[MCAT Success Story] — From 490 To 511 On The MCAT: His 21 Point Score Increase

June 22, 2024

minute read

Imagine taking the MCAT and getting a score so far below your expectations that you can’t find the courage to write it again...

For another three years.

Now imagine for two years within that time, being so scared to take the MCAT again that you deeply contemplate giving up your dream of being a doctor.

This was what Andrew experienced after he first wrote the MCAT in 2017 and scored a 490.


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“Getting my initial score was like a slap in the face for all of the dedication and hard work I put into my undergraduate career. The MCAT has been something that's haunted me for the last four years of my life. I was late to the party as far as being on track to take it my junior year, so I spent my spring semester that year planning on how and when I was going to start studying so I could take it some time my senior year. My first attempt came on June 30, 2017.

I didn't do the kind of studying that is needed to score well on an exam like the MCAT. I had a set of Kaplan review books that I thumbed through and figured I'd be fine. I didn't write one practice before taking the real thing. I got my score back a month later and felt completely defeated. "How could I mess up something I've spent the last few years studying and passing?" After that I was pretty scared to sign up to write it again.”

We’ve heard a similar realization from so many retakers of the MCAT (who became top scorers)...

They underestimated the sheer brutality of the MCAT the first time they took it. 

Which added a lot more pressure and fear to write the second time.

Now before we continue, we want to let you know that you're in for a ride with today's success story.

We know we've said it before about other case studies lol but this really feels like one of our most inspiring ones!

We highly encourage you to read through to the end.

We can guarantee you'll come out with a fresh new perspective, with new insights on how to study for a top score, a renewed sense of motivation, and just a huge surge of confidence for tackling the MCAT.

Without giving too much away, we also want to let you know that there are some great B/B and CARS tips later + advice on COVID-19 and MCAT changes.

Okay with that said, let's continue 🙂

“I graduated in December of that year and quickly life got real because I had to go and get a full-time job to support myself. There was a period of time (Dec 2017-January 2019) I contemplated giving up my dream of becoming a doctor because I didn't think I had it in me to score well on the MCAT.

I also had someone in my life at that time that wasn't very encouraging and I decided to not distance myself from that negativity. It takes the right mindset to be able to tackle something like the MCAT and I wasn't in that mindset.”

A quick piece of advice for the Medlife Mastery fam:

If there’s someone in your life that is anything less than supportive of your dreams, you need to take some action as soon as possible.

Their presence is bringing you down more than you probably know; sometimes our attachment blinds us to the obvious.

If your whole life was an MCAT exam, that source of negativity in your life is a big factor that’s keeping your score low, it’s one of your "weaknesses". Let’s fix that and improve your “life” score. 

(Okay corny analogy, but you get what we mean!) 

So how do you 'fix' that? Well either it’s time for a serious (but kind) talk with them to keep the negativity away from you, maybe teach them about how it’s hurting them as well, or it might be time for some serious permanent-ish ‘social distancing’.

The choice is yours but bottom line, you need to take action. 

You’re not being selfish. If you don’t take care of your own well being, no one will. More importantly, if you don't take care of your own well-being, how will you help others improve theirs? 

"Running has always been something that puts me in a state of mind where I feel like I can accomplish anything and during that period I wasn't running and just couldn't pull myself to study (as well as having a full time job). I started running again in March 2019 and got myself back in the "zone," so to speak.

I signed up for my 2nd (my first one I just didn't go to and didn't do the work->wouldn't recommend wasting the money if you're not in the mindset to actually do it) Kaplan study course that started September 15, 2019. The course was three months long and it really helped me relearn concepts that I hadn't seen in a couple years or longer."


Quick - what’s that one thing that gets you in the state of mind where you feel invincible? 

Everyone needs one of those things. Could be running, sports, music, art, dancing, swimming, or anything else that gets you in the ‘zone’...

Think of it right now. 

Got it?

