Advice for the MCAT from an MCAT expert [Show Summary]
The MCAT is one really tough exam, and must be approached with careful and deliberate preparation. In this episode, Megan Galvin, National Director of the MCAT for Examkrackers for the last 12 years, takes you through everything from how much time you need to prep, to the way you should prep, and how you know when you are ready to take the MCAT.
Megan Galvin of Examkrackers lays out her tips for crushing the MCAT [Show Notes]
Our guest today is Megan Galvin, who since 2007 has served as the National Director of the MCAT for Examkrackers, one of the most respected MCAT prep companies around. There are few people who know more about the MCAT and prepping for it than Megan. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that it’s been around 5 years since Megan was last on Admissions Straight Talk, but I’m very happy she can join us today.
Megan, we last spoke a little over 5 years ago way back at episode 47, which aired on March 27, 2014. How has MCAT prep evolved since the introduction of what was then something very new and scary: MCAT 15, which is now old hat. [2:29]
Overall it is a much better test and students are earning much higher scores. I absolutely feel it is hitting a lot of areas students will do well in, so I am very excited about it. Students are scoring 35-45% higher than prior to 15, which allows me to work with them with much more ease. A range of 508-512 is what I am seeing now.
Let’s turn to the MCAT itself and how Examkrackers recommends that students prepare for it. When should pre-meds plan to take the MCAT? [4:20]
I like to talk to students around sophomore year so they can anticipate what is on the horizon. When all pre-reqs are completed that is an indicator they are ready and should start preparing. If there are students who don’t want to take a gap year then definitely they should take the test in their junior year. Every student is different, but what I do is offer an assessment of each person coming in, which gives me an opportunity to talk about their individual circumstances. I see students who are freshmen at conferences all the time, which is great, but earlier on with freshmen/sophomores, I advise them to do really well in their classes, get a strong GPA, take on leadership roles, in the summer do shadowing/scribe work and build their resume. After pre-reqs are complete, then focus on the MCAT.
How much time should students allow for MCAT prep? [9:01]
A normal student needs between 10-14 weeks that is exclusively for test prep, so 5-6 days a week and 3-4 hours a day. I don’t believe it should be all content for several weeks and then start doing practice exams – you should be doing the practice exams throughout. We do a diagnostic with students when they start because they need to know how the language of the test feels, and when they have a meltdown or a brain freeze. I have people do 2-4 chapters of reading a week in order to retain content. I also have them do 30 minute mini practice exams and then review to understand what they get wrong, and then do full length practice exams every other weekend. I also want students to do several different chapters each day – don’t focus on just one topic.
OK. Let’s say I’ve taken a course and studied or prepared on my own. How do I know I’m ready? [13:06]
Trusting your gut is really important. The full length practice exams don’t lie, so while I am working with a student I talk to them about what their strategy should be after taking some diagnostics. A lot of times students think they are going to miraculously do better, and that just doesn’t happen. There are also many students who come to me and say, “I’m taking it in May, and then will be taking it again in July,” so they want me to enable them to take the exam again. I tell them, “Take it one time. Do you want to carry the stress and anxiety into a second exam?” Aim for one time, and if you are not ready, do not do it yet.
Is there any one section of the MCAT that tends to trip up more students than others? [16:14]
CARS. Some students are afraid of it because it’s not in their native language, and even those whose native language is English can’t seem to grasp what is going on and how it is tested. It is very unique. You are given four answer choices and any one of them could be correct, it’s all a matter of perception. It is often the most vague answer that is correct. It is not a matter of regurgitating. You need to be in control of the exam; do not let the exam control you.
What are the most common mistakes in MCAT prep that you see applicants making? [19:38]
We are all caught up on social media and message boards, and while everyone’s goal is to get the highest score, everyone’s learning style is so different. I cannot encourage students enough to take the time to research what you are trusting your future to. How are the books laid out? What is the course format like? So many students often don’t know what they invested in, and I talk to at least 10 students a day who have made the wrong choice. What I tell them is, “Let’s take a few breaths and before you go into more MCAT prep think about what works for you. Really investigate the choices to find the best fit for your way of learning.” Some are looking for the most affordable way or are very disciplined, so the self-study program is the right choice, but others need the accountability. If so, you need to be in a formal course. Tutoring is tough – it is very effective IF the student knows what the problems are.
What are your top 3 MCAT prep tips? [25:44]
#1 Take it seriously. Really know who you are and the expectations.
#2 It is a process. The saying, “It is a marathon and not a sprint” is so true in this case. You need to train to get the results you want. There is not a quick fix.
#3 Students need to be accountable (“I fell short and didn’t do this”), and need to be very genuine. If you are not putting in the work, you are not going to get the results. You get what you give.
What about tips for the day before and the day of the MCAT exam? [28:10]
We encourage “Zen Week” to deal with the mental side of things. We feel you are physically prepared – it’s been a rigorous 10 weeks – but what about mentally. We ask them to focus on positive thoughts, so if your goal is a 516, write that on sticky notes or in lipstick on your mirror – visualize it. A week or two weeks before taking the exam, there should be no more googling, no message boards, no last minute questions of the day, as that is one of the biggest mistakes students make, second guessing themselves. Sleep well. Eat well. Don’t start any new exercise routine, do anything off the wall, or binge drink. Keep a routine, reflect on what you’ve done for the last 10 weeks, and recognize you are taking it because it is earned. Focus on the positives – mind over matter.
There are lots of test prep companies out there. How does Examkrackers differ? [31:02]
The fact that we are absolutely in the top tier even with the small size of our company is impressive. We deliver a quality product, and we are in touch. There is a lot of personal attention students get, and we know our students very well. We have smaller classes which allows for students to really connect with their instructor. We are also very in touch with what AAMC is testing, and are doing rewrites when necessary.
What’s your most popular offering? [32:54]
Right now it is the live interactive class. We are not scripted and we are all very different with how we teach. No one will ever teach the same lesson the same way, and we have a lot of different personalities. In the online classes we have a senior instructor and also a senior instructor who is a moderator as the class is going on. When warranted the moderator will interrupt. If several students have questions on the same topic, it is important to take a step back and review some more. The classes are done in two hour increments, and every night is something different. We are constantly reviewing and doing lectures in a short amount of time.
Is there an online forum for students going through the coursework that have questions? [35:09]
On Sunday night students are invited to office hours, which is a virtual classroom and they can ask any questions they have from that week. Every Friday students get sent on demand recordings of all the classes to have in their arsenal.
What do you see in your crystal ball for your MCAT prep and Examkrackers? [36:34]
We are constantly working to identify with who our students are. Our social media has really bumped up, which I am really pleased with. Outreach and informative sessions are very heavy. We do a webinar every other week. We also do on the first Sunday of every month an admissions chat, so we are trying to keep our hand on what is moving, keeping them vested and interested. I have a feeling it will ultimately move to everything being online and incorporating self-study. This gives a nice flexibility.
What would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t ask? [38:15]
I think MCAT prep is doable from any background, so if you want to do it, go for it!
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