My Step by Step Formula to Achieve My Dream MCAT Score

The first time I took my MCAT in 2016, I was proud of the three months of work I put in and the score I earned. Fast forward three years and unbeknownst to me, MCAT scores expire! I took some time off, did some soul searching, and eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t let “not wanting to take the MCAT again” be the reason I didn’t try to reapply to medical school.

Grab your FREE Premed Planner!

A MUST HAVE for all premeds applying next year! Apply to medical school the EASY way!
Click Here to Download NOW!

I did well the first time and still remembered things I could have improved so it was easy to create another study schedule and just grind away all over again. Two days ago I got my score back and it was drastically higher than the first! I went from a 509 to a 516 (93rd percentile!) so in the end it was a good thing I was forced to retake it.

This post tells you exactly what I did to study and achieve my goal MCAT score. It worked amazing for me and was basically the same thing I did in 2016 with a few tweaks. Just note that everyone is different and what works for me may not work for you! I suggest reading multiple posts like this to pull ideas from, then come up with your own MCAT study schedule perfectly tailored to you!

This is why I have teamed up with That’s Great Grace, another premed & lifestyle blogger like me who writes how she went about studying for her MCAT. You’ll find her post here, so read both our posts, find a few more to read, and you should have a great idea of where to begin!

Let’s get to it!

My MCAT Study Schedule & How I Scored Above the 90th Percentile
Pin to Save for Later!

I’ll start with a quick overview of how long I studied and what materials I used, then break it down step by step.

Materials:

  • The Princeton Review MCAT, 3rd edition which came with three practice exams
  • 4 Next Step full length practice exams
  • 90 day subscription to UWorld for passage based practice
  • Quizlet (only the first two months)
  • Written note cards

My MCAT Strategy/Plan was 3 Phases

Phase 1: Diagnostic TPR exam, content review, and two more TPR exams

Phase 2: Started passage based practice with UWorld, finished up content review, and took four Next Step Exams

Phase 3: AAMC material only, *timed* passage based practice & 5 more full length exams

Timeline:
Phase 1

December 2019

I started by doing a diagnostic practice exam to get a baseline. No matter how low your score is for your diagnostic, there is no need to fret! Don’t get overwhelmed that the passages seem impossibly hard and that you score terribly. The point of the diagnostic is just to see where you are at and that’s it! I say this because one of the premed Facebook groups I’m in always has students posting and freaking out that their diagnostic is below a 500. It’s okay, I promise!

Then I spent about a week and a half reviewing organic chemistry. I did a chapter a day from the Princeton Review Ochem book and did the questions at the end. I was basically just getting a head start and didn’t plan to start studying full time until the end of January.

January

For the first three weeks I continued to review content chapter by chapter from The Princeton Review. I had no set study schedule because I was in the middle of switching jobs and didn’t have a consistent work schedule. Therefore, I couldn’t plan anything! I made it work though and just did 2-3 chapters on days I had off, doing the questions at the end of the chapter, and making some Quizlet study sets.

How Exactly Did I Study Each Day?

Like I said, since I couldn’t plan much my studying was not very focused or strategy based. I read a chapter, did the questions at the end, and moved on to the next chapter. That’s it. I started practice CARS, but only one maybe two passages a day and did not worry about timing. I just wanted to get a feel for it again and focus on understanding why I missed a question AND why I got a question right. I spent an average of 3 hours on days that I studied, 2-3 days a week.

February

At this point I finally got my new work schedule and I was able to write out a solid plan. I was about half way through my content review and decided to take another Princeton Review exam. My score increased and I broke the 500 threshold so I was happy with where I was at. By that time I had decided to register for the May 29th test date *LOL (that obviously got changed).

For CARS I started to do at least two passages a day and timed myself every time. In 2016 when I took the MCAT I finished the CARS section right on time but it took a lot of effort to get to that point. I knew I had to start practicing timing very early. For the science sections, I was aware of my time when I was doing the end of chapter questions but they tend to be so hard I didn’t worry too much about taking a while. I was just conscious of not letting myself stare at a single question for 10 minutes straight to avoid creating bad habits.

