The No-Nonsense, Definitive Guide to Acing The MCAT in 3-4 months.
Hey folks! Since you helped me so much I figured I HAD to give back. Here’s 90% of what I learned when getting ready to start my MCAT. I’ve distilled all this down from the HOURS of study I did on premed forums to ascertain the BEST strategy that has many things in common with what top scorers do. Use it at your own discretion and remember that the best strategy and schedule is one that you can consistently stick to! DO NOT follow this if it doesn’t work, just adapt the parts that make the most sense.
Also, feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions or want any tutoring! This is my last summer before med school in Ontario so I figured it'd be fun and useful for others if I revisit the MCAT trenches. I scored 97th% with 518: 129/128/130/131 so I couldn't quite clinch the 99th% everyone loves to drool over since I had a job and was taking some courses but I think this plan can get anyone to the 99th%, and if I had added 6 weeks to my schedule (see below) it would have been easy pickings! So I'd advise taking the full summer if you can since so many others STILL do bad after 4 full months of study.
First, I want to talk about the most useful ideas I took going into the test and then I’ll discuss what I think is the optimal schedule.
Overview of the test
The first thing you must DRILL INTO YOUR PUNY, UN-CARS ADAPTED CRANIUM: There is always a right answer. You need to turn yourself into a MACHINE that does EXACTLY the amount of work and thinking to get the right answer no matter what using 4 things: 1. The barebones of foundational science 2. basic data extraction skills 3. interpretation skills, 4. common-sense logic to discern the right answer. Think of this ENTIRE process as honing those 4 skills and you will easily excel at this test.
Barebones foundational sciences tips. From my experience the actual content and detail-oriented questions are minimal. It is a very problem-solving oriented test. As such, there’ll usually be 1-2 out of 5 questions that’ll straight up ask a fact you’d have to have memorized. So, STOP BEING A WUSS WHO’S AFRAID OF NOT HAVING MEMORIZED THE WHOLE KREBS CYCLE OR EVERY ORGO REACTION!!! IF 20 % OF THE TEST IS MEMORIZATION, SPEND ONLY 20% OF YOUR TIME MEMORIZING YA DINK!
Data extraction tips:
Take the SIMPLEST meaning you can out of every sentence, ESPECIALLY for CARS. They pick convoluted passages to throw you off, but there usually isn’t a deep philosophical meaning; what the author is trying to say or argue is usually VERY straight forward.
The biggest thing that got me from a 126 level to a 128 almost instantly was quickly going over each sentence in the simplest way possible. A representative self dialogue that I trained to happen automatically would be:
“oh dood, the author wants to talk about cats now. The author is just saying he likes cats. The author is just restating his stupid idea about cats. The author’s making a second point about why cats are cool. This shit is BASIC”.
Doing this sounds like I’m teaching you to read at a 4th grade level, but it REALLY is that simple. Don’t over complicate it. UNDERSTAND what you’re reading, if a sentence confuses you, STOP DEAD, take the simplest meaning away from it (but don’t make shit up, ACTUALLY understand it) then move on.
If you move through 2-3 sentence you didn’t understand, you fucked up. SO. STOP. DEAD. Just take it SLOW! You’ll find you get faster and faster as long as you focus on UNDERSTANDING
Even further, the more questions you do, the better you can calibrate how much you really need to read into each sentence and paragraph. Which is surprisingly, not much!
PM me for specific CARS and science interpretation strategies.
3. Interpretation tip: ALWAYS know exactly what the question is asking. The easiest thing to do is to Rephrase it simply in your head if it’s a complicated question, taking the EXACT meaning of it away. I did this as a practice until it came naturally to me. JUST ASK YOURSELF WHAT THE QUESTION IS ASKING BEFORE YOU ANSWER IT BEFORE YOU GET CONFUSED AND HAVE TO PROVE TO ME YOUR INSUFFERABLE DINKINESS BY READING THE QUESTION AGAIN. IF YOU RAD SLOW AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT, YOU WILL KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO ANSWER, SO DON’T BE A DINK AND FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY MEAN FOR EACH QUESTION BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE.
