When she first took the MCAT in her junior year of undergrad, Annabella didn't know how to study for the MCAT and ended up scoring a 496.
A year later, she gave herself 10 weeks to study while working full time.
3-4 weeks in, her score hadn't really improved. However in the next 6 weeks she managed to improve her score by 19 points and achieve an awesome 515 MCAT score!
How did she do it? What did she do differently the second time?
We're about to find out 🙂
In this post we're going to something a little different from our normal MCAT success stories. Instead of starting off from AFTER she got her impressive score, we're going to do a little flashback to BEFORE she even wrote the MCAT!
When Annabella first joined the MCAT Mastery Community, here's what she said when we asked her what was frustrating her the most about her MCAT prep situation...
"I feel like I just can't find the right answers even if I understand the entire passage. I feel like I either understand the content but don't understand the questions or I understand the questions but don't know the content from the passage to answer them. There's just so much I feel like I need to know and I don't really know where to start. I'm confident in my intellectual ability to get my score up but I can't seem to really do it on my own and I don't know what I'm missing.
In general the entire thing is frustrating, I know I'm a relatively smart person but my scores are not reflecting that at all. I don't want to do anything other than go to medical school and become a doctor but I'm super nervous I won't be able to get in. I'm hoping to increase my score by at least 14 points."
We wanted to share this because we know on some level this might sound familiar to you. On some level, we know you can relate to these emotions and these thoughts that are also fueling your anxiety every time you remember your dream of being a doctor and the obstacle in the way.
We also wanted to share this to bring some optimism in your life. Annabella made it through all of this - she achieved her goal score, and you can too.
In fact, she joined the community and wrote these frustrations when there were only 6 weeks left before her MCAT! Take that in... in 6 weeks, she figured it out!
In 6 weeks, she went from that state of frustration, nervousness, and not knowing how she was going to make it work...
Now, let's come back to the present and get to the good stuff 😛 To start off, Annabella gave us some background information and her top MCAT study advice for you.
Later in this article we'll find out how she studied for specific sections like P/S, CARS, and C/P. (Btw, C/P started off as her worst section and she ended up with a 129 in it! Be sure to read her tips for it!)
"I originally took the MCAT during the winter of my junior year of undergrad, and I definitely just did not understand how important of a test it was and how to study for it, and ended up getting a 496. I was thinking of applying to med schools and go straight into it from undergrad, but I had to change my entire plan.
I graduated the following spring (a little over a year later) and and then I decided it was a good time to start studying and take the test again.
Once I realized what I really had to do, I was able to actually put in all of my effort, even with a full time research position, because I knew that it mattered.
My best advice is to not get discouraged by a bad score, use it as a learning experience rather than punish yourself for it, but make sure you actually use it to learn.
Even if you have to change your plan for getting to med school, it's not the end of the world. It's better to truly do it right rather than just settle. It's a hard test and it's a long process but it is definitely doable if your heart is in it."
For a lot of top scorers, it takes an entire MCAT experience to realize what's going to be required to dominate this exam.
The MCAT often goes underestimated the first time around and we hope stories like this help students in our community avoid making similar mistakes.
Notice how most of her insights revolve around mindset...
"Putting in all of my effort..."
"I knew that it mattered..."
"[Don't] get discouraged by a bad score..."
"It is definitely doable if your heart's in it..."
Every retaker who gets a competitive MCAT score has this shift in mindset that goes something like...
"I'm going to give this my all and no matter what happens, I'm going to beat this exam."
It's not coming from an angry place, but a place of 'knowing'. A mindset of "I was born to be a doctor". It's a confident, determined mindset. When you have this mindset, there's no room for discouragement, only reflection and moving forward smarter and better.
The MCAT is going to test your resilience, and you'll have to get through that with conviction. This is the mindset we've seen over and over; "It's going to happen, I got this."
Top scorers don't let anything convince them otherwise. Even when they're getting low scores. When they do get low scores, they take action. What type of action?
No, not studying more and harder - that will burn you out, which will get you more discouraged because you still won't see as much progress as you should after exerting that much mental and physical energy.
Instead they take action on figuring out how to study smarter, more effectively, with better strategies. They take action on learning how to reflect and identify their weaknesses that are holding them back.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out those weaknesses on your own so you need someone who's been through it to do it for you. Which is why Annabella and so many other top scorers benefit by working with an MCAT tutor.
Next Annabella shed some light on the resources she used, how she used them, how long she studied for, and how she managed to increase her score so quickly...
"To study for my MCAT I gave myself 10 weeks, not intentionally but I didn't realize there were no October or November dates for the test so when I signed up for the very last date in September, I only had 10 weeks until then. However for the last two weeks of my studying I stopped my job to only study.
I got the self-paced, online Kaplan test prep and after about 3 or 4 weeks of trying to do that, my score really hadn't improved. I started googling a bunch of ways to improve my score and I came across MCAT Mastery, I pretty immediately bought the guide and then shortly after found they had tutors.
I got sessions with a tutor and she helped me so, so much. She was really able to understand where I was getting stuck and why and then how to help. Having someone to show how they went through each passage, what they highlighted, or what they wrote down helped me a lot to actually figure out what to focus on in passages and boosted my score a ton.
