[MCAT Success Story] — From 500 To 514 On The MCAT (2.5 Years Later)

May 6, 2024

minute read

MedLife Mastery Podcast: Show Notes

About The MCAT Master Interview Series

Welcome to the MCAT Master Interview series!

We’re on an ongoing mission to put together THE formula for achieving a top MCAT score.

We’ve been doing this by gathering the most effective MCAT study strategies from verified top scorers, and then we bring them to you in the form of blog articles, daily emails, YouTube videos, strategy courses, through tutoring sessions and anything else that can help you along on this journey to reach YOUR maximum MCAT score.

We’ve been researching and holding interviews with top MCAT scorers for many years now, until recently we thought "Why not let you all in and give you a seat at the table during these interviews!”.

So, that’s what this series is for?

We hope by listening to these interviews, you learn proven MCAT study strategies you never thought of, that you can start implementing right away!

And most importantly, we hope you feel an increase in inspiration and motivation because the MCAT journey can be very tough and it can be easy to fall into negative mental cycles...

But as you’ll learn from these success stories, every top scorer had to deal with the struggles, the challenges, and through perseverance, through strategy, through mindset work, they all made it to the top score that was right for them

About Nate Huber

When Nate took his MCAT exam for the first time, he scored a 500.

After grad school, he applied to 32 schools and got rejected by every single one of them.

"I think a lot of students get so bogged down trying to research tools they can use to get a quick fix for improving their MCAT and rather than putting in the work, they spend so much time admiring other people's scores or wishing they had the money for XYZ. That was me the first time I took it. 

I skimped on my studying A LOT because I thought my background in Biology and Biochem would be sufficient to get me through... surprise, it wasn't.

I had awful study strategies and I wasted so much time doing things that were non essential and I want to share with others how to really focus their studies to avoid that."

Realizing that his MCAT score was hindering his applications, he decided to take the MCAT again (2.5 years after his first attempt).

Nate's scores fluctuated pretty significantly on practice exams but this time, he was more determined to push through...

The result? He scored 514 on his second MCAT, even citing a 520 on a practice exam along the way!

"I applied to medical school last cycle and got rejected from 32 schools, and the harsh reality of having to take the MCAT again was a rough one to embrace. But the reason I want to do this interview is because I want to help other premed students not have to face that reality, so they can crush it the first time and go to their dream school!"

Spoiler alert: Nate has officially been accepted to med-school!

Topics Discussed

  • [3:18] Nate’s inspiration to becoming a doctor
  • [6:12] His decision to retake the MCAT
  • [11:07] How he planned his first MCAT exam
  • [12:29] Resources and materials he used
  • [15:13] Biggest challenges on his 2nd attempt
  • [17:39] Things he regrets doing in his prep
  • [22:20] Tips in studying for Chem/Phys
  • [25:08] Studying for Bio/biochem
  • [27:36] Studying for Psych/Soc
  • [29:04] CARS
  • [31:40] Day before the actual exam day
  • [35:15] His reaction when he got his MCAT score
  • [38:49] Key pieces of advice

Memorable Quotes

  • Spend the second half of your MCAT preparation doing practice exams.
  • If you are getting frustrated with your prep, take a break and do something fun.
  • A negative mindset will only make you unproductive so stay positive so you can keep going.

  • Be honest with yourself. If you're not understanding something, find a way to understand it, even if it's not “high yield”.
  • Keep a list of the things that you don't understand.

  • Make sure that you are using the correct resources.
  • Use AAMC specifically for CARS and try to avoid any other resources for that simply because they do it so differently than everybody else.
  • Practice is going to make it perfect, especially for timing.
  • The adrenaline combined with caffeine can push you over the edge so don’t go crazy on the caffeine the morning of your test day.
  • Knowing all the equations inside and out is super important for Chem/Phys.
  • For Bio/Biochem make sure that you know your amino acids inside and out.
  • For CARS, write down a summary of each paragraph after reading through it.

