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!

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?