Any tips for improving MCAT scores (from practice)

I just took my first full length practice today and my score was horrible… I’m too embarassed to say what it was.
Does anybody have any tips for improving the score?
Supposedly it was one of the easier tests that I took… which is really really sad given my score.
I didn’t have any issues with time, but there was a lot of information that I didn’t know so I did a lot of guessing.
HELP! the test is 3 weeks from today!
Part of my problem is that I don’t have very much time to study with the horrible courseload I am taking this semester.
I have a Kaplan book and Audio Osmosis… and I’ll try to step up with both of those more than I have.
I need to increase my scores substantially… at least to the point that I won’t be embarassed to send them to schools… although if I get below what I want, I will retake the exam in August.
I did reasonably well in the verbal reasoning section… although I’d like to improve my score there… it was physical sciences and biological sciences that killed me… which is sad… really sad.
TIA,
Andrea

Andrea, I’m sorry for your disappointment! I have questions: why is there a lot of information you’re not familiar with? Are you taking prerequisites right now? (for example, are you in 2d semester of o-chem and physics or something like that?) conversely, are your prereqs really old and you’ve been using MCAT prep to try and review old information? (and I apologize, you’ve probably discussed these specifics in other posts but I don’t recall your details)





You don’t want to hear this, but three weeks out from the MCAT, it is going to be virtually impossible to improve your test score by much. The best thing for you to do at this point would be to aim for August instead and figure out how to take lots and lots of practice tests prior to that. People rarely score more than a very few points higher on the real thing than on their last practice tests, and I catch your drift that your score wasn’t within a few points of a presentable score.





Why not take it in April for “practice” and again in August? Well, if your intent is to apply this year you do NOT want a bad MCAT score on your application even if you indicate that you’re sitting it again in August. Better for your application to be MCAT-less when it arrives. And you can practice just as well, and more cheaply, by taking the AAMC sample tests under test-like conditions. There is nothing magical about taking it in a room with a bunch of other people.





I’m afraid you’ve been sabotaged by your prep strategy - I have no idea if you’ve been doing it on your own or what, but your first full-length test should have been several weeks ago. Unfortunately you’ve now found out that you need to make a major adjustment in your study strategy, without the time to implement that change. (and I’m not really saying this for you, as it’s a little late to realize that now, but for others who are looking ahead to learn how to do their own test prep)





I’m sorry, I wish I could be more positive but under these circumstances, I can’t even be wishy-washy. Taking the April MCAT if your latest test score isn’t close to your goal is a waste of time and money, and it could be harmful to your eventual goal.

I have to agree with Mary on this it is waaay too late to have started taking practice exams. So I would for sure postpone until August unless you are some genius that can improve a lot in little time.

Mary is right DO not take the MCAT unless you are ready.
All of the research Iv’e done on this says the 1st score follows you if you retake it. I look it at this way, everything you can do to make the first impression of you the most positive will get you to where you want to be, the less negatives the better. Wait till Aug and study study till then and wow the AdCom with your great score!
Bill.

