Originally Posted Jan 22, 2018
So I spent this summer taking the MCAT (cue every pre-med student within a 5 mile radius hyperventilating). Definitely not the most exciting way to spend the four months off, but in the end, I was very glad I got it out of the way. This will likely be one of many MCAT posts on this website, since so many people have questions about it and it’s constantly changing. Here is what I will address in this post:
- The Princeton Review (TPR) class: was it helpful, or necessary?
- Timing: when should you take the MCAT?
- General tips and tricks
Note: I went into the MCAT having taken 1 semester of inorganic chemistry (CHEM 130), 2 semesters of organic chemistry (CHEM 210 and 215), 2 semesters of physics (PHYSICS 135 and 235), 1 semester of biochemistry (MCDB 310), and a number of psych classes (PSYCH 230, 240, and 250) at Michigan. Having taken AP Bio and AP Psych in high school, I did not take BIO 171 or 172 or PSYCH 111 here.
A quick description of how the class worked: it was two months of 3 hours per day and 5 days a week. It was divided up into six subjects: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, psychology/sociology, and critical analysis and reasoning (CARS). Each 3-hour class focused on one subject, but the number of classes dedicated to each varied; for example, there were 11 classes for biology but only 4 for organic chemistry.
Overall, I thought the class I took through TPR was very helpful. First and foremost, the way they divided up the material and provided a schedule to follow was definitely the most valuable resource for me. Without a schedule to keep me on track, I would not have been able to organize the sheer amount of material needed for the MCAT into sizeable chunks to study every day. Not only was I able to focus on one thing at a time, but spreading it out made it easier to review and connect the subjects later on. The content review was additionally crucial for me, especially for subjects like biology for which I had not taken a course since senior year of high school.
Another major aspect that attracted me to TPR’s class was the fact that there were different teachers for different subjects. For me personally, having multiple instructors assured me that they were specialized in the subjects they were teaching. All of them were very knowledgeable about what they were teaching, not only in terms of the actual material but also in regard to test-taking strategies.
Finally, the fact that TPR provided 11 full-length practice tests, as well as access to a few more AAMC practice exams, was a huge draw. Even though I did not end up using all of them, they really helped me track my progress in both understanding what MCAT passages and questions looked like and sitting through a 7-hour exam. However, one disclaimer for practice exams from companies like TPR or Kaplan: they are definitely made to be harder than the real MCAT. This is likely to ensure that you are fully prepared for the exam, but it is still really important to keep this mind – DON’T get discouraged if your score on the first few full-lengths you take is below where you want to be. The AAMC exams are the best to take in the few weeks before the actual exam, since they will be the most true to the real thing.
An added benefit of the class for me was that my class ended up getting pretty close. It’s nice to have study buddies, or at the very least know that there are people doing the same thing as you.
In terms of timing, there is obviously no “correct” time to take the MCAT. Some people take it before junior year, while others take it after they have graduated college. It all depends on when YOU think you are ready to take it, whether that means you have taken all the necessary courses or you are mentally prepared to sit in front of a computer for 7.5 hours. That being said, for me personally, I don’t think I would ever feel completely prepared for an exam as long and important as the MCAT. If this is the case for you, don’t worry – you’re in the same boat as a lot of other people. Just take it when you feel that you would score the best, even if that means pushing it off for another semester or year.
Whether or not to take it during the school year versus in the summer all comes down to how well you manage your time. If you feel like you will be able to balance your coursework with studying, then definitely feel free to take it during the school year. However, if you feel that studying for the MCAT will suck up your time and distract you from your studies, don’t hesitate to push it to the nearest summer.
General tips and tricks
- Time management is key! Everyone knows it, but not everyone practices it. Best advice: do keep to a schedule, be it your own or a class’s.
- If you can’t focus on one subject for hours on end, split up your time so that you do multiple subjects in one day
- Make a list of where you need to get stronger during your first run-through of the material, and focus on those areas while studying later
- Study broad to specific
- Practice exams
- Space them out every weekend or every other weekend to stay on track
- Self-care! Is! Essential!
- Make sure to reward yourself for the little things.
- Dance and Sleep 🙂
- AAMC website: https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/prepare-mcat-exam/
- A helpful post I found on Reddit with some more tips: https://www.reddit.com/r/Mcat/comments/6o4f48/how_i_got_a_525_on_the_mcat_and_how_you_can_too/
- Khan Academy (especially for the Psych/Soc section): https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat
“… personally, I don’t think I would ever feel completely prepared for an exam as long and important as the MCAT. If this is the case for you, don’t worry – you’re in the same boat as a lot of other people. Just take it when you feel that you would score the best, even if that means pushing it off for another semester or year.”