3 MCAT Attempts to 513: The Power of Persistence with Priya Leghari

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.

This episode you're in for an adventure. This top scorer's MCAT journey was a three-year endeavor, marked by determination and perseverance. Starting with a 503 on her first attempt and a 505 on her second, she tirelessly sought the strategies that resonated with her, ultimately achieving a remarkable 513 on her third and final attempt.

Meet our incredible guest, Priya Leghari, whose unwavering passion for medicine and personal growth has led her to extraordinary achievements, including conquering the MCAT as a pivotal step on her path to medical school.

In this episode Priya shares her biggest realization that the MCAT is not just a test of knowledge, but also endurance and the ability to grow as a learner. Taking breaks and engaging in activities outside of studying is essential for maintaining balance and preventing burnout.

Priya shares her experience of feeling guilty about taking breaks, but emphasizes that it is unnecessary as basic needs and a healthy mind are integral to performing well.

"If you're feeling burnt out, that's probably a sign that you should take a break and recover. As premeds, it's super easy to get swept up in studying and forget that we're humans that have complex needs."

Join us as we delve into Priya's incredible journey, uncovering the invaluable lessons she has learned along the way and the transformative power of introspection in her MCAT success and personal growth. Get ready to be inspired by her story of self-discovery and the remarkable impact it has had on her pursuit of dreams.

Some of what you'll learn in this episode with Priya:

  • How she developed fool-proof MCAT study sessions and schedules
  • The unique strategies required for each and every section
  • How navigate the inevitable problem of MCAT burnout
  • The best resources for MCAT prep that helped her reach her goal score

And so much more!

Topics Discussed

  • 00:30 Priya’s background, passion for medicine, and her decision to pursue the MCAT as a crucial step toward her medical school journey.
  • 02:15 The Importance of self-reflection and introspection.
  • 05:10 Priya’s journey to self-discovery: From burnout and disappointment from multiple practice exams to uncovering her motivations, strengths, and weaknesses
  • 09:42 Exam challenges, targeted studying, overcoming weaknesses, burnout.
  • 15:49 best free resources.
  • 18:54 Psych/Soc study tips and resources that got her 132!
  • 22:35 Reading comprehension tips for studying CARS passage.
  • 35:47 Anxiety and stress while waiting for her score.
  • 40:31 Great advice for listeners on their journey.

Memorable Quotes

  • Take breaks regularly and engage in activities outside of studying to prevent burnout and maintain balance.
  • Be kind to yourself and recognize that feeling burnt out during the MCAT is normal.
  • Prioritize content coverage, strong data analysis skills, and the ability to critically review literature for success in the P/S section.

  • Adapt your thinking to different passage types, switching between CARS, B/B, and other perspectives when necessary.
  • Focus your study time on your weakest sections, such as chemistry and physics, and implement different approaches, like using example questions with solutions from textbooks.

  • Practice active recall through Anki decks and consistently use question banks and practice exams like UWorld and AAMC materials.
  • Remember that while the MCAT is important, it's just one aspect of life; go easy on yourself and don't let it define your self-worth.
  • Train yourself to focus and reduce testing anxiety by practicing with multiple practice exams and reviewing solutions in detail; pattern recognition and time management are key skills to develop.

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?
498 on a diagnostic I took during my first attempt. It took 3 years to get my 513.
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.
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.
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 third (and final) time I wrote the MCAT was two years after my first exam. I found that I had to build up my study skills from scratch and try to get into the mindset of the testmakers. For example, I scored highest on practice questions when I tried to engage with the material. As I read through passages, I found myself highlighting key phrases that I thought would make good test questions and more often than not, they were.

I also found it helpful to reframe the MCAT as not a science test, but a reading comprehension test. Aside from standard core science questions, I found that many answers could be found directly in the passages. Learning how to wade through all of the material the testmakers pack into the passages and pick out the relevant info was a skill that I developed by doing hundreds, if not thousands, of practice questions.

I also have a fair amount of testing anxiety, so this year I wrote 10 practice exams to reduce my fear and help me get into the mindset of taking the exam. By the time I sat for my actual exam, I was quite relaxed and I was able to fully focus on the test rather than my anxiety.