4. Logic pro tip: Always know EXACTLY why you’re picking an answer, and PRECISELY why the others are wrong and you will ALWAYS get the answer right. If you have to think it out loud, think “oh, A is wrong for this reason, B is clearly not in line with this, C is true for such and such reasons”.
Practice will fine tune this skill. It’s THAT simple.
Last pro tip about the test: Because it’s a Standardized test: The question types are VERY similar to one another and you have to cater your approach to these types. The more practice the do, the more you will start to see patterns in the types of mistakes you make and the types of questions you see. Review your mistakes PROPERLY so that you can not only solve that question you see again, but every question like it! By doing this you will develop a bullet-proof system for pulling the answer out of every single question, every time. More on this in the review section
You have to forget about how prepared or unprepared you feel when it comes to ANY of the material or any of the questions, you have to become a MACHINE at picking the right answer. Don’t EVER be intimidated and know that you can almost always rely on common sense, and critical reasoning skills to pick the best answer, even with minimal studying.
If a question is hard, EVERYONE finds it hard. Keep your head, logic your way through it, rely on common sense, cancel 2 options, bubble the best answer, know why it’s be best option and go! IF YOU DO THIS, YOU WILL DO BETTER THAN MOST PEOPLE 99% of the time: This is a 99th% percentile scorer’s mentality
Do whatever it takes to get through the material as fast as possible, making sure to solidify the FUNDAMENTALS, and then backfill details.
ONLY STUDY WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. DO NOT waste time on concepts you have mastery or competence on, which will be way more than you think.
Best approach IMO is to go through the list of AAMC topics and see which ones you need the most refreshing on. MARK THEM DOWN!
Then take prep books (Kaplan explanations are meh but the organization of the index is fantastic) go through ONLY the summaries and read through to verify whether you know it or not
Then do the diagnostic multiple choice at the end of each chapter. If you got a question wrong because you didn’t understand the content
ONLY take notes and do a deep dive on a chapter if you are genuinely unfamiliar with the concepts therein or have COMPLETELY forgotten what it’s about (I had never taken Psych so I did a more detailed study of it. Even then I learned most from questions then from the content text books).
Try to get through it in a month to 6 weeks max, know that you can ALWAYS backfill any knowledge you’re missing.
Don’t half-ass it by rushing. The approach is more about getting the essentials, making sure you know them by verifying with diagnostics.
Review process: THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS DOCUMENT Allows you to:
Test your knowledge/ figure out which concepts need more studying
Tweak your respective strategies for EACH section (CARS vs science has a slightly different approach that you will build through practice!)
Find WEAKNESSES and hammer them all summer. It’s painful but it must be done
Track PROGRESS, are you improving in terms of score, knowledge, methods, speed, accuracy?
Allows you to shape the direction of your study so that you know what to read, how to spend your time, what practice to do, what works, what doesn’t Allows for REFLECTION!
EVERY single person who does well on this test has some sort of formal review and error reflection strategy, so think hard about how you will develop yours and hold accountable to make changes in your study to fill in holes/weaknesses.
I made up a document for EVERY mistake I made on every question I got wrong for EACH section, for Each major test, and for each practice bank (Khan academy, TPR, etc.) So I could quickly reference my newfound strategies, areas of improvement, things I needed to restudy, etc.
I would add to the document every single day after a study chunk, would itemize what I had to do based off these errors (to do list, plan for next day), and once a week I would reflect on my ENTIRE Lessons/error list and see if I needed to shift my study plan/ question answering methodology based on that.
I would categorize errors based on type and label them: C, I, F, R
C: Conceptual failure (either I learned the idea wrong or misinterpreted the concept and have to go restudy),
I: I interpreted question wrong (I had to think of a way not to make the interpretation error again)
F: I really fucked up. I was negligent and didn’t read all the answer stems, I didn’t check a certain thing, I didn’t read the axes on a graph properly. This is like misinterpretation on steroids: ONE of my systems or strategies failed, so I have to remind myself to do it properly (example: Read EVERY answer stem before I choose) or I need to think of a new strategy to avoid this type of mistake again.
