How I Studied for the MCAT Without a Prep Class

I took my MCAT on Saturday 05/11/19, almost 5 years to the day since I graduated from Arizona State University with my undergraduate degrees. Since I work full-time and support myself financially, an MCAT prep course was not a feasible option for me. I did all of my prep with a $300 set of Kaplan MCAT prep books, a free NextStep MCAT prep bundle, and 2 official MCAT practice tests from AMCAS. My score report came in the morning exactly a month from test day: 509!

Figure Out How to Study

Before you start doing anything, I recommend you take the VARK Assessment to figure out how you learn. You need to study the best way for you. I have a pre-med friend who tried studying by taking notes, but she’s an auditory learner so the information wasn’t sticking. She had to stop wasting her time on the “traditional” study methods and develop a method that was best for her.

Familiarize Yourself with the Test

The MCAT is a long test. You need to understand the format, the timing, and the way the test is designed before you tackle studying the content. Strategy is important too!

Develop a Study Schedule

I used NextStep MCAT prep’s free bundle to develop a daily schedule. They also had a half-length diagnostic test to better design my schedule to focus on weak areas. I didn’t stick to it as well as I should have, but it was an important tool.

STUDY, STUDY, STUDY

This is not your average standardized test. There is a ton of material to learn. You need to study smarter and harder. In addition to a serious amount of content, you’ll need to develop strategy and build stamina.

My exact study plan took several days to work through any one chapter of my prep book. I would read a chapter, highlighting as I went. The next day I would take detailed notes and go through the practice questions within the chapter. The day after that I watched and notated Khan Academy videos. On any one day I would usually be working on a portion of any two chapters under different subjects. Spreading out each chapter and switching between subjects helped keep the information in my memory.

Another important tip I learned was to track my “demon list.” A demon list should contain concepts with which you regularly struggle. For instance, I tended to confuse microtubules and microfilaments. Keep track of these concepts and review frequently.

Take Practice Tests

The best way to get a feel for the real test is to take practice exams, mimicking conditions on Test Day. Dr. Ryan Gray’s MCAT podcast suggested around 6 tests. I took a diagnostic half-test with an initial score of 489. I then took 1 full-length Next Step MCAT test (provided for free). The Kaplan books come with 3 full-length tests. I finished the final two weeks of prep with 2 official MCAT practice exams.

The MCAT is a massive test. Pre-meds tend to place a lot of emphasis on obtaining the highest score possible. Keep in mind that a bad MCAT score isn’t the rest of the world. Before you consider skipping the prep classes, take a realistic look at your schedule and your study habits. If a class is what you really need, I don’t recommend skipping it, but know that you can get a good score with the right tools and hard work. Good luck!

Presenting Research Posters

A few months ago I presented my second poster at a medical conference. The first was at American Heart Association (AHA) 2018 Scientific Sessions in Chicago. This past one was the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2019 Scientific Sessions. As a pre-med, standing among residents, fellows, and attendings can be nerve-wracking and intimidating. Presenting two poster does not make me an expert by any means, but I’d like to share some tips!

#1 Review, Review, Review

To present a topic, you should know the ins and outs of what you’re presenting. Know the trends of data, the specifics of procedures, and other important general ideas should be easy to recite off the top of your head.

#2 Know Imaging on Your Poster

As pre-meds, we don’t have as much experience with specific procedures. If you’re using imaging like X-rays, CTs, or ultrasounds, review the images. Many physicians at the conference will zero in on those images.

#3 Discuss Common Questions with Your Attending

Anticipate questions that are likely asked about your research. The most common one I’ve heard is “Can you tell me about your poster?” Prepare a little elevator speech summarizing your research.

#4 Be Confident!

My mentor likes to say “no one knows more about a poster than the person who wrote it.” You are the expert on your poster. Remember that when people call you into question.

I hope these tips help. Presenting posters always makes me nervous. I hope my experiences improve with time. Please feel free to share your tips. Happy presenting!

