[MCAT Success Story] — A Non-Traditional Applicant’s 514 (91st Percentile)

April 23, 2024

minute read

Throughout our ongoing 90+ percentile MCAT scorer research and interviews over the years, we've come across many non-traditional MCAT test takers. 

We find their MCAT success stories especially inspiring because they're often struggling with additional pressures and challenges that the average MCAT scorer doesn't face.

Recently, we interviewed Valentina Viertel...

A graduate student and a stay at home mom who was pregnant for almost her entire journey as she was studying for the MCAT

In fact, she was 24 weeks pregnant when she took the MCAT!

Not only that, but as you'll find out in her interview below, it had been 5 years since Valentina graduated college and almost 10 years since she took some of the pre-reqs!

The most amazing part? 

Even with all of these additional barriers...

Valentina managed to increase her MCAT score by 19 points and achieve a 514 (91st percentile) MCAT score.

More...

MCAT Score Screenshot - Valentina - MCAT Mastery

Click image to enlarge

In this interview, we got into the details of how Valentina managed to take her score from a 495 to a 514.

By the end of this article, you'll have a solid understanding of:

  • Valentina's complete MCAT study plan and study schedule including the strategic "3 Phase" approach she used to stay focused and motivated 
  • A complete breakdown of all the materials and resources she used, plus her warnings and recommendations from her experience
  • Her highest impact MCAT study productivity strategies that she recommends you do to stay focused and avoid burnout
  • How she strategically built her MCAT endurance and stamina for taking a stressful 7 hour exam
  • Her unique high leverage strategy for improving your memory and recall for the MCAT exam
  • How she came across the best strategies for removing all the pressures and anxieties that come with taking the MCAT
  • How she managed to score a 131 in Psych/Soc and a 130 in CARS; her top strategies for mastering both of these sections
  • And much more!

... So we hope you're excited to dive in!

With that said, let's begin with the interview...

How Did You Study For The MCAT?

"I made a plan at the beginning and didn't miss a single day I scheduled for studying. I never allowed myself to fall behind and gradually increased my studying stamina from:

20-25 hours a week for 12 weeks in my "Phase 1"... 

To 30-35 hours/week for 8 weeks in my "Phase 2"...

To 40-50 hours/week for 4 weeks in my "Phase 3". 

In Phase 1, I did (read and made flashcards) a chapter out of the Kaplan review books every day of the week except Sunday, when I caught up and did general review.

In Phase 2, I dove deeper into each chapter but reviewed each chapter again, supplementing with Khan Academy videos.

In Phase 3, I did mostly just practice questions and reviewed the practice questions thoroughly. I also took additional notes and made "cheat sheets" on all the high yield topics and reviewed this frequently leading up to the test.

It took me 6 months and 700 hours of studying to increase my score by 19 points. My biggest piece of advice is to commit yourself fully to your dream." 

What Were Your Biggest Struggles And Challenges During MCAT Prep?

"I had several struggles...

For one, as much as I love science, it has never come easy to me.

In addition, it has been 5 years since I graduated college and almost 10 years since I took some of the pre-reqs so it felt like starting from scratch sometimes.

In addition, I'm a graduate student, stay-at-home mom to an active toddler, and was pregnant for almost my entire study journey. I was 24 weeks pregnant when I took the MCAT exam

Support from my husband (emotional and by taking our daughter to the park/ long walks) made it all possible, as did remembering how much I want this."

What Resources Did You Use For Your MCAT Prep? Which Would You Recommend?

"My main material was the Kaplan book set and exams, but I also used the Khan Academy videos, Barron's study cards (don't recommend), the Kaplan Biochemistry audiobook whenever I was driving anywhere (do recommend), and obviously the AAMC practice exams. 

I ran out of time for it to make sense to buy the other AAMC materials (flashcards & Q banks) but had planned to use those. 

I also took the free Diagnostic and FL from NextStep."

What Were Some Of Your Highest Impact MCAT Study Habits? 

"My single, biggest piece of advice is to leave your phone in the other room when you study. I also deactivated my Facebook.

I committed to 90 min on/10 min off for my study sessions and could only check my phone during breaks. I believe this helped build my endurance for test-taking.

My other tip is to test your recall to improve your memory.

