This interview is part of a new series, featuring interviews with MCAT2015 test takers, offering readers an inside look at the exam experience and some of the top MCAT test prep services out there. And now for a chat with Rachel who scored a 26 on the old MCAT and a 515 on the new exam.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? When did you graduate?
Rachel: I grew up in the Twin Cities and attended the University of Minnesota, graduating with a B.S. in Child Psychology and a Spanish Studies minor.
Accepted: As a non-science major, what steps are you taking to boost your pre-med knowledge and requirements?
Rachel: As a non-science major, I have taken several steps to prepare for medical school. One major step has been catching up on my prerequisite science courses during the last two years.
I have also found several opportunities to gain exposure to medicine, which include volunteering in a hospital, working as a clinical research coordinator, and shadowing physicians in different medical specialties.
Currently, I am completing a phlebotomy program in order to gain meaningful, hands-on patient care experience.
These steps have all been helpful in getting to know the field and building skills and knowledge that will be an important foundation for a medical education.
Accepted: As someone who has taken both the old MCAT and the new MCAT, you must have insights into some of the changes. How do the two exams compare? Likes/dislikes?
Rachel: The old and new versions of the MCAT are more alike than they are different. Both are challenging and require serious preparation.
The new MCAT is a bit longer, so it was really helpful to take several full-length practice exams under the time constraints and in conditions as close to the real exam situation as possible. I like the new social science section, in part because of my educational background, and also because I believe this is an important aspect of medicine. The content in the other sections is pretty comparable.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience with Princeton Review? Why did you choose this company? What were some of their features that most impressed you?
Rachel: For both exams, I chose to study on my own. I used the Princeton Review complete study package for the new MCAT and found it to be very helpful. The material is presented in a clear manner, and I think the content is a bit more in-depth than in some other prep resources.
Since I was studying the first edition for the new exam, there were a few minor errors in the books, but corrections were promptly provided on their website. The online practice exams that came with my package were invaluable. They are formatted like the real exam and add more opportunities to really practice applying one’s knowledge.
Accepted: Did you use any other test prep resources?
Rachel: I used ExamKrackers when studying for the old MCAT and also referred back to some of their materials to supplement my preparation for the new MCAT. I would say this is a great resource for students who have a strong background in the relevant subjects and want more of a short and to-the-point review.
For the new MCAT, I continued to use the Verbal Reasoning review book (now the CARS section), which offers practical tips for performing quick problem-solving and efficiently tackling the written passages.
The 1001 series is great to use for lots of practice questions.
Accepted: Do you plan on retaking the exam?
Rachel: I am still waiting to see how medical schools approach the new MCAT scores before I decide for certain whether or not to retake the exam. At this time, I feel satisfied with my score and my significant improvement between two attempts.
Accepted: When and where do you plan on applying to med school? Have you completed any other med school admissions components?
Rachel: I plan on applying to both MD and DO schools during next year’s application cycle. I first applied to medical schools in 2014, so I have been through the application process once before.
Accepted: What do you think went wrong last application cycle? What changes will you make this time around to strengthen your candidacy?
Rachel: During the 2014 application cycle, I did not take the MCAT until August. In order to keep moving through the application process, I submitted my applications before my MCAT score was released. It was a bit of a gamble, but I was eager to apply and decided to go for it. When my score was released, it was close to the average and wasn’t competitive enough.
Looking back, I would advise others in a similar situation to take their time and wait to apply until they are truly ready. It is a long and costly process that may not be worth the investment if you are unsure about the strength of your application, especially with a critical component like GPA or MCAT score.
As I look forward to the next application cycle, I hope that my candidacy will be strengthened by my second MCAT score along with additional science coursework, research involvement, and patient care experience.
Accepted: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Rachel: For MCAT preparation, my best advice is to practice, practice, practice! There is never an end in sight to the material that can be reviewed, but application of concepts and being able to complete each section within the time limits are essential. Take a full-length practice exam early on to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
Whether you take a prep course or prepare on your own, following a strict study schedule and setting daily or weekly goals helps keep you on track. When the application cycle opens, begin the process early and give yourself plenty of time to carefully complete all of the components and gather your letters of recommendation.
And one more thing… Going through the application cycle can be stressful and may wear down your confidence as an applicant. As you move through the process, try to remember the bigger picture and why medicine matters to you. Remember that you have unique qualities, strengths, and experiences that set you apart from others. Surround yourself with the support of those who believe in you, too!
Good luck, everyone! We’ll get there!
You can follow Rachel’s story by following her on Twitter at @0neCuriousCat. Thank you Rachel for sharing your experience with us – we wish you loads of luck!
• The New MCAT What’s Hype, What’s Real and What You Can Do Today [on-demand webinar]
• 4 Things Your MCAT Score Says About You
• Your MCAT Score and GPA [Resources to help you shine!]