Remaining Schools

I’ve had to reexamine a lot of my priorities over the past month or so and have had to realize that if I wanted to do the kind of program I’m interested in, I needed to reevaluate a few things. To that end, I sort of altered the way I had been looking for schools to apply to.

I’ve concluded that I’d like to do a PhD in computational biology or biostatistics, depending on the school. I’d like to integrate my interest in math, programming, and quantitative science into medicine. I’ve come to realize that this makes me somewhat incompatible with a significant number of MD / PhD programs. So to maximize my chances of getting an acceptance somewhere, I screened schools in the following way:

  • I created a sortable list of all 130 medical schools in the US and removed all that were in areas I really didn’t want to live for 7-8 years.
  • I went through the MD / PhD program websites and looked to see which had progras in computational biology, bioinformatics, or something similar. I feel compelled to point out that the quality of medical school websites varies greatly. Some are fantastic and give you a great sense of what they’re about. Others, not so much.
  • Some schools make it abundantly clear that they are only interested in the ‘basic sciences’. I’ve learned that this is code for the Holy Trinity: biochemistry, neuroscience, and molecular biology. Once I concluded I wasn’t going to find a home there, I removed them from the list.

That leaves 18 schools, which I’ve listed here. I’ve arranged them in relative order of perference, but until I do more research, I’m not sure which ones will be at the top of my list:

University of Washington School of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A Carver College of Medicine
University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine

Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
Wake Forest School of Medicine of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine

Indiana University School of Medicine
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
University of Michigan Medical School
University of Minnesota Medical School
University of Colorado School of Medicine
University of Virginia School of Medicine

I don’t intend to apply to all of these schools, but I have no idea how competitive I will be for these programs. My undergrad GPA is atrocious and I don’t have a tremendous amount of medical research experience under my belt.

I was shocked to find that Harvard made its way onto my list – but programs like mathematical biophysics have a way of snagging my attention. Anyway, thoughts on any of these?

More Reader Questions on the MCAT

I got an email from a reader today and decided to post my response here:

I read your blog and i find it to be very down-to-earth and helpful. thanks for helping us pre-meds with these tips!

Thanks for the kind words. The last couple of years on this road has changed me in some rather unexpected ways, so it’s somewhat enjoyable to help encourage others along the way. For some reason, the premed world is consumed with bitterness, infighting, and other destructive behavior. I understand competition, and some good-natured competition among colleagues is probably a good thing, but the level of nastiness and general douchebaggery I’ve witnessed over the last couple of years makes me rather sad. One of the hardest things I’ve learned in this entire process is the necessity of being dependent upon others. There is no way I’d have gotten to this point or have had the experiences I’ve had if it hadn’t been for other people along the way. In my opinion, I owe it to them to encourage others along the way.

For more literary minded readers, the parallels between this medical school thing and my blogs namesake are pretty striking. Nearly every obstacle placed in Odysseus’ way on the journey back to Ithaca was only surmounted by the help of others around him. With Poseidon absent from Mount Olympus Athena intercedes with Zeus on his behalf, which ultimately leads to his release from the island of Calypso. After being shipwrecked by Poseidon, the Phaeacians offer him hospitality and ultimately return him to Ithaca in the middle of the night. And even at the end, Odysseus enlists the help of a slew of people in slaughtering the suitors that have set up shop in his home, eaten his food, drunk his wine, and tried to woo his woman. If you’re a premed reading this and think that you have nothing to gain from your classmates or others along the way, you’re a fool.

What do you think about the density of the bio passages for the last MCAT you took? I took one last year and i was so bogged down by the long bio passages and didn’t get to finish, which ended up hurting my score.

None of the biology passages that I’ve seen on either the practice exams or the real one felt all that long to me. Your timing problems could be due to a lot of things, but my guess is that you’re probably focusing on the details in the passage too much. My goal when I read those passages was to understand the experiment, how it had been performed and what the results were. The MCAT absolutely tests your ability to interpret graphs, tables, and that sort of thing. Focus on understanding and ignore the details – if a detail is needed to answer the questions, you can always go back to the passage and find it.