Well, let’s see…
I’ve been taking a prep class for the last 2.5 months. It was the class’s choice (actually the leader’s choice) to wait until today to take the exam. I have been taking random practice passages as part of the course since the beginning, of January.
My biology pre-reqs are 13+ years old. I am, however, taking a physiology course that is helping me to review. I am in my 2nd semester of physics. I have taken all the organic… finished last semester with that. I am in the second semester of Gen Chem, but there doesn’t appear to be any of second semester gen chem on the MCAT… it’s all qualitative, which I had 2 years ago. I wasn’t expecting it all to be qualitative and not any quantitative. There also doesn’t appear to be much, if any of second semester Physics on the MCAT, at least not on the one that I was given today.
I have been spending 99.8% of my time trying to keep up with my regular courses rather than studying for the MCAT. I agree that waiting until this late was not necessarily the most optimal idea.
When I went back through my answers this afternoon, I realized a lot of stupid mistakes that cost me a lot of points. Some were as dumb as marking the right answer on my question sheet, but the wrong answer on the answer sheet… some as dumb as things I should know, but didn’t take the time to think about… and still others where I had narrowed it down to 2 options, and picked the wrong one after some deliberation. I think some of the issue there is figuring out how the questions are being asked, etc.
There were some other things that I just couldn’t remember, but knew that I’d heard before… but couldn’t square it away…
One thing I wasn’t entirely expecting, nor am I terribly skilled at, is reading all the graphs and line drawings that were in this particular test. I’m not taking about organic molecules… but schematics of apparati and other random graphs, with and without labels. That threw me for a loop a bit.
It is my understanding though that even if I take the April version and don’t score as well as I would hope, I can take it again and providing I get a better score, my previous score won’t count for anything. I have not heard any different story from any adcom… so I’m surprised I’m hearing this now.
I am not about to forfeit my money or time because someone says that I’m not going to improve in 3 weeks… I think that’s a really bad attitude to take at this point… I will be taking the exam in April, regardless… and hopefully I will be able to put in the time between now and then to review some of the things that I’m missing… and improve my score. I also hope to take some more practice tests, at least in portions, if not in whole.
If anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate them… but I’m not really one for accepting naysaying at this stage of the game. I know what I’m up against. I also know that I have a lot of work to do… and at this stage, I’m definitely planning on taking it again in August after more time to prepare, among other things.
I’m not looking for anyone’s approval, just some ideas. Maybe I came to the wrong place.

Andrea,





I don’t think anyone meant to hurt your feelings or discourage you, but I think that if you’ll take another look at your initial post, you’ll see that you painted a pretty bleak picture. The way I read your post, you hadn’t studied much, had to do a lot of guessing, and there was a lot of information you didn’t know, and your score was so bad you were embarrassed to say what it is. My first assumption on reading this was that either you weren’t finished all your prereqs or you were very rusty on some topics. Naturally people seeing that will think you’re not going to be ready in three weeks. It’s very, very unusual to pull up your score more than a very few points in such a short time.





To be fair, I think of naysaying as something more sweeping, like “You’ll never get into med school”. Instead, people who have taken the MCAT have given you their very best advice. Not pleasant advice, but their very best.





Now that you’ve gone through your answers, you have a lot more information about what you need to work on, and you may be able to get more specific advice from here on out. Probably a second practice exam as soon as you have digested this one and have time to take one will help you assess how well you’ve been able to address the problems you found in taking this exam.





But I have to tell you, the best advice I’ve gotten from people here (who learned the hard way) is DON’T RUSH YOURSELF. Don’t take too many prereqs at one time, don’t risk your grade point average to study for the MCAT, don’t try to make up for all the time you spent not in medicine all in one year, don’t rush, they say. Take your time and do it right, they told me. Because you only want to do this (taking the MCAT, filling out your application, paying those fees, sending those secondaries, interviewing, you name it) once. (No one is more vehement about this than the people who’ve done it all (or at least some of it) twice.) And you’re getting a flavor of that same advice here.





Though only one or two schools actually average MCAT scores instead of taking either the later or the higher score (this varies, too), all of them will SEE both scores. So it might well be a good idea to assess your progress with another full-length exam as the date nears, and make a decision based on what you see.





I wish you the very best of luck.

I have no idea where your advisor is getting his/her information but taking the MCAT for practice knowing that you are not fully prepared is NOT a good idea and no most schools do NOT average or take the latest and greatest score. You do not have to believe anything you read and you should be critical of what you read, you can find the above information at any of the medical schools website and read it in black and white. Nobody here was trying to say “oh you will never make it or blah blah blah” we just told you straight up that you are facing an uphill battle if you just now started taking FULL practice MCATS period. This is from the perspective of those of us that have taken the MCAT and actually KNOW what you will be looking at. Also the MCAT is mostly conceptual and full of graphs and there is no telling what will be on your form. My form from last April was mostly gen chem and hardly any physics, mostly biology and to top that it was mostly microbiology, so regardless you have to know it all although you may only see mostly physics or whatever in the practice exams. Sorry if you took our posts the wrong way but we are going to tell you the honest truth w/o sugarcoating anything.

