[MCAT Success Story] — MCAT Master Interview With A 100th Percentile Scorer: Priya Swaminathan

April 23, 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.

We have a real treat for you for our first MCAT Master Interview episode!

In this episode you'll meet one of our MCAT strategy mentors here at MedLife Mastery who is also a 100th percentile scorer, Priya Swaminathan!

About Priya Swaminathan

Priya - MCAT Tutor

At the start of her prep, Priya was overwhelmed by the MCAT. She majored in Spanish and never took any science classes beyond the requirements. After a lot of frustration and stagnant scores, she decided she needed to push her test date back.

With additional time to revamp her approach, she focused on improving her mindset and strategy, which led to a steady upward trend in her score. 

She stuck with it and took her score to a 524 (100th percentile!) by test date (with a 99th percentile CARS score!). 

Priya - MCAT Score Screenshot - MCAT Mastery Tutor

Priya scored in the 100th percentile, which is incredible, and in this interview, we’re going to launch into exactly how she did that!

We’re going to learn more how Priya studied and increased her score, how she kept herself motivated, how she scheduled her prep, what strategies she used for each section, and so much more…

Topics Discussed

  • [2:10] Getting to know Priya
  • [4:11] What Inspired Priya to become a doctor
  • [5:36] Why she rescheduled her original test date back
  • [7:53] Her score goal for the MCAT
  • [9:11] Her study plan schedule and resources
  • [13:57] The biggest challenges she had to overcome
  • [16:23] Her most effective strategy to achieve her score goal
  • [19:05] The most common struggle of students and how she’s helping them increase their scores
  • [21:51] How she studied for each section of the MCAT
  • [37:17] Key pieces of advice for students who are preparing for the MCAT
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Memorable Quotes

  • The biggest struggle for me was just dealing with the mental part of it and building confidence with it as well.
  • By managing my stress, I was able to keep my studying consistent, and positive and effective over time.
  • I made my own Anki flashcards, like every day when I was studying
  • Taking a step back from that approach, that you need to do all of content before you do practice and trying to do a more practice-focused approach is helpful, because then you know, you can just fill in those gaps as they come up.
  • When they give a concrete example, or like a hypothetical situation in a passage, I would take note of that, because a lot of times they would ask questions about it later.
  • Even just familiarizing yourself with what the questions are going to look like and how to approach that is is super important.
  • Keeping that faith and confidence in yourself is really important as you practice and prepare.
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Priya’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?
509, about 3 months
Was this your first time writing the MCAT or did you retake? If your retook, tell us a little bit about the first time you wrote - what happened, what did you score, etc.
First time
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?
February to July, but I was only studying for less than 3 of those months. Best advice: Review the AAMC material exhaustively & get as much out of it as possible. In my opinion, most people don't spend nearly enough time reviewing the AAMC material. The most important part of doing practice is the review, not just answering the questions! When reviewing, make sure you are examining each question and answer choice deeply, not just reading the AAMC's explanation. I would often look up other explanations online. Also, I would make sure I learned any unfamiliar terms or concepts that came up in any of the questions and answer choices. I would spend days reviewing each FL using this method. Also, make flashcards! I used Anki so that once I learned something, I wouldn't forget it!
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?
I started casually studying for the MCAT last summer. I was a Spanish major in college, so I only took the minimum premed requirements, and I had to take biochemistry, physics 2, organic chemistry 2, and labs all simultaneously my final semester this spring. I was taking an additional course in anthropology and planning on taking the MCAT in March. I was also trying to draft my personal statement for medical school to meet deadlines for a committee letter at my university. I was feeling so overwhelmed, and I pushed back my MCAT date to the end of June. I had taken one AAMC practice test at that point and had gotten a 509. My Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem sections were not looking too good. I gave myself a break from MCAT studying and focused on my classes. Once I was done with my classes in May, I took a few days to work on my primary application, then I turned all my focus to the MCAT. I had less than 4 weeks until my test. I went through AAMC material, drew out concept maps, and made a bunch of Anki cards from what I learned. I didn't read through the Kaplan books; I would just reference them when I came across something I wasn't sure about. I also didn't memorize every single equation out there. I saw my practice scores improve as I got through the AAMC material. I got a 516 on the AAMC Sample test, a 513 on AAMC test 2, and a 518 on AAMC test 3, in that order. Then, my test got cancelled 4 days before I was supposed to take it. I managed to get my test rescheduled for July 18th. I was a little upset that I would have to study for three more weeks, but was also a little bit relieved because I hadn't gotten through all of the AAMC material yet. I took a few days off (up to that point I had been studying 5-7 hours a day with no days off) and then got back to studying. A few days before my test, I got a 521 on the final AAMC test. I was really happy about that. Then, when I took the real thing, I thought it went fine, but not as well as that last practice test. I was expecting a score from 514 to 520. I didn't think it was likely that I would hit 521. So when I opened my score report and saw a 524, I was blown away. I was so happy about this score and it made me feel much more confident about my application.

Materials: I focused my study around the AAMC material. Whenever I needed to review content, I referenced Kaplan books and just looked around online. I think watching videos to learn can be helpful and a nice break from reading. I drew out study guides for myself and made my own Anki cards and reviewed them daily. I took the AAMC FLs in strictly realistic conditions, and reviewed them thoroughly afterwards.

Keeping my life balanced w/ exercise and social interaction as well as keeping a very positive and confident mindset really helped me. Even when things were not going well, I did my best to stay positive.
How did you study for C/P? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Read the question first, then go back to the passage if you need to. Don’t worry about reading the whole passage, just the parts you need to answer the questions.

Practice understanding graphs. Make sure you know what each axis represents. Understand the AAMC’s conventions for statistical significance, e.g. on bar graphs, if error bars are overlapping, there is not a statistically significant difference between the two bars. Read the legend that goes with each figure. This applies to B/B and P/S sections as well.

Feel comfortable manipulating units and their prefixes, scientific notation, and logarithms. Dimensional analysis can get you very far. Rounding in calculations can also be helpful.
How did you study for B/B? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Recognize commonly tested topics or facts and make sure you know them really well – Anki can help with this.

Try different strategies for approaching passages and see what works for you. I would often read the question first before reading the passage. Also, sometimes I would diagram out pathways described in the passages.
How did you study for CARS? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Do a thorough read of the passage first.

I generally wouldn’t recommend writing too much down during the CARS section. It takes too much time. You can highlight when the author illustrates a point with a concrete example, dates, proper nouns, or when somebody is quoted.

A good way to practice improving accuracy:

Read the passage very carefully, untimed, stopping at the end of each paragraph to think of the main idea and of the author's opinion or tone.

Then, at the end of the passage, make sure you have a clear idea of the author’s overall tone, opinion, and main idea.

Next, read the title of the work where the passage was sourced from (in tiny font in between the passage and the questions). This can sometimes give you more insight into the main idea of the passage.

Now, on to the questions. Read the question stem, but NOT the answer choices. Based on the question stem and your existing understanding of the passage, make a prediction of what the answer might look like. Then, read each answer choice. Eliminate the ones that are obviously wrong based on your understanding of the passage. Try to limit referring back to the passage unless necessary. If you are having trouble deciding between 2 options, try not to waste your time going back and forth, but remember that there is always evidence in the passage to support or refute each answer choice.
How did you study for P/S? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
Recognize commonly tested topics and make sure you know them really well, for example, Piaget's stages.

When reviewing AAMC material, make sure you learn the definitions of the terms appearing in EVERY answer choice.

It is helpful to organize your thinking in terms of the theories, like functionalism, conflict theory, social constructionism, etc.

Resources Mentioned

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