[MCAT Success Story] — Melissa’s MCAT Scores Kept Going Down, But She Didn’t Give Up

April 22, 2024

minute read

You've heard the MCAT is a 'mindset' based exam (you probably heard it from us)...

Some people brush that off. Others know it's important but still don't do anything about it!

Taking care of your mindset takes some effort, but it's so worth it.

Here's one top scorer that demonstrated how powerful mindset really is when it comes to dominating the MCAT...

In this interview, we want to introduce you to Melissa Ma, a 512 scorer:


Melissa MCAT Score Screenshot - MCAT Mastery

Click image to enlarge.

We asked Melissa to write a few lines for you highlighting how she prepped for the MCAT, how she overcame any challenges she struggled with, what materials she used, and any recommendations/advice she has for you....

"When I took the MCAT diagnostic, I did not know what to expect out of the level of difficultyThe MCAT was always extremely intimidating and I never saw myself as a person who would be taking it until I finally decided that I wanted to be a doctor. 

I think it was the belief that even if my scores were low at the time I kept telling myself that I WILL do well. 

I believed that I would succeed on the MCAT and ended up doing just that."

Melissa's diagnostic score was a 489 which was much lower than what she was expecting. This was in January and she was set to take the MCAT in May!

She had time but she knew she had a long journey to get to her score goal.

When scores aren't where you want them to be, when you're feeling discouraged, disappointed, and anxious about if you're going to make it through this...

What are you telling yourself?

Are your thoughts raising your confidence or lowering them? Are you letting your external reality build your beliefs or are you letting your beliefs build your external reality?

It's interesting how the very first point Melissa mentioned was about how she kept her beliefs strong and positive. Something to think about...

"I did get discouraged while taking my practice exams because my scores weren't increasing like I wanted them to.

After going down from 505 -> 504 ->503 I did hit a mental battle and let myself be upset but right after I did not allow myself to accept these scores.

If you truly and sincerely believe that you will do well, you will start making decisions that will help you reach your goal. Believing is huge!!"

What's worse than scores staying stagnant and not increasing? Scores going down! 

In fact when Melissa was just 40 days away from MCAT day, she scored a 501.

For the average student, that's an incredibly discouraging moment. 

For top scorers on the other hand, those who are aware of the importance of mindset, it can be a springboard for increased motivation and stronger focus.

This is a key moment that almost every student experiences during MCAT prep - an extremely disappointing practice test score...

This is where top scorers remind themselves that these scores don't define what they're capable of. These scores don't determine whether they're good enough to be doctors. These scores are just feedback points reflecting your process of studying. 

If you keep studying with the same process, you'll keep getting the same scores. The key is to use this 'feedback' and slowly improve, remove the mistakes, add best practices, and start thinking about the passages, questions, and answer choices strategically. 

They're just data on your journey to figuring out the most optimal methods to study and take an exam of this nature.

AAMC knows almost every student will experience the 'low point' during MCAT prep - they designed the MCAT to be this way - something that will completely throw you out of your comfort zone; mentally and emotionally. 

The question they want answered is...

Who are the students that will demonstrate the resilience, the determination, and the self-reflection needed to win this game? 

Because those are the students med-schools want. Those are the students who will be able to handle the pressures of med-school. Those are the students who top med-schools want to nurture into great doctors.

Next we asked Melissa to talk about some of the resources she used to study for the MCAT and which she would recommend to someone looking to increase their scores...

"I recommend doing all of the AAMC practice questions and focusing primarily on practice problems the month before your exam--even if you don't remember concepts from content review, there's no time to keep doing content you just have to learn through practicing! 

I used the Next Step online course and I would recommend using the Next Step Q Book for times when your brain is just tired and you want to quickly test your content knowledge.

I know there are mistakes in the book, but I found it very helpful to just remind myself about concepts that I may have forgotten and it did not take much energy to do the problems. I would do 30-60 a day the month before the MCAT and it really was more fun for me than it was mentally draining...

So if it's just one of those days where you're not feeling very motivated to study or just tired, I would recommend going through that book just for content review--they are all discrete questions so it would not help with actually stimulating the test since discrete questions are only a small percent of the MCAT.

Also I really appreciated the materials that were shared in the VIP Member's Area at MedLife Mastery. It provided comprehensive study guides and mnemonics that were really helpful to narrow down concepts that I needed to focus on. I used the P/S google doc which really helped me review P/S quickly and I ended up scoring a 130 on Psych/Soc. If you are self studying or if you would just like extra resources, I would definitely recommend the VIP Member's Area for study guides that are solely focused on MCAT content.