Quote:

I am not about to forfeit my money or time because someone says that I’m not going to improve in 3 weeks… I think that’s a really bad attitude to take at this point… I will be taking the exam in April, regardless… and hopefully I will be able to put in the time between now and then to review some of the things that I’m missing… and improve my score. I also hope to take some more practice tests, at least in portions, if not in whole.
If anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate them… but I’m not really one for accepting naysaying at this stage of the game. I know what I’m up against. I also know that I have a lot of work to do… and at this stage, I’m definitely planning on taking it again in August after more time to prepare, among other things.
I’m not looking for anyone’s approval, just some ideas. Maybe I came to the wrong place.


Andrea,
Mary’s point was not to be an “naysayer” but to tell you that it can possibly be a deathblow to your application to post an MCAT score that is very low even if you post another that is stellar. The MCAT is not a test to take for practice. Even if you choose not to report your scores, the admissions committee will have seen that you have taken it multiple times. Regroup, write this money off as a loss and put your efforts into being ready for the August exam.
Having the attitude that you are ready for MCAT is useless unless you have the knowledge to back that attitude. Sure you can have the knowledge and talk yourself into failure but the opposite does not happen. I can TELL myself all I want that I am a pilot but no one is going to let me fly a plane solo with only ground school behind me. If your practice score is as low as you say it was, you have some serious problems that need remediation. No tips are going to work at this point. You are probably going to need serious learning and review away from your coursework so that you can concentrate on learning what you need in the first place.
You CAN’T REVIEW what you have not LEARNED in the first place. If the truth makes you angry, so be it, but Mary R. sits here a couple of months from an MD and I have one in hand. This process is not about making you angry but helping you to become successful in achieving your goals. You can easily end up investing thousands of dollars in coursework only to not get an acceptance into medical school because you took the MCAT without being ready and clearly by your statements above, you are just NOT ready for this exam. It’s no reflection on you personally but any non-traditional applicant has to be patient and take time going thorough this process. You do not have the luxury of “practicing” on the real MCAT. You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT afford to have anything negative in your application. This especially includes a poor MCAT score. Why give an admissions committee a reason to can your application before you get out of the gate? Pull your ego in, suck up the monetary loss, and concentrate on learning what you need to know so that you ace the August exam.

Sometimes the people who care about you the most will NOT tell you what you WANT to hear but what you NEED to hear.
Natalie

Andrea, oh my. I know that when your own experience isn’t causing you such intense pain, that you’re able to appreciate that all of us on OPM really are rooting for each other and trying to give information and advice that will genuinely help. And that is the spirit in which I gave my advice. I am sorry that it added to the sting you’re feeling.





Let me talk tactics for a moment here. Clearly it is your intention to apply to medical school this year. As you’ve seen discussed many times on OPM, the earlier you apply, the better. So I am assuming that you are going to do your best to submit an application during the early summer. Okay.





You’ve also heard MCAT timing discussed. Generally, everyone agrees that the April MCAT is better, because when you combine it with the early application, your whole package is considered sooner, you’re getting an interview earlier… there is no question that the earlier your application is complete, the better off you are.





The question I’m posing is, early app with MCAT vs. early app without MCAT? If there is serious concern about the MCAT score, and you clearly are very concerned, you do NOT want that MCAT score on your application when it is first looked at by an admissions office!!! I don’t care if you’ve checked off the box that says you are taking it again in August - they can see those scores (and IIRC you can’t suppress your scores any more) and while they know they’re supposed to wait and see the second set, in the meantime your application is going to the bottom of the pile. No, I don’t know this for absolute fact, but doesn’t it seem like it COULD happen at least in some places? Why would you want to risk that?





The other alternative is to submit the early app with NO MCAT score - the August score will catch up with your completed app as soon as the scores are released in October. In this case, the AdCom may have simply set your app aside to look at in its entirety with scores. But I KNOW from hearing people’s experiences that at least some schools do an initial read of the application and consideration of the candidate without the MCAT scores. They may qualify for a secondary, if it’s a screening school; they may be put on a pile labelled, “Wow, this guy looks great; if his MCAT holds up get him in for an interview right away!” This is ONLY possible if a crappy MCAT score is NOT part of the package.





