MCAT: How To Get Started

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WHAT'S UP MY PEOPLE!? This is a longer and niche kind of post but some of my pre-med followers have asked me to talk about the MCAT.  If you have any friends or family planning to take this exam, please share this with them! And if you'd like to inquire about 1-on-1 MCAT tutoring with me, shoot me an email here with [MCAT] in the subject. xx

There really are two types of premeds: the premeds who have their MCAT test-dates picked before they even step foot on campus as freshmen and the premeds who have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. Guess which group I belong to? Here’s a hint: I didn’t think about the MCAT until winter break of my senior year. I hadn’t even registered for a test date but in my mind I was applying to med school that June. Fast-forward 6 months… mid-June… graduated... didn’t take the MCAT… didn’t apply to med school (#badpremed).

So how and when did my MCAT journey even begin? Well, that January I decided to get my toes wet and start working through the basics. I read two chapters from a Biology prep book, started taking detailed notes, and looked through Khan Academy’s free MCAT resources. Once classes started back up I pressed PAUSE on the MCAT and it wasn’t until late February that I picked up my books for a second time. I passed on Cancún and spent Spring Break on campus. I registered for an April test date and completed a full-length diagnostic. At this point, I still had it in my mind that I’d apply to med school in the 2018 cycle (#stubbornaf) and it really took me weeks to realize that it wasn’t my time. By late March, I'd given up my test seat and lost the GWAP it'd cost me ($$$). At the time it felt like an “L”, but it was 100% a WIN.  I wouldn’t lie to you guys; deciding to take 2 years off before med school was hands-down the best decision I've ever made. I didn't have to rush my studying and I got an MCAT score I was more than happy with!

 I borrowed these headphones from my brother (found  here ), and eventually bought  this  affordable pair for my MCAT study sessions. The cheaper they are, the easier it is to throw them in your bag and GO (and honestly, the sound quality on the pair I bought for myself is pretty good!).

I borrowed these headphones from my brother (found here), and eventually bought this affordable pair for my MCAT study sessions. The cheaper they are, the easier it is to throw them in your bag and GO (and honestly, the sound quality on the pair I bought for myself is pretty good!).

I say all of this to show you that your MCAT journey doesn’t have to be perfect; mine was full of indecisiveness and poor planning. But you know what? The MCAT is the exception to the rule: it’s more about the destination and less about the journey. After all, the ultimate goal is med school. Even if the path ends up longer than you expected, who cares as long as you make it (#realtalk). And if by now you’re thinking dang when is this chick gonna tell me how to get started, don’t worry, I’m almost there.

I chose to self-study for the MCAT for two reasons: (1) I couldn’t afford a prep course and (2) I trusted that I had enough self-discipline to get it done at my own pace. For me, self-studying really only came with one downside: I had to figure it out on my own. I truly wish I would've had the funds to invest in private tutoring- not so much for studying, but more for guidance. Now, trust me, no matter what route you go you’ll have to personalize your studying to get the most out of it. But as a first-generation pre-med who knew few people who had taken the MCAT already and even fewer who were willing to talk about it, finding what worked took a lot of trial-and-error. Lucky for me, that trial-and-error was built into all of that STOP/START/NAH NEVER MIND stuff I talked about. The MCAT covers way too much material for you to approach it like a sprint; so treat it like a marathon. I only found my stride when I stopped rushing the process and started trusting it.
 

On that note, here are 5 steps I think you should take before diving head-first into your own study plan:

ONE: Pick your test date. This is number 1 for a reason! You can’t take the MCAT if you haven’t registered for it. Some important things to consider:

Will you be applying for the Fee Assistance Program? This is important because if you’re planning to apply, you should get that done as soon as possible. The way the program works you can’t be reimbursed after you’ve registered, so getting your app in early will lead to an earlier approval and a less stressful MCAT registration process.

How much time will you have to study? This is key. Everyone says the average test-taker studies 300-700 hours before taking the MCAT (which is a huge and not super helpful range lol). Where you fall will depend on how well you already know the material and the score you wanna get. Think about how many hours you’ll be able to put in each week. Be ambitious, but realistic. Account for a couple “WHOOPS I didn’t study” days but don't drag it out to "be on the safe side". In other words: don’t play yourself. I studied 30-40 hours/week for 9 weeks and then 45+ hours/week for the remaining 5 weeks leading up to test day. That's 3 months and roughly 500-600 hours of full-time studying (with a 5-day vacation somewhere in the middle and 1-2 days off every week)! Decide on your own target number. One thing to keep in mind is that even if you study less than full-time each week, your studying should be intensive and regular (at least 15-20 hours/week). My two-cents: If you can't commit 15+ hours/week, consider taking it another time.

Is there a test date that allows you to study full-time leading up to your exam?  I think it’s completely doable to get your general content review done on a part-time schedule. However, the biggest improvements in my practice test scores came during the month before my test date when I was living and breathing the MCAT. Practicing a lot and working on my weaknesses full-time really helped me zone-in and get ready for test day... definitely a game changer.
 