I have taken physiology, anatomy and other upper level bio courses that i think may help boost my MCAT score.

I found physiology and biochemistry extremely helpful. Genetics would have been useful if mine hadn’t been a completely waste of time. I took a full year graduate biochemistry course which really helped me integrate some of the more confusing chemistry concepts I had with my understanding of molecular biology. Upper division courses don’t automatically boost your score anymore than an MCAT prep course.

Do you think reading science journals would help with the dense bio section?

As I mentioned, I don’t think that the biological sciences section is really all that dense. Reading science journals might be helpful, I suppose it really depends upon your background and abilities. Reading and understanding scientific literature is a crucial skill though and something you should probably cultivate independent of whatever ancillary benefit to your MCAT score it might have.

One thing I alluded to earlier is the ability to read and interpret data in things like figures and tables. This is a key skill to doing well on both science sections of the exam – I can guarantee that it will be tested multiple times, so if you can’t read data tables or graphs, you’re going to be in trouble. Reading scientific literature can probably help you develop this skill, but I really can’t give you any firsthand information; I read and interpret data every day at my job. In my opinion, undergraduate science degrees do not teach this skill to students and it really hurts them on the MCAT.

I have way too many MCAT books that i bought that didn’t work (TPR, EK, Kaplan) and i am skeptical about adding TBR to this list. I wanted to see if there is another cheaper alternative out there. Currently i am using Barrons MCAT prep that i picked up in the library. I like it so far. (I know no one uses this but i am finding it less overwhelming to have just this ONE book Vs multiple books at a time.)

I’ve written about this before, but I’ll reiterate it here. For the most part, the materials you use do not really matter all that much. If you sample people that score greater than a 35, they will all have used different materials. A majority will have used Kaplan, with Exam Krackers, the Princeton Review, and all the rest having their fans. The common denominator among those students will not be the materials they used. They WILL share these though:

  • They will have made a study plan that included copious amounts of worked problems under timed conditions.
  • Most will have taken all their courses prior to starting their study plan.
  • They focus on learning the material in those classes, rather than just getting an A. When I took organic chemistry, there was a classmate that used to chide me for making such a big deal about understanding how different things worked. We had similar grades, but she scored a 26. Your goal in college should be to understand basic science and to think rigorously. Since the MCAT tests these, it would be natural to focus on learning those things in school. Sadly, too many students adopt the premed obsession with grades and miss that opportunity.
  • They didn’t take it until they were ready.

I’m not going to rehash all of my advice on studying for the MCAT, since my blog is littered with it. Ultimately, don’t stress over the books you use. The important thing is that you make a study plan, do things under timed conditions, stay consistent, and review.

Also, to those of you taking the exam this Saturday, best of luck. Think positively and focus on your successes.

MCAT Suggestions to a Reader

I get a lot of email from readers asking about my MCAT strategy and I try to respond as often as I can. The last couple of months I haven’t had a lot of time, so if it’s taken me a while to get to your email or if I missed it, I apologize. Anyway, I got an email from a reader earlier today asking some questions about studying for the MCAT and I decided I would just post my reply here. The relevant parts from their email are in quotes.

First off I want to introduce myself, my name is <redacted> and I’m currently finishing a <redacted> program. I really enjoy reading your blog and congratulate you on your recent success (especially with the MCAT!).

Hi. Thanks for reading – I’m glad you like it.

I was hoping to ask you for your advice. I recently made the decision to push back my application until next year for various reasons. The main reason being, I felt like I was rushing my application and I still have yet to take the MCAT (my test is scheduled for May 30th). Right now my plan is to study for the MCAT as soon as my finals are over next week. I’m open to postponing my MCAT in the summer because I would really like a GREAT score especially since my undergrad GPA is not all that stellar (3.0). I wanted to ask you for your advice in terms of my study schedule.

