My first encounter with the torturous monster that is the MCAT was during the summer of my second year of college. I decided to attempt it before having taken Organic II and Physics II, and I did alright with a 32 (BS 13, PS 10, VR 9). This first attempt was a practice run, as it provided me with an opportunity to devise a personalized strategy for the retake which ended up being a 35Q (BS 14, PS 11, VR 10).
I recommend beginning verbal practice months in advance because it requires the honing of a skill less quickly learned than the science sections. Biochemistry is also a very useful class if it is possible to take it before the MCAT. The review materials I used were the The Princeton Review MCAT Materials for general review, the Examkrackers test books for practice, and the AAMC practice tests for the most realistic simulation of the exam. Studying for the sciences began 6 weeks before the test date. I had many friends who had study schedules spread out over several months leading up to the test day, but I saw a fundamental flaw: It only matters what you know on the day and time of your actual exam. I knew that equations I reviewed four months ago would not still be in the forefront of my memory making them of little use to me.
My study schedule was extremely simple:
week one: general chemistry
week two: biology
week three: organic chemistry
week four: physics
weeks five and six: AAMC practice exams and focus on weak spots.
In order to maintain optimum focus during this 6 week study period, it was imperative that I maintain my sanity. My preferred method of stress relief and use of breaks was physical activity. Physical activity and taking frequent breaks helps maintain the focus required to get through the tremendous amount of material and aids in retention. The reason I decided on the subject order was that organic chemistry and physics require far more memorization than general chemistry and biology. The entire time going through the subjects and taking practice tests, I made note of areas of weakness which were strengthened during the last two weeks. All practice questions and practice exams should be done with a time constraint. None of the questions on the MCAT are hard. Most people would get nearly all of them correct if given enough time. The difficulty comes in the time constraint of the test, something which can be overcome through practice.
As for strategy on the actual test day, this is again simple. Though none of the questions are particularly hard, many are tricky. It is immensely helpful to approach each question with the mindset that it is a trick question. Scrutinize very carefully the information you are given and what the question is actually asking. As previously mentioned, keep in mind that good management of the time factor is imperative for a good score. I completely ignored the time remaining on each section of the exam and gauged the length of each question and complexity of each passage before answering it. If it required deliberation or long calculations, it was skipped. If it had a short quick answer or short passage, it was answered on the spot. In the BS section of my retake, I actually ended up running out of time because the second passage was incredibly long and contained a complex feedback loop. I initially skipped the passage and came back to it with 12 minutes remaining. I was forced to make educated guesses on the last three questions just as time was running out and still got a 14 on the section – likely because many other people got tripped up by the passage early on and were unable to finish the quick and easy questions toward the end. I also have a problem with hypoglycemia, so I made sure to eat something during each of the breaks in order to avoid low blood sugar from interfering with my mental processes.
If you want my personal advice, give yourself personal incentive to do well and get through the exam. The day after mine, I went straight from the exam to an ice cream shop. Chunky monkey does wonders for a mind battered by the MCAT. From the ice cream shop, I went straight home and took a 4 hour nap. From there I went out for a night on the town with friends. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed, prepare yourself adequately, and you will be fine. Find the fire of a motivation to pursue your passion deep within your chest fueled by every time someone told you that you would never make it, and you will do far more than just ‘be fine’.
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