[GUIDE] to a 527, 6 years post graduation!
Disclaimer: I took the MCAT when I graduated in 2014 and got a 33 on the old scale (91st percentile). I decided not to go into medicine at the time, and I forgot 100% of the material in the ensuing 6 years, so I really don't think that score is indicative of anything, just adding it for disclosure. I won't bore you with the details of my life since then, but I decided to get my shit together at the beginning of quarantine because I'm almost 29 and didn't find another career path that spoke to me (and I was good at school). Also, I doubled in Biopsych and Religious Studies, so I did not take biochem or genetics.
Before I go into specific materials and dates, some general info: I made sure to exercise 4-5 days a week. I had a few friends quarantining on their own and we all started doing morning HIIT routines together for mental health purposes. This was definitely incredibly helpful for me and I highly recommend it. Sometimes I would want to hit the books as soon as I awoke, but keeping this workout routine and seeing my friends every morning was crucial for my mental and emotional wellbeing and without it, I'm not sure if I could have studied as hard as I did or retained as much info as I did. I would also go on lunch time walks with my girlfriend almost every single day and longer hikes on most Sundays.
Also, I meditated 20 minutes around lunch time every study day and would frequently meditate 2x20 min in the final few weeks leading up to the test (morning+afternoon). I've had a meditation routine for about a decade, so this wasn't a new MCAT-specific addition to my life. Either way, I highly recommend meditation, but that could be its own post entirely.
Every morning started with a cup of coffee and most mornings included a thresholdk dose of adderall (~4 mg for me, yes I weighed it out every day). The threshold dose didn't crack me out, but made it that much easier saying "no" to my brain when it would ask to go on reddit or instagram every 7.324 seconds. I studied full time for almost 4 months while living in isolation with my girlfriend. I would study at least 8 hours/day 5 days/week with a half-day of studying on Saturday and usually took Sunday's off (though many Sundays I would do anki for an hour or two). When I say I studied 8 hours/day, I don't mean that I studied 9-5 with an hour lunch. I would set an 8 hour timer on my phone and pause it every time I went to the bathroom, had a snack, went on reddit, or did literally anything that wasn't study. If I forgot to hit start again after the break and worked for 25 minutes before I realized it, well that just meant I was studying for 8:25 that day. Because of this, most study days when from 9:30 am - 8:30 pm or so. Yeah, it kind of sucked and it was brutal at times, but it was quarantine season and I had zero excuses not to hold myself to that standard.
Okay,on to the fun stuff: started June 1st using the Blueprint MCAT (previously known as NextStep Test Prep) Chem, Phys, Bio, Biochem, and Ochem materials. I didn't use their Psych/Soc or CARS. Every morning I would start with at least 1 Jack Westin passage, and frequently would do 2 or 3. I've always believed in my reading abilities ( I'm a daily pleasure reader, usually sci-fi and not "literature") and would honestly get pretty pissed off getting 2/5 on JW, so I'd do another, and then maybe another if I was still pissed. Working through the Blueprint materials, I would begin the day (after JW) by working through the end of chapter questions from the chapters I had done 2 days prior. For example, if I did Phys ch. 5+6 and Bio ch. 12+13 on Monday, I would start Wednesday by doing the end of chapter problems for those. I did this because of the rule of 2's - a didactic principle that states that to ensure that you've internalized a piece of material, you should be able to repeat it after 2 minutes, 2 hours, 2 days, and 2 weeks. Accordingly, I would space out my reviewing so I would see the material more times and on more days. If I didn't nail the end-of-chap questions easily, I would use that as a launch pad to review the material from 2 days prior.