The List

Compiling a medical school list is as much of a strategy as studying for the MCAT. After months of research, studying, and comparing requirements, I have a tentative list of medical schools to apply to for the upcoming cycle. The AAMC application opens on May 1, 2019. Though I don’t have my MCAT score, I have a general idea of my personal stats.

Applying to these schools is expensive, so I’m limiting myself to 13-15 schools for this cycle. I’m still debating on whether I want to apply to the Texas Application System.

Factors I Considered:

  • Location
  • Accept All Types of Credits (online, AP, community college)
  • Global Health Component
  • School’s Preference for In-state/Out-of-State Students
  • Team-Based Care
  • Problem-Based Learning

Factors I Did Not Consider:

  • School Rankings
  • Residency Matching
  • Underprivileged Students Programs (I don’t qualify)

I looked for schools where I have support systems and where I felt I could live without too much “culture shock”, if you will. This means many of my schools are located around the Southwest. Being located in the Southwest does not guarantee admission of course. A school in Utah stated that they basically left only 8 slots for out-of-state students. I’m not applying there with such slim chances.

Being a non-trad also changes my profile. My classes come from a variety of backgrounds, which some schools do not accept as pre-requisites. I took time going through MSAR (AAMC’s cheap service with all of the AAMC school statistics) eliminating schools that didn’t accept my credits. For example, Johns Hopkins expresses a strong preference for traditional applicants (in addition to high GPA and MCAT preferences). They do not accept online courses, so I can’t apply there. (Their admissions team was rude to me anyway.)

Here’s the List:

  1. University of Arizona Phoenix
  2. University of Arizona Tucson
  3. Chicago Med- Rosalind Franklin College of Medicine
  4. University of Colorado
  5. University of Southern California
  6. University of California San Diego
  7. Baylor University
  8. University of Kentucky
  9. Wake Forest University
  10. Tufts University
  11. Thomas Jefferson University
  12. Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  13. Duke University

Schools 10-13 might be considered “reach” schools, but I have reasons for choosing them. There’s always a chance that I score high enough on my MCAT to make it past the admissions filters.

I’ve got 2 Texas schools as well, which I don’t think makes it worth it to apply to the separate Texas application service… Of course, the list might change once I get my MCAT scores, but we’ll have to wait until June before I know anything.

What do you think of my school list? Are you applying to any of the same schools? Share your lists with me!!

AHA 2018 Poster Presentation

I have finally returned from my adventures in Chicago! This past Sunday I presented my very first research poster at the 2018 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. Despite some hiccups in obtaining data, I stood in front of my poster during my designated presentation time – one of the only pre-meds presenting. Though the AHA is primarily focused on interventional cardiology (rather than the specialty I work in), I had some interesting questions and feel like I held my own.

The three day session has a huge variety of events. Admission includes large lectures and sessions by the world’s leading cardiologists, discussions of new and future research, presentations on current research, small session tips on networking and career choices, demonstrations of new technology and medications, as well as outside events.

After waiting for about an hour to get my badge, I headed to a “Main Event” lecture entitled “Hey Doc, My Watch Says I Have AF, What Now?”. I was surprised that I was able to understand the information being presented. I was disappointed that only one lecture pertained to EKG monitoring with the Apple Watch and similar devices. I stayed for the majority of the 2 hour lectures. Using the AHA Conference App, I participated in polls and asked questions. I appreciated how smooth it was, though many presenters did not have time to answer more than one question.

I explored the Science and Technology Hall, where reps from pharmaceutical and medical device companies showed off their new toys. I watched an automatic device deliver chest compressions, played an iPhone game where I could stent patients, and scanned over research and textbooks for sale. There’s an EKG learning program that I’m very interested in purchasing, but didn’t want to buy anything until I talked to my attending.

I didn’t spend all day at the conference, especially because Boyfriend came with me. I didn’t want to bore him any longer. We came back the next morning for my presentation. Thousands of posters are presented each day. I stood next to residents, fellows, and foreign doctors. We asked each other questions more than anything else and chatted about the conference. Many doctors I spoke to were not familiar with catheter ablation of A fib, so I felt more like an “expert.”

