There’s a ton of anxiety surrounding the MCAT exam, which is completely understandable. It seems like the “end all” measure of getting into medical school. However, before I dive deeper into this discussion, I want you to remember there is so much more to your experience and story than a test score.
I just took my MCAT in the spring and am ecstatic to say that it was a success! I want to share some advice about resources, what I believe helped me most and what I would have done differently. I received a lot of advice from other pre-med students going through the same experience, and it really helped me!
Before buying any study materials or starting any studying, talk to people who have recently taken the exam. Ask them what resources they used, which were the most helpful and which were the least helpful. Since I didn’t have many close pre-medical friends at the time, I didn’t have many people to ask and resorted to YouTube for most of this “preliminary advice.” This was one of the best things I could have done. Before even looking into study materials online, I already had a comprehensive list compiled of almost all the materials available with pros and cons of each.
The next item you should look into is a study schedule. Again, YouTube is amazing for this! There are so many pre-med students online with different journeys and timelines. You are bound to find one that’s similar to your own situation. Before you begin studying, look to find what others say they would have done differently. This will be so helpful to you. It’s as if you can learn from mistakes without having to make them yourself.
Now let’s get into the specifics–resources. A strong book set is essential; this is how you will do your content review. I personally used the Kaplan book set, which was incredible. The books are straightforward, have just the right amount of information, and are easy to get through in a reasonable time frame. Second, I also believe that purchasing a UWorld account is valuable. This is an online account that contains over 2,000 MCAT style practice questions. You can select specific topics to practice, set up real testing conditions, and are provided with a very thorough explanation of each answer choice. Next, you will need to purchase the official AAMC practice materials. The AAMC is the organization that writes the MCAT, so their materials will be the most accurate representations of the real exam. Save these practice exams and question packs until the last few months of studying. Also, a flashcard system called Anki is very helpful for reviewing material for the MCAT. It is free to download on your computer.
I know this is a lot, and I understand that this process is not only time consuming, but extremely expensive. I suggest looking on Facebook or Amazon for used book sets, which could help cut costs a bit. However, the MCAT itself is expensive to take and you will be doing yourself a favor by preparing well the first time with all the resources you need instead of having to take it again.
Next, I want to talk about your study schedule. The optimal study schedule is over three to four months in the summer with no classes and minimal work and extracurriculars. But this was not my situation. I spread my studying over six months, starting in the fall of my junior year and ending in the beginning of April when I took the exam. I began my studying with about three and a half months of content review. I spent this time (about two hours each day at this point) reading through my Kaplan book set. I did not take notes but instead tried to really understand the major concepts. I downloaded a pre-made Anki flashcard deck that went along with the Kaplan book set, which helped keep everything fresh. The next two and a half months were spent on practice. At this point, I was studying for the MCAT around four hours a day during the week and about seven to eight hours a day on weekends. I was completing questions on UWorld timed and then would thoroughly review each question and create my own flashcards for concepts I was still unsure of. About a month out from my exam, I began AAMC material, as well. This is when I began taking full length practice exams. I took one exam every Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. (my actual exam time) under REAL testing conditions. This is important. You need to create real testing conditions as accurately as possible, so you are prepared on test day. I only took AAMC practice exams since I thought they were the most useful, but other students do choose to take third party exams for more practice (i.e., Kaplan, The Princeton Review).
Lastly, once you set up a study schedule, register for your exam as early as possible online! Spots fill up quickly and it will only add more stress if you wait until a month before your exam to save your seat.
Now with the logistics out of the way, I’d like to share my MCAT experience holistically. It is important to remember that your journey to medical school is unique from everyone else’s. Take every person’s advice with a grain of salt and construct a study plan that works best for you. Set a goal score for yourself based on which medical schools you plan to apply to. Having a goal score keeps determination and motivation up. Make sure to eat healthy, sleep enough and exercise consistently. For me, these three things fell to the wayside during my studying, but if I were to go back and do it all over again, I would absolutely change this. Make the extra effort to take care of yourself first because you need a sharp mind and a lot of focus to get through this.
This journey is not a sprint; it’s a marathon so be productive every day, but don’t burn yourself out before you’ve even started. My last piece of advice is to find support in family and friends. Don’t try to do this alone. Your friends and family want to see you succeed and can cheer you on along the way. You got this!
Please feel free to reach out with any MCAT related questions or concerns. I would be happy to help! Email: email@example.com
Written by: Mara Hartoyo, Pre-medical student
Current SHRS student, Class of 2023, Undergraduate Program in Rehabilitation Science