MCAT: The Struggle

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.

XOXO

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57 thoughts on “MCAT: The Struggle

  1. Wonderful post which I’m sure will be an inspiration to countless pre-meds out there who are concerned about a single test score defining their futures. Congrats on your continued success!

  2. Thank you so much for the advice .. im planning to take the MCAT next Spring and I’m secretly terrified. I was never a good test taker … I really appreciate this perspective

  3. Thanks so much for this!!! What would you recommend for GPA? I had a horrible freshman year due to the adjustment and some health problems, my science courses ended pretty bad. I’m prepared to come back and kick butt but I’m so terrified that I’m already doomed. Also someone told me bc of my ACT score which was mid 20s that I couldn’t do the MCAT or med school. your thoughts? Thank you 🙂

    • To that person who told you you’d do poorly on the MCAT.. excuse my language, but f*ck them. I had an MD/PhD director tell me that based on my MCAT the *best* I could possibly do on the MCAT based on my SAT was a 28.. Well, I ended up with a 31 and probably could have done better with extra time. So much of the MCAT is about perseverance and discipline and confidence. So if you’re really determined to do well, you will. Don’t let others create barriers for you. Best of luck.

    • ACT has nothing to do with medical school that was for college. To be competitive at least a 3.5 or above. Really competitive, 3.8+ .. I know kids who have gotten in with 3.0s but never less. And that’s rare. I’d say shoot for 3.5 and kill MCAT. What’s current GPA? Also not already doomed. You have 3 years to bring up!

      • Yeah I’m definitely focusing on my getting my gpa to that 3.5 by fall of my junior year. I’m at a 2.7 right now unfortunately but I know that this semester/year will be better and I’m gonna work hard to make sure it is. I’ve considered post-bac/bridge med programs as well if all fails. But yeah GPA and MCAT prep are my goals this year. Thank you 🙂

  4. I wanted to say I really appreciated your article. I go to a college with probably a smaller population and there is no pre-anything program. Going into my junior year at school I am the Pre-Medical President and I’m trying to figure out how I could possibly bring MCAT prep to my school. Unfortunately it’s looking super expensive and impossible for now. And this scares me because I’ve heard you are supposed to take your MCAT junior year. I know that everyone has their own pace I’m just not sure what I could do besides getting a job to save up for MCAT prep. Do you know of any programs or could you give me some advice?

    • You could take out a small loan for it, ask your parents or others to fund you, you might have to go elsewhere for it or take it online. It’s way more expensive for them to come to you. But I would call the companies firsthand. Examkrackers, Kaplan, Berkeley, Princeton review etc

      • Hey ,

        Just read this blog! Very inspiring I must say. I have a very similar situation and have lately almost given up my dreams of being a doctor, but this put a ray of hope in me. Just out of curiously, What year did you get in? And what extracurricular activities did you take part in to make your application outstanding in other areas?

      • I got in as soon as i graduated from college. I was a college athlete, vice president of spanish club, american chemical society, science honorary, big brother big sister, volunteering, shadowing, church youth groups, community clean ups etc etc

  5. Wonderful! I found this incredibly encouraging! I’m mapping out my MCAT study plan tonight with plans to take it in February. This is exactly what I needed to hear, thank you!!!

  6. As with all standardizied type tests, one of the problems I have seen is how much stock people put into their score. The MCAT, glorified as the key to getting into medical school by all premeds, doesn’t appear to be an exception. (Although it is the worst test I’ve ever taken! I actually just wrote a blog post about this a couple days ago.) My story is pretty similar; small state university, pre-health program not much to brag about, didn’t study well for the MCAT due to various reasons. I got a 24 and was horribly disappointed in myself. I thought my dream was done, even though this was only my first try and my AMCAS had already been submitted. I got a few secondaries, filled out less, interviewed at one school…. and was accepted in late May! MCAT scores do not define who we are and what we can do. Good luck everyone and don’t give up!

  7. You are such an inspiration to me! I haven’t taken the MCAT, but I -hopefully- will be in May, so this was a huge help! My app is okay, minus a few bumps on my GPA, but you’ve given me hope that I can still get in. Thank you! 🙂

  8. Amazing post! Thank you so much for this! Will you still be doing the post on med school study tips? What kind of class did you take to help you learn how to study better?

  9. The best advice I can give people is this: familiarize yourself with the exam. Do practice tests not just to practice the questions, but to know how it works, how much time you have for each question, how much time you personally need for each question, etc. I have done a test for which I was completely prepared for, but didn’t know how it was. I knew the material, but the fact that there was an oral part in which I would be speaking with a computer (no joke!) totally threw me off and I could barely get the words out.

