MCAT Postmortem

mcatimagesI’ve finally emerged from the all-consuming world of studying for the MCAT and wanted to give a little overview of the whole experience, including the actual test, and the study process.

I took the test on Wednesday, September 23. It was harder than I expected in some areas and easier in others.

Chem/Phys

This was consistently my best area in practice, from the time I took the official Sample Test right after signing up for the exam, to the Official Guide which I took a week and a half before my test (and got 100%!) to the official question packs for chemistry and physics. I took a year of biochem ending this June, and have been tutoring gen chem and o chem for almost four years, so I felt like I had this section in the bag, just had to work on physics, which I did a lot this summer to strengthen some weak areas.

Well, this was, by far, the hardest section on my real test. The passages were so convoluted and hard to follow and fully comprehend in a short time frame. The questions were really hard too. By far, this one felt the toughest. Pretty much none of the physics topics I worked so much on this summer were on the test at all. This section pretty much felt like a clusterfuck. Passage after passage of really unfamiliar information, weird experiments. So I did my best to apply what I knew to this section and there were a few gimme questions. Other than one or two questions, I don’t feel that lack of knowledge was the issue, more just dealing with the complete curveballs that come up on this test, and the fact that there wasn’t much relief, almost all of the passages were brutal. So, I took a beating on this section that’s usually my best. Not a great feeling for starting the test.

On the good side, there was a stand alone question that addressed my absolute favorite o chem topic, so that was fun, and for every question that required any kind of calculation, I always got an answer that was on the list. Usually in practice, if I messed up math it was almost always in a way that made me get an answer that wasn’t a choice. So I’m hoping I did okay with those. There was something that I couldn’t remember exactly what it meant but was able to figure it out using unit analysis. For anyone taking this test in the future, or taking any kind of chemistry or physics, I really think that getting good at unit analysis (including knowing the component units that make up the more complex ones like Joules, Newtons, Farads, etc) is one of the best things you can do. I used it a lot on the test, sometimes to figure things out, sometimes to confirm my thinking or memory of formulas or relationships.

CARS

By the end of my practice, I was doing pretty well on this section, which is the one I thought I couldn’t improve. This was definitely the second hardest section on the exam. It started out with fairly straightforward passages with moderate questions, a few easies, a few toughies, but then a little after halfway through it was like one confusing passage after another, and of course questions addressed exactly the parts that were the most confusing. It just felt brutal by the end. I felt like there were a lot more questions that I was waffling on than I usually have on practice tests. Not feeling super confident on this section, but I definitely did the best that I could here.

Bio/Biochem

I was feeling pretty wrecked by the time I started this section, and pretty discouraged, and then I went through the passages and they were…surprisingly easy. There were definitely a few things I didn’t know or couldn’t recall, little details, and a handful of questions that I boiled down to 50/50 and then had to make my best guess, but seriously, the passages were short, straightforward, about familiar topics and included almost no experimental design, new research, etc. Unlike the chem/phys section, these passages were more like material you would see in a textbook and not at all like articles you would see in advanced science journals. So it was a walk in the park compared to phys/chem. Just so straightforward I couldn’t believe it, especially as practice tests were pretty brutal in this area.

Psych/Soc

This has traditionally been my weakest section. I took psych over ten years ago, and I took soc in high school, so pretty much had to relearn everything from scratch. Spent a ton of time preparing for this section. And…it was even easier than bio/biochem. Seriously, the passages were so extremely straightforward I wanted to pinch myself to see if this was really real. The practice tests I did in this section were kicking my ass, and the real thing was such a walk in the park. Almost no experiments, hardly any graphs and the graphs that were included were so simple. So unlike what I prepped with. There was one question about a term I had never heard of and I was at least able to narrow down the choices just based on analyzing the word. There was also a passage that addressed something that I happen to be extremely familiar with because of a community I’m part of, though I don’t know if that actually had any influence on my performance.

Definitely if the exam were scored on percent correct, I think psych would be without a doubt my highest score. But it’s not, it’s based on percentile. So I’m kind of hoping that the fact that the hardest sections were my usual strengths will play in my favor but who knows.

It definitely varied by test. There are people who tested the same day as me who said their bio/biochem and psych/soc were filled with convoluted, complicated experiments and graphs, so who knows. It’s such a crapshoot of what you get on test day and luck definitely plays a factor. I really don’t know that I could even guess my score at this point.

I won’t find out until October 27. I’m hoping I won’t have to retake the test. If I did, I think that I would prepare with more practice tests and little refreshers on content review. I just really hope I don’t have to, and honestly I’d be a little surprised if I did. The test certainly didn’t feel good, but I did feel prepared and now just have the feeling that it will end up okay.

Mostly though, now that the test is over, I just feel like I’m getting back to being normal. And I’m also feeling really, really grateful for all the support I had throughout the study process. About a month after I started studying on my own, I won a free prep class in a raffle that I never could’ve afforded on my own (or even close) so to have that as a resource was great and I got really lucky. And mostly, it was the people in my life that made the biggest difference. My boss let me completely skip fall training or pretty much any work obligations in the month before my test. I got so many encouraging texts and conversations. The night before my test, I got a message on facebook from someone I went to summer camp with as a teenager, and that really meant a lot to me. I also had people drive me to the test, buy me drinks after, talk me out of quitting when I wanted to, invite me to go out right at the moments during my studying where I was starting to go crazy from spending so much time studying and really needed a release. And I had friends who were pretty understanding when I couldn’t go out and be social and had to study. In general, I just feel so lucky to have the people who are in my life. I think this is especially true because this MCAT journey is not something that I’ve shared with my family (partly for fear of discouragement) so it really means a lot to have other people in my life giving so much encouragement and support.

My fellow tutors at my job, and a person or two who wasn’t a tutor, really helped me with physics, helped me really understand and get the material in conceptual ways that really stuck. I asked one of them, “What if I spent all this time and energy studying physics and it turns out there’s almost no physics on my test?” He said, “You’ll be a better person for it,” kinda jokingly. And that did turn out to be exactly what happened on my test, and you know? He has a point. I don’t know about a better person, but I definitely have a much more solid physics base now. I get optics and circuits and fluids much more than I ever did before and those topics are no longer scary.

So, I don’t know what my score will be. I have a plan if I have to retake it, and I’m keeping all my prep materials in case that happens, and I hope that won’t be the case. Prepare for the worst but hope for the best. In about four and a half weeks, I’ll know my score.

In the meantime, I have lots to catch up, including job-related tasks, laundry, working out, answering emails, sleep (I didn’t sleep that well before or after the test) and all of that. On Monday I start classes, including economics and P chem. P chem is a scary class but honestly, after that beast of an MCAT, I say bring it on.

~EJ

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3 thoughts on “MCAT Postmortem

  1. I am trying to push myself to redo the mcat after I did one many years ago. For me, the hardest part has been trying to get myself to commit to a routine. I ended up canceling a test date I registered for in February. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is like I have a study buddy who is with me through the process. Hope and wish for much success for you on the path to becoming a doctor. Many Thanks!

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