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 Donald who prepared for the exam using Next Step Test Prep – and scored a 515 on the exam!
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where are you in college? What are you studying?
Donald: I am from Newport Beach, California, currently enrolled at Drexel University in my senior year, studying Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry.
Accepted: Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?
1. I am a former all-American lacrosse player and was recruited to play at Drexel.
2. I recently developed an interest in rock climbing.
3. I enjoy using computers, and program in several different languages.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience taking the MCAT2015? Were there any surprises? What were your most and least favorite parts of the exam? How does it differ from the older version of the MCAT exam?
Donald: After sitting for the last offering of the old 2014 MCAT, I decided to try and improve my score by taking the newly formatted 2015 MCAT in May.
The new 2015 MCAT was very different, but I felt most of the changes actually benefit a well prepared student. The passages were longer, and almost exclusively based upon experimental design. This concerned a lot of people, but I felt this was one of the best changes to the MCAT because students are no longer tested on their ability to memorize. Rather, most of the answers can be derived from reasoning with material presented in the passage.
Examinees are also given more time per question on the new MCAT, which is consistent with the theme of critical reasoning vs. memorization. On the old exam every section was a rush, and you often only had a minute or so to read a question and make a decision. I feel that the time extension is crucial for students that like to take notes or scribble down pathways as a part of their problem solving process.
My thoughts on the new MCAT are that the playing field has been leveled, students no longer can get away with reading a couple textbooks, memorizing a bunch of definitions, and getting lucky on an exam that tests a fraction of the content in the AAMC MCAT outline. The new 2015 MCAT requires a much more holistic studying process; students must have a solid background in content review, combined with heavy practice in experimental design and critical reasoning. The new exam emphasizes the ability to learn new content in the passage, and apply it answering questions.
My least favorite section of the 2015 MCAT was the new CARS section, which was almost identical to the old Verbal Reasoning section. Although examinees get more time per question, the passages were longer and the content is boring as ever. In fact the only passages I ever found interesting were those based on the natural sciences, which are no longer tested on the new exam. Staying focused throughout the entire exam is key, and the CARS section definitely required the most effort to stay engaged start to finish.
Accepted: What are your top 3 MCAT tips?
1. Get a solid foundation in content, and then do as many experimentally-based passages in as many different books as possible. Get comfortable with descriptive statistics, i.e. reading tables, graphs, and understand the basics of typical molecular bio assays and organic chemistry lab techniques.
2. Simulate test day conditions whenever possible, wake up early and begin at 8:00am, take only the designated breaks, and take as many full-length exams as necessary until you build up the stamina to concentrate for the whole exam come test day. One month from test day you should adjust your sleep schedule so you are fully awake early in the morning.
3. Diversify with respect to study materials – even the best test prep companies have gaps in content. This is the most important advice I can give: read through one full set of prep books and then skim/take notes on as many other books as you can. This is beneficial in a number of ways. First you will see a lot of the same content, but written in a different context which will help reinforce material you already know. Second, you will see content that was not covered in previous books you have read. Third, will be able to answer questions written by a wide range of authors, which is very important because only the AAMC writes like the AAMC, and no single author will be able to fully prepare you for the unique style of writing seen on the actual MCAT.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience using Next Step Test Prep?
Donald: Almost all of the pre-meds that I know took classroom style MCAT prep courses…and gave mixed reviews regarding satisfaction. Unaware of alternatives, I also took a classroom style MCAT prep course through Princeton Review, and I was extremely unsatisfied for a number of reasons. One thing that these prep companies try to do is push an extremely generic study agenda onto students that all have different strengths and weaknesses. This is a recipe for disaster, and what you end up getting is a series of watered down lectures, pulled exclusively and near-verbatim from their test prep books.
Next Step is unique in that they have developed a teaching model that contrasts everything wrong with other major test prep companies. Everyone is given one-on-one attention from an experienced tutor, allowing the students’ strengths and weaknesses to be identified early in the study process. A customized study plan is then put together for each student to fill in the gaps.
Next Step is also unique in that they don’t force their study materials onto their students. One thing you notice in other test prep courses is that tutors absolutely must promote the materials of the company. This is extremely detrimental to the student because it gives you a false sense of security, thinking that if you complete their set of books you are ready to ace the MCAT.
Next Step has great test prep books, and I am a huge advocate of their practice exams and passages, but the one of the most beneficial aspects of my experience was the fact that my tutor encouraged me to read and practice with as many different books as I could get my hands on, and this made all the difference.
Accepted: What were some of their features that most impressed you?
Donald: Next Step has prepared 5 full-length practices exams administered through a user interface identical to what is seen on test day, and the practice exam passages are extremely similar in terms of the content and level of difficulty that is seen on the real exam.
I was also very impressed by Next Step’s review material. Most of the major test prep companies rushed their products to the market resulting in huge content gaps, even worse these companies rarely change their material and continue to sell flawed products. Next Step on the other hand is constantly updating and revising their practice material, and I felt that their books were the most accurate in terms of the depth of content that is seen on test day.
As I mentioned before, I also feel that one-on-one tutoring for every student is the most unique and beneficial aspect of what Next Step offers.
Accepted: Did you use any other MCAT prep resources?
Donald: Yes, I used many different resources as a part of my test prep. In addition to the Next Step content review books and practice exams, I also used the Kaplan 2015 textbooks, Lippincott’s Biochemistry textbook, the Princeton Review Science Workbook, the OpenStax Sociology textbook, Exam Krackers 101 Verbal Passages, and some of the Khan academy videos.
Accepted: When and where do you plan on applying to med school? Have you completed any other med school admissions components?
Donald: I am currently in the process of interviewing for admission to medical school in 2016. I completed the AMCAS common app and was verified in July, and I finished all of my secondary applications in early August. I am applying to a wide range of schools, such as the California UC’s, USC, Baylor, Jefferson, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Emory, U of Miami, FAU and several others.
Thank you Donald for sharing your experience with us – we wish you loads of luck!