Trevor Klee, Tutor

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From 496 to 521: A Story of Redemption (Reddit MCAT success story)

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Non-traditional MCAT student takes the MCAT, after taking all of his pre-reqs in one year. He thought C/P was hard but you need to trust in your knowledge. CARS was easy for him. B/B was random. Khan Academy saved P/S for him.

His strategy: “I used and like the Kaplan strategy for every section except for CARS: click through the questions, take note of the discretes, answer all the discretes, then move on to the passages.”

His recommended materials:

  1. Kaplan lectures
  2. Examkrackers books
  3. UWorld qbank (use it to learn, but not to predict your score)
  4. AAMC qbanks and section banks
  5. Khan Academy for P/S
  6. AAMC full lengths for the last 3 weeks leading up to his exam


[Side note: if you’re looking through this, you might be wondering, “but how do I get better at CARS?” Good question! I have a whole video devoted to that. Give it a watch!]

Full-length post

To the good folks of r/MCAT:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the lunacy of this whole endeavor. In most ways, the MCAT is an unreasonable exam, expecting — as it does — a breadth and intensity of recall that spans the entirety of the spectrum between merely unfair and totally impossible. This should be acknowledged, and then it should be promptly forgotten. Repress it. Force it out of your mind insofar as you’re able to.

What I can promise you right here and right now is that you can succeed at this test if you want to, and you can do so without spending (as some claim) three months studying around the clock. The path to MCAT success begins with a mindset, grows into a routine, and culminates in an act of faith in yourself.

More than any other piece of advice I’d like to offer in this post, the most important piece of advice I have is this: take care of yourself. At the end of the day, this is what becoming a doctor is all about, this is why we learn obscure scientific facts, to learn how to help others take care of themselves. If you can take care of yourself, you can help others do the same. Don’t radically restructure your life to prepare for this exam. Maintain your friendships. See a therapist. Exercise. Have a couple of beers every now and then. Catch a movie. Buy yourself a Nintendo Switch. Go on a weekend hiking trip. Give yourself permission to NOT study when you’re not studying.

The counterpart of this advice is just as important: when you’re studying, do the best you can every single day. Find a way to walk away from your desk feeling like you made a little bit of progress, however that progress manifests. Trust in yourself, and trust in your progress. You can do this. Hang in there.

OK. Onward. Let’s talk about specifics. I am a nontraditional/Post-Bacc student. I was formerly an English major, and did a bunch of different things after I graduated. To all my fellow Post-Baccs out there: yo. The disclosure that’s important to make is that I had just taken all of my pre-reqs in an intensive year, from Chem I all the way through Biochem I. To be sure, this is an advantage. As new as these concepts were, they were somewhat fresh in my mind as I began my studying. I attribute some degree of my success to this reality. Alas, some of my fellow classmates were in the same position and did not do very well on the MCAT, so I believe the studying component is equally as important.

Resources I Used and Blurbs About Them:

  1. Kaplan Online Practice Materials –> I hate Kaplan. I also love Kaplan. If you use Kaplan, know what you’re getting yourself into. Everyone will tell you that their practice test scores are deflated. This is absolutely true. I took Kaplan FL #1 a week before I took AAMC FL#1, and my score jumped from a 506 to a 518. Do not put stock in your Kaplan scores. Just don’t do it. That being said, they have phenomenal recorded lectures that cover high-yield material. Some of their teachers (John, especially) are excellent. Whenever you get bored doing practice questions, grab a LaCroix and watch a couple of the recorded lectures on 1.5x or 2x. Quite a few things that were mentioned in these lectures stuck in my head and came up on my exam. Some of their acronyms and study tips are helpful, others are not. Make that decision for yourself. I’d also recommend that you take timed SECTION tests (not FLs) with their material. The downside of Kaplan is that it’s expensive, and if you have a limited budget for practice materials, it might not be worth the $.

  2. Examkrackers Books –> Especially if you’re a Post-Bacc student, buy these books. Moreover, anyone who feels like they have a solid, relatively recent foundation in the pre-medical sciences, go EK. For gen chem, orgo, bio, biochem, physics, and CARS, there is no better resource. I began my studying by reading through all of these, sometimes taking notes, sometimes just soaking it all in. It’s a great, relatively cursory review of almost everything you’ll need to know. They do a good job of identifying what’s essential to know, and what’s not as important. Salty is my boy. Their P/S book, even the most recent edition, is garbage, and not worth spending your time on. Look elsewhere for P/S, and know that you’ll have to fill in some gaps with other material.