Some of the most useful tools were my schedule and my error log. For my schedule, I created a template on google sheets and gave myself 4 months (interspersed with 2 summer classes and volunteering) in total. The way my template was designed was so I knew that I had exactly xx days before the exam. In general, I exclusively did content review and practice questions in the first 9 weeks and saved all 10 practice exams for the last 7 weeks. I also allocated 1 day a week for rest, volunteering, and extracurriculars.

My error log was probably the best tool I had. As you’ve definitely heard before, it doesn’t matter how much you study, but how you study. Even if you get questions right, you need to make sure your thinking lines up with the testmakers’, otherwise your correct answers might be a fluke! My error log was 80% to record which questions I got wrong, why, and what the correct answer was, and the other 20% was to actively recall concepts in a spreadsheet-like format because it helped me remember. This is some of the information I had on this document:
- Which test/section bank, and what subject the question was from
- What the question was
- My thought process/ how I approached it. I did this section before looking at/recording the answer so I could have a second chance at doing the question again. Knowing it was wrong allowed me to assess and record my initial thought process!
- What the correct answer was
- Why other answers were wrong. This took the longest time. I went through every other answer and tried to rationalize why these were wrong. Sometimes the AAMC doesn’t offer explanations, so it’s helpful to try to figure it out for yourself. UWorld does an incredible job of explaining each and every answer, so I tried to rationalize before looking at their solutions!
- Strategy for next time/type of mistake: For example, highlight key words or allocate more time for data analysis. I’d also mention whether this was a conceptual mistake or if I simply misread the question/passage
- Important parts of the question: if there were integral conceptual ideas, this is where I would list them. (Example: isoelectric point is the pH at which the next charge is 0).

The biggest piece of advice is that you need to be honest with yourself and identify your weaknesses. I am a stubborn reader - if I read something, I believe my interpretation is correct. As you can imagine, it was imperative that I allowed different ideas to also penetrate my thought process! This helped me keep an open mind and reduced the assumptions I made as I was reading the passages. I am also weak in physics and chemistry, so I really pushed myself with the hundreds of practice questions I did. By the time I got to the exam, it was essentially muscle memory. I also knew that I prefer visual stimuli as a learner, so I all but abandoned the textbooks and almost exclusively stuck with video lectures. Holding myself accountable by creating a schedule (and sticking to it!) as well as being committed to reviewing every single question I answered also ensured I was making the most of my resources.
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?
Because I wrote this exam 3 times, I definitely came across my fair share of challenges! Personally, I really struggled with chemistry and physics because I don't have a strong foundation in these classes. I utilized a traditional approach to study this section by watching conceptual videos and doing hundreds of drill questions. I preferred Youtubers AK Lectures and Chads' Prep videos because they distilled the information into short, 10 minute videos. I spent the bulk of my content time on this section.

Likewise, CARS has also always been difficult for me because it’s easy to overthink and not have quality practice when building this skill. This year, I expanded how I studied - I watched videos of people going through CARS passages, listened to podcasts doing the same thing, and started reading short news articles. I relied on Jack Westin, The MCAT Podcast hosted by Dr. Ryan Gray, and free articles from The New York Times.
As I mentioned, I also have HUGE testing anxiety. To quell those fears, I did multiple practice exams to train myself to focus on the test, not my anxiety. I used both the AAMC official material and BluePrint exams. Of course, third party products are not always representative of what you will find on the actual exam, but I used these specifically to see different passages and concepts, and also to reduce my anxiety with test taking. This was immensely helpful for me.

I used a mix of both paid and unpaid materials throughout this process. One of the best free resources was Khan Academy. I watched these videos on 2x speed and used the Kaplan content list to target what I watched. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of content, so I also used the official AAMC guide to focus my study. Another wonderful free resource was a popular Anki deck, which is an active recall software that came with nearly 2000 premade, gorgeous cards.

