriented. Understand that you will not succeed with a superficial understanding. The MCAT is too broad in scope to require that you to recall many specific details. If you are studying the cardiovascular system, keep going until you can close your eyes and imagine yourself giving a whole lecture about it, picture a disease that might afflict it, or consider it from a physicist’s point of view. Then you can decide if you are finished.
Verbal reasoning is a real pain for some people and a snap for others. Either way, this is a 60-minute section that will take you 60 minutes. I did look through things like the Kaplan method, but I ended up following my own straightforward read-and-respond approach and studied solely by practicing. My first and last scores were both 11. My average score was probably 11 too. I don’t know if I could have improved with a more strategic approach, but I was able to intersperse my practice and focus most of my time on the sciences. That’s not to say it never caused me aggravation; occasionally, I would let my focus down and scramble short of a 10. How do you prevent this from happening on test day? My advice is to practice extensively, time yourself strictly, and condition whatever approach you choose with clockwork consistency.
I began my writing practice a few weeks before test day. I chose a few strategies and wrote practice essays periodically, about eight in total. Another good exercise is to construct quick, five-minute essay plans for a series of prompts. There is no time for writer’s block on the MCAT. Nobody expects you to be F. Scott Fitzgerald here, but it would be a shame to have the bulk of your effort pay off with high scores while bombing your essays out of neglect. I have seen it happen. I found my own essays rushed and wanting compared to many that I wrote in practice; fortunately, a correct format and clear response to the instructions are far more important than velvety-smooth prose. Just make sure you will be able to handle the pressure and stress of test day.
What more I could offer you are the tricks I picked up along the way. Instead, I will just as well tell you to keep your eyes peeled and inviting for them as you go along. Learn to enjoy the long, concentrated study sessions as you would a good novel. Medical schools want to know if you are capable – whether you have a strong enough foundation for the lessons ahead. So go show them, and good luck.
Written by Justin Kozak
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