How I Scored a 526 on the MCAT

Written and edited by the MCAT Self Prep Tutoring Team

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Hi! My name is Denisse Morales-Rodriguez and I am an Elite Tutor for MCAT Self Prep. When I was studying for the MCAT, I was balancing full-time coursework with part-time research and shadowing. Despite this busy schedule, I developed time management skills that really helped me follow my Study Plan and achieve my goal score. Now, I’m happy to pass on tips and what worked for me to help you achieve a top MCAT score!

To Begin

Before cracking a review book open, it’s important to find out what the Medical College Admission Test is and what is even on it. Only with knowing what an difficult test this is can you begin to think about studying for it or even decide when to take it. Reading what the Association of American Medical College (AAMC) writes about the test here is a good way to determine what is on the test. I strongly recommend avoiding Reddit or Student Doctor Network一paying attention to what others post is only distracting, takes time away from studying, and causes unnecessary stress. It’s best to focus on yourself and your individual MCAT journey.

It’s also critical to have a goal score. The LizzyM calculator is a great tool to find your personal target! This will help you decide how to craft your personal study plan, when to take the exam, and how to monitor your progress. Having a goal is also a good mindset for studying for the MCAT as well. Once I had a goal score, I decided to take my exam in January in the year I applied to medical school. This way, I had winter break to study full time right before my test date, and I would have time to retake the test if I needed before applying.

When I figured out when I wanted to take the exam and my goal score, I needed a strategy to study for the test. Because of my busy schedule, I needed individualized preparation, not a one-size-fits-all approach. In addition, I decided to take the test my senior year of college, when I had already completed the prerequisite courses, so I knew which subjects were strong and which ones needed more work. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a blanket program meant for all students, I stumbled across MCAT Self Prep and it helped me create a study plan that fit my unique circumstances.

Be Honest with Yourself

This is the most crucial part of studying. Life happens. When midterms season kicked in around October, I stopped all content review and only focused on flashcards and daily CARS for two weeks. I didn’t beat myself up about or pretend to study more than I had. Rather, I acknowledged my change in priorities and made sure to adapt my study plan to accommodate this. Similarly, when reviewing practice tests, it’s not enough to just glance at the answers and act as if you won’t repeat the mistake the next time. It’s better to err on the side of caution, consider why you got a question wrong, make a flashcard of it, and if you have time, try to answer the question again later to make sure you understand the material.

Being accountable for how much you actually study and the progress you’ve made is key. It’s much better to push back your MCAT date than retake the test, so being realistic about your progress and how much work you need to put in to reach your goal score is essential!


CARS was the hardest section of the MCAT for me! Like so many other Elite Tutors, I used Jack Westin’s daily CARS passages every single day. Before I did any other studying each day, I read a passage and answered CARS questions. In addition, I spread out the AAMC CARS question packs and diagnostic tool over several weeks, completing a passage per day. This helped me get into an AAMC CARS mindset early on and maintain it. I also built up the number of passages I did per day. I started out with one passage per day, then two and three, until I was completing a full CARS section with nine passages the week of my test date. It’s important to practice CARS timed. It’s not useful practicing CARS strategies without the time pressure. If you become accustomed to writing down notes and spending 20 minutes per passage, you’ll find yourself very stressed on Test Day.

If you’re looking to improve your CARS score, I would recommend our CARS Strategy Course and Testing Solutions CARS Course. In addition, the quality of the passages you practice on matter. For example, I would avoid Kaplan and Princeton Review CARS passages, whereas Testing Solutions CARS passages were more helpful.

How I approached CARS questions was to spend 4-5 minutes reading each passage, highlighting the main idea of each paragraph. At the end of the passage, I’d think about the author’s main idea, and then go onto the questions. If there was ever a LEAST or a NOT in the question, I would make sure to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. If any question was confusing, I wouldn’t be afraid to highlight the question stem either. Lastly, when I was stuck between two answers, I either went with my gut or with the option that was closest to the author’s main idea.

Content Review

When I was going about learning and memorizing content, I studied the way I always did for classes: reading the textbooks. I read every word of the Kaplan books and watched Khan Academy videos to supplement any confusing topics (optics was always so confusing to me!). I knew what study practices worked for me taking prerequisite classes, and I endeavored to maintain that studying for the MCAT. If you’re someone that learns from lecture, watch the Khan Academy videos! If you usually go to office hours, reach out to a tutor!

