How I Scored 525 (100th Percentile) on the MCAT In 3 Months

July 1, 2024

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My name is Smrithi, and I'm a medical student at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. I scored in the 100th percentile on the MCAT without putting my life on hold.

In my case, I only studied for three months, and I never studied for more than eight hours in a day. In addition, I took my MCAT in January, so I was navigating final exams, work responsibilities, and the holiday season. I was balancing MCAT studying while all of this was going on in my life.

Today, I'm going to tell you a little bit more about my journey toward the 525 MCAT score and a couple of the lessons that I learned along the way!

Knowing What Works For Your Brain

Now, obviously, some of these decisions went against conventional wisdom in the pre-med world, but I knew that they were right for me for several reasons.

First, my memory for items that I studied more than three months ago is just very poor. Second, I wanted to build in enough time to retake my test in case I had to.

I wanted to have a couple of months of extra time between when I would get my scores in late February and when I would have to start submitting my applications. This was so that I could potentially retake the test if I felt that I needed to. 

Finally, I am not the kind of person who can drop everything and study for the MCAT for six months. I find it important to have my social life, my school life, and my work life. 

My point here is just to do a little introspection. Think about yourself. Are you someone who needs a well-rounded and balanced life in order to be productive, or are you more of a person who needs to shut out the world and just do only MCAT for six months? 

Neither of those is right or wrong.

Don't be afraid if some of your MCAT study strategies or your timeline are different from everybody else's because it's very personalized, and ultimately, you're going to do best if you're following the way that works best for your brain.

Divide The Material & Adjust As You Go

Speaking of making a plan, it's important to actually make a plan. I've seen a lot of times people will just get all their MCAT materials and sit down and try to go at it. 

That is not necessarily the most productive way to do it because, as I found from my own personal experience, you can sit down and think you're accomplishing a lot, but after a few weeks go by, you realize that maybe you haven't made as much progress as you think you're making. 

It's really important to divide up the material so that you know what you're accomplishing and when you're going to accomplish it and to continually adjust that plan as you go. 

This can be as detailed as you want it. I actually created an hour-by-hour study plan for some days and a day-by-day study plan for the entire three months that I studied.

Simple Hacks: Balancing Responsibilities with MCAT Prep

One thing that I did was that I was actually working night shifts at the emergency department while I was also studying for my MCAT. 

I knew that I was going to be able to run through a couple of Anki cards between each patient. I wouldn't know how many exactly, which is why I had a column on my study plan that I titled "at work," and I organized that column by week instead of by day.

I would say, "Oh yeah, I'm going to get through a thousand new Anki cards this week." That was giving myself some flexibility. On busier days in the ER, maybe I wouldn’t get through as many cards. However, on days where there are fewer patients to see, I was able to get through a more cards. 

Every week, those busy days and less busy days would balance out, and I would be able to make a consistent prediction for how much I was going to get through in a week.

That's just an example of the kind of changes that you can make to your study schedule that's really personal and really dependent on where and how you're studying. 

Be creative with it so that you can take advantage of those small periods of time in your life that otherwise might feel like they're going to waste!

I also want you to know that we do have some resources for you. If you're looking into maybe a little bit more guided journey towards your MCAT success, I would recommend checking out our one-on-one tutoring or signing up for our newsletter if you want a little bit more information or if you would like some more personalized guidance towards achieving your dream MCAT score.

Treat Undergrad like One Long MCAT Prep Course

I would say another factor that really contributed to my success was treating my entire undergrad experience like one long MCAT prep course.

I bought the Kaplan MCAT books as a freshman, and obviously, I didn't know most of the content then. However, that was not the goal.

The goal was, as I was learning my biology and my chemistry and my OChem, I was learning how to apply them to MCAT-style questions so that when it came time to actually do my dedicated MCAT prep, I wasn't learning from scratch. I already knew a little bit about how the test worked, and I could jump straight into practice.

Diving Into Learning Science: Why We're Terrible Judges of How We Learn

Practice was truly the best thing that I did for my score. 

At first, I was stuck in a rut that some of you might be familiar with. I didn't really see any improvement for a while.

I was reviewing my tests, I thought I was learning from my mistakes, but I kept making the same types of mistakes on subsequent tests. I didn't feel like I was really going anywhere.

That was when I started to delve into learning science. 

I was a cognitive science major in college, actually, so that was already an academic interest of mine. I was surprised to learn that we are terrible judges of how we've learned and how efficient our learning is as people. We need more objective guideposts for how to actually learn effectively. 

The key to actually learning from a practice test was to go beyond just understanding why I got the question wrong and why the correct answer was correct.

It was to find patterns, to do this metacognition, and find these flawed patterns of reasoning that were happening in my thought process. In my approach to these questions, I needed to correct those flaws so that next time I would be able to recognize them and stop myself before I made the same mistake.

This is a little hard to understand in the abstract, so I'll give you an example: 

Applying Learning Science To Improve My CARS Score

When I was reviewing CAR passages at the beginning of my MCAT journey, for example, I might look at a question I missed and say:

"Oh, I didn't look in the right place in the paragraph to find that answer. I need to look somewhere else.” 

“Oh, well, I found it now and I'm not going to do that again." 

However, that wasn't really productive because I would find next time that I would, in fact, make the same mistake and not find the particular piece of information I needed from the passage to answer the question. 

Now, with more improved learning science-based methods, I might look at that and say, "What's in common between the ones that I'm missing?"

And what I realized was that those were all thematic pieces of information occurring in the last paragraph of the passage. 

This really clicked for me! That made me think, "Why am I missing those?" 

Then, I realized that in English class, in high school and college, they teach you to look for themes in the first paragraph and they teach you about the thesis sentence.

Unfortunately, that's not necessarily how MCAT passages are organized because they're adapted from larger texts. You might actually find more of that thematic type of information in the last paragraph.

That was really counterintuitive for me. I just wasn't looking for that information in the last paragraph, and those were the questions that I was missing.

Learning Is Hard For A Reason

Now, that you see, is a review that can be paired with a call to action, and you actually see some improvement. At first, this will difficult to do.

It is hard to go in and consistently actively review your tests. Our brains are hardwired to look at the path of least resistance, and there is a lot of resistance in this process. 

Sometimes doing a full analytical review of MCAT practice tests feels like the path of most resistance. I felt the same way. It feels half as productive, and I don't feel that I'm getting much out of it.

What I want you to know about that feeling is that it is normal. Your brain is going through something hard and something that is different from the way that you've learned your whole life, and it's going to have some resistance to that. That's okay if you take a little bit longer. 

Just know that actual learning feels difficult, it feels unproductive. When you wake up the next day though, you realize that you've really cemented things in your brain in a way that maybe you haven't before.

Give these methods a chance. Give it a try, and know that if it's hard, it's supposed to be, and that means it's working.

The First Step In A Long Journey To Becoming A Physician

I'll leave you with a message that I wish I heard more often when I was a pre-med. There will come a time in your life when you never think about the MCAT again. Right now, it feels insurmountable, but it's just the first step in a long journey of becoming a physician. 

If you can put that into perspective, it will help keep you sane while you're studying for this test. It's important to remember the context that you're doing this in, to remember that you're doing this because you love it and because it is your dream. 

Good luck, future doc!

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