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500 to 521 in 6 weeks (MCAT success story from Reddit)

Summary

Non-science, traditional student at Big 10 university who only had introductory microbio, physics, and psych before taking the MCAT. Studied many, many hours for 6 weeks leading up to the exam. He thought Kaplan was too in depth, but appreciated it, and found skimming material before bed to be more helpful than flashcards.

He only used section banks to study, not to test his knowledge. He also attributes success to carb loading the night before, and not eating lunch at all. He wants to remind everyone that time spent not studying MCAT is time wasted.

His materials were:

  1. AAMC section bank, sample test, and FL1 and FL2
  2. Khan Academy for P/S
  3. Kaplan books and quicksheet
  4. His own Google Doc

from https://www.reddit.com/r/Mcat/comments/6ob0b2/how_i_went_from_500_to_521_in_6_weeks/

Full post

I went from a sample TPR FL 500 to a 521 on the actual MCAT in 6 weeks. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my study plan, so here it is.

Background about me: I’m a non-science major, traditional student at a Big 10 university. I didn’t decide to do medical school until last year, so I only had introductory microbiology, physics, and psychology under my belt before taking the MCAT. I took AP Chemistry in high school and tested out, so I never took that in college. Never took Sociology, Orgo, Biochem, etc. I felt as though I was at a major disadvantage in terms of courses compared to other students, but I still pulled off a 521 somehow.

Study Materials: TPR Sample Test, Newest Kaplan 7-Book Set with online resources, AAMC Section Bank, AAMC Sample Test, AAMC FL1 and FL2, Khan Academy.

Before TPR: Before I took the TPR, I had memorized the Amino Acids including their category (polar, nonpolar, positively charged, etc), three letter, single letter codes and I could look at an amino acid structure and name the amino acid. I could not, however, draw most amino acids successfully if given the name. I had also gone over my old microbio notes.


  1. I studied 8-12 hours almost every single day for 6 weeks prior to the exam. I would say that there were maybe 4-days were I only studied for a few hours that day. I’m generally a heavy drinker and go out 4-7 nights a week during the school year, but I stopped completely during this time.

  2. I woke up at 6:30 or 7am every day, ate mini wheats and scrambled eggs for breakfast, then drive to the library to study. I started studying at 8am every day during this time. The MCAT starts at 8am, so you need to get your brain prepped to be thinking hardcore at 8am.

  3. I highly highly suggest pre-packing your lunch. It saves so much time. Or, if you have money to blow, order jimmy johns. It saves a lot of time. While I ate lunch, I watched Khan Academy P/S videos. After lunch, I would go on a quick walk around the building, maybe catch some pokemon on Pokemon Go, and come back. Then, I would watch another video while I digested my food (Usually a Kaplan Online Resource Video, Khan Academy also works though).

  4. I read every single page of the Kaplan books except for Physics and Organic Chemistry. I took notes on every single page, and made flashcards for basically every single term. I handwrite my flashcards because it helps me remember better. I also color coded them to make them easier to find. I made over 3000 flashcards. Did I ever use them? Only at the beginning, then I stopped. I mostly used them because they forced me to fit the definition of a term on one flashcard. Just the main idea.

  5. Is Kaplan too in depth? Yes. But that’s exactly what I wanted. The difference between a 515 and a 520+ is the little things that you need to remember. The small detailed facts. 90% of those facts probably won’t show up on the MCAT, but the 10% that do, you’ll be thankful for. Don’t focus on these if you are short on time, but don’t dismiss them either.

  6. GOOGLE DOC. HERE IS MY LINK. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. It is honestly the reason for my success, and I wish I would have started it from the beginning. Mine is FAR from complete, but it was a big help for me once I started doing it. Feel free to copy and edit this to make it your own. I found that I had too many flashcards, it was too hard to study them all, it wasn’t fast, and I couldn’t find stuff that I wanted very quickly (although they were organized by Kaplan Chapter and Book, which helped). The key to this document is that you need to look at this every night before bed. Just scroll through it on your phone. Read the terms. If you know it, don’t bother reading the definition, just move on. If you don’t know it, read the definition, refresh yourself, pause, then move on. This is a fast and easy way to literally scroll through the material and keep old study stuff at the front of your mind.

EDIT: If you use my spreadsheet premade for you as is, it will be much harder to study. I suggest people clear the definitions column and type those in themselves. The act of looking up the definitions and reading the context behind the terms will help you a lot. Use the spreadsheet for the method, not for the content on it.

6) Section Banks and Kaplan Online Quiz Things: I started these about three and a half weeks from my exam. For the section banks, I used them for basically studying purposes only, not test my knowledge purposes. I would turn solutions on, then do a passage, go back and look at the answers, look at the explanations, and if needed, look online or in books to try and really understand the reasoning. If I still didn’t understand, I would search it on reddit. I never moved on during the section bank without first understanding the answer. This really helped me a ton. I spread out each section of the SB over 2-3 days, so I wasn’t doing it all at once. Kaplan Quiz things were obviously timed and used more as a test your understanding, but I still did them more casually than the exams.

