Getting a tutor is not essential to MCAT preparation, but it can definitely be worth the money in certain cases. Price can be a big barrier to tutoring for many students, but having to retake the exam can also cost you a lot of money, time, and frustration. Perhaps the biggest cost associated with retaking the MCAT is the opportunity cost of having to delay your application. Applying a year later actually means you will lose a year of your future physician’s salary! When considering if you should start working with a tutor, it is important to be honest with yourself and consider the following 5 points.
1. Your Previous Test-Taking Experiences
Try to think back to studying for your classes in school. Did you enjoy going to office hours or meeting with TAs for assistance and accountability? Were you able to learn well by just studying on your own or with your classmates? If you are someone who has often succeeded by studying independently for classes or previous standardized tests, it may be a good choice to try studying on your own first before getting a tutor. You could save a lot of money this way. To stay accountable on your own, you could make your own study plan or use a pre-made one such as our organized content review modules from our free MCAT eCourse. If you need more a more detailed schedule and can hold yourself accountable, any of our Pro Plans will include a customized study schedule to give you an estimate of how much you need to study and track your progress as you go along. If you know from experience that you may need more individualized help not only with study planning but also with reviewing the content or practice questions, the best thing you can do is to find an experienced friend who would be willing to help you or look for a tutor who has experience helping people get to your goal score.
2. Your Current vs. Goal Score
Before planning out your MCAT studying, you should research what your goal score should be with tools such as the LizzyM score calculator, the AAMC Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database, or the websites of your top choice medical schools. You should then take a diagnostic MCAT test (here are some FREE options). These steps will help you determine how much you need to study and how. If your diagnostic test is only a few points away from your goal, then it might be worth it to just self-study. However, if your score is really far from your goal, you could either consult with Andrew for FREE right away (especially if you don’t have a lot of time before your test) or try to study on your own and see how things go. It is completely okay to recognize that you may need extra help half-way through your journey. Many of my students come to me after already studying for a while. In this case, it is important to stay aware of your progress and adapt your study plan appropriately. You should consider changing things up if your score on practice exams or questions has been stagnant for a while or if they are not improving at a rate necessary to reach your goal in time. Changing things up can mean attempting a new study strategy, or if you are not sure what new study strategies to try, reaching out to a tutor for help in identifying how to best proceed. On the other hand, If you have seen consistent increases in your score by studying independently, then your methods are probably working and you should keep up the good work!
3. Your Budget
There is no question that studying for the MCAT and applying to schools is going to cost you some money. I always suggest using as many FREE materials as possible and being an informed consumer with deciding what services to pay for. While many test-prep companies offer MCAT classes (think of going to a midterm review session), 1-1 tutors can really give you the best bang for your buck because it is the most personalized help that you are going to get. When looking for a 1-1 tutor, you can look for tutoring services from students at your undergraduate institution or other local individuals who scored well on the MCAT. You can also check out smaller MCAT prep companies such as our Premium Elite Tutoring or Elite Tutoring services. In both cases, make sure that your tutor has scored at or above your goal and try to read student testimonials if available. With MCAT Self Prep, you can also reach out and ask for a FREE consultation to get a better understanding of how a tutor can help you. After you have decided that this tutor is worth the money, you should carefully decide how many sessions you can afford with your budget. You can get the most out of your sessions by focusing on developing a long-term study plan with a tutor or going through difficult passages and questions to learn long-lasting strategies that you can then practice on your own. While your tutor can definitely help explain difficult concepts, it may be worth it to try to read/watch videos on your own first or even search questions on the Reddit MCAT forum.
4. Previous MCAT Attempts
Ideally, we would all take the MCAT once and get our dream score. In real life, sometimes that does not happen and it is definitely okay to retake the test if you believe that it is necessary. However, you want to limit the number of retakes and make sure the next time you take the exam is the final one. This is not only to save money but also to make sure your application the best it can be for medical school applications. When retaking, you really want to reflect on how you prepared the first time and think about how you can do things differently this next time. If you can honestly identify the mistake you made the first time around and change them for the second time, then you may not need a tutor. However, if you have no idea what you can do differently or have already retaken the test multiple times, working 1-1 with a tutor can provide the individualized support you need to finally reach your goal.
5. Your Background Knowledge About the MCAT
While there are many resources online nowadays, it can still be really difficult to get a straight answer on how to best prepare for the MCAT. One reason why this is so hard is that the “right” way may be different for everyone. If you are someone who has no background knowledge of how to prepare or have not had any classmates who have gone through this before who can guide you, having a tutor with specialized experience in this field may be a good resource. A tutor can also provide professional insight if you are in a unique situation and are not sure how to navigate studying while juggling other things. Examples of this could be if you need advice on how to study while raising a family or going through a career change.
I hope this gives you helpful questions to ask yourself when debating if you should work with a tutor or not. Remember that it is in your best interest to be honest with yourself and not be afraid to get help if needed. If you are interested in tutoring with MCAT Self Prep, we offer free consultations so you know exactly what to expect from our one-on-one sessions!
Ming scored in the 99th percentile on the MCAT and is currently a second year medical student at UCLA. You can learn more and sign up to work with her one-on-one here.
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