Are you suffering from a case of MCAT anxiety? We’ve got the prescription for you in this week’s podcast episode.
Meet our guest. [0:30]
Meet Bryan Schnedeker, National MCAT Director for Next Step Test Prep and a standardized test expert. He scored 44 on the old MCAT and a perfect 180 on the LSAT, and has worked in test prep for more than 20 years. He’s been with Next Step Test Prep since 2012. Welcome!
What does Next Step Test Prep do? [1:10]
They’re the world leader in 1 on 1 MCAT prep—they focus on individual tutoring. They also offer full length practice tests and a question bank.
What distinguishes NSTP from other prep services? [2:00]
Their philosophy and focus on individual tutoring. Other services focus on group courses, and if they offer tutoring, it’s an extra. At Next Step, individual tutoring is the entire business – so even their publications are built around that model (customizing for individual needs).
NSTP offers both content review and test strategy. [4:50]
Most students want to focus on test strategy, but NSTP also provides content review. Everything is customized to the student’s needs.
How have they changed for the new MCAT? [6:20]
The cornerstone of good MCAT prep is AAMC practice exams, and with the new exam, that resource was going away, so Next Step revamped and created new materials, including full length practice exams. They also developed new materials for the new exam sections (biochem, psychology).
How much time should students budget for MCAT prep? [8:20]
It depends on the student.
On average, 2-3 months at the low end, 3 ½ to 4 months at the high end. So about the length of a college semester. And the time per week can vary from about a part-time job (20 hours a week) all the way up to a full time job-level commitment.
A really strong student who scored high on their first practice test will need less time to prepare. And some students – such as non-traditional students who haven’t taken as many courses, or people who struggle with standardized tests – will need more time.
The new MCAT [11:15]
The new exam has more material you need to be familiar with, especially in fields like biochem and psychology. He’s started advising people to take a year of psychology before taking the exam.
His recommended timeline for students [12:40]
Start MCAT prep right after New Year’s (before spring semester starts). Then you can take the exam in April. It takes a month to get the scores back – so you’ll be ready to apply in the spring.
Many people used to take the exam after sophomore year, leaving a fallback option for a retake if needed. Now that it’s necessary to take biochem, that timeline has moved – the window would probably be closer to January of junior year, which would give a fallback to retake in the spring if necessary. [13:55]
Will the additional coursework lead to more people taking gap years? [15:10]
Potentially – they’re seeing a trend at Next Step with their tutor applicants taking gap years.
Is it too late to apply in the current cycle if you haven’t taken the MCAT? [16:55]
It depends! Take a diagnostic test and see where you’re starting from. If you have a strong starting point (say, at least 507) and only need to raise it a couple of points, then that’s reasonable.
They get a lot of calls in June/July from applicants saying they rushed and got a disappointing score, and now need to take a gap year and prep for a summer exam. So if you’re not ready to take the exam, it’s better to wait and take it when you’re prepared.
Remember that it’s disempowering to submit multiple scores – that lets the school decide what to do with your scores. If you do as well as you can and only give them one score, you keep more control.
How to prep if you’re retaking the test [23:05]
Start prepping ASAP – don’t let yourself forget anything. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the second time will be easier, because it isn’t.
Who should retake? [26:25]
Don’t retake just if you’re unhappy with your score – it’s not about ego. A student should retake if: 1) something happened on your test day that threw you off (illness, some other once-off occurrence); 2) you know something was wrong with your prep (you realized you were very unprepared for one section); 3) you realize your score is too low to get in.
Retaking on a decent score is seen as an error in judgment and can send a weird signal to admissions committees.
With the new MCAT, will factors like GPA be weighed more heavily? [31:20]
Adcoms are structurally conservative bodies – they’re risk averse. So when there’s a new measure, they’re going to look at things they know more solidly, especially at the beginning. He’s heard from some committees that they’re not weighing the psychology scores yet (they’re still gathering data so that they’ll know how to consider those scores in context).
What’s next for Next Step? [33:30]
Expanding to 1-on-1 tutoring for the DAT and PCAT. NSTP also offers tutoring for GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. This summer, they’re launching a self-paced MCAT course (a self-study option). It will have hundreds of hours of videos, plus live help and live office hours.
The most common error MCAT students make [36:40]
A failure to fully review their practice. If you spend 7 hours taking a practice exam, you need to spend 5-15 hours reviewing it fully – every question! Prep is not just about fixing bad habits and mistakes; it’s about reinforcing good ones.
His advice to applicants [39:15]
Don’t take the test until you’re ready!
• Next Step Test Prep, one-on-one MCAT Tutoring
• The Results Are In: Analyzing Your MCAT Diagnostic Exam, live webinar
• The New MCAT Topic that Nobody is Talking About
• The New MCAT: What’s Hype, What’s Real, and What You Can Do Today
• The Results Are In: Analyzing Your MCAT Diagnostic Exam, slide deck
• MCAT Scores, MCAT Prep, and #MCAT2015
• MCAT Mania: How to Prepare
• Learning By Osmosis: Premeds, Med Students Take It All In!
• How to Upload Medical Terminology To Your Permanent Memory
• MCAT Expertise + Harvard MBA Experience