CARS breakdown:
5 questions = 8 minutes
6 questions = 9.5 minutes
7 questions = 11 minutes

* This is what I decided to stick with and it worked for me. I finished right on time again the second time I took it (the same timing works for the shortened MCAT). I have heard others say they like to just do every passage in 10 minutes regardless of the amount of questions. Try out different ways and find what works best for you. I would just advise not to change anything last minute. Don’t look at what someone else does and worry that you are doing it wrong and need to change when your MCAT is two weeks away. Early on though, definitely experiment and find the best fit! Then stick with it!

March

90% done with content review (just some physics left) and was getting a good rhythm for CARS. I took my last Princeton Review practice exam and it was the same score as the second. I probably over reacted about that more than I should have since I hadn’t done any passage based practice yet. IMO, TPR exams are very deflated and harder than the real thing. I’m glad I decided to make a change to my plan though. Originally, I planned to start my AAMC material after finishing content review and my TPR exams. SO happy I didn’t do that. Instead, I decided to push off AAMC until the month of May and purchased UWorld and four more Next Step exams. It cost about $300 but was insanely worth it and is what I think made the difference between a good MCAT score like I got in 2016 and getting a great score this time.

March 19th: Next Step half length = great score but it much felt easier than the real thing. Still a great confidence booster since it was a point higher than the MCAT score I got in 2016. *you can get this free by the way, plus a full length here.

March 24th: Next Step FL #1 = Checked my ego and was definitely harder than the half length. My score dropped but I wasn’t too worried. I was just starting passage based practice with UWorld.

Phase 2

April

If you are still reading this long AF post and loving hearing the details of my MCAT study schedule then listen close! Phase 2 is where I got very organized and detailed about my study plan.

CARS: Unless I was just super tired from work and had to skip it, I started every single study day with CARS. I wanted to use my full mental effort first thing in the morning and really analyze what I was missing and how I could do better the next day. I did 3 passages every day and stuck with that number for the rest of my study schedule. Some people suggest slowly starting to do more, but since did it every day I felt like 3 was the perfect sweet spot for me. I know doing 5 passages three days in a row would burn me out so I just avoided that. I would have changed this strategy if I struggled on my practice exams to stay focused, but that wasn’t the case.

Science: I focused one of the three sections each day. So here is a typical few days:

Monday
Chem/Phys Day
8 am: 3 Cars passages
9 am: 30 gen chem, 30 Ochem & 20 physics questions (UWorld)
1 pm: review questions & make new flashcards for concepts missed

Tuesday:
Bio Day
8 am: 3 CARS passages
9 am: 30 bio & 30 biochem questions (UWorld)
1 pm: review questions & make new flashcards for concepts missed

Wednesday:
Psych Day
8 am: 3 CARS passages
9 am: 60 psych/soc questions (UWorld)
1 pm: review questions & make new flashcards for concepts missed

Rinse, wash, repeat! This was the same structure I used to study in 2016 and I personally love it. This is the best way that I am able to devote an equal amount of time to each section. I have never had a really high score in one section and a really low score in another. My individual section scores are always very similar and that is exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want any section left behind!

Back to April

We are almost done I promise! April is where sh*t hit the fan and I received the email telling me my exam date got cancelled! Honestly, it wasn’t a huge deal. I immediately went to back to the drawing board, looked at other options, and picked a new date. My new date was June 19th and while it was a little concerning that it could still get cancelled, I stuck to my new plan and thought about it as little as possible.

April 9th: Next Step FL #3 = my best practice score yet, I was pumped! It was a few points higher than the score I got in 2016. This was 100% due to the extra passage based practice from UWorld. And just to note, I always did my UWorld practice timed. By mid-April I only practiced timed for both CARS and science practice. In 2016, while I did finish CARS, I ran out of time for ALL the other sections. I have no idea how I managed to do that for psych, but I did. And I knew better than to make that mistake again.

April 23rd: AAMC Sample = waaaaaayyy to easy compared to the real thing IMO. I still did really great though and felt very ready and confident for my upcoming exam!