I will make the assumption that you have completed all of the requisite courses by the time you start studying for the exam. If you haven’t taken all of the classes, then you should finish them all first. The folks on SDN commonly tell people that they don’t need to worry about some of them, namely second semester physics and organic chemistry, which I think is a big mistake. Don’t start studying for the exam until you’ve learned all the material. Reviewing for the MCAT should require very little in the way of learning new material.

If you were reading about 18 months ago, you’ll know that I postponed my application a year because I knew I wasn’t ready for the exam. I took two semesters of graduate biochemistry and a semester each of genetics and physiology then started studying for the MCAT again. World of difference.

In my opinion, postponing the exam for a year so that you can study sufficiently for it and have a score reported prior to application is of supreme importance. A lot of people seem to hurry to get their MCAT done and wind up with a lackluster score. Not a mistake that I would recommend people make. I can understand the impatience – I’ll be 35 when I apply to medical school. Again, this is just my opinion, but postponing a year can only help you and in the long run is worth it if it helps you get accepted the first time around. Application is a rough ordeal and it’s something I hope I only have to endure once.

My only other commitment starting after next week is my internship (12hrs/week). I’ve been working since I was 14 at my <redacted> and finally decided to let that go and dedicate myself fully to this test! Without classes and work this would leave me 5 days completely free to study during week (and maybe 4 hours each day the days I have my internship). I have at my disposal all the SN2ed books (as well as the PR science workbook). My Kaplan diagnostic (which i took last year) was a measly 18!!! :(. So i really need improvement. My question for you is what/how would you study in my situation?? I have read the forums in SDN and there are very few who go from 18 to a 35 or above (which is my goal). I’m willing to study during the summer and postpone too with the same time schedule as above.

Couple of thoughts:

  • There is a limit to how many hours a week you can legitimately study for the MCAT. People that say they study for 8 hours a day are not getting efficient work done and are probably only getting a couple of hours in per session. If any of that time is spent at a coffee shop, it’s probably less than that.
  • Also, you should completely purge your mind of that stupid Kaplan diagnostic test. First, it is beyond the scope and difficulty of the real thing by design. Since Kaplan markets their courses and materials as guaranteeing a particular score improvement, they give you a substantially harder exam in the beginning and then an easier one at the end, so that they can deliver on their promise. It’s made them one of the top MCAT prep companies, but that doesn’t do you any good.
  • Diagnostic tests are not just a waste of time, they are counterproductive. Since you haven’t reviewed at all yet, you should bomb the test. The problem then is that you’ll inevitably allow a miserable performance on that diagnostic test discourage you the entire time you’re studying. Put it out of your mind and do not think about. Don’t do practice full-length exams until you’ve finished your content review. I guarantee that if you do this and then, a month out from the real thing, start doing AAMC full-lengths, your scores will be great and you’ll start building confidence that last month. That’s how it worked for me and I heartily recommend it to just about everyone I know preparing for the exam.
  • I found that I could do about 3 hours a day during the week while I was working. The issue isn’t so much the quantity of time you spend, but the quality. People that are “studying” for many hours a day often spend the majority of their time reading. In my experience, this is a very low yield way to study for the MCAT.
  • The key to reviewing for the MCAT is in doing timed practice questions and passages. SDN actually gets it right on this one, although a lot of the people on that board can talk a good game. No question in my mind that the key to success is timed passages. This is the reason that I like the Berkeley Review so much – I attribute much of my success on the MCAT to the fact that I didn’t do a single untimed practice question for four months.
  • I think that a 30 is reachable for anyone – it’s largely a matter of understanding the basics well and having a decent handle on the timing. A 35 is a reach for most people, which is why I think it’s a great goal for people that are willing to work hard at it. I’ve known people that made a 40 or a 45 their goal, which is a huge mistake. Making an almost entirely unreasonable score their goal is guaranteed to discourage you and make studying impossible.
  • Once you have the material wired, the key to getting a 35 is timing and lots of practice. The MCAT does not really test content, although you do need to review it. The primary thing the MCAT seems to test is reasoning and this comes with practice. Learning to take the test and nailing the timing down is something that comes only by timed practice.