I wasn't sure how it would go since it was through a video chat but I had my first session and she and I went through what I had been doing, what I needed to accomplish, what my goal score was, what sections I was best and worst at, and really established a calendar for the rest of my weeks. After that session I felt a lot better about planning and having someone so nice and understanding behind me.
From then we met once a week, and during the hours I would pull up the AAMC question banks and we would go through multiple passages in different sections and she would really go through what steps she took to read the passage, read the question, read the answers, and bring everything together to understand it and get the answer correct.
She was very understanding of where I was getting tripped up and was more than willing to go through things multiple times if I needed it. She was able to really emphasize how important going through the passage was and understanding the details in it to bring it all together, which is something I was continuously getting tripped up on. Although it was only 5 hours total with her I was able to raise my score 19 points in about 6 weeks from all the tips she gave me and the calendar we planned together!
The MCAT Mastery strategy guide as well had a lot of helpful tips, I really liked what they said about still doing what you liked and trying to meditate or at least do something to calm down and relieve stress. The MCAT is a very stressful test but being able to take an occasional day off to destress and see friends helps immensely.
Annabella also followed up with...
"I think the most important thing was really utilizing the AAMC practice materials and really using those to understand/practice how to read through the passages and pick out the important information."
Knowing how to use AAMC practice materials is probably one of the most highest leverage actions you can take to boost your score. There are too many students who just waste these valuable resources. Top scorers make sure to squeeze all the value out of these resources and knowing how to do that is the first step!
Which explains why working with an MCAT tutor who could could observe how she was going through practice passages, spot her weaknesses and strengths, and then use those to show her the most efficient and smartest ways to go through those passages, was so incredibly valuable for her score increase.
Just getting a few sessions with a tutor to understand how to think through and leverage AAMC practice material is probably one of the smartest investments students can make in their MCAT prep.
Moving on, Annabella gave us some advice on her highest scoring section, Psych/Soc!
"I think this section can be really hard if you don't know the terminology especially since there's so much, but taking the time to go through it all and understand at least the majority of it can boost a score in this section lots.
In the free online gems section on MCAT Mastery VIP Member's area there is a document I printed out and went through the entire thing making notes and highlighting, and then read through it again at least 5 times in the few days leading up to my test.
I also downloaded the audios of the Khan Academy videos and listened to those while at work during the days, and on top of that I would occasionally listen to The MCAT Podcast. I mainly focused on the psych/soc podcasts because it's an easier subject to just listen to and I think all of that really, really helped."
She also gave us her top method for tackling C/P, in which she scored in the 92nd percentile!
"I think because C/P started as my worst I just really focused on practice problems and I made quizlet flashcards of different equations that were essential to know.
I also made sure to go through chapters of the Kaplan books about topics I really didn’t know. I think the most important part though is practice problems!!"
Then we also asked her about CARS, her lowest section. What happened and what would she do differently if she could do it over?
"I scored lowest in CARS, although on some practice tests I had done better (how annoying). I think that I just panicked a little and started changing answers of some questions I was super sure about, but really I should've just left them alone.
I think the most important thing for CARS is just so much practice. Doing at least 2 passages a day from the AAMC question banks and taking as long as needed to go through them just to make sure you are confident about the answer you choose and then actually getting it right."
A lot of Annabella's advice hovers around mindset and practice...
We know a lot of students say they've been practicing, but still haven't seen scores improve. If you're in this situation, it's because the way you're practicing is lacking.
Everyone thinks that 'practice makes perfect', but we're strong believers in 'perfect practice makes perfect'.
There's a lot that goes into the best way to practice specifically for exams like the MCAT, which you're going to see a lot of in med-school. Our advice is to invest in finding your best practice methods NOW - when it's most important, when it's geared towards your biggest barrier to med-school.
By practicing with an MCAT tutor by her side, going through passages, questions, and answer choices together multiple times, Annabella raised her score by 19 points in 6 weeks to a 515! Of course, there were other benefits such as planning an optimal schedule, the support, and so on...
But we believe the majority chunk of that incredible score increase was due the practice sessions!
If you want to work with an MCAT tutor and raise your score, you can sign up or learn more here.
Lastly, we hope you found this MCAT case study valuable and we're really thankful to Annabella and all the other top scorers who take out the time to give back and share their MCAT study and testing insights with our community.
We know you're smart and we know that even if your MCAT scores aren't reflecting that, you have what it takes. We know like Annabella, you want nothing else but to get into med-school so you can become a doctor...
You will. Stay positive. Stay confident. Get your mindset to where we discussed earlier...
You're not learning some advanced science material. Anyone can do well on the MCAT - just get your mentality right and get your study technique right. That's it.
And if you're struggling with ANY of those things, we're here for you.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors
Each case study will bring new tips, new strategies, and revive your motivation to dominate the MCAT...
Every year MCAT Mastery helps thousands of premeds in achieving their target MCAT score goal so they can get into the med-school of their dreams. The dedicated team at MCAT Mastery accomplishes this by conducting ongoing research and paid interviews with 90+ percentile MCAT scorers, to bring you the most credible, most proven MCAT prep strategies on the planet.
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