The dreaded MCAT… many shudder at the mere mumbling of the word. I, unfortunately, am one of those people. While many changes are on the way for the new and improved MCAT of 2015, I still would never want to sit through that exam again. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets in regards to the MCAT. Many of you are studying for it, getting ready to take it or maybe re-take it, applying to medical school, and for some this is your first time even hearing about it. One particular tweet stuck out to me though and it reads “I don’t have a 4.0, I didn’t get a 40 on my MCAT, I’ll never get accepted to medical school now.” I’m about to unfold why this statement is so absurd, and the pressure that this individual has put on themselves for thinking that requirements like this exist, is unreasonable. Yet I, too, was one of those individuals.
I’m a small town girl from a small state with about one million people in the state’s entirety. There are two Allopathic medical schools (M.D.) and one Osteopathic medical school (D.O.). For most U.S. medical schools, at least a 24 on the MCAT, an average of 8 in each section, is required to even be considered for an interview, which means you won’t get passed the first round if you don’t have at least an 8 in all categories. Sure some can get away with a 12 in 2 categories and a 7 in one, etc, but a lot of that is about who you know – and that’s life. There will always be outliers. Both M.D. schools in my state required a 24, the D.O. school did not have a minimum requirement, but had more students applying than both of the M.D. schools combined. Do note that just because the D.O. school did not have a minimum requirement, its average MCAT score was about the same as both M.D. schools. Granted, this D.O. school takes about twice as many students as the M.D. schools, an average class size of 200+ so there is a greater MCAT range. Guess who was at the bottom of that range? This girl.
My best MCAT score I ever received was a 19. “A 19, are you serious?!?” Yeah, dead serious. There, I said it. I’m not ashamed because guess what? I GOT ACCEPTED to my FIRST CHOICE school! I’m the perfect example of why one test score does not showcase an individual’s true potential, and that WE ARE MUCH MORE THAN A NUMERICAL VALUE ON A STANDARDIZED EXAM. My MCAT was my only flaw in my application, and yet somehow, with such a low score, they saw past this, and saw me for the sum of my parts, not an individual component. I might’ve aced an interview, but that’s for another day 😉
Here’s how it went down. My undergraduate school is a state funded school, no Ivy league, nothing special; it has less than 2,000 students total. We didn’t have a pre-med program, there was one “pre-med/pre-vet/pre-dental” etc. for the entire group of science majors wanting to continue their education in healthcare. Getting a couple of tips from my pre-med advisor, I thought taking the MCAT would be a breeze. “What, I only need a 24 on a scale of 1-45? That will be a piece of cake. I’ll at least get a 30.” WRONG. I went in to the exam comparing the fact that I had aced my courses in my biology major, done well on the ACT entrance exam to get into college, and had always been good at math and science and would do just fine, and I didn’t need to study. This is flawed thinking that I would like to address that NO ONE should have. I took the exam, never studied at all for it, got an 18. I was somewhat appalled, but more shocked than anything. Now that I think about it, that’s not too terrible considering I guessed on about 75% of the physics and chemistry portion. Yikes.
How could I get that low when I knew so many things? Obviously I attributed it to the fact I didn’t study at all, chalked it up as a loss, and scheduled to retake it. When I say didn’t study at all, I truly mean DID NOT study at all. No review book, no notes, went in cold. This was in the spring. My plan for retaking it was not even a plan, really. I bought a review book from Barnes and Noble, Baron’s I believe and I don’t recommend. It had a CD on it with a practice exam, I took it once and got a 28. My thoughts exactly, “Hey, that’s pretty good for not studying. If I just got a 28 on this practice exam, I’ll surely do better this next time!” Wrong again. I copied a few notes down from each of the sections, avoiding physics and math because I hated the subject and found it very difficult (something I also don’t recommend) and that’s about it. I retook the exam, this time I received one point higher, my now famous score of 19.
Fears flooded my mind followed by many tears wondering how it all happened, thinking I wasn’t smart enough to get into medical school, and wondering if my life-long dreams were crushed. I was helpless, I felt depressed, discouraged, and lost. If any of you are at this point, it does get better, I promise you! After doing some heavy meditating, talking to schools having already applied, and scheduling my MCAT for a 3rd and final try, I decided to break down and join a KAPLAN course. My friend was already enrolled, I won’t mention her score but it was worse than mine. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to take this course thought extremely expensive, but I will tell you now, it did me more harm than good. It works for some, for my friend, it raised her score a few points, but for me, my score worsened. How could it worsen you ask? You don’t wanna know.
To make a long story short, I interviewed with my 19. Of course they drilled me on the fact that it was so low, and asked where I went wrong, what did I do or would do differently to raise it, and mainly what happened, and I was honest with them. Honesty goes a long way and really is the best policy, especially in interviews. I explained to them that I did not think I had to study for it, and that my accumulation of knowledge from passed coursework with flying colors would suffice. One professor laughed actually, one of the same professors I have now (how ironic) and I proceeded to make a joke out of it, which is what my score is in the grand scheme of things: a joke, because even though it’s low, NO ONE CARES. It doesn’t matter now that I got in, although it was one of my major hoops I had to jump through to get into the spot I am today.
