From 501 Plateau To 513 On The MCAT: Lauren’s MCAT Success Story

When she first began prepping to take the MCAT, Lauren struggled with balancing her other commitments and extracurriculars with MCAT prep.

She decided to push her test date back, but unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that plan as well.

By the time she was able to schedule a date, Lauren found herself testing at about a 501 on practice exams. Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of content to review and unsure of the best way to increase her score, she ultimately decided to reach out to us for help.

With the help of an MCAT Mastery Mentor and with her own hard work and perseverance, Lauren was able to increase her score to a 513 on test day (516 on practice) for an overall score increase of 12 points! 

In this blog article, Lauren shares the details of exactly how she studied, what she did to increase her score so quickly, how she scheduled her prep, what strategies she used for each section, and so much more…

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Continue reading to learn more about Lauren's tips, and be sure to check out her interview on YouTube as well!

Psst! MCAT Mastery Team here 🙂


How I Got Started With Studying

I only sat for the MCAT once, and thankfully achieved a competitive score of 513. But, there are a few things I think are worth mentioning with regard to the subject of test timing and retaking. 

Originally, I had planned to take the exam a full year earlier than my actual date. This way, I would have had plenty of time to retake the exam if need be. When it came down to the wire, I knew I was not prepared. Between classes, extracurricular activities, and then covid, I kept pushing my exam date back so much so that a retake was not an option if I wanted to apply this cycle. 

On one hand, I regret not sticking to a study schedule early on and changing my plan. But, on the other hand, I would advise waiting to take the exam until you feel you are ready. Life happens. Being flexible is important. Moreover, give yourself enough time to be confident in your ability to conquer the test. This applies to those retaking the exam as well. Make sure you take time for yourself, maybe even step away from the exam, and then return to studying refreshed and with the belief that you can be successful. 

My lowest score was a 501 on one of the Princeton Review practice exams. In just under three months, I earned my highest score of 516 on AAMC practice test four. While there are many tips and tricks I have learned along my MCAT journey, there are three in particular I would emphasize. 

My Top Three Tips to Achieve a Competitive MCAT Score

#1 - Use a variety of study sources.

Textbooks: I read most of the Kaplan books and made study guides from them. This was time consuming, but worthwhile. It was nice to have something I knew I could take a quick look at to clarify my knowledge. I put song lyrics, inspirational quotes, funny pictures, and science jokes in different spots in my study packets just to amuse myself. 

Quizlet: I liked this particularly for P/S. I would flip through all the terms before bed, in the car, while waiting for dinner at a restaurant, etc. Some rote memorization is necessary for the MCAT, and I found Quizlet the easiest way to commit seemingly random facts to memory. 

Reddit: Be careful with this one. Good explanations for certain topics and pictures that make material stick, but also full of people talking about exam scores and how difficult the test is. I would stay away from the latter as you don't need any negativity during your prep. - AAMC materials. This one is a no-brainer. The practice exams are by far the most accurate predictors of performance on the real thing. I found the question packs challenging and felt a little discouraged by my score, but as long as you are understanding why the right answer is right then it is beneficial to do them. 

Practice: I highly recommend UWorld for practice questions. The explanations are fabulous and are a great resource if you have gaps in content. I wish I would have started using this tool earlier. 

MCAT Mastery: If you are reading this, then you can check this source off your list. I loved reading about other people’s experience taking the exam. The interviews seem to be very honest, but not discouraging. I also worked with a tutor which was a wonderful experience for me (keep reading for more about my experience with a tutor).

Prep Courses: I did purchase an expensive prep course and did not like it at all. Like I said, I was overwhelmed with content. It felt like the course said here’s two hundred videos, watch all of them and know everything. I did not find the live online group instruction beneficial either. I know myself as a student: I thrive learning one-on-one with an instructor. Hence, I signed up for MCAT Mastery. The rest is history.

#2 - Get a study buddy.

I was living at home during my MCAT prep, which unfortunately left me without my usual pre-med study group. Although my parents are smart people, they do not know the process of an action potential or the citric acid cycle off-hand. Luckily, my MCAT Mastery tutor was a great study buddy. Not only was I able to explain concepts to him to make sure my understanding was correct, but he was also able to provide me with strategies for interpreting difficult passages. Medicine is a team sport, so why shouldn’t the MCAT be one too!

#3 - Know how to keep calm.

Everyone taking the MCAT knows there is a lot riding on the exam. We all dream of wearing that white coat, and using our knowledge of science to help others heal. 

