A Student’s Experience with the MCAT: Five Tips for Success

A former pre-med student shares his experiences about the process of preparing for and taking the MCAT before applying to medical school.

Have you started studying for the MCAT yet? Are you early in the journey and trying to find the best time to take it? Wondering whether or not you should take a course? Curious about free resources? Nervous about filtering through the noise on how to best study? Let’s talk about some of the biggest mistakes I made when studying for the MCAT. This way you can avoid them and be one GIANT step closer to reaching your dream score!

The MCAT experience is the only thing that nearly all pre-med students share in common. Despite this shared adventure, every single pre-med undergoes a slightly (and oftentimes vastly) different experience. 

I don’t know about you, but the MCAT was a pretty low point for me! As much as I wanted to have a pleasant and inspiring experience to share, I think my truth will resonate with more of you once you hear all of the good and the bad.

Briefly, What Exactly Was My MCAT Experience Like? 

I knew early on that I did not want to take a gap year before attending medical school. This meant that I had to apply to medical school at the end of my junior year and take my MCAT before then. Fortunately, I received enthusiastic support from some of my mentors and friends about this decision. However, it came with its fair share of challenges. 

This decision meant that I had to take the MCAT during the spring semester of my junior year, while also taking a full college course load, including Physics II and Biochemistry (rookie mistake on my part). 

For some reason, this hurdle didn’t scare me too much in the beginning. But that quickly changed once the spring semester started and the midterms started rolling in! 

MCAT Tip #1: Have Respect for This Massive Exam! 

This might seem silly, but I was definitely guilty of not respecting the beast that the MCAT exam truly is. Early on in my studying, I was treating the MCAT just like any other midterm, except I was dedicating just a bit of extra time to it. In hindsight, I should have allocated A TON more time to my studying from the start. 

I didn’t appropriately estimate how my priorities would fall when it came to choosing to study for an exam next week versus the MCAT in two months. So, I learned this the hard way and fell behind in my studying pretty quickly, leaving myself very little time to cram at the end of my study period.

Because of my underestimation of the MCAT, I ended up pushing my exam back twice! I ended up pushing my exam back from mid-April to the end of June, and when I still didn’t feel ready, I pushed it back again to August 1st. That better allowed me to dedicate my entire summer to studying while giving myself just enough time to get my score early in the cycle and apply straight through.

MCAT Tip #2: Build Enough Time Into Your MCAT Study Schedule

This goes hand in hand with the previous tip but be sure to budget the right amount of time to study based on you and your needs. I didn’t realize until later in my studying that the average MCAT test taker spends about 300 hours studying for the MCAT. Once I figured that out, I reworked my entire study schedule to make sure I met that minimum threshold. 

But that goal changes for everyone! It’s up to you to recognize your study strengths and weaknesses and create a studying plan (or pay for one) that will set you up for success. 

For this reason, I highly recommend allocating at least one month of time completely dedicated to MCAT study time. Whether this happens over the summer, during a gap year, or even during winter break. Aim to give yourself at least 3-4 weeks to focus on the MCAT – like a full-time job! 

MCAT Tip #3: Collect Resources Early and Save Money if You Can

Rather than jumping in and spending thousands of dollars just before you start studying for the MCAT, keep your eyes peeled years in advance for other opportunities to secure free or low-cost MCAT resources.

Check online, at your school, and through friends and mentors to see where MCAT prep books are being given away or sold cheaply. For example, before I had even decided to apply straight through, I luckily landed a summer internship that provided every student with an MCAT prep book and brief summer course! At the time I didn’t take it too seriously, but that book came in handy just a few months later once I started studying in earnest. I was then able to hand off those books to other friends after I finished studying. 

On the other hand, if a prep course is a better fit for you, start saving and looking for coupons and sales as early as possible. Oftentimes, prep courses will allow you to register for a course but not actually start it until much later. 

MCAT Tip #4: Remember WHOSE Score This Is – *HINT* It’s YOURS! 

I definitely fell victim to comparison many times throughout my study period. I would spend hours watching videos titled, “How to raise your MCAT score by 10 points in 3 weeks” or “How to Ace CARS in just one week!” While those videos seemed exciting and helpful at first glance, they just led to immense amounts of stress and caused me to switch up my study style way too many times leading up to my test date. 

This was one of my biggest mistakes throughout the entire process; I didn’t trust my gut in my studying and kept trying to copy all the major YouTubers and experts. Don’t be like me! 

MCAT Tip #5: The MCAT Is Just One Part of Your Application

This exam is just one part of who you are as an applicant, so treat it as such! There are other meaningful ways to demonstrate your excellence and potential as a future physician. Don’t be afraid to capitalize on those interviews, secondaries, and other little exams (like the Casper!) to fight your way into next year’s incoming medical school class.

The right school for you will recognize who you are as a person and will want you because of what you can offer to their campus and their community – not because of the one score that you got on the MCAT exam.

Looking for an MCAT tutoring program designed just for you? Schedule a free consultation with the awesome advisors over at MedSchoolCoach

Ken Tao

Ken is nationally recognized as a premier MCAT mind. He has worked with thousands of undergraduate students as a graduate teaching assistant and MCAT instructor/tutor for the Princeton Review. At Princeton Review, Ken was the only tutor certified in all subjects, was one of the highest rated MCAT tutors ever and was a teacher trainer. Additionally, Ken worked to found Magoosh's MCAT division. He has written content for dozen's of MCAT books and guides. He is now the Director of MCAT at MedSchoolCoach

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