    If you know the material, great! Familiarize yourself with the test, how many parts, which different parts, everything. Know everything there is to know, and you won’t be surprised. It goes a long ways to calming your nerves, when you see something you expect and are prepared for… Surprises are NOT what you want, going into one of the most important tests of your career…

  10. This post just put a huge smile on my face. I just cancelled taking my MCAT for the first time on Sept 10th because I feel so unprepared and have been making scores on the AAMC tests in the mid to high teens. My wife and I dont have the funds at the moment to pay for a fancy prep course but having to cancel taking thr mcat until January is so discouraging especially since now I will probably not be offered any interviews for this year. I have a 3.8 gpa and a science gpa of 3.58 with lots of clinical experience. I just graduated in 2010 and so teaching myself all the material has been so hard and I feel like im getting nowhere…… I wonder if any schools would accept a january 2015 mcat score for admission in 2015?!?!?!?!?

    • A lot of schools do I think! Your app sounds solid other than that! You don’t need a fancy prep course i recommend examkrackers. Easy reads, quick and concise and to the point. It was too late for me to use them though, I got them after I was finished forever with the MCAT and got accepted lol I had to cancel my date too bc I got them thinking id have to take again. Good luck!! Let me know if I can help you!

  11. I just took the MCAT yesterday, and I woke up at 5am worried about my score. I knew I got some answers wrong by second guessing myself – this was a problem when I was doing practice exams as well. I said I wasn’t going to change my answers unless I’m sure it was wrong… NO my habit was still the same ):

    I don’t know what to do. My closest friend got a 41 on his MCAT and I always looked up to him. He told me to surpass him and get a 42+. I feel like a failure and am seriously thinking about a career change. But I can’t imagine myself doing something else, I really want to go to med school. And I feel like retaking it… my score won’t improve much unless I just get extremely lucky.

    In short, the MCAT makes me cry ):

    • A) relax. You took it, no matter the outcome, it’s done and over and you can’t change it. B) Don’t worry about it yet you haven’t even got your scores back. 🙂 do your best to enjoy your time while waiting for the scores. Plus what if you surprised yourself and did better than you think? Don’t dwell on the past it’s not here anymore. Only be concerned once you have those scores and if they’re not to your liking. You have plenty of time to fix those second guessing habits before medical school so don’t give up on anything and like I said, even with a not so good score you can get in. Where there’s a will there’s a way 🙂

  12. I never comment on things like these but thanks so much for telling your story because it’s my story. I am currently in the process of applying now and I’m excited/ nervous because of my MCAT score. ALL IN ALL THANK YOU!! I will continue to have a positive attitude while applying.

  13. You have no idea how much courage your story gives me. I’ve struggled with the MCAT and I’m really nervous about this application cycle. If I get interviews, I know I’ll be asked about my scores but I’ll try to remain positive and honest. Thank you!

  14. This is inspiring. So I took the MCAT in May and got a 23 then again in September and just went up by 1 point! Right now I am completely distraught and not really sure what to do next, do you have any advice? What school did you end up going to?

    • I go to school in WV. Can’t give the name out. But that score isn’t terrible at all. It’s the minimum to get screened at a lot of MD schools so you made the cut off! Your acceptance isn’t solely based on that score. They’ll look at your entire app. I’d just wait for interviews. If the rest of your app is solid you’ll be fine and enjoy your time while waiting. 🙂

  15. Dear MedSchoolQueen,

    I just want to say thank you for sharing your story. I received my MCAT score today and tried to composed myself as I broke down inside looking at it. At that very moment, I felt lost, helpless, and hopeless. I wanted to give up but a part of me wanted to continue fighting. I could not have run across your blog at a better time. Thank you for giving me the strength to stand back up. Thank you for shedding light for those who will be studying for it and hope for those who are struggling with it. I truly admire your vulnerability and honesty.

    Stay awesome!

    Sincerely,
    Lien

    P.S. Who brought out onions as I finished the last sentences?

    • Don’t give up Lien! Look at me! Surely you did better than me and I’m making straight A’s in medical school! 😳 it has no significance on the doctor you’re going to become nor does it say anything about you besides the fact you can take a really hard test and they need a way to screen over thousands of applicants that’s about it. So don’t ever give up! I promise where there’s a will there’s a way and you can get in somewhere!! Let me know if I can be of any further assistance! Keep workin hard!