The Blueprint books are, in my opinion, significantly stronger than Kaplan in terms of the end of chapter questions. Most Kaplan chapters have 10 questions, and Kaplan tries to keep the number of chapters in each book low (probably not to scare people off, idk). Blueprint has as many questions as they think you need and as many chapters as they think appropriate. For example - around 36 chapters in the Bio/Biochem book, and some of the chapters had 30+ questions (though the vast majority had 10-15). Also, the Blueprint Chem/Phys materials are to AAMC as the NFL is to peewee flag football. Comically more difficult. When I finally got around to the AAMC problems, I was honestly concerned that I had purchased the wrong material because it was so straight forward and simple compared to the sould-crushing brutality of Blueprint. I'm a masochist and I like being punished; it motivates me to work harder (as you might have guessed by my need to do more JW passages if I tanked one). That’s why I went with Blueprint for those materials.
During this time period, I worked my way through the KA 300 page P/S doc. I tried to read 10 pages/day and condense those notes as much as possible while typing them into my own notepad. Two days after doing notes on a P/S topic, I would watch the KA video it was based on at 2x speed while reviewing my notes. I didn't actually finish the 300 page doc like this, but I made it through about 200 pages in this manner. I realized the 300 page doc is so condensed already that I was more or less just retyping it ver batim and was wasting my time. For the last 100 pages, I just read the 300 page doc while watching the KA videos at 2x speed. I made sure to read the even more condensed 100 page KA P/S doc (the lazy perfectionist) in the final 2 weeks before the test. This was all supplemented with the Milesdown deck, which I'll address momentarily.
Taken in June: Kaplan diagnostic: 507.
Princeton Review diagnostic: 509.
Moving onto July: I was finished with the 300 page P/S doc and all the science materials from Blueprint. I started doing the Milesdown anki deck and U-Planet. I split each topic from Milesdown into its own deck (total = 7 decks) and would do 15 new cards/day (don't remember what my max review was, I think around 100 review/day). When I didn't understand something from Milesdown, I would go to google and youtube. Getting through all the Milesdown new cards + review cards + fleshing out topics I didn't understand would often times take 3+ hours in the morning. Honestly fell off the JW train during July and didn't do much CARS during July. For U-Planet, I would make a test with 50 questions in it and do that, timed, and then would review it. I did 2 of those (so 100 questions + review) almost every day. When I learned something new, I would make an anki card and add it to the appropriate deck (thus bloating the Milesdown set). Because I was constantly adding new cards that were specific to my knowledge gaps, I got in the habit of making filtered decks composed of new cards I added. So basically every 7 days, I would make a new filtered deck with all the cards I'd added in the previous 7 days and would review this in addition to my Milesdown decks, which were growing with my own cards. I kept doing this throughout the cycle and would make decks with larger and larger chunks of time (all cards added from previous 10 days, 20 days, 30, etc.).
To make a filtered deck with newly added cards: go to Tools > create filtered deck > "added:7" <- this will create a filtered deck with all the cards added within 7 days (added:10 is all cards added within 10 days). Also while reviewing stuff throughout the entire study period, If I learned something new about a topic, I would add those details to the cards I had already made. You can find previously made cards by going to Browse and then searching key words that you know were in the card you're looking for. It took me a little over a month (maybe 5-6 weeks, I forget) to grind through all of the U-Planet stuff (including P/S and CARS) while reviewing it all in detail.
Taken in July: Blueprint diagnostic 513
Blueprint 1: 515 (130/127/129/129)
Blueprint 2 2: 513 (130/127/129/127)
Blueprint 3 512
Blueprint 4: 512 (128/127/128/129)
I forget exactly when I took the available Kaplan full lengths, they were scattered throughout the first 2.5 months of practice, but here are my Kaplan breakdowns:
Kaplan FL 4: 514 (130/127/128/129)
Kaplan FL 5: 514 (129/125/130/130)
Kaplan FL 6: 518 (130/128/130/130)
Around mid-August (6 weeks before test day) I finally moved onto the AAMC material. This felt like a breeze after punishing myself with Blueprint and U-Planet for 2.5 months. It took me a little over 2 weeks to work through all the AAMC stuff (plus reviewing everything well). I usually scored between 80% and 90% on all the section banks and all the AAMC CARS felt way easier than JW.