TWO: Decide on your study route. Do you feel comfortable self-studying? Do you have the resources and prefer the structure of a prep course? Would you only feel comfortable self-studying if you had a tutor to guide you throughout and help you with difficult content? Be honest with yourself, but don’t be fearful. Trust in your abilities, but know your limits. This decision is entirely personal (and financial) so it’s worth thinking about. My two-cents: if you have the funds, invest them. Doing well on this exam is so important and I can't emphasize how much the process of studying taught me about how I should've been studying. Having a tutor coach you through it from the beginning will save you time, but if you don't have the funds trust that you can still pull this off on your own and take advantage of the free MCAT resources available online. Either way YOU'VE GOT THIS.
 

THREE: Take a FULL-LENGTH diagnostic. If you've been checking off your premed classes* I put this at number 3 for a reason. First, you register and reflect. Then, you take your diagnostic. Why? Because your diagnostic is just a starting point and it shouldn’t affect how you choose your test-date. Don’t study before it. Don’t put it off. Just do it! No matter how you score it’ll motivate you to study and it'll give you a sense of what to study first. 

 Screenshot of my MCAT diagnostic score, courtesy of my laptop.

Screenshot of my MCAT diagnostic score, courtesy of my laptop.

Here’s a fun fact: The entire exam was my weakness (except maybe CARS). I got more than half of the Psych/Soc section wrong and scored in the 42nd percentile overall, so the only thing my diagnostic told me was that I needed to study. Here’s another fun fact: everyone needs to study to improve their scores! A wise man once said: Started from the bottom- now we're here. There’s nothing like putting in work to get the score you want and looking back to see how far you’ve come. 

Which test-prep company should you use for your diagnostic? This is a question I get a lot but I don't have a perfect answer for it. I hear NextStep’s practice exams are very good and you can actually sign up for a free full length! I used one of the Kaplan full lengths that came with my books but, while I loved their content review materials, I didn’t love their practice tests. Not sponsored- just my two cents! Otherwise, my biggest piece of advice about your diagnostic would be this: do NOT use the AAMC official practice tests because you should save those for closer to test day.
 

FOUR: Get yo' books. Across test companies and materials, I know at least one person who used x book and got the score they wanted. I used Kaplan and it worked for me, a close friend used ExamKrackers and it worked for her, and a friend of a friend got the score he wanted using The Princeton Review. All three of these are consistently listed as the best prep materials for the MCAT so I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. In the end, I think it’s just a matter of picking the one that works best for you. You don’t have to take my opinion as Bible, but here are my thoughts on the two I'm most familiar with, strictly in terms of content review:

Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review: This is what I used and it really worked. I think the visuals are great and the text is well-written and straight-forward. It’s also super detailed so I felt confident that there wouldn’t be any surprises on test day. With the exception of the Psych/Soc section (which is apparently tripping up all of these test companies), everything I saw in the AAMC practice materials and on test day was covered in these books. I would 100% recommend this series if you have the time get through it and can appreciate what might be a little too much detail.

10th Edition Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package: I actually purchased this set in early July when a friend told me she preferred these books over Kaplan but I ultimately decided not to use them. I was already well into the Kaplan books and I’m not sure why I thought I’d "just use both". A word of advice: pick one and stick to it. EK is great for to-the-point, concise content review. Some might say it's too concise but, like I mentioned before, my friend used these books and did really freakin' well. If you’re looking for simple and targeted high-yield MCAT review with none of that extra stuff, or if you’re strapped for time and need to study quickly, this is the set for you. I've also heard this set is “fun to read”- whatever that means.

If you decide to purchase your content review materials through these links I may make a small commission. Thank you for helping me keep 'Mez On The Move' up and running. Real talk, I appreciate you.


FIVE: Dive in but don’t plan (yet)! Depending on how far you are from your test date, I’d recommend giving yourself a little bit of trial-and-error time for your study methods to develop. By 2 months out (if you’re studying full time) you'll want to be in your flow with a content review system that works. Before then, I think it’s worth investing some time into just figuring out what that system should look like. By the time I found what worked for me it looked nothing like how I had started. I went from highlighting and re-writing entire chapters to minimal note-taking, writing in the margins, using videos for difficult concepts, and actually ENJOYING prep (*gasp*). Moral of the story here? You’ve really got to do you.

That’s it! I have no doubts that if you’ve read this far and follow these steps, you’re on your way to killing content review and getting the score you want! I know, I know… it’s easier said than done, but these first steps really do set the tone for your studying!

ONE LAST THING! Remember that everyone is different and you might have extra things to consider before getting started. If you're still finishing your pre-med requirements (gen chem, orgo, physics, biochem, and biology) you'll have to study more for the subjects you're missing. It isn't impossible and I don't want to discourage you, but it does take longer to master things you're seeing for the first time. That being said, I know for some of you there's no way around it. If you're dead set on taking the exam anyway I would recommend two things: quickly looking through what's on the MCAT (just to get a sense of what you'll have to learn) and increasing your goal number of "total study hours". As a reminder, I studied for 500-600 total hours, and the average test-taker studies for around 350.

If you have any questions or anything to add, leave it in a comment below so that others can benefit from it too. Happy Hustlin! xx

 

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