Because I wrote this exam multiple times, with the first two attempts not being a score I was proud of, I restructured my approach to target my weak points. I knew I wasn't strong at chemistry, physics, and CARS, so I tailored my study schedule to pack in as much review of those topics as I could. I tried a variety of educational mediums - the traditional textbook, visuals in the form of video lectures and animations, and audio in the form of podcasts. I found a nice mix for myself and I think breaking away from just passively reading a textbook was the biggest thing I learned from this journey.
How did you study for C/P? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
As C/P has historically been my lowest section, I knew I had to redo how I approached this material. I found an old 2012 edition of The Princeton Review Physics and Math textbook. This particular book was so helpful because with each subject and concept introduced, it came with multiple example questions with full worked-out solutions. This was useful because I was able to see the same type of question from multiple angles, allowing me to answer a question no matter which way it was phrased.

For chemistry, I really enjoyed video lectures because it was easier to visualize concepts. AK Lectures and Chad's Prep were both wonderful resources.

I used UWorld consistently for these topics, as well as AAMC Section Banks and Qpacks. The best advice for this section is to do as many practice questions that you can get your hands on and review the solutions in great detail! This will help with pattern recognition skills, especially because there's a finite number of ways physics and chemistry can be tested. Covering your bases with material is a great first step, but ensuring that you give yourself enough time to test your understanding will dramatically increase your score!
How did you study for B/B? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
B/B has always been good for me because my undergraduate degree focused on these fundamentals. However, the MCAT doesn't just test concepts, it tests your ability to apply your previous knowledge to brand new material. Being able to analyze data, particularly graphs and tables, was a huge help when it came to this section. I realized that most of the answers could be found directly in the passages due to the nature of how the questions are asked and what material is given. When I was studying B/B, I did practice questions for AAMC and UWorld. If you find yourself struggling with this particular section, I would advise trying to pinpoint the type of questions you are getting wrong. For example, are the mistakes due to a content/knowledge gap? Was it due to misinterpretation of the data? Did you run out of time? This will help focus your study and hopefully steer you in the direction of overcoming the specific issue you have with this section.
How did you study for CARS? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
CARS is always a bit difficult because it's hard to build up the skill of reading comprehension. That being said, it is certainly not impossible. I increased my score by 4 points since my last MCAT, and what I did differently was try to read each passage as though I was about to give a lecture on it. It sounds silly, but it works! When I put myself in that headspace, I was quickly able to find the thesis of the passage, key evidence to support that statement, and the tone of the author.

Aside from that little mind trick, I also expanded what I was reading. I'd find some short articles and do the same thing that I would for a CARS passage - identify the theme, evidence, and tone. Once I was able to determine those things, I could come across any passage and answer the questions. This particular trick also helped with questions that ask you to assume what the author would do/think for a new situation based on the passage. These questions test your ability to take implied information and apply them to a new problem. If you're able to find the theme, it is much easier to make a reasonable conclusion.

If you're struggling on how to even begin to study for CARS, I suggest listening to The MCAT Podcast hosted by Dr. Ryan Gray. There are a few episodes where Jack Westin comes in and they both read a passage and answer the questions together. This is helpful because it gives you a baseline for how you can approach these passages.

The AAMC also recently put the CARS Diagnostic Tool. This is designed to help you understand how the testmakers want you to approach their reading comprehension questions. Only 2 passages have full video explanations, but it was very helpful to see how the official makers of the MCAT review their own passages.

I found this section difficult to study for because very few third-party resources are able to replicate the official exam. Sometimes I would find myself answering third-party questions with the AAMC mindset and get them wrong! That's okay, because as long as you are getting the AAMC material correct, you are on the right path.
How did you study for P/S? What advice do you have to students who are struggling the most with that particular section?
This year, I scored a 132 in the P/S section. MCATBros, a MCAT tutoring company, put out a 300-page P/S document that is so comprehensive I almost felt over-prepared going into the exam. I supplemented this with Khan Academy videos on each of the topics and annotated the document with my own notes. This really helped solidify my understanding.

I used UWorld and AAMC materials to test my knowledge, and active recall with the Anki deck was helpful to retain that information. I did find that some P/S passages were similar to that of CARS or B/B, so I would switch my gears to adapt to the different passage types. This section is always a mixed bag, but as long as you have content covered, a strong understanding of data analysis, and the ability to critically review a piece of literature, then you should be just fine!

Resources Mentioned

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