This is why I am so strongly advocating that you wait until August - I believe that this strategy is the most likely to serve you well and give you the best possible chance of succeeding this year.





Finally, if you want to be angry at someone, I suggest the course coordinator who allowed you all to choose the date of the first full-length exam so close to the real thing. IMHO you should get your money back; that is academic malpractice.

Andrea:





You might be able to pull out a decent score, if you can answer YES to these questions.





1. Do you have a proven history of excellence in standardized tests? (Top 5% on standardized tests like PSAT, SAT and ACT.)





2. Can you devote 8 to 9 hours daily between now and the test to prepare for the MCAT? Not to learn a subject, but to drill on everything to prepare for the MCAT? You can look through old posts (I recall a thread that gave everyone’s favorite test prep books for each science subject) to obtain good titles. You’ll need to work through all the subjects in depth. I spent two hours daily on each science, and some minimal time on verbal passages. The only verbal passages I found useful were the ones published by AMCAS. Nova publishes a physics book I thought was great, but the chem and bio titles weren’t so hot.





3. Do you have access to all the old official MCATs from AMCAS, either on-line or at the study center, to use for analysis, and to assess your preparation?





4. Is your verbal score OK right this minute? Not much I can think of in three weeks to bring that up.





5. Is your health, and your family’s, at optimal levels? Losing a day (or a night’s sleep) to take care of a sick kid could really hurt your cause at this point.





6. Do you have a friend willing to time you on a Saturday or a Sunday to help you practice taking full-length tests under test-like conditions? (Thank you Eric.)





I was in a similar situation to yours and did very well. The above gives you an idea of what I had to do to get a really good score. I still think the advice to wait until August is better than mine. It certainly is less intense, less risky, and less stressful.





Back to the books. Hope this helps. Good luck.





Susan - Chicago/Minneapolis

I’m sorry to make you feel unsupported, but that’s not the truth. All your grades and MCAT scores follow you through the application process and you want to put the best record infront of the AdCom committee. If you think you can still study and get good scores in April go for it! What I read originally was that you felt you did not have much time to study for the test. When you do a search for grades and MCAT scores and acceptance you find that MCAT scores below 32 make it harder to be accepted. Well you asked for advice and we tried to give you the best advice we have. Hope you will keep us updated to your progress. GOOD LUCK and hope you do well.
Bill

Hi,
I don’t have too much to add here except to say all my practice tests through Kaplan were awful. Each and every one I took was bad. I did however take the practice tests offered through AAMC and the scores came out almost identically to my actually score. Have you thought about buying those? They are perfect for practice because they are actual previously given MCATs. I would strongly suggest you take one and see how THAT score is. I think it will be a better determiant to what you can except to do on the real test.
I also found that no matter what I did during the practice tests, I couldn’t shake the feeling that is was practice and it didn’t matter what I got on it. That plagued me through my entire practice period. Perhaps you may be feeling the same way and maybe that is what is lowering your score. That is assuming you have a grasp on the material that is being tested.
Here is the link for the real MCATs you can purchase online. You can buy one for ~$40 or all of them for $80 which is what I would recommend. And when you take them, do it where there will be NO distractions (no phone calls, door bells, people,etc).
https://services.aamc.org/Publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=Catalog.displayProductList&queryType=TC&chr_id=26&chr_id2=18&CFID=93425&CFTOKEN=3c3c4e9-0ff46ba3-148a-45e4-9c8b-cfd6624820a7&CFID=93425&CFTOKEN=3c3c4e9-0ff46ba3-148a-45e4-9c8b-cfd6624820a7
Please don’t get upset with our posters here. As was said above, we here at OPM care about our posters and want to help in any way we can. There were no ill feelings towards you. Believe me this is a great bunch of people. I know your nerves must be on edge due to all your MCAT worries. Take a breath. It will be fine
Good luck