The reason I set such a high goal for myself is because after this quarter, I will finish with a 3.65 in my post bacc. Im thinking of taking 2 more classes next year to raise that to a 3.8.

I think a 35 is a fantastic score to use as a target and it is totally doable, but only if you study the right way. A lot of students set high scores, take a review class, and figure that will be sufficient. It isn’t and most of those people are the ones that wind up with lackluster scores. There are scores of people on SDN that do this and then complain about how the test is unreasonable. None of the people I’m aware of that score above a 35 on the exam get there with a prep class. It’s almost entirely done by crafting a schedule for themselves that accounts for their own strengths and weaknesses and then sticking to it. Also, as I’ve mentioned, the near universal comment I hear from students is doing timed practice passages was the key to doing well. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s completely true.

I really apologize for the long email. I’m sure you must be really busy with all your other commitments, so if you get the chance to provide your input/advice I would really appreciate it!

No problem. Couple other thoughts  To get your study schedule nailed down, here is what I would do:

  • Determine your test and count backwards however many months you think you need to study for the exam. If you don’t have a lot of other obligations, three months is pretty good. I worked full-time and did some other things, so I stretched it out to four months and studied a bit less per day.
  • Schedule break days frequently. No one maintains perfect focus and you need to have days you can look ahead to and know that you’ll have a day off coming up to relax.
  • You WILL fall behind – know that in the beginning and accept it. Do NOT think to use your break days to catch up. That type of thing can be seductive, but you’ll burn out and fall even further behind.
  • Be specific in your plan. I mean real specific – I wrote down which passages and sections I would do every day. Making a study schedule took me a full Saturday to get wired.
  • Save all the AAMC full-lengths for the last four weeks. That might sound crazy, but if you’re everything under rigorous timed conditions, you’ll take the first one and you’re timing will already be nailed.
  • Again, as I mentioned, you have to be doing passages and questions under timed conditions. If you aren’t, then you’re really putting yourself at a disadvantage.
  • The SDN study method really hits all the high points and if I were going to do it again, I’d do something very similar. I did not use the ‘hat trick’ technique for a couple of reasons: 1) I already integrate material together fairly well and 2) I had limited time.
  • Review of past material is crucial to improving and fixing the gaps. It’s easy to focus on reading the texts but that is too passive. You learn by doing passages, failing, then reviewing why you missed or didn’t miss questions. Active learning is harder, but high yield. Passive learning is much easier, but very low yield. That’s why so many students avoid active learning.

Anyway, hope this helps.

Deep in the Throes of Application

I apologize for being so infrequent the last couple of months – I really do appreciate the few of you that keep checking in to see what’s going on in my quest for admission.  Also, given that I’m getting a ton of redirections from the MCAT study forum on SDN, I’d like to say hello to all those of you that have discovered me lately.  Best of luck on your exams!

My committee letter application is due in another week and a half and, while I’ve been working on these essays and the rest of the application for a while, I’m nowhere near close to the end.  This means that I need to leave perfectionism at the door and just focus on getting things done first and then reviewing them later.  I also checked out my first year college GPA…it wasn’t pretty.  My first semester right out of high school I got a 2.56 and the second semester I wound up with a 1.71.  Like a boss.  Luckily, one of my essays asks about my first year of college and what I learned, so I can totally throw myself under the bus and talk about how I’m completely different today (which is true).  Hopefully, medical schools are much more interested in my recent work than in the past.  Not sure how my total GPA is going to look at the end – I seem to remember getting a B- in senior quantum mechanics and I bombed linear algebra.

…and now I just got myself worked up into a fright about my grades and academic record, not to mention that I feel inadequate about every other aspect of my application.  Lovely.  I’ve already begun to hate application season.  And it hasn’t even started yet.

