[MCAT Success Story] — Tara’s MCAT Study Advice Based On Her 510 MCAT Score

April 22, 2024

minute read

Every now and then, one of our students who scored a 510+ reaches out, excited to give back and share their journey with the community...

Today's featured top scorer was one of our students who just took the MCAT, scored a 510, and is now here to share her insights with you (and there are a lot of them!)...

We'd like to introduce you to Tara Shannon...


scorecard screenshot - tara

Click image to enlarge.

What tips do you have for us on how to study for the different sections of the MCAT?

Tara Headshot1

"For CARS, give up on finding the right answer, it's all about finding the least wrong answer and all process of elimination. I liked reading the questions (not answers!) first to give me a general idea of what the passage is going to discuss -> kinda “primes” the mind. 

I’d also sometimes note specific quotes or words referenced from the passage so I could highlight them as I read and quickly find them later. 

Try not to watch the clock too much during the test - can give anxiety and be very distracting. Instead, look up after about the 3rd passage to make sure you’re on a good pace (this is after at least doing a lot of practice passages and 1-2 practice tests

I liked writing down quick jot note summaries of each paragraph - this seems like it's going to eat up your time but I could still get through the passage and first question in 3-5 mins no problems. I actually find this saves time because you have a blueprint of the passage and forces you to stay focused on each paragraph’s purpose. 

Remember, you can improve. Don’t get discouraged. 

For Chem/Phys, you do NOT have to memorize every single equation given to you in whatever test prep book you’re using. A lot of equations are given to you, and they only expect you to remember the simpler ones — you’ll come across the typical ones in tests and practice passages that you’ll want to have memorized.

Do not panic if you’re not getting all or any of the hard chem/phys questions in your test prep books. They go into WAYY too much detail and high level calculations. Most questions on the test will require unit analysis and simple multiplication/divisions.

HUGE emphasis on knowing basic units - i.e. know the breakdown of Newton and a Joule into its original units. This helps a ton and can save you if you don’t remember the equation or eliminate answers with the wrong units. Know all the prefixes such as u, M, n (micro, mega, nano) etc.

Also, while doing physics and chem question packs, write down what equations you needed (weren’t provided)."

If you could go back, what would you do differently during your MCAT prep?

"Rotating subjects as you study is really important! I got in my head that I had to do ALL of one subject before moving onto another and I think this put me at a disadvantage. At times it was necessary (I could barely remember to get to mols in chem, so I wasn’t gonna start with orgo and focused on getting my chem basics first). But I’d especially recommend rotating in Pysch, biochem, and bio early.

It doesn’t even have to be that much like maybe early in prep do a week of chem mostly but make your goal to nail down 1 chp of bio really well too or memorize all the amino acids + structures or something. Definitely memorize amino acid structures. Seems like it might be unnecessary, but it helps a ton and honestly doesn’t even take that long.

I am a person who likes to check off boxes, so it was really tempting to want to finish all of chem and "check" that box, but this put me at a disadvantage. I would have done much better and burnt out less if I had rotated subjects in. It doesn't have to be full rotation if you're not comfortable with that. If I had to do it again, I'd maybe "theme" a week as chemistry, but choose one or two chapters from a different subject that I'd get to know really well. Start memorizing equations early. It may seem like a waste of time because you think you'll forget them and have to study them all again, but I promise you won't. They'll stick in your brain so much longer and easier.

I’d also save the bulk of doing the AAMC question packs (besides CARS) for closer to the test date, but make sure to save enough time to go through every single one. Once I went through all of physics for example, I went through like 2 passages from AAMC per week (usually right before a practice test) for a good refresher."

Related ArticleHow To Increase Your C/P Score On The MCAT

What happened in CARS? What would you differently if you could prep for CARS again?

"I scored lowest in CARS, which was disappointing because normally I get about 129 in CARS. I think I did poorly because I mistimed my C/P section and felt really rushed at the end of the test.

I got in my head that I had completely bombed this section, when in fact, it went completely fine. I think I started the CARS section a little rattled, and got down on myself.

Moral of the story - no matter how badly you think a section went, try not to let it affect the rest of your test. You never know, (I promise, at the time I thought it'd be a miracle if I got >124) it may have gone completely fine! Practicing meditation leading up to the test will also REALLY help with this."

Related Article: How To Increase Your CARS Score On The MCAT

Your highest score was in Psych/Soc! How did you study for the P/S on the MCAT and do you have any tips for us?

"I did most of my studying for psychology by reviewing the practice tests and writing down every single definition or person I didn't know then read up on them after rather than just reading chapter by chapter. After, I'd look up the definitions in the index of my psychology book and memorize them. I made queue cards for each definition and studied them until I knew at least 80%."

Related Article: How To Increase Your Psych/Soc Score On The MCAT

Any advice on what resources to avoid and which to focus on, based on your experience? 

"I signed up for the MCAT question a day email from Kaplan — not super necessary but found it was a good way to learn or reinforce a concept daily. It especially focuses on psych which is nice because there’s a lot of random terms to know.

I'd recommend using
Kaplan over Princeton review for Organic Chemistry if it has been awhile since you've taken that subject or you never did it. I found Kaplan did a better job of giving me a plan of how to tackle orgo questions.

The MedLife Mastery Strategy Guide was an important addition to my studying toolkit, especially as a self-studier. I highly recommend getting this guide early in your studies, but I bought it 3 weeks before my test and still believe it made a huge difference. It gave me a way to study smarter, not longer, and helped me maximize the time I had left."

Suggestions To Being Competitive For Med-School Admission

Scoring a 510+ on the MCAT has pretty much become a requirement now if you want to be competitive in your application for most med-schools. 

If you're having trouble getting to that score, here's what we suggest...

Find those who achieved it and learn from them!

Except you don't have to 'find' anyone - we went out and found 90+ percentile scorers, interviewed them, gathered their most powerful strategies for studying for the MCAT, and collected them here for you!

All the hard work is done...

You just need to do the easy part; use their MCAT study strategies!

Let's make sure this is the last time you'll be writing the MCAT...

You got this, 

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors

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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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