It was the beginning of the Fall semester and I was sitting in Microbiology Lab with my new lab buddies when one of them started talking about the MCAT. The MCAT was the last thing on my mind at this point, so I wasn’t really paying too much attention. I figured that the MCAT was months away for me and that I would just study for just a single month before taking it. But, as my new friend talked more about how much time he had studied for the MCAT, I began to wonder if perhaps my one-month study plan was insufficient.
It turns out that my new friend was a tutor for one of the major prep companies, and he told me all about the program. It sounded quite amazing – lectures, study groups, private tutoring, review books, practice quizzes, practice exams, and the list went on. Despite the amazing benefits I saw in this program, there were two things holding me back:
- I didn’t have the time to devote 20 hours per week to follow the rigid study schedule. I was taking 16 college credits and have always had to work hard to maintain high grades in my classes. I also had a part-time job that required me to work about 15 hours per week. On top of this, I still needed more shadowing and research hours. I didn’t see how I would ever get everything done if I had to study 20 hours per week.
- I didn’t want to spend $3,000 or more dollars on my MCAT prep. I was already saving up for the application and plane tickets and didn’t want to add an extra few thousand dollars to the medical school application bill. I was a soon-to-be-father, and knew that my young family didn’t have the money to invest in this fancy prep course.
Due to these concerns, I decided to just start studying on my own. I decided that the best place to start would be to find out where I was currently at by taking a full-length practice exam (I currently recommend taking a half-length practice exam as a diagnostic exam as explained in my Free MCAT Prep Course). I took the AAMC unscored full-length exam on September 24, about nine months before my planned MCAT test date. I got 76 percent correct overall, and knew that I had a lot of work ahead of me. Based on my results, I decided on a study plan and got to work.
Because I was busy with school, I only had time to study 30 to 60 minutes per day. Some days, I wouldn’t even study at all. I just did as much as I could within my time constraints. During that Fall semester, I worked on reading the Kaplan books. I particularly focused on the subjects that I was currently studying in my classes. For instance, because I was in a biochemistry class, I read the Kaplan Biochemistry Review Book before attending class each day. I found that not only did it help me do better in the class, but it also allowed me to use my class as an MCAT learning opportunity. I found that I paid better attention whenever the professor mentioned a topic that I had seen in the MCAT review book. “If it is on the MCAT, I’d better learn this!” I thought to myself. I would highly recommend this strategy to anyone who is studying for the MCAT while taking their pre-med classes.
As I read, I did what I have always done in all of my college courses – make notecards. It is something that I swear by because without notecards I am seriously terrible at remembering things. I need to review something multiple times before it sticks in my head. I also figured that this would be especially important for the MCAT since the MCAT covered a vast amount of information. I highly recommend using notecards to study for the MCAT, and the notecard-making and reviewing methods I used are described in greater detail in my Free MCAT Prep Course.
By the time winter break came around, I had only finished the Biochemistry book and part of the Behavioral Science book. But during winter break, I sacrificed a few hours each day to study for the MCAT. I spent this time studying the Biology Kaplan Book because I knew that I would be taking Physiology in the Winter semester, and figured it would give me a head start on the class as well as helping me with my MCAT progress.
During the winter break, I also starting doing 5 to 10 AAMC practice problems per day from the AAMC Section Bank. I didn’t do super well at this point, only getting about 70 percent correct. But, I knew that I would get better if I consistently did practice problems every day. I continued doing this for the next four months, and I was able to get to the point that I was getting 90 to 100 percent correct (see my Free MCAT Prep Course for more information on doing practice problems throughout the study process).
During the Winter Semester, I ramped up the amount of time that I was spending on the MCAT each week, and was able to finish all of the Kaplan Books just after the Winter semester finished, giving me a full month of study time before my exam date. In my Free MCAT Prep Course, I call this final month of MCAT studying “MCAT Bootcamp.”
After Winter Semester finished, I started reviewing all the notecards I had made since I started studying for the MCAT. I made sure to mark the notecards that I answered incorrectly so that I could review those ones one final time before taking the test. I also started taking two practice exams per week. I found that the practice exams written by non-AAMC companies were extremely different than the practice problems I had learned to excel at from the AAMC. I didn’t feel like they were extremely accurate in predicting my MCAT score, but they did help me feel more comfortable with taking full-length exams, building up my stamina for test day.
It was at this point that I discovered the Khan Academy Video Collection. Because it was produced in partnership with the AAMC, I saw great value in it. I also felt like it did a good job covering the concepts in a concise, easy-to-follow manner. I decided to watch the entire video collection (besides the Chemistry and Physics videos) at 2x speed. As I watched, I would pause whenever I learned something new to make a new notecard. It only took me a couple weeks and I felt like it provided me with a great review of all the material. The entire Khan Academy Video Collection is embeded into my Free MCAT Prep Course as it is one of my most highly-recommended study materials.
During my final week of studying, I reviewed my Khan Academy notecards and any notecards that I had marked to review one last time. I also took a couple more AAMC practice exams, scoring above a 520 on both of them. I felt ready.
On test day, I was extremely nervous, and actually felt terrible after finishing my test. I seriously contemplated voiding my exam score, but I decided to just move on with life and submitted the exam to have it scored. When I got my score back, I was extremely surprised – I had achieved my goal – the 99th percentile!
After my excitement had died down a little bit, I decided to look into becoming an MCAT tutor. I got hired by one of the major test prep companies, but ended up backing out in order to start MCAT Self Prep and work on making my Free MCAT Prep Course. I am on a mission to make test prep affordable for all students.
I spent hours studying the experiences of those who had achieved high scores like myself on the MCAT. I read the experiences of over 50 students that scored above the 95th percentile. Through all my research, I discovered patterns that led me to conclude that students who succeed on the MCAT don’t necessarily spend thousands of dollars for a fancy prep course. Students who really excel don’t even use an expensive study program at all. They simply use a wide variety of resources, base their studying around the AAMC practice problems, and implement good study habits. I took what I learned and consolidated it all down into my Free MCAT Prep Course.
The Free MCAT Prep Course will walk you through the study habits of those who achieve top MCAT scores. It will help you develop your own study plan, guiding you through the entire study process in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step manner. Get started today by visiting MCATSelfPrep.com. And if you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I am always here to help!