Authored by: Christina G.
I started studying May 14th and tested August 18th (right before I went back to school). I worked a part time job (only worked 1 day a week for 8 hours) while studying.
A quick summary of my approach to the MCAT is that I emphasized taking a lot practices exams (12 total). I spent Month 1 doing content review, Month 2 and 3 taking FLs and plugging in knowledge gaps. I studied 5-6 days a week during Month 1 and 2, and I studied 7 days a week for month 3. More on study habits down below.
Background on myself:
- Biology major
- Took exam summer between sophomore junior year (Test date: 8/18/18)
- Not planning on taking gap year
- Relevant college coursework completed: intro chem, intro bio, orgo, cell bio, physiology
- Had to self study physics, biochem, psych, sociology
Study Materials Used
- Kaplan Full Set 2018-2019 ($155)
- Next Step 6 Full Length Exams ($134)
- All AAMC Material ($268)
Total cost came out to be $565 including miscellaneous processing fees (not including test registration fee). Kaplan full set is much cheaper now.
- P/S 300 page notes
- Khan Academy videos (mainly for P/S)
- reddit user ortho528’s Anki notecards (search for it in subreddit or pm me for link)
- reddit used premed95’s P/S notecards
Practice Full Length Scores (in order of taking them):
- Kaplan FL 1 – 505
- Kaplan FL 2 – 507
- NS FL 1 – 511
- Kaplan FL 3 – 511
- NS FL 2 – 512
- AAMC FL Unscored – ~517
- NS FL 3 – 512
- NS FL 4 – 509
- AAMC FL 1 – 520
- NS FL 5 – 513
- AAMC FL 2 – 512
- AAMC FL 3 – 524
- Actual test – 520
I took a total of 12 practices tests (ended up not using NS FL #6). The Kaplan complete set comes with 3 practice tests and I found them a good starting point. However, these exams tend to stress smaller details found specifically in the Kaplan books, so definitely keep that in mind when you take them. NS FLs are all very difficult. However, they are amazing for filling content gaps, give very in depth explanations for each question (unlike AAMC), and is good for working on timing. I almost always ran out of time for NS exams, but when I started AAMC material, I felt like I had loads of time. Do NOT let your NS exam scores get you down. They are quite brutal and will ask you for way more detail than necessary. The logic behind their answer choices are also iffy at times.
In regards to my AAMC FL scores (520,512,524), I would say they did a reasonable job predicting the 520 I got on the real thing.
- Set weekly goals rather than daily goals (more flexible)
- Use an excel spreadshoot to track your progress
- Use an excel spreadsheet for FL review (more on that below)
- Relax/de-stress at night
- In last month of studying, sleep early and wake up early (start studying by 8 am). This will help you get used to waking up early, like you’ll have to do on test day
- Take practice FLs as if they were the actual thing
- Don’t let 3rd party test scores get you down
- Know your amino acids cold
- Stay calm on FLs. Panic will mess you up good
- Use this subreddit if you are unsure of the logic/concept of a question. I usually googled something along the lines of: “mcat reddit aamc fl 2 CARS question 32”
My Study Schedule/Approach/Tips:
The MCAT is essentially a logic exam. Yeah, you’ll need to memorize a lot of information, but the most important skill to learn is how to apply that information on test day. Therefore, the best way to study is to do a lot of practice. With this in mind, I aimed to finish content review in the 1st month, and then grind out FLs and other practice material until test day.
I studied at home on most days (occasionally switching it up and studying in a quiet cafe). I studied from morning until around dinnertime, and then worked out to de-stress before relaxing until bedtime. At least once a week, I would take a day off. In the last month, I studied 7 days a week.
I also adjusted my sleep schedule in the last month so that I slept at 9:30 PM and woke up at 6:00 AM. I took a quarter of a 3 mg pill of melatonin to help me adjust at first.
Content Review (Month 1):
I studied 5-6 days a week, aiming to complete around 15 chapters of Kaplan a week (around 3-4 chapters a day). I did not use the Kaplan P/S book nor did I use the Kaplan CARS book. Instead, I used Khan academy P/S videos and took notes on the videos. After each video, I would read through the corresponding section in the 300 pg P/S doc to see if I missed anything. I also downloaded premed95’s P/S deck (all other subjects i used ortho528’s deck, more on that below), since it is based off the 300 pg doc. I added any missing info into the deck and studied from that.
If you are using Kaplan books, I highly recommend downloading ortho528’s Anki deck, as it is based off of the Kaplan books. Anytime I encountered a term not already in the deck, I would add it to the deck myself. I used this Anki deck daily during content review. It helped so much with retaining information.