Nate’s Written Answers

What was your lowest MCAT score on practice or the real MCAT? How long did it take to get to your highest score?
My first practice exam I took for my first MCAT was a 498. I scored a 500 on the first actual exam. The second time my lowest practice was 506 and my actual was a 514. I studied for 3 months to get to a 514, 5 weeks of content review, 7 weeks of practice.
Was this your first time writing the MCAT or did you retake? If you retook, tell us a little bit about the first time you wrote - what happened, what did you score, etc.
I retook the MCAT 2.5 years later and scored 14 points higher, from a 500 to a 514. When I took it the first time, I took a Princeton Review prep course and used ONLY their materials, everything that I learned was from the PR perspective. I think a crucial part of prepping for the MCAT is using a plethora of resources because viewing something multiple times, in multiple different ways can really give you a good well-rounded understanding of the topic. I worked full-time as a scribe in the ER while I studied for the MCAT the first time and my schedule was always changing, it was challenging to navigate the overnights/late night shifts and still maintain energy. I essentially would wake up, go to work, come home and take a class/study, sleep for 4-5 hours and repeat. It was miserable and I never really got to the point where I felt I was in the right mentality to be studying because I was always so tired. I also had a poor mentality towards the test itself, I came in confident that with my biology background I would be solid in a lot areas that I ended up not being solid in. This test is not your typical undergraduate test where you regurgitate information and get an A, you really have to have only a basic knowledge of science, but learning how to apply it in unique situations is the part that is hard to prep for. Now for me, I became genuinely interested in the topics because as things started to make sense, I was able to see how I could use the concepts I was learning in a meaningful way. In my opinion if you like a topic and want to learn more about it, don’t be afraid to use your time to get those details because ultimately, they may help you understand other related things as you continue to study.
How long did it take you to go from your lowest score to your highest score? What are your biggest pieces of advice and strategies for helping someone increase their score like you did?
The second time around I studied for 3 months and actually fluctuated in my practice exam scores. My scores were as follows: 509, 509, 510, 506, 512, 506, 520, 526. The 526 I got was NOT a true full-length, I took 1 section a day for 4 days the week of my test just to stay sharp. I tried to review my full-lengths, but I never found it very helpful. I never found a great way to review, it was always me taking hours going through the tests and using hindsight bias (little P/S terminology there) to say "oh yeah I knew that" which was not useful to me. So I stopped and instead used that time to think about what I found challenging about the test and would watch AKlectures or Khan academy to dive into the parts that I struggled with. See below for more advice!
Please share more about your journey to MCAT success! What were some of your struggles and how did you overcome them? What advice do you have for other premeds who would love to achieve a score like yours? What materials did you use and which would your recommend?
The second time I took it I studied for 3 months. I learned my lesson from taking it the first time and dropped my work week to 25-30 hours a week instead of 40+. As far as resources that are ESSENTIAL. You will need to buy a U-world subscription and download Anki and utilize it effectively. There is a series on Youtube by the AnKing where he walks you through the settings to put your flashcards on. Get familiar with how the app works before diving into studying. I used the Miledown deck and the Ortho deck which can be found on Reddit as premade flashcards. I essentially did content review for 5 weeks and practice problems for 7 weeks. During content review do not waste your time taking notes on the prep books you read, it takes too long and by the time you get to the practice phase you will have forgotten everything. I took notes on the books the first time I took the MCAT and by the time I got to my practice phase I had forgotten so much information. I can read through 5-6 chapters in a few hours and have a 60% understanding of all the information which is better than having 0% information about some things. Just read for understanding and then when things come up while practicing, that’s when you can dive in deeper. When using Uworld during the practice phase I would make 25 question tests with all concepts applied so that it was randomized. Make a plan as far as how many questions you want to do a day, I tried to do 100. FINISH ALL of these questions prior to your test date and understand anything that you missed. The only caveat to that is the CARS on Uworld is not like the actual AAMC questions, the AAMC questions are much better at leading you in the right direction towards choosing the right answer. I used both AAMC CARS packs and the MedLife Mastery CARS course to help me tackle this nightmare of a section. When things come up that you just aren’t understanding you can use: AK lectures, Khan academy (although this is being retired in September 2021) and Leah4Sci.com.

