5 MCAT tips from a 520+ scorer

MCAT

The MCAT is hard, and the MCAT is important. It’s likely that at this stage of your academic journey, the MCAT will be the longest exam you’ve ever taken, and your preparation will need to reflect that. But whether your goal score is a 500, 510, or 520, there are a number of tips you can follow to feel confident come test day without burning out in the process.

1. Work smarter, not harder

With the huge amount of content on the MCAT, it’s necessary to be as efficient as possible in both your preparation and the actual exam, taking shortcuts where possible to maximize your score on each section. For instance, in C/P, it’s extremely helpful to be comfortable with using scientific notation for quick calculations, to be familiar with common chemical/physical units of measurement, and to know the amino acids like the back of your hand. These alone will help you get through a significant number of problems on difficult passages. In CARS, I recommend highlighting key “tone” words to track how the author feels about the message they are conveying in the passage. B/B questions, especially those involving signaling pathways, are conducive to drawing simple diagrams. And P/S is all about distinguishing between very closely related terms—Anki will be a massive help for this section. Experiment with different strategies early in your preparation, and find what works best for you to get through questions as quickly as possible, simplify complicated passages, and eliminate tricky answer choices.

2. Space out your learning

The MCAT is not an exam you want to prepare for in the span of a month. While cramming may have worked for you before, there are simply too many concepts on the MCAT to learn them all in a time crunch. I recommend beginning your content review no fewer than 6 months before your intended start date, especially if you plan to make use of spaced repetition tools such as Anki. Because these tools are meant to prompt you over increasing intervals throughout your preparation, they are much more effective the longer you have before your exam. A secondary benefit that comes with spacing out your learning is that the more time you have leading up the exam, the less work you’ll have to do on each day. For example, I typically did no more than an hour a day of content review in my first few months of preparation, which left me lots of free time to keep up with interests and hobbies!

3. Prioritize practice problems

Though content review is imperative to doing well on the MCAT, it can only take you so far. At some point, you’ll want to begin emphasizing practice problems over memorization and become accustomed to applying your knowledge to real questions. Question banks and third-party exams are immensely helpful in allowing you to practice synthesizing your knowledge without burning through the AAMC material, which you’ll want to save for your last month of preparation. UWorld in particular is an amazing resource that will leave you over-prepared once you begin taking your full-length exams (FLs).

4. Take FLs under real testing conditions

FLs are so helpful because they allow you to exactly replicate testing conditions, giving you a good estimate of what you would score on the real exam. While it may feel tempting in the moment to look up the answer to a challenging question or give yourself a little more time on a specific section, these will decrease the accuracy of your final score and leave you less prepared for test day. Aim to emulate the format and restrictions of the actual exam as closely as possible so that you can trust in yourself to score as highly as you did on your FLs.

5. Keep calm!

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of such a large obstacle, but keep in mind that the MCAT is only one part of your medical school application. Even if you don’t do as well as you would’ve liked on the MCAT, other parts of your application such as GPA, volunteering, and research can compensate for weaker test scores. So if there’s one tip you remember from this post, it should be this one—you’ll be on the other side before you know it!

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