The only practice problems I did during this time was the end of chapter questions in Kaplan, and maybe a few Khan Academy CARS passages just to familiarize with how CARS worked.
Practice Period (Month 2-3):
I did 1 to 2 FLs every week. I saved AAMC scored FLs for the last 3 weeks or so, but I recommend completing the AAMC unscored FL after a few 3rd part FLs just so that you have some idea of how AAMC FLs look like.
In the last 3 weeks, in between AAMC FLs, I would do all other AAMC material (OG Questions, QPacks, section bank etc.). More on this below.
Review each FL you take thoroughly. I usually spent 1.5 days reviewing FLs. I made a separate Anki deck highlighting questions I got wrong on FLs (for both 3rd party and AAMC exams) and reviewed this deck daily. When reviewing, make sure you really understand why you got it wrong. Try to concretely identify why you chose the answer you did and why that reasoning was not correct. This will help you identify flawed patterns in your reasoning. What I did to facilitate this kind of review was to make an excel spreadsheet. I would have a column titled “Why I got the q wrong” and “Correct line of logic”, as well as a “Concept to Review” column if applicable. Doing this is especially important for CARS.
Yes, CARS warrants its own section. I hated CARS and it was my worst section. The best thing you can do is to practice. I caution using 3rd party CARS material because their logic is not really in line with AAMC’s, and AAMC gives loads of CARS material to practice with. Here was my approach to passages:
- Highlight important phrases and points (no longer than half a line)
- Strikethrough for dates and names (so as to set them apart from the highlighting, but still sets it apart for easy reference)
- 10 minutes per passage (4 min to read, 6 min for questions)
- Mouth the words when reading, it helped with keeping focused
- For questions, NEVER CHOOSE AN INCORRECT ANSWER. This seems obvious, but MCAT loves putting in choices that are partially right, but also have an incorrect portion
- There is usually a line that somewhat directly supports an answer choice. Try skimming passage quickly for each question to get that confirmation
- Do not panic if you spend more than 10 minutes on a passage. Just be conscious that you have to be a bit faster on a later passage. Usually there will be a shorter/easier passage later that will help you catch up
Notes on AAMC Material:
- Unscored- definitely easier than scored FLs, but still gives a good feel of how AAMC approaches questions
- FL1- in my opinion, easiest of the 3 scored FLs
- FL2- slightly harder than FL1. It was my worst AAMC FL score, but partly because I think FL2 made me overconfident. This brought me back down to earth.
- FL3- definitely the hardest and closest to the actual exam
- Flashcards- straightforward, least useful of all AAMC material. Recall questions that or not indicative of actual test questions. Good for filling in some gaps in knowledge.
- OG Questions- good questions to do between full lengths. not too difficult
- Bio Qpack (1,2), Physics Chem Qpack – reasonable difficulty if not on the easier side, but great for filling in gaps in knowledge
- CARS Qpack (1,2) – CARS QPack 1 is absolutely awful. It is ridiculously hard, especially the 1st half of the qpack (I got 66% on this qpack). QPack 2 is a lot more indicative and accurate (I got 86%). *Section Banks- these are hard. hardest passages on actual test will be around this difficulty, so these are great practice. Do this in the last few weeks leading up to test day.
Test Day Tips:
Day Before Test Day:
Do very light study in the morning or just don’t study at all. Look up what is provided at the test center (usually markers, sketchpad, earplugs, headphones, locker for your bag). Scout out your test day location so that you don’t get lost the day of and unnecessarily stress yourself out. For the rest of the day, hangout with people, exercise, or just chill. I took a quarter of a melatonin pill at night to help me sleep so that nerves wouldn’t keep me awake. Only take a melatonin the night before if you have tested it out already and know what dose works for you. I slept at 8:45 PM.
Eat a good breakfast, but make sure it is nothing that will cause discomfort during the exam. Make sure you bring a valid ID (usually passport or drivers license). Most important thing on test day is remaining calm. As long as you don’t panic, you should be able to get the score your AAMC FLs have been predicting.
My Thoughts on the Actual Exam:
I thought the actual test I took was much harder than the practice exams I took. Low yield topics came up and P/S had many terms I had not seen before. I came out of the exam in an awful mood and was convinced I would have to retake. From talking with my friends about their testing experiences, I’ve learned most people think their test day exam is harder than practice material. This may be a product of nerves making the exam seem harder or the AAMC just makes actual exams harder. What I’ve concluded is to trust the curve to bring you to roughly what you got on your practice tests, but obviously there will be outliers.