      • Thank you for your support and encouragement, Medschoolqueen! I decided to not give up on my dream. “The time will pass anyway.” 🙂 And congrats on acing in med school!! Please give yourself a proud pat on the back for me! *Insert Person Raising Both Hands in Celebration emoji*

  16. Do medical schools take your highest score into account? I went down in VR and BS but up in PS my second time taking it (but overall lowering my score). Do they only look at the last one?

    • They do take your highest score into account. but no, they look at all of the scores. I think some only take the highest score, but for the most part they can see how many times you’ve taken it, your past scores etc. I think it depends on the school, not 100% sure though.

  17. I’m so glad I read this post :’)
    I’m T-3 days from taking the mcat (I’ve studied for only a few months)and I don’t feel ready at all..my practice test scores are low. I’m so scared to tackle this monster mostly because I don’t even want to see the score. Do you think I should void it? I already know I’m going to have to take it again.

    I used to go to medical school in central america where my family is from. My parents eventually pulled me out because gang violence in the country was becoming more frequent. I didn’t even finish the year! They don’t have mcats there, they only look at your high school gpa, so its fair game for everyone. The ones who do poorly within the first year are pulled out. Here, its like climbing Mount Everest just to get an interview from a school. So you can imagine my struggle of being where I wanted to be, back to being nothing lol

    I’ve lived my entire academic career with “don’t let a mark define you”, but it surely is easier said than done when it comes to the mcat. So, I’m glad I came across this post, because you’re absolutely right. We shouldn’t give up on our dreams just over one number, or for not being the perfect applicant. Despite the heartache, long nights, and burnt out days, it’s such a small investment! If it all leads me to my dreams, I’d go through it time and time again lol.
    Thanks for the burst of hope!

    • If you’re taking practice AAMC tests or kaplan tests they’re usually a pretty good indicator. How low is low? I would void if it’s nowhere near what you think you’re capable of doing. I know what you mean about climbing Mt. Everest here. It’s like a shark tanK! Keep studying and trying hard! 🙂 You’ll get it!!

      • I applied to and got into sgu for the january term but still waiting to here back from Us and DO schools so I’m not sure if I should postpone my acceptance for Aug. Did you send letter of interest/updates to your medschools in the U.S? If so when? I got a 22mcat:/

      • I would wait and risk it to see if US schools accept. It will save you a lot of money and trouble when getting a residency spot. I didnt send a letter of interest but that could definitely help, obviously update them as needed

  18. You give us courage. Your experience may not be unique to took courage to share it with all of us. I hope more people do that.
    Just wondering if you got in MD or DO school?

    • I actually found out which school you are going. Wish you all the success in medical school.
      Thanks again for sharing your story with us.

  19. I found your blog right after I took my first MCAT, I got a 19. Your success story helped me feel better and encouraged me. My journey is a little different, I studied for the exam first through Kaplan the first time I took the MCAT. The second time I took it I got a 22 and studied using the Princeton Review. But no I want to take it a third time but the test is changing after January. I’m not sure what to do? Any advise would be appreciated.

  20. I can’t tell you enough how accurate this is… Well said. I was placed almost in the exact same situation as you MCAT wise, and I recently got an interview and accepted to medical school! Nothing is impossible… Never give up!

  21. This is Wonderful ! Right now I got a GPA of 2.90 and I want much more than 3.00 so all are in game this year for me. I want to tell you that you are such an inspiration for me. I’m gonna work harder to get the GPA I want.

  22. Wow, but you must have some outstanding GPA and other activities, or attends a top tier school! It sounds like a miracle to me, maybe I’m just being pessimistic. I’ve taken the MCAT consistently in the last 2 years since graduating (working as lab tech), and I just don’t get it! I think it’s time to give up for me, my GPA is not strong, and I attend a state school ;( But nonetheless, your story is amazing!!

    • I had a 3.8, was a full time athlete, and only attended a state school. I even made a C lol I guess miracles do happen, or I did well with an interview lol not sure. Don’t give up yet, what are your numbers? Work with someone. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Talk to promedeus !

  23. wow…. i scored a 20 recently after studying correctly, dilligently, and practiced ALOT. i have no idea how the hell this could happen… almost thinking my test score was a fluke.
    my GPA is a 3.5 overall and 3.4 in sciences.. should i withdraw my application?

  24. Where did you get in if you don’t mind me asking? I’m literally in the place you were right now. Have taken it twice and score went down, already applied once. Now deciding if I should take it again or do PA program.

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