Now this may seem very overwhelming, and quite honestly it is. But the hardest part of MCAT prep is starting. I applied to medical school last cycle and got rejected from 32 schools, and the harsh reality of having to take the MCAT again was a rough one to embrace. But the reason I want to do this interview is because I want to help other premed students not have to face that reality, so they can crush it the first time and go to their dream school! It all comes down to consistency and finding your drive. I studied 5-6 hours a night after work 3 days a week and 8-12 hours a day the other 4 days. That being said, burnout happens. If you become frustrated at any point that you aren’t improving or you are making silly mistakes, it is ok to take a break. I took maybe 5 days off during my whole prep due to frustration and burnout, realize that it is ok to do so. You will not progress when your mentality is negative. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a professor was that learning is intended to be a positive experience, and if you approach it with negativity, you have already failed. You will be using some of this information everyday for the rest of your career, you should be excited about it, even if the test itself is stressful!
How did you study for C/P? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
I worked extremely hard to get a 129 in C/P. I went into my practice portion of my prep knowing well that this section was going to be my worst. I think identifying where you are strong and where you struggle is an essential way to guide your studying. Uworld was amazing for this section because the detailed explanations they provide help you establish patterns across the question types so that you can start to pick and choose which things are going appear most frequently and in what capacity. The only way I found to improve in this section was to PRACTICE. I practiced every day of my prep for C/P because I struggled so hard with the concepts. A huge part of building confidence in this section is memorizing all the high yield equations (which can be found on reddit as another Anki deck) as well as getting really good with simple math rules. Leah4Sci.com has an excellent MCAT series related to the math rules you need to know for the MCAT. Understand that this section of the MCAT is not what you expect. This section is so much more than “do you understand chemistry and physics?” It is understanding how to apply the concepts we have learned from those areas of science in a novel biological context. This is a skill you can only really build through lots of practice. It takes a long time, honestly it didn’t start to click for me until the last week of my prep, which is what eventually got me a 132 in this section on my broken up practice exam.
How did you study for B/B? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Amino acids, amino acids, amino acids. If you know these, you already are way ahead of the game. Know the structures, know the abbreviations, know where you will find them in a cell etc… I didn’t even know the 20 amino acids when I took the MCAT the first time… (I know every premeds head just exploded) but I really went in THAT confident that I understand bio and biochem that well. In addition to amino acids, I again used Uworld for this section. Don’t spend a TON of time on physiology, if you understand basic biological and biochemical processes you will know how to apply them to physiological passages on the MCAT, they aren’t expecting you to be a doctor before you get into medical school. Memorize glycolysis, TCA cycle, and the different parts of the ETC. A whiteboard is very handy for this section. I drew out ALL of metabolism we were required to know 3x a week. I would do it in the same color and put it in the same part of the whiteboard so I could easily recall it from memory. Find something that works for you where even under stress, you can pull things quickly from memory. Also... amino acids
How did you study for CARS? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
CARS is a nightmare. I consider myself a decent writer and a quick reader but those things don’t really give you a leg up in this section. This was my second hardest section and its because if you approach it with the mentality of “no, I’m right, your wrong test makers” then you will never improve. It is important to understand WHY you get something wrong when practicing for this section and as the MedLife Mastery course teaches you: Understand the answer from the writer’s perspective, not your own. Your perspective and personal biases and background knowledge will all destroy you on this section, leave them behind. In addition to the MedLife mastery course, I used the AAMC question banks and did all the questions. I took the strategy from the MedLife Mastery course of writing down the main idea from each paragraph and instead tweaked it. I would stop after each paragraph and mumble to myself what the main ideas were and then continue on. This saved me tons of time and actually helped me focus my reading more effectively so that I wasn’t re-reading lines over and over. I would avoid CARS from other 3rd party sources, they do not mirror the AAMC and can actually cause you to develop poor strategy in my opinion.
How did you study for P/S? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Anki is the best for this section. I literally only studied using Anki from the Ortho deck and the Miledown deck for this section. I didn’t even read the Kaplan book or the Khan academy 300-page document. These decks were fairly comprehensive and you can essentially tackle every single term you need in the matter of a couple of committed days. Reinforce your knowledge by writing out definitions from memory on a whiteboard. That being said, do not underestimate this section like a lot of people do. On my actual test the second time, this was one of the more challenging sections, because your tired and you just want it to be over. If you know your definitions inside and out, this section should provide you with some cushion, just make sure you put in the time just like all the others.

Resources Mentioned

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Nate's Testimonial!

"The MedLife Mastery CARS prep course was awesome, I struggled with CARS throughout my prep until I was able to watch someone else reason through the passages. I adapted their strategies and modified them to fit my style and ended up scoring 90th+ percentile in CARS!"

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