Trevor Klee, Tutor

Online and Boston-based GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT Prep.

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507 to 522 (MCAT success story from Reddit)

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He believes in studying amino acids and Jean Piaget’s 4 stages, reviewing practice exams in depth, and choosing energy drinks over coffee for your mid-exam caffeine.

Also, he doesn’t think study strategies are generalizable.


Full post

I felt like a douche giving advice on this site before I knew whether I did okay or not, but now that scores are in for August 10th and I’m tremendously happy with my 522 (130/131/131/130) here’s a bunch of stuff I wish I’d known at the beginning. This rambles between overall advice about attitude and preparation to stuff about content that is “high yield”. If I say anything I’m not allowed to say, I guess I’ll get banned (who cares I got a 522). I also wanna say that studying for the mcat isnt very generalizable, since I don’t think any one strategy works for everyone. This is all just stuff that (looking back) were some of the important info to allow me to succeed. If you look at any of this and say “This could never work, what a hack”, thats fine too. Also, it might get a little dark.

  1. Know the fuck out of amino acids. All 20 of them, their charge, polarity, and type of side chain. I studied princeton review, which honestly kind of glosses over that stuff, but it’s the one thing that seems to most consistently be called upon in aamc practice tests and exams.

  2. Jean Piaget’s 4 stages, know the fuck out of those too. Like, not just the names, what they actually imply.

  3. Physics is overrated on the MCAT. I studied for it partially using a book designed for SAT practice, and the difficulty level was honestly quite similar. You really only need surface level knowledge of common physics questions. Think of it like this: if you cant bring in a calculator, they cant ask long complicated mathey questions, which is what most prep books seem to aim to prepare you for. Memorize a bunch of equations and basic theory behind them, and then move on, because 99% of princeton reviews physics content didnt end up on the exam.

  4. Don’t trust any of the full length exams besides AAMC. Princeton Review deliberately makes their exams extremely difficult. Why? Because they benefit from you getting a crappy practice exam score. If you score a 504 when you want 510+, you’ll feel anxious and go buy some more exams, which is how PR makes money. For reference, the PR exams I did 2 weeks before the exam were both 507, and my AAMC exams were 517, 519, and 521, which roughly reflects a 522 final score. Basically, don’t feel like crap just because you found practice exams by prep companies to be insanely difficult. Just use them to prepare for testing conditions (ie working for 8 hours straight, with breaks at the appropriate time. Don’t pause practices, its totally unrepresentative of the exhaustion you’ll feel in the real thing).

  5. CARS is unfair. There, I said it. Its unfair because I honestly dont belive you can meaningfully improve on it, maybe go from like a 125 to a 127, but I’m totally convinced that aptitude at CARS is alot more predetermined. For context, I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life. Like, read Harry Potter 6 times when I was 12 kind of deal. I originally wanted to major in english literature, but changed when I figured there wasnt money in it. The long term advantage of this is that I basically feel I was prepared my whole life to quickly read a passage and discern relevant info. This is to me unfair to most science kids, who probably hated english in high school and were overjoyed when they went into STEM and never had to analyze shakespeare ever again. This might sound completely ridiculous, but I actually felt that English Lit AP exam books were good preparation for CARS. I might be totally off base here, but advice on here often recommends to either come up with an algorithm to help (like quickly summarize each paragraph, highlight certain things, etc) but this really takes too long to reasonably answer all questions, and seem to be limited effectiveness. TLDR: Every single eanswer to CARS is right there in the passage, you just need to be really damn fast and discern intended meanings. Its unfair as fuck, brush off your english textbooks.

  6. When you do a practice exam, go back and analyze every question. Look at all 4 answers to the question. Even if you got that question right, make sure you can define every single answer. Even if you knew the answer was A. social constructionism, can you define B. Social Reproduction C. Looking Glass Self D. Gestalt? Because on the real thing, you might not get so lucky as to have the correct answer be the one you recognize. Essentially, you should know why the right answer is right, but also why all the wrong answers are wrong.

  7. Don’t spend a long time on discrete questions. Theyre intended to be things you either instantly recognize or have no idea. If you recognize, answer. If you don’t recognize, its unlikely spending 90 more seconds on it will help. Discrete questions should be where you save time to use on passages, which will take longer to read and parse for information. TLDR: If you dont know discrete right away, eliminate anything obviously wrong and take a guess, flag for later. Dont waste time here.

  8. Go to the bathroom every single break. This might seem random, but time is such a factor on this exam you cant really afford to waste time running there and back. Security is a real thing, this aint your university exam. It will take bare minimum five minutes to get through security there and back, and you dont have time.

  9. Only ever practice under testing conditions. Dont chew gum, listen to music, take pauses, eat while testing, etc. None of this will be allowed on game day, dont get used to anything that wont be available. In particular, some people use Command+F while doing CARS practice, to help search for relevant words in the passage. This is impossible on the real thing, so dont become reliant on it in practice.

  10. This is impossible for some people, but I’d encourage you to focus solely on the MCAT, which is to say don’t work while studying for it. This isnt feasible for everyone, but if you’re priviledged enough to devote a summer without work to it, this would be ideal.

  11. I would avoid this subreddit. I know that sounds ridicuous coming from a post on the subreddit, but hear me out. You’re under enough stress, and constantly comparing yourself to strangers on the internet talk about their mcat experience is going to compound that stress. This subreddit is generally really good for discussing the answers to questions on the aamc material, but not a whole lot else, since I feel the damage to mental health overrides the mild benefit of other people discussing their strategies.

  12. Coffee makes you piss and shit, energy drinks do not. Invest in an energy drink before the exam (ok this is me being purely biased, but dont drink coffee before the exam)

Finally, on the subject of motivation. This can be different for everyone, but here’s what I imagined. This is structured entirely different from a university exam. When you walk into your uni bio 101 exam, you and everyone you know can theoretically walk out with A’s. Thats fully possible given the conditions of the exam. The MCAT is not like this. On the MCAT, by the simple mathematical definition of how it is graded, only 20% can receive an A (that is to say, score the 510 or higher that is the average grade associated with med school acceptance). If you define an A even more conservatively, as a 516 that is the average for entrance to an Ivy League institution, this number drops to 5%. In other words, you are competing directly against every other single person taking this exam. It isnt possible for you to all succeed. Picture you’re standing in line on test day to get into the test centre. 50% of the people in that line will receive a score less than 500, which essentially represents an F. Imagine taking a university course where half of the class IS GUARANTEED TO FAIL THE COURSE REGARDLESS OF HOW HARD THEY TRY. I’m not saying this to scare anyone, its just how the sadists at the aamc designed the exam. So, when preparing for this, who do you want to be? Which 50% will you fall on? Because if you do not work your absolute hardest on this exam, and I mean harder than pretty much anything else youve done in your life, your setting yourself up for failure. If you dont take this seriously, all your doing is pulling the average down and making some other guy taking the test look better. I know this sounds horribly depressing, and it really kind of is. But I find competition to be highly motivating, and I hope you feel the same way.

Anyway, thats all I could think of. This is all stuff I didnt know at the beginning, and I hope you read this on your first day and it puts you a step ahead of me. If anyone has questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

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