  3. UWorld QBank –> I’m angry with UWorld for murdering r/MCAT, but their material is superb. Use it. Learn from it. Pay whatever it costs. Their answer explanations make AAMC material look like it was written in crayon. Only good things to say about UWorld. A cautionary word: don’t pay any attention to the weird and irrelevant analytics they give you about what % of other people are answering questions correctly. I found them totally unhelpful. The less you can compare yourself to others, especially anonymous others, the better of you’ll be. UWorld is a tremendous digital teaching resource, not a predictive practice exam. Use it to learn. Use their flashcard function. Look at their diagrams. Ignore the stats. I’m going to start downvoting people who ask what a good UWorld % looks like.

  4. AAMC QPacks and SBS –> This is a no-brainer. Some people don’t know this, but if you buy a Kaplan subscription, it includes all the AAMC materials. I had a classmate who re-purchased the AAMC stuff because the Kaplan website is terrible and non-intuitive. I did all their stuff. The Q-Packs. The SBs. It’s all good and helpful. I used it only in the last 3 weeks of my studying (I studied for 5 total weeks full-time), and felt that was appropriate.

  5. Khan Academy P/S Videos / Reddit Printouts I have no P/S background, so I needed some help. When I was watching the KA videos, I was absolutely miserable. They seemed pointless and ridiculous. They weren’t. They are the best resource out their for P/S, hands down. Put your faith in Sal Khan for P/S and you will be rewarded. If you watch all those videos, make a bunch of flashcards, do some practice sections, etc., you’ll be totally fine. P/S is a bullshit section and we all know it. Don’t let it intimidate you.

  6. Anki –> I go back and forth on Anki. I used it at first, and then fell off with it. If you like Anki and already have some experience with it, I think it’s an appropriate tool to use for MCAT studying. If you’ve never used it before, the learning curve is pretty steep, so I’d recommend using Quizlet, or paper flashcards (my own preference).

  7. AAMC FLs –> This is the KEY. Do the FLs. I took them all in the 3 weeks leading up to my test date. I was nervous about it at the time, but I’d recommend that schedule. I got around the same thing on all of them (FL1: 518; FL2: 517; FL3: 517) and my official test was a 521. People kept telling me to “believe in my FL scores,” and I didn’t. I truly believed that every single one of them was a fluke. Trust in your scores. If you’re doing consistently well on them, you’re on the right track. Review them carefully. Use them as an indication of what you don’t know. I actually found them to be fundamentally similar to my test day experience. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I felt that they were excellent preparation for what I encountered.

Comments on Sections: 1) C/P –> This section is brutal. I have no advice. I was truly shocked that I did as well as I did on it. Just do a huge amount of practice, trust in what you know, make logical inferences. If you’re getting stuck, either you don’t know the answer in which case you should guess, or you’re missing something obvious. I really believe those are the only two possibilities. No single question is as hard as it seems. Don’t let the passage/phrasing intimidate you. Trust in your basic knowlege.

2) CARS –> I’m naturally good at CARS, so I didn’t do very much practice. If you’re struggling, I really think the EK book does the best job of presenting a helpful/viable strategy. For advice on this section, I think there are others who would be more helpful.

3) B/B –> I always enjoy this section. The passages are interesting, and the questions are easier than C/P on the whole. I never took notes while I was reading any of them. I just tried to pay attention and figure things out the best I could. If you struggle with reading figures, it’s worth spending some time on figure-based questions. There will be plenty of them on test day. B/B has the most random information of any section. Sometimes the discretes felt super obscure to me. Just make a good guess and move on. Try not to let the weird facts stress you out.

4) P/S –> Fuck P/S. We all know this section is pointless. I don’t even want to address it. Just watch the KA videos and you’ll be OK.

Overall Strategy: –> I used and like the Kaplan strategy for every section except for CARS: click through the questions, take note of the discretes, answer all the discretes, then move on to the passages. I don’t think this is an objectively superior way of donig things, but I really liked it, if only because it gave me the feeling that I had some control over the process. I actually answered the last discretes first, and did them in reverse order. I don’t know why. I started doing this and just never stopped. Experiment with a few things, then pick the strategy that works for you and stick with it.

Last Thoughts and I’ll Wrap This Up: –> I love r/MCAT. I owe you all a great debt of gratitude. Some people were very kind and helpful to me. The resources are excellent, and the collective wisdom exceeds any test prep company. So: thank you.

Feel free to reach out with any questions you have. I’d be so glad to offer any advice/guidance. Apologies that this post is long and rambly. I can assure you that I did not expect to get the score that I did. I was convinced I’d get a 508 or less. Before you know it, this experience will be over, and you’ll move forward from there.

My last point is that science is amazing. As someone who spent 25+ years not knowing a single thing about it, I think we as a community often forget what a privilige it is to have access/insight to this information. If you can remember how truly fucking mindblowing the material is while you’re studying it (except P/S…fuck P/S), I think you’ll do well on this exam. I really do.

TL;DR: Take care of yourself. Be reasonable. Don’t get too hung up on anything other than AAMC FL scores. Science is cool. Hang in there.

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