About a month before test day, I had finished all of my Milesdown topics except P/S, Bio, and Biochem, so I started hustling the fuck out of those, doing up to 150 new cards/day + reviews in each deck. Around this time, I started to re-do all of U-Planet (except their P/S and CARS). Re-doing all the Chem, Phys, Bio, Biochem, and Ochem was frustrating because I was kind of expecting to demolish it and let me tell you, I did not. I did slightly better than my first run through, but not by much. When I was done with that, I went back and re-did all of the AAMC questions I got wrong plus a full re-do of all the AAMC CARS. I was planning on re-doing all the AAMC material, but considering the fact that I was averaging above 80% on all the sections, figured that my time was better spent elsewhere. You can see which questions you got wrong in each section bank, so I would just screenshot those, reset the q-pack, and then go do those questions specifically. Unfortunately this meant that I would have to read an entire passage just to answer a single question, but I think forcing myself to do that increased my stamina. Same story here, I expected to get all these re-do's 100% and I didn't. When that was done, I went back to the material I had missed in the second U-Planet run and did all of those again. Then back to AAMC and re-did everything I had missed in the second run. Then back to U-Planet and re-did everything I had missed three times. I repeated this until there were no questions left that I was consistently missing. During this time I started copying out metabolic pathways by hand every day. I made sure that I knew glycolysis/gluconeogenesis and the Kreb's cycle backwards and forwards, but I also made sure that I was regularly reviewing the PPP, Beta-oxidation, fatty acid synthesis, glycogen synthesis and breakdown as well.
Mid-august to mid-september I did all the AAMC Full lengths:
AAMC1: 523 (131/131/131/130)
AAMC 2: 517 (130/130/128/129)
AAMC 3: 521 (130/130/131/130)
AAMC 4: 522 (131/130/131/130)
With about 2 weeks to go before the test, I quit reddit and facebook completely because Trump is a menace to our country and keeping up with all the bullshit coming out of the whitehouse was starting to affect my mental health. I removed adderall from my diet, cut my caffeine intake to 1/2 cup coffee/day, and started meditating twice/day. I started hitting theKA passages hard because honestly I had just stumbled upon their page that aggregated all the MCAT practice problems. They were fucking tough. I did lots of those every day, read the 100 page KA P/S doc, did lots of Anki review, and was working through all the AAMC CARS for the second time during this period (about 5 passages/day). I also did the KA question sets for all the Bio systems (biomolecules, organ systems, etc.) in the last few days before the test.
Two days before test day, I redid my worst AAMC full length (number 2). The day before test day I went on a hike, meditated, stretched, ate well, and read for pleasure. Thankfully I was testing at noon, so day of the test I did 2 C/P passages, 2 B/B passages, 2 P/S passages (all from AAMC full length 1) and did 5 CARS passages just to get my brain warmed up. Got to the testing center early, meditated for 10 minutes in the car, then stretched for 10 minutes before going inside.
Some folks have asked for my CARS strategy specifically. I tried tons of different techniques but the strategy I ended up converging on was pretty straightforward and didn't involve note-taking, summarizing, or anything tricky like that. I would read the questions first, highlighting any key words or indications of specific paragraphs. Specifically I was looking for questions like, "what was the author's intention when they used the word 'X'" or "what was the main argument in paragraph 5?" This way, I could always be scanning for word X while reading and then when I got to paragraph 5, I could go back to that question, reread it, then read paragraph 5 and answer it. Reading the questions+highlighting question stems only took me about 45 seconds on average. Reading the passage (and highlighting important material in the passage) while answering questions as I went along would usually take about 5 minutes, and then I'd only be about 6 minutes into a passage, usually with at least half of them already answered! That gave me plenty of time to get to the bigger picture questions about the main idea, author's tone, etc. and with all the extra time I could easily scan the passage and find support for or evidence against specific answer choices.
Also a really helpful exercise I did while practicing experiment-based passages was to parse out and write down the hypothesis, controls, independent and dependent variables. Once I got used to reading for and identifying those things, unlocking the experiment based passages became a lot easier.
Good luck everybody!
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