So, with all that being said, and recognizing another struggle I’ve gone through to get here, I’m here to help any of you in need (please don’t ask me to tutor you in physics though HAHA). For those of you pre-meds that this is your first time hearing about the MCAT, I do encourage you to do your research, mainly on http://www.AAMC.org and get a feel of what you will be diving into. Also, talk to peers, previous students that have taken it, get some study tips from them, and TALK to your advisor but seriously listen to them! Take what they have to heart and APPLY it. Make an agenda. You can take the MCAT anytime, but most take it in the spring of their junior year right before they apply that summer for medical school. This gives them adequate amount of time to complete all of the pre-requisites required for the MCAT and medical school. You should order a review series, I did purchase Examkrackers at the last minute, and it seemed to be the best out of the bunch for me. I loved the cartoon characters and it made it somewhat fun, although this is not my term of fun, it wasn’t as daunting. Kaplan does work for some like I mentioned, some use Berkley Springs or Princeton Review, it’s all up to you but choose ONE source and stick to it! For those of you taking the pre-reqs now, it’s never too early to start studying. Use those books to complement your studying and truly help solidify the material. If you’re struggling and having difficulties with subjects, talk to your professors! Never be afraid to ask for help! And if you need further education because face it, some professors in undergrad downright are terrible, then take a course! Whether it’s Examkrackers, Kaplan, in person, online, whatever, do what you need to do, just make sure you have sufficient funds to do so.
Here are 10 top tips to study for the MCAT: (note: some overlap with above said comments)
1. Create a plan of attack. Make a step by step study plan. The MCAT is not something you can cram in one night, trust me. Make a study schedule, daily, weekly, and monthly. Promise yourself, and me, that you will stick to it and follow it religiously! This is YOUR JOB. Buy a planner. Usean agenda, map out what concepts of each subject need to be covered. Outline the chapters, make concept maps, memory palaces, some review books come with flashcards, set a designated time to study for it each day. No distractions! Sorry, not even reading my blog or tweets 😉 heehee. Seriously, you’ll thank me later.
2. Find a review source or use your old notes and textbooks tailored to your personal needs. Just because your friend is using Kaplan doesn’t mean you have to. One is not better than the other, people succeed with various sources, some use none at all and strictly textbooks from college. It just depends on how you want to study and what methods you want to use. Systematically review, don’t cram.
3. Take practice exams! For 35$ a test, AAMC offers practice exams with past questions on them! Great investment of your money! Simulate your testing environment so you get used to taking the exam in the same conditions: no distractions, one room, no snacks, scheduled breaks etc.
4. Analyze. Go over your practice tests, see which questions you got wrong, and analyze why you chose that answer, your though process, did you know the content or was it a test taking mistake? Did you read the question? Track your progress and keep a log. Don’t kill yourself if your scores are not where you want them to be. Relax, you’ll get there with a lot of hard work, time and dedication.
5. Get in shape physically! While your mind is getting in shape preparing for the exam, get in shape physically! DO NOT cut out meals, exercise, sleep, etc. just to cram in as much studying as possible. This will set you up for failure and with a proper schedule, there’s no need to cut any of this out. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improves memory, and increases concentration are just a few among a plethora of good things fitness does for us! Eat healthy also – your body needs to run on good fuel, you wouldn’t put regular gasoline in a Lamborghini would you? No. Don’t put crap into your body! Your body and MIND will thank you!
6. Get in shape emotionally! Taking the MCAT is a mind-numbing, daunting task that is more than 5 hours long, give or take. Set time for yourself to meditate, pray, relax, each day! If you have anxiety, find ways to rid this. De-stress by performing a variety of activities (ahem, see tip 5). Take scheduled breaks but don’t get carried away. Study 50 minutes, off ten in 4 hour increments.
7. Find a study buddy. Odds are, your friends will be taking it too! Go to the library, you don’t necessarily have to study together, but make yourselves accountable for the material by studying in the same room. Studying alone is great but you can learn so much from another person and they can also from you! Keep your study group to a minimum, no more than 4 people. It’s important to keep good group dynamics and more than 4 sets up for easier distraction. Keep a time limit, keep everyone on task, and make it a scheduled activity.
8. Familiarize yourself. The MCAT is like no other test. Research it, learn it, live it, love it. While you do need to know the content, you need to know how to take it! Brush up on your test-taking techniques and improve on them. Taking the test is one thing, knowing the material is another.
9. Plan your test day. Think positive thoughts! Always! Plan everything out. Get a good night’s rest a couple days before, try not to stress, get up early that day, have a good breakfast with complex carbs for long-lasting energy, bring healthy snacks, avoid a lot of caffeine, drink water, and dress comfortably. Know where the testing center is so you can avoid any confusion or traffic the day of. It’s amazing what being in a calm, proper mindset can do for you.
10. Consult your colleagues. It helps to get a view from someone else’s eyes. Talk to students that have taken it before, talk to your teachers, anyone that knows about it. It can put your mind at ease. If you don’t wanna discuss your scores with others, don’t! It’s no one’s business but your own. However, it is very beneficial and insightful to learn from others and see where they went wrong so you can improve yourself! —> Hi 🙂
In conclusion, if any of you are discouraged by your score or are struggling, thinking it’s the end of the world, don’t fret, don’t think you aren’t smart enough because you are. They say the score is supposed to be a helpful indication of how well you’ll do in medical school and that’s not necessarily true. Example being: I know a guy who got a 21. He graduated 3RD in his class of 120 students from medical school. That’s a HUGE accomplishment. So many pre-meds think you have to get a 45 on the MCAT or you’re finished, can only take it once etc. Don’t think your career is over, because it probably isn’t. Is it harder to get in with a lower score? Absolutely, so make sure your app is a killer. But is it impossible? No! Look at me, with my silly 19, taken more than once, that no one ever knew about until now. Not every app is perfect and if yours contains flaws, so what. You’re unique. You’re HUMAN. NO ONE is perfect, and don’t kill yourself trying to be. Whatever you do, don’t count yourself out. Where there is a will, there’s a way, and you CAN get in somewhere, whether it’s M.D., D.O. in or outside the U.S. etc. just promise me that you’ll never give up on your dreams.