Here are some tips if you’re going to your first research conference for a poster presentation!

1) Buy your ticket early.

It’s quite expensive for non-members to attend events like these. However, students are usually offered a lower price. In addition, buying tickets earlier can mean cheaper prices.

2) Use your hospital and/or school’s printing services.

I paid $115 to have AHA print and deliver my poster to the conference. I was unaware that my hospital had a library with a printing service. I could have easily had them print it for free, then hand-carry it to the conference. Next year I’ll know to save me some money.

3) Consider where you’ll stay.

Conferences like these usually make deals with local hotels. Don’t be fooled, the hotels are still horrendously expensive! Fortunately, my hotel was paid for by my very generous attending physician. Others may not be so lucky. The main convenience with staying at an AHA hotel is that the buses at the hotel can take you directly to the conference. You are not required to stay at one of those hotels.

Let me know if you have any questions about my experience or my research!

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions

I’ll be in Chicago this weekend for the AHA Scientific Sessions. You can contact me on Instagram at futuredoctorfoodie. If you’ll be in attendance, I’ll be presenting my research on a poster on Sunday around 10:30 AM!

For those of you who are unable to attend, I’ll be posting about it once I get back!

The Dreaded MCAT

The MCAT is the standardized test required for entrance to medical school. After major revisions a few years back, the test is now an anxiety-inducing 8 hour trial, testing the major sciences, psychology/sociology, and reading comprehension. Pre-meds dread this test. If your score is “too low” you might start to worry about your “stats”.

I’ve never struggled with standardized tests, but after a recent experience I’m starting to understand their concern. The other day I signed up for the free Next Step MCAT bundle, which provides diagnostic testing. (Prior to diagnostic testing, I recommend you do your research about the test, your learning style, and the resources available). Without doing much studying, I scored a 493.

I should definitely mention that I haven’t actually started studying for the MCAT. I took the diagnostic exam without a proper review. This is definitely not going to be close to my score once I actually start studying. I wanted to know which subjects to focus on. My CARS is quite strong. My psych/sociology needs a bit of review, but I’m comfortable with that area as well. Unfortunately, my biological and chemical systems section scores were dismal.

My concern is that I need to spend more time preparing for the exam than I expected. I was going to start my study plan in January 2019 for my May 2019 test date. Considering I got an email from the Next Step team warning me about my score… it looks like I’ll need to move up the time table. Right now I’m starting with the backlog of MCAT practice questions in my email. Hopefully I’ll be able to find more specific areas within the sciences to focus on. Then I’ll start the Khan Academy videos and prep books. Ultimately I intend on a Next Step prep class. What I need is a schedule. Does anyone have any study schedule recommendations?

Ochem Woes

Many of you saw on my Instagram that I was taking summer Ochem I. Taking it over the course of 1 month (4 hour classes 4 times per week) was really not advisable. I was looking forward to this semester’s Ochem II class, because the pace was more suited to my learning style.

My professor taught quite slow for my tastes, but the expectations were clear and the information was much easier to process. Unfortunately, my professor had to have surgery and will now be out for the remainder of the semester. A substitute teacher has been assigned to us – a physics and engineering professor with a background in chemistry. Without the syllabus, the previous professor’s powerpoints or materials, and no knowledge of what we have learned, this professor has strived to teach us.

My classmates and I have been frustrated, as the professor’s teaching method is a strong shift away from relevant materials toward seemingly hare-brained physics lectures. They take their frustration out on him, when it isn’t his fault.

Supposedly next week, we will have 2 new teachers. The first person will teach lecture. Some of my classmates have been in his class before, and there are mixed reviews. My lab professor will be the same professor who taught me over the summer. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad yet…

Regardless, I need to finish this class in order to complete my pre-requisites. They cannot cancel this class and I refuse to withdraw. Anyone have any tips on how to deal with inconsistent classes like this?