So instead of passively reading the answers to practice questions I missed, I split a paper in half, re-wrote the question on the left and then wrote the answer in my own words on the right. Then when I reviewed the question, I would fold the paper and make sure I could actively remember what to do and not just look at the other side and say "oh yeah, sure, that's what I thought".

What Was Your Experience Like Being Part Of The MedLife Mastery Community and Downloading Our MCAT Strategy Resources?

"Although I wish I had found the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide sooner, it was really helpful! I only bought it about 2 weeks prior to taking the exam. 

It would have been great to find it sooner and not "reinvent the wheel" with developing my study strategies.

When I did find the MedLife Mastery site and signed up for the daily emails, I couldn't believe how helpful I was finding the email tipsI downloaded the materials soon after and read the guide in a day, taking notes on all the parts that really resonated with me.

The part I needed the most was battling my test anxiety. The MCAT is a TON of pressure but those strategies helped center me."

You Scored A 131 In Psych/Soc and a 130 in CARS! What Are Your Best Recommendations For Someone Wanting To Increase Their Score In P/S and CARS?

"With CARS, I increased my score from my first practice test (126 -> 130) by just making sure I am totally in-the-zone when I was reading the paragraphs. 

I would highlight a key sentence in each paragraph to maintain my engagement. I only had to really read each once, then scan as needed for questions, if I made sure I was totally focused and immersed when I read the passage.

For PS, I took notes on all the Kaplan chapters, made notecards, and essentially just made sure I knew every term. I felt like that was the section that would be the easiest to raise my score in so I made sure I had no weak topics, reviewing and re-reviewing every single concept I didn't know perfectly.

If I couldn't remember a term or set of terms I would look it up from a different source or multiple sources (Google, Khan Academy) and that would help cement it for me."

The One Major Lesson Learned From Interviewing Valentina And Other 90+ Percentile MCAT Scorers

The MCAT journey for almost every premed taking the MCAT, is already incredibly difficult...

There's SO MUCH material to cover in such a limited time...

Plus getting a 510+ score has pretty much become a necessity as med-school applications are getting more competitive every year...

Not to mention the constant battle with our emotions like anxiety, nervousness, disappointment, and worse...

Plus on top of studying full time for the MCAT, most of us have simultaneous pressures from jobs, extracurriculars, research and clinical experience, AND our relationships (that we probably should probably stay away from during MCAT prep... but doesn't end up happening!)

Having a 'balanced schedule' at this stage of life can be incredibly hard - and if your scores aren't steadily improving on
MCAT practice tests, or worse - if they start suddenly decreasing, things can get scary.

But there's hope. 

If there's one major lesson we've learned from Valentina and the countless other 90+ percentile scorers we've interviewed...

It's that no matter what your situation is, you have the ability to achieve a competitive MCAT score that you need for med-school admission.

We know this because we've interviewed and heard stories from non-traditional applicants and traditional applicants who were in some of the worst MCAT prep situations you could imagine...

Yet they all managed to dominate the MCAT. 

They figured it out...

And we know if they can do it, so can you. 

You might think you have it bad right now, but we can guarantee that there was someone else who had it worse, and they still managed to get an MCAT score they could be proud of.

Most of their score jumps came when they had a shift in their approach, when they decided to spend more of their focus on MCAT test-taking strategy, as opposed to falling into the trap of doing constant content-review.

As she mentioned, Valentina wasted a lot of time figuring out those MCAT study and testing strategies herself, trying to "reinvent the wheel". 

Unfortunately when it comes to studying for the MCAT, too many students are "reinventing the wheel". 

Too many students are coming up with their own strategies or taking MCAT prep advice from unreliable sources, wasting weeks and sometimes months using ineffective methods to tackle an exam that's unlike any other exam they've written before.

On the other hand, what's worse is that some students don't even know the answer to their MCAT struggles is in test-taking strategy. They refuse to even accept it and change their approach, thinking they don't "need it". 

Where do you stand? What's holding you back from applying MCAT strategy to your prep to get your score where you need it to be?

Valentina downloaded our proven 90+ percentile MCAT scorer strategies and went through them in a day when she was just weeks away from her exam. 

Today she has a 514 MCAT score and is on her way to med-school. 

It's your turn to do the same.

You got this, 

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors

Want us to send you new 515+ scorer MCAT success stories when we release them?

Each case study will bring new tips, new strategies, and revive your motivation to master the MCAT...

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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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