What I found helpful to mitigate stress was to envision myself being a doctor for five minutes a day. Imagine yourself opening up that amazing score. Imagine yourself getting an acceptance letter. You are probably tired of hearing people tell you to stay positive, but I really do think mindset and confidence have an impact on your score. 

You never know what could help...

What made me feel better when I was nervous was... studying more. I know this seems a little backwards, but flipping through something I was familiar with boosted my confidence. I was about two months into preparing when I got a score I would be happy with on exam day. This was a turning point for me because I felt like I could take a deep breath and pull back a little from studying. 

Avoiding Burnout

I wish I had gone a little easier on myself since the beginning, as at that point I was feeling the burnout start to creep in. Pacing yourself is critical! My biggest struggle was getting started. I felt very overwhelmed by the breath of content covered on the exam. My MCAT Mastery tutor  was helpful for overcoming this issue. We focused our first few sessions on high yield topics. After that, I noticed a huge improvement when doing practice questions. 

My MCAT Game Changers

1. Changing How I Viewed The MCAT

My advice would be to start with the big concepts and then fine tune your knowledge over time. I would be lying if I said I was completely calm, cool, and collected during my studies. I was not. But, what everyone should know is that being nervous is OK! The test does a good job of preparing you to work under stressful circumstances.

What do you do when the clock is ticking and you still are not certain of the correct answer? Do your best. As future doctors, we all need to practice making quick, informed decisions. Instead of looking at the MCAT as a barrier to your medical education, think of it as practice for your future. 

2. Specific MCAT Section Tips

Chem/ Phys

This was my lowest section to start, but actually ended up being tied with P/S for my highest score on test day. Go figure! Working with my MCAT Mastery Mentor Tim turned this section around. Physics was fine for me after I did some practice and memorized the necessary equations. Chemistry was my weak spot having not had exposure to it for two years. Once I mastered key topics like periodic trends, thermodynamics, and redox reactions, this section became significantly easier. I also devoted hours upon hours to doing just chemistry practice questions. Because it started out my lowest, I spent the most time studying for it, which clearly paid off in the end.

Bio/Biochem

Being a biology major and researcher, I felt comfortable with the majority of topics covered on the MCAT. Although I had to go back a re-memorize facts, having exposure to concepts before made B/B much easier. My advice for this section is to focus on practice questions. Even if you know facts about the body systems, the passages usually involve complicated experiments. Be able to keep track of cause and effect. Know the different experimental techniques and how to interpret results. This section had my cogs turning the most, not because I didn't know facts, but because it involves the most active reasoning in my opinion. 

CARS

CARS was my lowest section on exam day. It was also the section my score varied most in throughout prep, 126-129. I did not start out too bad, I think in part due to my philosophy background, so I was not overly concerned about CARS. I think the key to cracking this section is to do one passage daily for the duration of your exam prep. I wish I had been a little more rigorous with practicing for this section. Because there was no substantial content, I devoted less time to it than the other sections. I did notice that my performance was heavily dependent on passage length and topic, with preference for philosophy over others. It was fun for me to see concepts I knew from my studies appear in passages, but I think we can all agree there are some stories that are just painful to get through. I know this is the hardest section for many people, but engaging with the material and pretending it is interesting helped me keep focused. 

Psych/Soc

P/S was my favorite section to study for. The material was not nearly as complex in my opinion as B/B or C/P, so it felt like a break. I also found the passages easier to comprehend. That being said, it was the section I had the least amount of prior knowledge in. Because I didn't have much to work with, I went through the Kaplan text methodically and made my own chapter summaries and Quizlet flashcards. I found that knowing the definition of the answer choices, both the right and the wrong options, makes this section a breeze. I would say P/S is the most content heavy section, so a combination of memorizing the famous scientists with their theories and experiments as well as applying such facts while doing practice questions is the way to go.


A special thanks to Lauren for sharing her story and MCAT insights with us! To hear more from Lauren, you can check out her top-scorer interview here.

Lauren's story shows that you CAN recover , and there are many resources out there to help you do it. Whether it be reading our success stories, working one-on-one with a tutor, relying on a support system in your life, or even taking advice from people who have taken the exam already, find out what works for you! 

Each student is different, and it just matters that you get there in the end. Remember what you're working towards and why you're doing this!

The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors

Check out another MCAT Success Story below!


The MCAT Mastery Team

About the Author

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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