Now make sure you’re doing that regularly during your MCAT prep

You have our permission, but it’s more important that you have your own permission 🙂

“I originally planned that I wanted to write the MCAT in January of this year (2020), but I didn't reserve my spot when they first opened, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I ended up reserving a spot at a testing location that is a 6.5 hour drive from where I live for March 14, also a blessing in disguise.

The extra time to study made me aware of things that had never crossed my mind throughout the Kaplan course. I focused so hard on their practice exams and while they are very beneficial to help you learn content, they aren't the same as the real thing. I took my first practice Kaplan full length in November and I didn't hit 500 on one until the end of January. Once I hit 500 I couldn't move past it.”

Remember, his first score was 490. He had been studying since September and now it was the end of January (when he was hoping to take the MCAT).

In total, he only increased his score by 10 points in 4.5 months. It's still a good milestone to hit 500 MCAT score, but it took a long time. But after all that, now there's a plateau.

Being in that situation, how would you feel? Where would your mindset be?

"There were many days that I felt like giving up. To be clear, I wrote 14 practice exams (9 Kaplan & 5 AAMC) before I took the real one. I wasn't reviewing my tests correctly obviously, but I figured the more practice the better. However, seeing my score stagnant at 500/501 made me feel very defeated for how much time I'd spent until that point studying." 

Here’s a common mistake too many MCAT test takers make; constantly practicing using the same methods, with the flawed model of: 

More practice = higher score. 

The correct model:

Constantly improving practice = higher MCAT score

The second common mistake? Once they understand this correct model, they try to 'improve their practice’ on their own; coming up with random theories and techniques to 'practice' and 'review' better next time...

Which might be what you were planning to do or have been doing. 

We think of this as gambling. Literally experimenting with the exam that determines their future! Which blows our mind. 

Why experiment? Why risk not figuring it out in time? Why waste time when you don't need to? Why try to use some ‘trial and error’ techniques to HOPE that you’ll figure it out on your own? All while you have a deadline coming up...

It makes no sense to us. 

Step 1) Find out the correct methods from a reliable source *ahem* that’s been backed by research on effective learning principles and proven to produce top MCAT scores. 

Step 2) Apply those methods. Review your practice exams correctly. Use your practice exams strategically, at the right times. Then watch your scores increase…

"In February I began seeking out other resources because sticking to Kaplan just wasn't helping me. I came upon MedLife Mastery and got their CARS strategies and their tips and tricks for the test as a whole. I also became aware that Khan Academy has a partnership with the AAMC and that the material they distribute is fair game on the MCAT.

MedLife Mastery and 
Khan Academy were huge for helping me get new ideas about how to go about writing the MCAT and to drill weak content areas, respectively. The Khan Academy document for Psych/Soc was also a big game changer (I'd recommend making flash cards for any P/S terms you don't know)."

Now if you’ve been an MedLife Mastery community member for a while, you’ve read a lot of these success stories.

You know by now that when someone has the epiphany to start changing their approach to MCAT prep and starts learning ‘how to go about writing the MCAT’, and starts implementing strategies on how to ‘drill weak content areas’...

They no longer have the same results and their score no longer stays at a plateau or below a certain mark.

Why? Because they’re no longer doing the same thing they’ve always done while expecting different results...

"Anyway, about a month before my exam date I started strictly adhering to the resources provided by the AAMC (most test-like content on the market), but I made the mistake of taking a couple of the practice exams earlier, which I think hurt me as I got closer to test day. I only had three more AAMC tests (Sample, 1 & 4) that I could take. 

I wrote the sample test February 21st and got a 160/230 (this one doesn't include a scaled score, but the conversion would be roughly a 501).

I wrote the AAMC full length #1 on February 28th and scored a 501, again (two weeks from test day).

I took the 4th full length the next week and scored a 507 (FINALLY).

On MCAT day, I scored a 511."

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What a journey… 

From 490 three years ago > seriously considering giving up the doctor dream > stuck at 500 > 501 two weeks before test date > 511 on test day > competitive med-school applicant

So we know you’re wondering what happened between that 501 and 511?! 