7) Full Length Schedule:

3 weeks out: KAP 1

2.5 weeks out: KAP 2

2 weeks out: Sample

1.5 Weeks out: KAP 3

1 Week out: AAMC FL1

3 Days before: AAMC FL2

This is just what I did. I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but I really needed to do A LOT of reviewing before I tackled the Full Lengths. I did all of my full lengths in a private office I have access to, without my phone, and without snacking or anything in the meantime. Before EVERY exam, I was cramming using the Kaplan Quicksheets to refresh my brain. Also, the morning of the exams, I would skim the google doc I made. I also never take lunch. Getting full really makes me tired and slows my brain down, so I would bring goldfish and blueberries. The sugar helped replenish my brain, and the carbs helped sustain me. Also Gatordade for electrolytes.

Right after the exam, I would eat lunch, go on a walk to clear my head, then go back and review right away. I would write down the topic I missed, why I missed it (generally because I just overthought the question), and then I would make sure I understood why it was the answer. Generally, if it was a term definition that I didn’t know, I would never forget that term again after reading it and finding out, so I never really studied that. But, I would go back and really study the theory behind the answer. As always, use reddit if you still don’t understand.

8) CARB LOAD: NOT KIDDING. Just like running a marathon or something, I carb loaded the night before my exam. I studied from 8am-4pm the day before, then went home and made some chicken carbonara for me and my roommate. I stuffed myself silly with carbs to make sure my brain didn’t get tired during the exam (and it worked from what I can tell). In the morning I went to McDonalds and got an Oatmeal, Hashbrown, and an Orange Juice before my exam. I sat in mcdonalds with the MCAT Quicksheets and my Google Doc, just like before every practice exam. Again, I don’t like to take lunch during the MCAT. I just snack and try and meditate/close my eyes and relax and clear my mind.

9) Speaking of meditation, I did this thing that we used to do in high school swimming. We would lay on the deck and visualize ourselves swimming fast and winning the race the days leading up to sectionals. Every night in bed (Get in your bed by 10:00pm and start this), I would first spend 45min to an hour looking at my google doc sheet. Then, I would close my eyes and just continue to imagine myself reading fast. I’m a super slow reader, so I would visualize myself looking at a computer screen, darting my eyes across the page, and reading fast and comprehending everything the first try until I fell asleep. Call me crazy, maybe it does nothing, but hey I got a 521 so I’m pretty damn happy.

10) When you’re running out of questions to study: come to reddit. I would go on here and look for questions that people posted about FL exams or Section banks that I had already taken. I would then try and do as much as I could to go back to the problem and understand the answer well enough to explain IN DEPTH why it was the answer. See here, here,and here. I honestly didn’t really understand these problems as in-depth as my explanations until I really tried to teach them to someone else in depth. Go above and beyond. It helps fellow redditors and yourself.

11) When driving, I always played my Khan Academy P/S video .mp3 files. I put them up for download here


HOW I DO CARS:

Fuck CARS. Definitely my biggest weakness. First of all: Don’t write anything down. That’s a waste of time. The real MCAT was way longer than the FL questions, so you will certainly not have time for that. Best thing to do for studying is use this method below and practice. Kaplan’s online practice that comes with the 7-book set is really good. Khan Academy isn’t that good in my opinion, but I still used it.

Overall goal: Read the passage once with full understanding and no note taking, then answer all the questions and go back only for questions about specific details, but not understanding.

  1. Read the first paragraph. Hypothesize to yourself what you think the main idea of the entire passage is.

  2. Decide the purpose of the paragraph in the author’s message that you determined in step 1. Usually it is to introduce the message, but other times it is to give background and the problem hasn’t even been stated yet.

  3. Go to the next paragraph, read it carefully. ALWAYS highlight the first sentence of the paragraph. This is usually the main idea of the paragraph. It also helps you quickly count paragraphs later on if they ask “What is the purpose of ____ in paragraph 4?”.

  4. After each paragraph, pause and ask yourself what the purpose of that paragraph was and how it adds to the author’s message. Note that it might actually change what you originally thought the authors message is. Really tell yourself this in your own words so you know you truly understand it

  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until the end.

Note: ALWAYS highlight names of proper nouns. If it begins with a capital letter, highlight it.

Note 2: If you ever go back to the passage for a question, remember to read the sentences before and after whatever you are looking for to refresh yourself on context.

How I do everything else Read the passage, then answer the questions. Don’t do it the other way around unless you are crunched for time. Know how to interpret graphs. Look at axis labels carefully. Sometimes graphs look the same, but they are actually different axes. When there are complex names of stuff, I would give them easy to understand nicknames like “This” “That” or “A”, “Phosphorylated A” “A Inhibitor” “A Modified”, etc. A thought process may go “Okay there is compound A….it gets broken down by B to produce A-mod and byproduct C”

A lot of times they will give you easy things like “compound 1” or something to label stuff that way. This helped me a lot because it allowed me to not get hung up on complex names.


Lastly, don’t forget to keep an eye on your time. I always made sure that I was working on question 30 when there were 50 minutes to go. On Question 50 when there were 20 minutes to go was a goal, too, just so I had padding. I also rarely mark questions on the real exam. I always try and answer it the first time. The way I figure, if you decide to skip a question and go back to it, you’ll have to waste time to refresh yourself on the old question when you go back to it.


EDIT: LAST LAST THING! Don’t waste your time on reddit trying to predict your score for hours on end or try and figure out exactly how deflated Kaplan FLs are compared to the real MCAT. Spend that time studying. Every moment you spend on reddit (including reading this) is procrastination for what you should be doing. If you spend all your reddit time studying, you will be much better off.


Good luck! If you have any questions, I’ll do what I can to answer!

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