I’m finally done done done with the MCAT, and my summer has definitely gotten a facelift :) I took the test this past Friday, and I’ve spent the last 48 hours thoroughly enjoying myself: exploring Boston, trying out my new bike, spending time with friends, and watching a ridiculous number of TV shows. It’s been fabulous!
The test itself was pretty difficult, though. The physics, reading, and writing sections were straightforward and similar to practice tests I’d taken. The bio section, however, was much much harder than MCAT passages I’d seen before, which left me feeling a little bummed at the end of the test :( When I went into lab later that day though, I had a surprise waiting for me that cheered me up instantly: flowers, a card, and ice cream! My lab is the besttt. ♥
In retrospect, I think that if I went back and relived these past few months, I would have studied for the MCAT differently. I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned/discovered this summer regarding MCAT prep. I know that this entry won’t be helpful to everyone out there, but hopefully, one or two of you are pre-meds and might appreciate my humble advice ;)
Topic 1: MCAT Prep – Courses and Books
Quite a few of my friends have taken Kaplan and Princeton Review MCAT prep courses and have found them helpful. I’ve never been a huge fun of test prep courses though, partly because I think they’re overpriced and partly because I like studying at my own pace. Most people who I’ve talked to have said that test prep courses are helpful in that you have a structured environment that forces you to study and furthermore provides you with a wide range of study materials. If you’re good at self-studying, however, and have access to several prep books, you might consider saving some money and opting out of a prep course. This decision is totally dependent on the type of person you are! Courses are useful to some; I just like independence a little too much, haha.
That being said, I’ve tried out a wide range of test prep books/materials this summer, and I think I’ve figured out which ones work the best:
(1) Examkrackers – I didn’t get to use their “1001 Questions in…” series (I do recommend these though!), but I did use their subject prep books. They were fantastic! Concise, informative, easy to understand, and complete with practice questions that were very much on the level of real MCAT questions from the AAMC (Association of American Medical Collegs). I found Princeton Review and Kaplan practice questions to be slightly harder than Examkrackers/AAMC questions. If you end up taking the MCAT, definitely use Examkrackers to study!
(2) Princeton Review – Because Examkrackers books are so compact, they occasionally miss a few details; to supplement the Examkrackers materials, I used Princeton Review. If nothing else, I highly suggest getting Princeton Review’s MCAT Organic Chemistry review; in many ways, I found the PR version of this book to be on par with or even slightly better than the EK orgo book. Also, practicing with PR questions definitely gave me a little more confidence on the MCAT.
(3) Kaplan Flashcards and Quicksheet – Get them! They’re an easy way to review concepts, and I almost always had a set of flashcards with me when I was riding the T somewhere. I admit it’s kind of nerdy though; people kind of gave me funny looks for flipping through them on the subway, haha.
(4) **AAMC Practice Tests** – This one’s the most important. The AAMC has released 9 real MCAT practice exams that you can purchase directly from the AAMC. Take all of them! Multiple times! And take them seriously. Strive to finish the test far before your timer runs out. That way, when you sit down for the actual MCAT, it’ll feel just like another practice exam :)
Topic 2: Timeline for Studying
Yeah, I definitely did this wrong. I started studying two and a half months before my MCAT, which is actually a great time to start studying: far enough advance that studying isn’t too stressful and not too early that you spend more time checking your email than reading your prep book. What I did wrong was take a practice test a month and a half into my studying. I wanted to feel comfortable with all the material before I subjected myself to a test setting. But if I could re-do my approach to studying, I would definitely start by taking a practice test, then slowly hone in on the topics I really needed to work on. I feel like that would have made my first month of studying a little more useful and productive. It gives it more of a direction.
Even if you, like me, choose not to start out with a practice test, you should definitely take a test at least a month before your MCAT, then every few days after that. The week leading up to my MCAT was relatively relaxed, and I practiced going to bed early and waking up early. Haha, I even tried out different breakfasts to see what made me feel the most alert and focused during my practice tests. Turns out coffee encourages spazzy thinking; don’t drink coffee before your MCAT! =P Oh, and I also found a mouse in my room the night before my MCAT. Make sure there are no mice in your room! It doesn’t make for great dreams :(
Topic 3: The Day of the MCAT
Relax! Walk in with a smile, and feel confident. And make sure you have something fun planned for afterwards! I actually had an essay to finish after my MCAT, so that coupled with a difficult MCAT bio section left me feeling a little down after the MCAT. But then lab happened, and I cheered up fasttt. Basically, my point is: after the MCAT, you’re going to want to celebrate immediately, and not waste time deciding exactly how you’re going to celebrate. Lunch or dinner with friends is a great option :)
Andddd, that about wraps up my advice. I can’t think of anything else at the moment, but if I do happen to have a flash of inspiration, I’ll come back and edit this entry. Good luck to you future pre-med-ers and MCAT-ers. I wish you all the luck in the world :)
P.S. Good luck to Nikki ’13, Arooshi ’13, Rajita ’13, Jeanne ’13, and Shreesh ’13 – all of whom are taking the MCAT in the next few weeks!