We wondered the same thing. We asked Andrew…

Additional Reading:

"I think it all came down to really focusing on the way the AAMC asked their questions. I kind of regret that I took FL 2&3 in December and January because I feel like if I would’ve been able to do all 5 of their exams back to back I could’ve figured out their test a little sooner. 

I put too much attention into relying on Kaplan’s FLs for my score progression and the only real measure of readiness, in my opinion, can come from taking the AAMC’s FLs. I made flash cards for unfamiliar P/S terms and for important sugars, nucleotides and metabolic pathways so I wouldn’t be caught off guard on the test by “unfamiliar” concepts. 

In the end it came down to being able to recognize how to find answers within the passages of every section and how to dissect what difficult questions were really asking for."

After reading Andrew's response here, your first inclination might be that it still doesn't tell us exactly what was done to get that score increase. But in reality, it's quite clear.

It was in the first and last sentence.

We've received this type of response over and over again as we've researched and interviewed top MCAT scorers. It took us a while to realize that the biggest score increases show up when a student learns how to think through passages, questions, figures/charts, and answer choices.

Many times we’ve seen students slow down because they don’t know the correct ways to approach passages, even though they know the content.

We’ve helped many students with this, pinpointing weaknesses in their thinking, improving those areas and seeing their scores and timing improve. Whether they used our strategy resources to figure it out, or worked with us one-on-one.

One of our favourite ways to work with students personally is to go through practice questions and passages together with us, so that they can truly start absorbing the top scorer way to think through the MCAT.

Once they get a handle on this understanding of how to think through an AAMC passage, scores increase substantially.

Also there’s a reason why most top scorers aren’t able to immediately articulate exactly what led to their score increase (which we’ll discuss later). But first, let’s continue; we probed Andrew a little more...

We asked him if he was able to elaborate on how he learned how to, or how he went about, finding answers within the passages.

Or how one could also go about dissecting what difficult questions are really asking.

And he was kind enough to give us an even more detailed answer. 

"Early on in my MCAT studies I would notice, during review of the FLs, that I was missing questions that were directly answered in the passages. They weren’t answered word for word, but the concept would be alluded to in some way. 

For instance, in simple cases, I would stumble upon a question (FL Kaplan and AAMC) that would ask about the character of an amino acid that was mentioned in the passage and what other amino acid could be used instead. Well, the first step is to recognize what amino acid the question is talking about and then understanding the characteristics of that amino acid. Obviously this is one of the more blatant examples I could think of, but ultimately the idea behind this exam is to test someone’s ability to pay attention to detail. 

When I started recognizing that a good portion of questions could be answered with the help of the passage, I had been utilizing the highlight function on my FLs more in the science sections (before I would just read and try to answer the questions without highlighting). 

I would highlight little details that I thought mind end up being important when I got to the questions. I didn’t highlight every little detail, but if an aa was mentioned or a color (think electromagnetic spectrum) I would highlight it because those are really small details that are easy to hide in some of the longer passages in the science sections. 

A couple questions could potentially boost a score in any section so paying attention to the smaller details really helped me answer the question or two I would come across in some passages. This really helped me increase my score after so many low scores on FLs."

These are great tips! And Andrew has a lot more to share with you - especially about how he dominated B/B with a 92nd percentile score.

But before we get to that, we just want to point out something very important:

The strategy that worked for a top scorer to skyrocket his/her score, isn’t necessarily the strategy that is going to work for you.

It’s very important you understand this.

Most of the time, top scorers were able to find that ‘missing link’ in their approach to MCAT passages, that got their scores jumping. Andrew found that missing link.

But his missing link might not be your missing link! The key is that you need to find YOUR missing link! Maybe you already pay attention to details but your score is still struggling. That means your solution is something else.

The point is there isn’t ONE formula for a high MCAT score - everyone needs to try different strategies, and keep the ones that work, and throw out the ones that don’t.

At the end, you're left with the right ‘ingredients’ that have you thinking like a top scorer, and that’s when you hear stories like “Troy's score increased by 13 points in 24 days”.