R: Recurring: Some people put dots, others star, I just put Rs. If I repeated a mistake or a type of mistake, I'd put this so I could easily identify STRONG gabs in my strategy/knowledge
For CARS in particular, I would take the mistakes and group them on even deeper categories. This will be based on passage/question/answer types which you can read about in the Examkrackers strategy book (ONLY solid one IMO out of kaplan, TPR, and EK)
Practice Passages C/P
Not gonna lie, some of the Khan academy passages are a bit goofy and overly complicated, but are still PHENOMENAL compared to . I have 99 % scoring friends who only used khan academy for everything so DON’T neglect how useful it is
The Princeton review ones I felt were most solid in teaching foundational concepts rather than science interpretation but were still IMMENSELY useful
Examcrackers, but only for their 30 min. passage exams. These were EXTREMELY solid for scientific interpretation. Definitely find a way to get a copy of these and mix it in with KA + TPR. Maybe you can use these as a test of your knowledge once you feel you’re prepared for the subject that each of these tests focuses on (physics, bio, etc.)
I would advise against going insane with the practice, because most of the 3rd party material is just NOT going to train you to the AAMC style. No offense to Examkrackers (I know some people swear by them) but I was doing a CARS practice test by them and got confused because it seemed like the test was pulling new question types out of thin air. So focus HARD on doing high quality material and instead making the REVIEW process of your mistakes the focus of your CARS practice to build a solid strategy for when you’re tacking the more representative AAMC CARS. It’s VERY important to aim for quality not quantity.
For sure start with Khan academy, as it’s the most representative other than AAMC
Mix in TPR CARS book
Do the CARS AAMC question packs 6 weeks out from your exam, then again 2-3 weeks out AGAIN to solidify your understanding of the
Same as others, Do KA, TPR handbooks, EK 30 min exams
Always go back and relearn and detail work yu need to like the enzyme pathways. 4 months is a long time to retain that info so make sure it’s always fresh without taking away from practice to memorize.
P/S: All I did was the TPR handbook, the Khan academy passages, and a few next step tests and I got 131 on this section. If you know the definitions inside and out and your interpretation skills are on point, there’s no reason you won’t easily get 129-130 + .
Go through the 100 page doc on **DELETED**
Use or make flash cards
Mix it in with the very limited passage practice on KA, TPR, EK 30 min tests
Buy the AAMC stuff right away, all of it except the flash cards (What I mean is buy all question prep). Some people use it as a diagnostic but I think it’s better to save near the end, once you’ve trained all the basic skills
I’d do at least 2 on top of the AAMC stuff. Aim for 2-8 (MAX). You’re only doing these to find weak points and to emulate the testing environment/build endurance so I’d advise against cranking away at them, as the most important thing is that you review practice you do properly. So do one every 2 weeks, MAYBE every week if you’re super ambitious
I found Examcrackers were the most rigorous in terms of Science problem solving and data analysis, which is the most important part of the test to train on the Full lengths, since most of the practice from other companies don’t emphasize this (which is the biggest part of the test!). The CARS wasn’t AS representative, but the science sections make up for it
Next step tests are cheap to buy in a bundle and I thought were fairly representative. Their Psych section was incredible.
Bringing it all together
First 4 weeks Do 2 science chapters and an hour of CARS a day until you’re done.
There’s 60 Kaplan science chapters so do 2 a day if you can. If not, extend this to a max of 6 weeks.
Focus on VERIFYING your understanding of major concepts rather then taking notes, memorizing, etc. ONLY study what you don’t KNOW!!! (so obvious but so important)
Make sure to do all M/C at the end of each chapter to verify whether you know it or not.