A Quick Update

It’s been so long since I posted, so I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m still alive.  I’ve just been insanely busy.  A major project at work decided to bite like a cobra, so I’ve been on the road a decent amount and have been working crazy hours for the past couple of months.  I’m also deep in work on my committee letter application and, by extension, my medical school application.  I’m trying to put in an hour or two a night writing essays, but I’m not necessarily getting that in every night.  I have another 7 weeks before my committee letter applictaion is due, then I can start working on assembly my personal statement.  One of the essays I’ve been asked to write is probably going to morph into my personal statement I think.

I’m still working on that research project with a local physician and I’m hoping to have a draft ready by the end of February.  Quite a steep learning curve figuring out some of the statistics.  SAS / JMP works really well, once you know what to ask it for.  If you don’t, then you can stare at the screen for a while and not have a clue.  Luckily, the doctor I’m working with is really knowledgeable of statistics and very patient.

Anyway, hope you all are well.  I check in here every day and I can see that, from my search summary, a lot of visitors are getting started studying for the MCAT.  Best of luck to you all.  I’m also better about checking email these days.  Thanks again for reading guys.  It’s nice to know others are out there swimming against the current as well.

And now, back to work.

An Update on the School Search

Hi everyone – hope you all had a great holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve spent the majority of the past 3-4 days researching schools and have whittled the list down to these.  I don’t think I could give numerical ranks to them, so I’ve grouped them into three different tiers.  Some of you have contacted me through email or have left comments and I really appreciate it.  Location is sort of a big deal for me, so if any of you have lived in any of these cities, I’d love to hear what your experience has been.  Here they are in no particular order.

Top Tier:

Stanford University School of Medicine
University of Colorado School of Medicine
University of Washington School of Medicine
University of Minnesota Medical School
Duke University School of Medicine
Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine

Middle:

University of Michigan Medical School
Mayo Medical School
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
Baylor College of Medicine

Bottom:

University of Arizona College of Medicine
University of Kansas School of Medicine
University of Nebraska College of Medicine
University of Utah School of Medicine
Medical College of Wisconsin
Yale University School of Medicine

Thoughts on Preparing for the MCAT

I apologize that it’s taken me this long to get a post up on how I studied for the MCAT. I’ve been really busy with work lately and, to be perfectly frank, I’ve more or less forgotten about the MCAT entirely.  Although, last night I did have a nightmare that there was a second entrance exam for medical school that I didn’t know about. The weird thing was that it consisted of fighting vampires and lycans, along with a substantial amount of platforming. I’m not going to lie – I’ve been playing a lot of Castlevania and Deus Ex on my Playstation over the past few months.

As much fun as all of that is, I want to lay out my thoughts on preparing for the MCAT for several reasons. First, I feel somewhat obligated to all those that came before me for sharing their thoughts and experience. In particular, I really should single out the long-running thread on SDN which provided me with the framework I used to structure my study time. Second, I’d like to help others that are going to be taking the exam and hopefully help them avoid some of the mistakes that I see a lot of students make. Finally, one of the things I hope to do is encourage those of you out there that haven’t put the exam in the rearview yet. One of the things that I learned about the MCAT, or studying for any professional school exam for that long, is the huge emotional roller coaster you’ll be on. I’ve got some thoughts on this at the end.

With all that said, let’s dive in. Let me qualify my remarks here a bit – most of this is really oriented for people that will be taking the exam in its current format. The MCAT is scheduled to undergo a major overhaul in a couple of years, so if you aren’t taking it for 3-4 years, not all of what I have to say will be directly applicable to you.