This is why we’ve created an arsenal of proven top scorer strategies for our students - not so they have to use EVERY single one. But so they can find those key strategies that are going to help raise their scores significantly.

It’s no coincidence that Andrew and many top scorers see their scores jumping soon after going through these strategies…

"I bought the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide and the CARS Mastery Report (CARS was my biggest struggle throughout my studies) and both of them gave me great insight on different strategies to incorporate that I hadn't tried yet. When I stumbled upon MedLife Mastery I was in desperate need of new advice on how to study and how to approach the MCAT. The emails I would get, almost daily, of the success stories really motivated me to keep practicing because if someone else with a premed background could do it, then so could I. I signed up for the VIP Member's Area, as well, and used a lot of the information included in it to help boost my score. 

Although CARS was my worst score on both of my writings, I feel like the boost that I needed to get over 125 in that section came from what I learned from the 
CARS Report
. Getting new insight on how to dissect passages and seek out the author's main point is key to scoring well in that section. Ultimately, that section's score fluctuates really quickly, so having a game plan going in is important to get as many questions right as you can. The passage dissections really helped put me over the 125 mark. I'd recommend all that MedLife Mastery has to offer because it helped me in the last month and a half before I took my test." 

Truly, understanding how to study for the MCAT and what methods to use, is the best investment you can make for yourself during this journey. Doesn’t matter if you’re scoring in the 490s or 510+.

There’s something you’re not doing that could raise your score and whether you go through an MCAT strategy guide to figure out what is, or work with a mentor who can figure it out for you, it’s key that you figure it out.

The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll feel relieved at knowing you’re going to make it.

Moving on, Andrew continued to inspire us by discussing his mindset throughout his MCAT journey...

"Everything I've said relates to what is going on right now in our world. Life happens and things come between us and our goals. I was lucky enough to be able to take my exam on March 14th with all of the momentum I had gained before the AAMC started cancelling sittings because of COVID-19. I overcame my life obstacles by remembering that my dream is to become a doctor and that I'm going to keep grinding until I get there and for my entire career." 

That’s a quote worth restating and if we were in your shoes, we’d write it down:

“I overcame my life obstacles by remembering that my dream is to become a doctor and that I’m going to keep grinding until I get there…”

"My biggest piece of advice to everyone out there is to keep trying. When you're consistently getting low scores on your practice exams (as I did) the most important thing for me was to keep working and grinding away. That could mean utilizing different resources to study and not staying stuck with one company or study resource. 

Every resource out there has different things to offer as far as advice and as far as strategies to test out during practice writings. The problem might be that you're not practicing enough in a test-like environment or that you're not reviewing your full lengths well enough. Be open to changing your study habits. 

Another big thing that helped me along the way was the awesome support system I had around me while I was going through easily one of the toughest periods of my life. My girlfriend told me every day that I was feeling down about my practice scores that I would come out on top when it was time for the real thing. Find that support system and block out any negativity."

We’ve all been on the ground at one point or another, feeling defeated. Sometimes we just need that one voice to remind us what we’re capable of.

Sometimes that voice just needs to be our own.

"All of you out there that have had your tests cancelled and have to reschedule need to remember that during this time of uncertainty that it’s important to keep that goal at the forefront of your mind. You're going to write the MCAT eventually and you're going to CRUSH it. I was in tears when I opened my score and saw how I was able to improve my score with all of the uncertainty I had during my studies. All of you out there struggling with this test are going to have your day of relief, just keep working!"

Wow, no words. Thank you for sharing Andrew. We know a lot of students in the community needed to hear that.

You're going to have your day of relief.

If Andrew can do it, if the dozens of other premeds we email you about can do it, if WE can do it, so can you.

We also asked Andrew about how he managed to get a 90th percentile score in B/B and if he had any tips for you...

"Bio/Biochem has always been my favorite section of the MCAT because those concepts are the ones that interest me the most. However, I'd say my biggest advice for that section is being able to dissect an experiment and the ability to read a table or a graph.