Mix in some passage practice from Khan academy of TPR if you HAVE TIME! I would really just take the time to focus this month on verifying your knowledge and building that foundation if you’re rusty
For CARS, focus on consistency and quality: Interchange doing 3 Khan academy with 3 TPR CARS companion passages a day. Up it to 4-5 passages a day if you feel you need it. Keep in mind that if you’re spending 30 mins doing 3 passages, you should spend as LEAST as much time digging deep into the reasoning you had for the WRONG answer and the reasoning you needed to get the right answer.
This is why the KA passages are so useful since they have detailed explanations for every answer stem!!!
Pickup the Examcrackers CARS strategy guide: the only one I found to have consistently good tips
If you’re a go getter do one diagnostic halfway through, but it may be a stupid idea since most people still have gaps and panic when they get basic science questions wrong.
Every week you should take at least a half day or full day off, and one day where you reflect/review your mistakes and lightly study. You could even combine the reflection with the relaxation day: but take the reflection VERY seriously
A typical day for me:
SKIP straight to summary of kinematics chapter. Blitz through it, look at the equations. Do I know them and how they work? YES Can I apply them to problems? YES. Do the multiple choice, get one wrong because I’m a fool who can’t even listen to his own advice. I DIDN’T simplify the question and misinterpreted it. Minus points as an MCAT guru. Then I see another question I got wrong because I was confused about mechanical equilibrium. I GO BACK, read that section and do a few khan academy M/C on it.
Look at Stoic section in chem. Understand it instantly because who can’t do Stoic? I do the questions in the back, perfectly. I do some Khan academy M/C to solidify my understanding and there’s one tricky problem I can’t do. I write down how to do it in my lessons portfolio. DONE LIKE DINNER, I’M NOW A KINEMATICS/STOICHIOMETRY GRANDMASTER
Do 3 Khan academy CARS passages and sulk at the silly mistakes I make but spend 30 mins going over those mistakes and why I made them until I KNOW I’ll never make them again
Bad day for me:
Need to relearn Electricity and magnetism. STILL start with the summary, realize I need to go back and read most of the chapter. STILL only read the sections I don’t understand, maybe play around with the equations so I know exactly what they’re used for. Do the multiple choice. IF I get anything wrong because of conceptual error, HAMMER it with some khan academy M/C, maybe even watch a khan academy video. MAYBE I’ll revisit a specific topic again if I was still utterly shit after practicing it for an hour. I didn’t practice AS much this day since I had some serious gaps to work on in physics knowledge, but all in all I did what I needed to have a solid understanding of today’s chapter.
Did some Biochem, EZ WORK FELLAS. Read summary, wrote down some KEY details, maybe read one section of the chapter ONLY. Did the multiple choice, get a perfect score like my premed-ass should
PROOOO TIIIIIP! Try to do one easy subject that youre good at with one you anticipate you’ll have trouble with each day (Biochem with Physics, Chem with Psych, etc.) Keeps it interesting and allows you to focus on the thing you’re weak at so you don’t spend 8 hours a day learning unfamiliar garbage and being depressed while you regret deciding to be a premed in the first place.
Did 3 TPR CARS
FINAL LESSON: The key here is to only study what you need to, and go deeper on your weaknesses. Catalogue your progress and adjust how much you put into each chapter, and into each section accordingly! I know you filthy premed love studying the amino acids over and over with flashcards but recognize that you will FLOP test day if you double down on strengths instead of weaknesses. The key is to always be tackling weak points in knowledge this month until you’re solid enough to do the REAL work with the practice passages and full length tests.
Passage practice and full length phase: Next 6 weeks (if your content review takes too long and you truly feel unprepared to do practice tests, first off stop being a dink, second off, squeeze this next section to 2-4 weeks if you absolutely need to, but mix in passage practice with t
Do Khan academy and TPR Passage practice every day, starting with subjects you KNOW you’re weaker in based on first month of content
THIS is when you start doing practice tests once a week to once every 2 weeks
Take a FULL day to review the test right after, or maybe even a day and a half
I’d start with the next step diagnostic test, then work my way alternating examcrackers with next step tests since they both are fairly representative but have different strengths and weaknesses (Physics and Bio are VERY good for EK, CARS and Psych are better for Next Step)
Typical day for me: 30 mins doing bio passage practice (EK/TPR/KA) 15-30 mins reviewing it 1 hour doing discrete M/C on KA to fill in the gaps
30 mins doing chem passage practice (EK/TPR/KA) 15-30 mins reviewing it 1 hour doing discrete M/C on KA to fill in the gaps
1-2 hours CARS (TPR handbook) 1-2 hours reviewing it
As time went on, I did less multiple choice and more straight passage questions.