First, some general advice on how to be successful on the exam:

  • Focus on learning the material in the classes. This probably gets mentioned (and ignored) more than any other piece of advice, but it is absolutely true. The worst thing you can do for yourself is obsess about your grade and not learn the material. There will undoubtedly be a couple of topics that you need to learn from scratch for the exam, but if you don’t know anything about physiology and want to prepare for the exam, you have some hard yards ahead of you.
  • Don’t start reviewing for the MCAT until you have taken all the prerequisite material. This is really just a restatement of my earlier comment, but it gets all the time by premeds. There are people that do it, but I suspect that they are less than satisfied with their MCAT scores.
  • Do not take the MCAT until you know you can and will be ready to take it. I have personal experience with this – two summers ago, I was studying for the exam and after about 10 weeks started realizing that I wasn’t read and was having to learn a lot of new material. I concluded that I really needed some time to fill in the holes, so I took a year long graduate biochemistry sequence and a semester each of physiology and genetics. It set my application back by a year, but there is no doubt in my mind that my score on the MCAT was all the better for it.
  • Do not get impatient and decide to take the exam earlier than when you will be ready. A bunch of my classmates did this and wound up with mediocre scores because of it. In one case, a friend of mine scored something in the mid-20s and it completely derailed his application.
  • Do not adopt the attitude of “I’ll take it to see how I do”. MD schools see all of your attempts, so don’t be a fool here. One shot. One kill.

Here’s my opinion on prep courses.

  • They are expensive and, in my opinion, often give students a false sense of preparedness. A lot of students I’ve seen take a prep course during the spring and prepare to sit the exam thinking they are ready when in reality they are not.
  • They force a schedule upon you which may or may not be beneficial. A prep course for me would have been a huge waste of time because it would have spent ages in physics and molecular biology, none of which would have been necessary for me. In hindsight, I could have probably reviewed MCAT physics in a few sessions. On the other hand, I really needed to spend a couple of days on electrochemistry because it was something I had never covered. Prep courses typically do not have the flexibility to do that sort of thing.
  • For some people, particularly those that are not able to rigorously stick to a review schedule, prep courses may make sense. If you cannot discipline yourself to study and review at the appropriate time, a prep course might help you out.
  • One final thought on prep courses. If you take one and it helps you review, that’s great. But it’s only part of the game. You have to do practice exams under actual exam conditions. There were people I knew that showed up to take the exam with me and I was shocked how many of them took a prep course and had only done one practice exam. Unwise.

Now onto prep material. As I mentioned a while ago, I don’t think that the material is really the determinant for doing well. I believe practicing questions under timed conditions and heavy review is the key to success. That said, here are my thoughts on the different review systems out there:

  • Kaplan – Their subject review material is absolutely terrible and riddled with errors. I’ve heard that the material available in their classes is better, but I’ve not seen those. Also, their ‘MCAT in a Box’ is a giant waste of money.
  • Princeton Review – Didn’t use any of this, although their Hyperlearning series is rather legendary from what I have heard.
  • ExamKrackers – I felt their content review was rather cursory and I found myself constantly needing to supplement it, particularly with their chemistry section.  Their verbal review book was fantastic and, as much as I hate to admit it, their Audio Osmosis series helped tremendously with knowing the things which were going to be covered on the exam and what I could safely ignore.
  • The Berkeley Review – Hands down the best review materials I used. The format of their passages is really well suited to timing and learning to think the way the MCAT requires. I will say that their material is far over the top – if you use the Berkeley Review, do not let it get you discouraged when you wind up missing half the questions on practice passages.  I attribute my success on the exam in no small part to the fact that I got hammered on a regular basis by the passages in those books, particularly the biology book.

Now we get to the meat of how to make a study schedule and stick to it. As I mentioned, I heavily leveraged what was recommended on SDN, so if you want more details, check it out there.