I also knew what time of day I was the most alert一the morning. It didn’t help to do all of my homework for my classes and start studying at 9 PM. Instead, I prioritized this high-quality time to study for the MCAT. If you’re someone who works best in the afternoon or evening, study for the MCAT then! The point is to study when you have the mental space and capacity to truly and deeply learn, rather than check off a few boxes and waste a few hours.

I cannot emphasize the importance of using flashcards and creating your own flashcards enough. Without consistent review of each topic, I would have forgotten things instantly. Anki is a great tool to space out flashcards after you’ve covered the content, or you can use our 5,000+ Flashcards by purchasing an Advanced Pro or Deluxe Pro Plan. Someone can study for the MCAT for several months, so it’s very important to keep seeing content over and over to refresh your memory.

Question Banks

Many of my friends used the Kaplan QBank, but I heard these weren’t very similar to AAMC style questions and didn’t contain great answer explanations, so I went ahead with UWorld. I answered all 2006 questions, doing around 30 per day. This was great to help me get timed practice in, apply some of the content I had learned, and see content in another light. When I finished all 2006 questions, I went over all the ones I had answered incorrectly, making sure I understood the content I missed the first time around. I also created flashcards on information I hadn’t remembered or topics I hadn’t understood. While not as accurate at the AAMC practice questions, UWorld helped me feel more confident answering questions, going with my gut, and recognizing question and answer patterns.

Of course, I recommend completing every AAMC question out there, including the Question Packs and Section Bank. I started using these the last month of my studying and they helped me see how the AAMC asked questions and what kinds of answers they were expecting.

Practice Tests

While AAMC practice tests are by far the best and most accurate predictor of your MCAT score, third-party practice tests helped me build the stamina I needed to complete an AAMC practice test to the best of my ability. I primarily used Kaplan and Blueprint MCAT in my first stages of studying, not taking the scores too seriously. You can find free and cheap practice tests here. This helped me realize big deficits in my content and helped me become accustomed to taking a 7.5-hour test!

During my last month of studying, I began to use the five AAMC full-length practice exams. On these tests, I mimicked test day conditions. I started each exam around 7:45 AM (since I was taking a morning test), dressed similar to how I would on test day, and carefully timed my breaks. These AAMC practice tests were also where I took my score in each section very seriously. I reviewed these tests extra carefully, making sure to create a flashcard for every question I got wrong. This helped me plan my last month of studying effectively and specifically target areas where I was weakest.

Self Care

Studying for the MCAT can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful. I recommend downloading a mindfulness app to decompress and develop relaxation techniques (this can also help with focus during the test too! I took three deep breaths before starting every new CARS passage on test day!).

Break days are critical, and I don’t mean days where you can’t study because of other obligations. Taking a day to truly not think about the MCAT or other academic obligations is so important to avoiding burnout. Having a support system is also crucial. I never would have gotten through the stress of the MCAT without my roommates, family, and significant other. It didn’t matter if I had to miss a big party or concert because I was studying, because I always had the love and support of these individuals.

Test Day

I started my test day with a breakfast full of protein and a large soy latte. It’s important not to change your routine too much, so I emulated my diet before all of my practice tests. When packing my lunch, I brought foods for every mood: a salad if I was feeling good, a sandwich if I wanted something more substantial, and chocolate if I needed a pick-me-up from my last section! Before leaving for the testing center, I also did my last Jack Westin CARS passage to get me into a test day mindset. I definitely did not try to do Anki or any last minute studying一it wouldn’t have helped.

I wore blue light glasses during my exam, which I found helped my concentration! It helped me feel less exhausted by all of the screen time. I also utilized all the break time I had, which was key to staying focused throughout the 7.5 hour test. While I was on break, I did jumping jacks in the bathroom, ate a lot of snacks, and stayed hydrated.

After the exhausting test, I just sat in my car for a minute to recover before driving home. I called my parents, friends, and support system to let them know how it went. After that, I didn’t think about the test again until Score Release Day.

If you have any questions about how I prepared for the MCAT or achieved my dream score, please feel free to reach out to me or any of our other tutors! I am more than happy to talk about what worked for me, what will work for you, and to help you achieve your MCAT goal score!


Denisse Morales-Rodriguez

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