by Alex Sassani for CSUF Students
Who am I?
A post-baccalaureate pre-medical student at CSUF. My background is in Accounting and English is my third language. Yet I did extremely well on the MCAT: VR 11 (top 10.0%); PS 14 (top 0.7%); BS 13 (top 1.4 %). I also teach General and Organic Chemistry MCAT for one of the commercial test preparation companies.
Can these tips be used for other tests?
Yes. With slight modifications, you can use these tips to improve your performance on almost any standardized test.
1) The best way to improve your score on the MCAT is to take as many practice exams as possible. Ideally, you should take one exam/week for 12 weeks prior to the actual MCAT. Think of MCAT as a sport and yourself as the MCAT athlete. To prepare for the big day you need to practice, practice, and practice. Try to take the exams on Saturday mornings just like the real MCAT.
2) The next day, REVIEW your exam and go over questions/concepts/passages with which you had difficulty. Use for your reference several science books. For physiology, I recommend Textbook of Medical Physiology by Gyton and Hall. Many medical schools use this text (including UCI). Furthermore, some of the passages, graphs and figures on the MCAT are from this book.
3) The MCAT is a reading comprehension and thinking test, not a memorization test. There are few reactions, formulas, and names you have to memorize. The MCAT will give you formulas and reactions and expect you to utilize them in answering questions. That is why humanities students on average score better in the Biological Section of the MCAT than biology majors.
4) Enroll in a commercial preparation course and gain access to their wealth of passages, tests, and experience with standardized tests.
5) If you need to purchase additional tests and passages, do so. Any money you spend for MCAT preparation is one of the best investments you can ever make. The same applies to time commitment. Time you spend preparing for the MCAT will be time well spent.
6) LSAT and GRE exams are perfect for additional Verbal Passages. In fact, the LSAT and MCAT are written by the same company.
7) Many of the practice items available have small mistakes in them. Do not let these mistakes make you angry or lose focus of your goal. Know that the actual MCAT test is error free.
8) During the actual MCAT you are not allowed to use a timer that beeps. Practice taking exams and ding passages with a silent timer.
9) When you are doing individual passages, do several at a time. Every morning do 10 passages in a row before going to class or work. Theses should consist of 2 verbal, 2 physics, 2 chemistry, 2 biology, and 2 ochem passages. Correct these sometime later in the day.
10) Use flash cards – Put concepts, equations with examples, and other information that you missed on flash cards. Do not separate flash cards by section. Use these flash cards when you are walking in between classes, when you are waiting in line, and other times when you have nothing to do. As you start your MCAT preparation, your stack of flash cards should be growing. However, starting several weeks before the MCAT, your stack must get smaller and smaller. You should take away flash cards that you have mastered and add new cards when appropriate.
11) The testing conditions at the actual MCAT will NOT be optimal. I guarantee you there will be a lot of noise. Furthermore, the center may be too cold or not have air conditioning on a hot California day. Thus, I suggest you take your practice under similar conditions.
12) Do not use the restroom when doing your passages. During the actual MCAT you are allowed to visit the restroom only during breaks.
13) Any time you do a passage or take a test, use scan-trons. For individual passages you can purchase quiz scan-trons from any campus bookstore for a nominal fee.
14) During the MCAT if time is running out, select B or C for unanswered questions.
15) Use a thick mechanical pencil that allows you to bubble in faster and save you time.
16) Do two verbal passages before the exam either at home or at the center. This practice will warm-up your brain so when the actual test begins your brain will operate at full speed right from the start.
17) Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed by 8/9 pm if you have to. Hopefully by 10/11 pm you will have fallen asleep.
18) Eat a light lunch or snack during the MCAT. It takes energy to digest the food and by the time that food is converted to usable energy, the MCAT is over. Personally, I like to take a nap or just close my eyes. If you are taking a nap make sure your friend/parent will wake you up 15 minutes before the test resumes.
19) You know your body best. During the 12 weeks prior to the MCAT, practice different sleeping and eating habits to see which works best for you.
20) Stay away from foods that cause sleep (turkey, banana, etc.)
21) At any test day, there are up to 10 different versions of the MCAT being administered. Some versions are more difficult and some versions may have more physics than chemistry. Note that each version is graded on its own curve. Thus, if your version is easy, you many miss 10 questions and get a score of 9. However, if someone had a difficult test, they many miss 10 questions and get a score of 11. If you have prepared, you will score high regardless. Personally, when I walked out of the test, I was praying for a score of 30.
22) Even within one exam, question difficulty will vary. Make sure you don’t get stuck on a questions or passage. If it is taking too long or it is too hard, move on and come back to that particular question/passage if you have time.
23) Remember that you want to peak on the MCAT, not before the MCAT. Thus, if your scores are not improving in a linear fashion, don’t worry. Your practice scores will go up and down depending on the quality of the test and topics covered in that test.
24) Many people make “stupid” mistakes in the last section of the MCAT simply because they are too tired. Practice exams will prevent you from making avoidable mistakes.
25) Take practice tests with friends. Some people perform differently when taking a test with a group than individually.
26) The writing sample of the MCAT is usually not that important. It may matter only if you score incredibly high or low on that section. Also, if you don’t score well on the verbal section, but do extremely well on the Writing Sample, medical schools may put less emphasis on you verbal score.
27) To do well on the MCAT, you need to use “process of elimination” and “educated guessing.” I guessed on half of the questions on the MCAT. If you have clearly established that choices “A”, “B” and “C” are wrong, select “D” and move on. Don’t try to prove why “D” is right. Only if you have time, come back to the questions to make sure “D” is correct.
28) Wake up early each day 10 days before the exam. This way, waking up at 5/6am on the exam day will be automatic and nothing extraordinary.
29) During your preparation, do not get consumed by what other students are doing. Focus on your game plan and the things you need to do to improve your score.
30) Rest a few days before the MCAT.
Finally, make changes to these tips as it relates to your situation. Remember the MCAT is the most important test in your life. Give it the attention it deserves. Anybody following these tips can do well on the MCAT. Good luck.