Loved how Melissa found a way to study that was not only fun, but also productive!

What can you do in your MCAT prep that's fun for you? There comes a point for most where just "absorbing" information gets boring - no matter how interested you are in the subject... 

And when things get boring, you're not learning, you're not focused, and you're way more likely to procrastinate. Long term memory is connected to emotion and how you feel about what you're studying.

Usually, the key to having fun with the material involves testing yourself. 

Also if you're wondering about the VIP Member's Area, we give free access to it to everyone and anyone who gets the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide

The VIP area is filled with awesome free resources like the ones Melissa mentioned. Inside you can also find Melissa's full recorded audio interview along with many other top scorer interviews that you can download and listen to - which we don't release anywhere else!

You can learn more about it here.

We then asked Melissa about the sections she scored the lowest in; what happened and how would she prep differently if she had to do it again?

"My lowest score was tied for the CARS and Bio/Biochem section with a 127. 

On test day I did not keep track of time well during my break and ended up entering the CARS section 3 minutes late--which meant 3 minutes were shaved off of my test. Many of you know that 3 minutes on CARS especially are crucial so I began to panic.

The first CARS passage I freaked out and kept trying to calm myself down throughout it. CARS was honestly a blur to me but I would recommend doing the AAMC CARS QPacks and really understanding why you got the answers right or wrong. That way on test day you will already have a sense of where to look or what to expect in questions. 

For Bio/Biochem, I normally scored the highest on this section on practices exams so I thought that would have been my best section on test day. I didn't leave that section thinking I did bad. I guess I would recommend again, doing the AAMC QPacks and getting really familiar with analyzing data from passages. Sometimes it just comes down to what error bars show or if a data point is significant."

This isn't the first time we've heard about someone getting into the CARS section late on exam day!

For another top scorer, getting late for this section costed him several points. He was scoring 129/130 on CARS on practice exams, ended up with a 124 and 512 overall. Could he have made a 515+ if he wasn't late? We definitely think so.

These few minutes can make a huge difference in your score - not only because of the time saving aspect, but the mental and emotional battle when you find out you're late can definitely take you in a negative spiral, which can further damage your performance and score.

Always stay aware of time on MCAT day. You've worked way too hard to lose crucial points to something as silly as being late.

By the way, if you're ever talking to a top scorer and getting MCAT advice, we want you to pay special attention to their successes and their mistakes. They've already made the errors so you don't need to.

If you're still trying to get through MCAT prep on your own, without any proven guidance from those who have already done it well, why do that to yourself? It doesn't make any sense. 

Anyway next we asked Melissa about her highest score section! Here are some of her pointers for the P/S section of the MCAT... 

"I scored the highest in Psych and Soc. I got a 130, which I was actually surprised by. I found that on Next Step exams I did pretty good on the P/S section but on AAMC practice exams I was scoring 126/127--so I was not expecting a 130 on my score.

I really recommend taking your time on the P/S section on test day, for me I always ended up with about 30 minutes extra on the P/S section during practice exams, so I knew that on exam day I could really take my time and treated each question as the last time I would see it.

Some people relate the P/S section to CARS and I would say that is somewhat true, you definitely need to know your content but you also have to be able to read the passages and understand what the question is trying to ask you. I say expect more critical thinking than just straight up content questions."


Melissa turned her painful MCAT moments into strengths and ended up conquering the MCAT. But a lot of students spiral the other way and lose all motivation to continue pursuing their doctor dreams...

We don't blame them - it can get frustrating when you’ve studied for weeks, then do practice tests and see that a score has barely improved, not improved at all, or worse, has decreased...

Then there are timing pitfalls, confidence issues, anxiety battles, balancing extracurricular and jobs, pressures of retaking…

The list of MCAT struggles is never-ending. So before we end this email, we want to first let you know that we’re incredibly proud of you and you’re doing a great job so far.

We don’t personally know you but what we do know, is that you’re smarter than the average person for having made it to this stage of your journey. You’ve worked hard, surmounted many obstacles, and you’ve made it here – almost as close as you can get to the gates of med-school.  

This is just another obstacle – that you don't have to go at alone. We’re here to guide you. We know that with the MCAT score-increasing strategies we have for you, you’ll have all you need to get over this barrier to med-school smoothly and confidently.

We’ve done it ourselves, and in-fact now we're able to work with you one-on-one online, to make sure you do the same.

Keep going...

You got this, 

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors

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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