  • Register for the exam and know when and what date you will be taking it.
  • Figure out how much time you have to devote to the exam. 3 months is very aggressive if you have a full-time job or other responsibilities. 4 months of studying worked well for me but you need to schedule a lot of break days, or you will get burnt to a cinder. I was ready to be done after about 10 weeks or so. People that talk about hardcore studying for 6 months are lying. Anything more than 4 months and you’re going to be a crispy critter come exam day.
  • Set a tangible and realistic goal for yourself. Some people set their goal to be a 40 or a 45. To me, this is foolish. Something like only 8 people out of 1000 score over a 40 and no one gets a 45. My goal was a 35 and I would have been pleased if I’d wound up with a 34, but a little disappointed. Happily, as it turned out, that didn’t happen. Make sure that your goal is realistic, but not something you’ll be devastated by if you miss it by a point or two.
  • Count backwards about 4 weeks and schedule the 8 practice AAMC exams, leaving at least two days in between to review the exam and do practice questions as review. Also, make sure to schedule a day off every week or so – for me, burnout set in after about 12 weeks and I really needed time to unwind occasionally, or I was going to go crazy.
  • Count backwards another 3 months and fill in your study schedule. I found that doing the practice exams after the review was far more beneficial than doing them once my content review was complete. Not everyone does it this way, but it worked for me.
  • Don’t let the exam consume you.  You could literally spend the rest of your life studying the concepts tested on the MCAT.  Anyone that thinks they understand all of this stuff completely is kidding themselves.
  • A lot of people, after the fact, will look back and say “I really shouldn’t have worried about it so much” or “Put the MCAT in perspective”.  I think that’s a bunch of crap because for 3-4 months of your life, it really needs to be the most important thing under the sun.  That’s a crappy deal, I know, and yeah, it isn’t the only part of your application.  But let’s face it – schools screen based in large part on your MCAT score.  I’m not going to say “I shouldn’t have worried about it so much” now.  I crushed the MCAT mostly because I DID worry about it so much.  I didn’t ride my bike for 4 months.  I didn’t get to hang out with friends much during that time either.  I’m not saying you should live like a monk or anything like that – I drank my share of beer and played a lot of Oblivion – but if you want to give yourself the best chance to do well on the thing, don’t listen to anyone telling you to relax or not worry about the MCAT.  I know lots of people that weren’t worried about their MCAT performance.  I did a lot better than they did.

For studying, I would set a 50 minute timer and focus on getting good work done. After 50 minutes, I would take a 10 minute break, check my email, talk to the Dr. Lady, and get something to eat or drink. Then I’d go back and repeat. I found that studying at the office after everyone had left to be very effective. The only times I went to the coffee shop were when I wanted coffee. There were people there with their MCAT books and I marvel that they were able to get anything done.

Once you’ve gotten started, understand that, regardless of the time you set aside, you will fall behind. You have to keep going. As you start doing more passages and reviewing them, particularly if you adopt a cyclical approach to studying, you will find that you wind up filling in a lot of holes, so don’t get hung up on getting every problem worked or every detail figured out.

If you want more detail on how I actually studied, as in the day-to-day work, check out the SDN post on MCAT studying or feel free to ask in the comments or in an email.

The emotional part of the process is what I really wanted to talk about. I was unprepared for the constant ups and downs of the process. I remember missing questions, not understanding a particular concept, or making mistakes and I realize now that I let it negatively affect me when it came to working passages or taking the practice exams. Probably one of the most important things to learn is confidence and it only comes with time. This is part of the reason why I recommend against practice exams prior to review or a ‘diagnostic exam’. The last thing you want the day of the exam is to be thinking about all the questions you missed or the mistakes you made on practice exams.

I had planned to write a lot more about my thoughts on preparing for the exam, but ultimately I think each person needs to tailor something that will work for them. I was pleased with the approach that I took and how the results turned out.

On a personal note, I really need to say thanks to a few people.  First, the Dr. Lady.  She help me keep going when I scored below the multiple guess rate on a set of biology passages (yes, the Berkeley Review is that hard) and reminded me of good performances when I needed to hear it.  My buddy Little Ben for making sure we got together for a beer once every month or so, lest I forget that life exists outside of the exam.  And lastly, I really need to say thanks to all of you guys for the encouragement over the past year.  Knowing that all of you were waiting for practice exam results made it a lot easier to struggle through all those practice passages.  Hopefully, the application cycle will work out alright and I’ll find myself looking back with another milestone in my rearview.  Thanks!