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By Contributors Masis Isikbay + Kevin Wang


Summer will be here before we know it. And so will the MCAT for many of you.

If you’ve already chosen your test date, have you already asked yourself, “Am I really ready for this? (And do I have enough floaties?!)” I know — it’s a bit of a trick question — but if you haven’t seriously thought it through, let's do so now.

There are a number of things I wish I had known before I sat for my own MCAT. Spare you some of the headaches I experienced and help you incorporate all the info we’ve given you about the MCAT, our MCAT Expanded Psych/Soc Outline, and MCAT test prep resources.

Are you ready for the MCAT? Here are 8 essential questions to ask yourself: 

1. Are you working through the AAMC’s official MCAT preparation guide?

This isn’t the first time we've referenced the AAMC outline (and I’m sure it won’t be the last). The AAMC’s guide is one of the best indicators out there for what you’ll encounter on the MCAT. It literally lists every topic that is “fair game” for the next exam, so it would be pure madness NOT to take advantage of the guide.

Therefore, if you've at least covered and reviewed all of the concepts discussed in the official outline, you’re much more likely to be prepared for any type of question the test-makers could throw your way on test day.

With that said, though, the one area the outline won't be able to help you much with is CARS. (More on that in a moment.)

2. Are you maximizing your MCAT study resources?

After analyzing most of the major prep books (Kaplan, TPR, EK) in depth, I can confidently say that no one resource is perfect. Why? Even with the best resources, a large number of topics are unaccounted for. This is where the outline comes in as it's the best way to see where each given resource leaves off.

If I were to study for the MCAT again, I personally would go through AAMC’s outline and strive to understand everything on there, looking up problem topics/concepts preferentially in my chosen resources as needed.

3. Is Your CARS “Method” Solid?

Given how quantitative the CARS portion of the MCAT exam can be (and its sharp contrast with regard to the rest of the exam), it can be a more difficult section to prepare for. It’s also a section where many might have an even harder time telling if they are truly “ready” to take it.

As such, a big part of being successful in this section is having a CARS reading method that enables you to do two major things: 1) read the passage while maximizing your comprehension, and 2) answer the questions in the most efficient way possible.

You do not have to adopt any particular “method” stressed in a prep book or by a tutor, BUT you must find some way in which to accomplish the two tasks above to the best of your ability. If you're sick of reading MCAT-related content, try mixing it up and practice your reading comprehension with the New Yorker or the Economist. Or maybe tinker around with an app such as Elevate.

If nothing else, be patient with yourself as you work on this section. Unlike the other three sections, reading comprehension is not something that magically improves overnight. It takes time, dedication and diligence. 

4. No MCAT topic is an island. Are you ready for that?

If I had realized how much the MCAT likes to integrate different topics together, I would have paid far better attention to how all of the science topics relate to one another. Think about it: Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology all are represented with three different test sections.

Thinking about how these topics correlate is no small task. Thankfully, many of the prep resources try to help with this. For example, if you’re using the Examkrackers books, you’ll find that they’ll reference other subject matter when relevant. Make sure to follow-up on the “hot leads” as they show up. How? Let's tackle a lead together: 

In the Examkrackers Bio 1 book, isoelectric points are briefly discussed. To gain a full appreciation for the subject matter however, the authors refer the reader to the “Acid and Base Lecture of the Chemistry Manual.” Pre-MCAT me would have totally ignored this suggestion and just kept reading on, but Post-MCAT me knows much better.

When reviewing the book, Post-MCAT me would flip to the Chem manual (Lecture 7 Acids and Bases) and learn about the implications of acid/base mediated protonation on the isoelectric point of a protein. Yes, it takes more time in the moment to do this, but it WILL give you a more complete understanding, which is essential to be successful on this exam.

5. How familiar are you with the Psychology/Sociology MCAT material?

I’m going to level with you here: I never studied Psychology or Sociology for my exam. With that in mind, I was impressed with how much the EK Psych/Soc book was able to teach me in such a short time.

After extensively studying the new exam, I can confidently say that half of the battle for the MCAT is simply knowing what all of these Psych/Soc terms mean (without getting too caught up in every single associated detail).

If you don’t even know where to begin for Psych/Soc, we’re breaking it down in detail for you in our expanded version of the AAMC’s Psych/Soc outline. Here's our more detailed version of Content Category 6A.

6. Do you have your MCAT-relevant math down?

Feeling shaky on what types of math you will need to know for the MCAT? Don’t fret! The math knowledge required for the MCAT pales in comparison to most math classes you have taken in the past (there’s a reason they don’t allow a calculator for the test). That being said, being familiar with what will be mathematically expected of you can save valuable time.

Again, looking back post-MCAT, I wish I had read something like the section in the Verbal, Research, and Math Examkrackers book before taking my exam because I wouldn’t have spent so much time scrambling in the moment to figure out the best strategy for doing my calculations.

7. Have you reached your personal MCAT study/scoring goal?

This seems like the most obvious question, but you’d be SHOCKED to know how many people avoid realistically assessing their scores prior to test day.

Do you have a particular scoring mark (or score range) set? If not, what’s the lowest score you would be comfortable receiving on the exam? What is the highest score you think you could get? 

If you haven’t set a goal, set one now (for your score and for how much material you hope to cover before the exam) and constantly assess your personal goals during your prep. (Read more about how to determine the score you should aim for on MCAT here.)

Once your goal is clearly set, there's one final thing that brings EVERYTHING above together:
 

8. Got pacing?

Before you can be ready for your MCAT exam, you have to make sure that you can get to all of the questions on test day. You also need to build up the necessary stamina for such a long exam. Have you practiced under timed, test-like conditions enough to get your pacing down?

I personally feel very strongly that a student preparing for the MCAT should do everything in their power to get adequate “timed” practice of test sections and exams. I always encourage my students to take at least one full-length practice exam under timed conditions that parrot the real thing (including all corresponding breaks).

When you are ready to take the official AAMC practice exam in particular (preferably after you’ve completed your content review), I’d recommend doing so under timed conditions (full length, emulating the real exam as best as you can) and then objectively analyzing your scores/performance. If you weren’t even close to the scores you hoped to get, re-evaluate what you can do to work on the areas that lowered your score.

If you have gotten plenty of timed practice (to the point that you can finish all of the questions in any given section) AND if you’ve been able to take full-length exams without pacing or stamina issues, I would argue that you’ve satisfied an important requirement in “being ready” for the MCAT.


I hope these hindsight-informed insights prove to be valuable for you. If you have any questions, please let us know. Otherwise, good luck!

 

Looking for more resources? Read on!

MCAT 202o Test Dates

How to Become a Flashcard Wizard for the MCAT

Which MCAT Practice Tests are Best for Honing Your Skills?

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