Bad day: Maybe I’d have to go back and restudy a chapter since I had no Idea what I was doing for some passages. That’s OKAY, it’s all about having that solid foundation then doing as much passage practice as possible.
1 hour chem reading chapter / doing M/C discretes
1-2 hours CARS (TPR handbook) 1-2 hours reviewing it
Last 6 weeks
This is your AAMC TIME!!! First off, shutup your stupid brain for thinking it matters what order you use these materials. You don’t know how many people ask me what the best order is to do this stuff. By FAR, it matters most how you use the materials and what you learn form them, rather then being perfectly prepared based on doing the CARS qpacks before your first full length. HOWEVER, I do believe it’s important to space out the AAMC full lengths and to save them near the end as they are the best guage as to what your actual score will be. The goal should be to do have at least a full week between AAMC full lengths, and to space other AAMC materials in between so you can get BETTER and see score improvements! Do NOT cram all 3 tests right before, it’d be better to move your test date than do that, since if you have to rewrite you’ve just ruined the validity of these tests, the best possible resource to study for the ACTUAL test.
Take this time to get down in the damn TRENCHES when it comes to the MCAT. I know I was going 8-10 hours this month every single day. This may or may not be you since I started AAMC stuff 3 weeks out. If I were to do it again, I’d devote it 6-8 weeks straight to deep study of AAMC. The moral of the story however is to LIVE AND BREATH THIS STUFF BOI.
Do the official guide. Some do this right off the bat the first month, but I think it works better to Segway you into the period where you’re only focusing on AAMC.
Do the Qpacks. These serve as a beautiful refresher to verify one last time whether you know the foundational content. Do the CARS Qpack2 too. It shouldn’t take more than a week. Extend the time if you need to to REALLY hammer home your understanding of the CARS QPACKS and fill any foundational gaps!
Do the sample test, review it for 1-2 days
Do the section banks and the 1st CARS Qpack. Your grain will grow by 80% in mass if you study these 2 things properly
Do FL1. Take 2 DAYS to look it over and spend the next week filling in ANY gaps at all that exist. Refer back to your mistakes and past notes frequently to crystalize the lessons from this test!
Do FL2 Same protocol for FL1 except don’t spend a whole week
Do the section banks and CARS packs AGAIN
Do whatever YOU feel is right leading up to the exam. For me, the most comfortable thing was doing another scan of my “lessons learned” error documents, reading the Kaplan quick sheets, going over some basic orgo and biochem memorization stuff, knowing the physics equations inside and out.
Orgo’s fun and all, but I had 2 questions on my exam, so it’s almost a NON-issue. Some people tell me otherwise, but just consider that it only constitutes 10% of the section and usually half of that 10% is almost undoubtable from the first 3 chapters of any orgo prep book. Just know the basics and memorize the reactions near the end. This is the only time I’d say not to focus too much on a weakness, FOCUS ON HIGH YIELD WEAKNESSES, NOT LOW YIELD ONES MAGGOT!
If you take anything away form this; TLDR; get through content review as fast as possible with the foundational stuff, review your mistakes properly, make a good strategy for ALWAYS getting the right answer no matter what.
Don’t be afraid, have fun! This process is sick and I miss the days where I’d rip through a bunch of passages teaching me about Pavlov’s sweaty dogs, That dood who gave himself an ulcer with H. Pylori, and that STUPID FUCKING PICASSO MOTHERFUCKER (TRIGGER WARNING) Just have fun with it, put in the work above and you’re almost guaranteed to get 90+% on this test.