When I suggest switching to strictly timed

  • You have finished content review and feel solid about major concepts
  • You have gotten comfortable with passage based questions
  • You have done a few to half of the practice exams you plan to take

Once all of the above applied to me I always timed my practice. At one point, I decided I needed to take a step back and do more focused work on CARS to see if I could fix some common mistakes I was making. For a week and half, I went to one passage a day and got very detailed in analyzing and reviewing the passage. Then I went back to my typical three passages a day. If something isn’t working, you should always be flexible. Don’t be afraid to take a step back to tackle your weak areas. This is how you get better!

Phase 3

May

Phew! By now I was about as burnt out as you are reading this super long post. I was ready to be DONE! Despite that, my new date actually made my last month of studying so much more doable. Originally, I was going to do all the AAMC material in four weeks and take a full length once a week. When my date got pushed back to June 19th, it gave me an extra two weeks to spread everything out.

Last ~6 weeks of studying:

  • Study 3 days (about 6 hours a day)
  • Take an AAMC FL
  • Take one day to review the FL
    * I only did this because by the time I got to the AAMC exams I didn’t miss many questions. I reviewed every single question, always. Don’t skip the questions you got right! Make sure you understand every question, why the right answer choices are right and why the wrong ones are wrong. Despite doing that it just didn’t take very long and I was only missing ~5-8 questions per section… sometimes less! If this weren’t the case I would have given myself at least two days to review a full length because reviewing them in detail is so important. This is how I feel about the science sections, but for CARS I actually never reviewed that section. The full length exams prior to AAMC material I reviewed CARS in major detail. For the AAMC full lengths I didn’t review CARS at all. I was able to review better on my normal study days since I only did 3 passages at a time.

Rinse, wash & repeat! My study days were exactly the same as I showed you in phase 2 with the only difference being that I was using AAMC material 90% of the time. They don’t have many psych/soc questions so I was still using UWorld to fill in the gaps. I also put more emphasis on actually using my flash cards. I was doing great reviewing my questions and making new flash cards, but I was terrible at actually doing them!

May 13th: AAMC FL #1 = I had a feeling based on my previous scores that I would be pleased with my score. It was my first real score though from the AAMC material and I knew there was no guarantee. Happily, I got a fantastic score and I was so pumped! It helped ease the burn out knowing I was doing well and right on track.

May 27th: AAMC FL#2 = same score as #1 which was annoying but I couldn’t complain.

June

Continued with the same study schedule and also started studying earlier everyday so I could get used to using my brain at 6 am. I was scheduled for the 6:30 am exam. I also made a big effort to do my flash cards every single day. I personally hate Anki, like really hate it. But take that with a grain of salt because I’m pretty sure A LOT of premeds love it! Try it for yourself and see if you like it. I wrote down all my flash cards and used a white board to practice memorizing biochem pathways.

Last two practice exams

June 5th: AAMC FL #3 = 1 point higher! It at least wasn’t lower and wasn’t the same so I was content and didn’t feel like I needed to change my study plan. I just kept doing the same thing to learn and solidifying the concepts I was commonly missing.

June 15th: AAMC FL #4 = the one I felt was the hardest and I did the worst on, but I got the score of my absolute dreams.

The real deal!

June 19th: Took the real thing! I didn’t have time to cram in a shortened practice exam so I didn’t worry about it. I finished all the sections just fine and don’t regret not practicing the shortened version. Definitely would have done it if I had time, but I was already burnt out as it was.

Hard work pays off <3

July 7th: Got my score! Honestly, I am the kind of person who will never be satisfied unless I do perfect (which isn’t even possible!). I got an amazing score to be proud of, but it was lower than my last AAMC practice exam. Either way it was several points higher than the MCAT score I got in 2016 and I was above the 90th percentile which was my ultimate goal.

Wanna get more tips for the MCAT?

  • Head to my post here to read 5 super helpful things I learned (and wish I knew) when I took the shortened MCAT.
  • Or read 9 helpful tips (besides studying) to feel incredibly prepared and confident for test day here.

1 thought on “My Step by Step Formula to Achieve My Dream MCAT Score”

  1. Brings me back to studying for the CPA exam. Way to go on your score! I’m sure all these tips will be so helpful to others!

Comments are closed.