What I did for this section is practice the B/B section bank that the AAMC offers. I became familiar with what kinds of questions they could ask and how they were going to ask them. Reviewing the concepts that I kept getting wrong from the section bank and from the AAMC full length B/B sections also helped me focus on the "important" concepts that were likely to be tested."

We also asked him about CARS, his lowest scoring section. We asked what happened and what would he have done differently...

"CARS has always been my worst section and I hit above a 125 on a practice exam once. I practiced every day for CARS for the last couple months of studying. Even if it was just 2-3 passages a day, I was practicing to get inside the head of the passage author and figure out how to get rid of bad answers.

I went into the exam knowing that I would be happy with anything above a 125, but found that the passages were relatively simple compared to everything I had practiced. Referring back to an earlier point, the CARS section is one where 3-4 questions could take you from a decent score to a very good score.

I'm happy with a 126 in that section, but if I would've had the mindset to approach the passages with a focus on getting to know the author sooner in my studies then maybe my score could've been different."

CARS has a special place with us - we know if we can teach our students to master this section, the entire exam gets easier.

It’s the highest yield section to get down. Which is why we created an entire guide just for it.

We expressed our gratitude to Andrew for taking the time out to share his insights. It’s clear he truly wants to help others who are in the shoes he once was in, and that means a lot...

"Thank you so much. I really feel that scoring well is the greatest accomplishment for me and it’s going to help me accomplish greater things in the future." 

It certainly will!

Remember how we mentioned that most top scorers aren't able to tell you exactly 'what' it was that caused their score to skyrocket?

Well after years of dissecting the top scorer mindset and study strategies, we realized that most top scorers just had that moment where it ‘clicked’. They understood exactly how to think for this type of exam...

Not on an intellectual level, more on an intuitive level.

It took a while before we stopped asking what that 'click' was all about, what the specific strategy was that improved their scores so quickly...

Instead we started asking HOW they got to that 'click'.

That ‘click’ is what we want you to experience. When it happened for Andrew, his score flew in just weeks to a 511. But again, it wasn't some miracle.

It was the compounding result of when he started changing and applying a better approach in February.

You get that through approaching MCAT prep in the right way, that sets you up to have that moment where your score starts to fly.

The right way are the strategies you use; the way you experiment, the way you practice and review your exams, the way you schedule, the way you study in the last month, and so much more… That’s how you’ll see your score increase.

The sooner you apply these strategies, the sooner you'll realize what we mean.

An extremely rare percentage of people have that ‘aha’ moment right from the beginning of MCAT prep, or naturally think like that, and those aren’t the top scorers we’re interested in because unfortunately, they’re generally not the best teachers.

They usually don’t know how to express what they did to get there (obviously since it was natural). Which is why if you’re considering MCAT tutoring, we’d be careful about working with someone solely because they have an amazing score.

We’re interested in the top scorers like Andrew, who went through the struggle like you’re going through, and the process they used to get themselves to develop that ‘med-school’ way of thinking (because med-school exams are like the MCAT). They’re the best teachers.

And even though they might not be able to express exactly ‘what’ it was that clicked, they’re able to express very clearly HOW they got to that moment, how they got to that click...

So you can copy that process.

They are the perfect guides.Those are exactly the type of MCAT and med-school admission mentors we have on our team as well; none of us are 'naturals'.

Lastly, make a promise to yourself just as Andrew did…

Your dream is to become a doctor and you’re going to keep grinding until you get there.

If you are getting close to the test date and your score isn’t where you want it to be, remember how Andrew never gave up and figured out how to skyrocket his score in just weeks.

Be relentless in how you study. Be smart in your approach.

That’s the winning formula.

You got this,

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors

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Additional Reading -- MCAT Success Stories:

Your MCAT Success Mentors

About the Author

We're a team of future doctors passionate about giving back and mentoring other future doctors! All mentors on the team are top MCAT scorers and we all are committed to seeing you succeed in achieving your physician dreams ???? To help you achieve your goal MCAT score, we take turns hosting these Live MCAT Courses and are also available for 1:1 private tutoring!

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