I taught the MCAT course for one prep company last summer, and am teaching for another now, so I have a fair amount of experience working with people in your situation and I would like to share with you some thoughts.
First, we can’t really give you advice if we don’t know your scores. Yes, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position, but there are many levels of “horrible.” If you got a total score of about 18, you are right there with the average student. 25 would be good. 30 would be great. 35, go ahead and take the MCAT. We also need to know which practice test you took.
The #1 tip is to take multiple, realistic practice tests (i.e. AAMC 3-7) over a period of at least 6 weeks. I don’t know what your instructor’s reasoning was, but taking your first full-length three weeks before the MCAT is a big mistake. Students often think they should wait until they’ve reviewed the material to start the tests; not so. You need to develop strategy and test-taking skills, which takes time.
At this point my students have taken 4 full-length practice tests over 6 weeks and have 2 more to go. Some of them are starting to see significant improvement at last, which is normal. Many of them have figured out where they most often make mistakes (e.g. math errors, misreading questions, missing EXCEPT, NOT), and know what to watch out for. They are also figuring out how to deal with fatigue during a long test day. There is no way to develop these skills other than to do multiple practice tests.
Taking the MCAT with the attitude that you will see how you do, and then retake if you don’t do well enough, is problematic. I have had second and third-time test-takers in my classes, and they have a very hard time. They are demoralized and have a hard time getting past their disappointing first score (and often, their disappointing and expensive experience with the application process). Please, don’t do it.
The other thing that students rarely believe, which I emphasize, is that real MCAT scores are generally in line with AAMC practice test scores. I have seen a whole load of people go into the MCAT scoring in the low 20s on full-length practice tests, and do about as well on the MCAT. They are smart and are used to pulling out great grades on tests at the last minute. On the MCAT, it doesn’t work. You are competing against very very smart people who have been studying hard.
The #2 tip, which echoes others’ comments, is that if you are scoring below a 20 at this point, you need to pull out all the stops if you are determined to take the April MCAT. That means 2 full-length practice exams a week (Saturday and Wednesday), targeted practice on your weakest content areas, detailed analysis of your practice exams with review of every question, etc. Your math skills need to be absolutely bombproof, and that includes arithmetic, graph-reading, logs, etc.

Hi,
I just wanted to ask about something you wrote in another thread. You said:
"If you got a total score of about 18, you are right there with the average student. 25 would be good. 30 would be great. 35, go ahead and take the MCAT."
Since you’ve taught prep classes and are pretty familiar with how people tend to score on the various practice exams, I’m just wondering how serious you were about each of those numbers. Is 35 really a fair cutoff for taking the MCAT with confidence?
I’m mainly asking because it’s three weeks before the MCAT, and the thought of 35 as a minimal practice test score has given me a little bit of panic. I’m scoring reasonably well on the practice tests (in the 30s), but I don’t want to go in and take the real thing only marginally prepared… So I just wondered how seriously you meant it. Sorry if I misread your tone in any way, and I’m SURE I’m overreacting, but this close to the exam I’m prone to get worried one way or the other! So if you don’t mind clarifying, I’d really appreciate it.
Thanks!

p.s. I’m sorry for attaching that question to the original thread! I thought it would start its own thread.
Andrea, I know you are looking for insights from people with experience–sorry I don’t have advice but need some of my own! Anyway, I meant for this to be a new thread…

Just in case this information got buried in the discussion, AMCAS made a change last year regarding the ability to suppress MCAT scores. An applicant no longer is able to suppress (not report) a score. And now all scores will be given to the med schools, not just the three most recent scores. (I just can’t imagine anyone taking it more than three times.)
The general wisdom is “don’t take the MCAT until you are absolutely ready.”
Cheers,
Judy

Thanks for all the advice everybody. As you can see, it’s an emotionally charged issue. Many people have provided very helpful advice and I really appreciate it. I agree that I don’t want to send in my application with a less than stellar MCAT score.
My score on the AMCAS test was a 20. The writing portion wasn’t graded, but I had submitted a writing sample from a different test and I was told it was “fine”… but I’m not sure exactly what that means. Although I’ve never had issues with writing before and my papers, etc are generally well-received by professors.
My exact scores were an 8-9 on the verbal reasoning, a 6 on the physical sciences, and a 6 on the biological sciences. I admit that I made a lot of stupid mistakes. I misread questions, and debated a lot of answers, narrowing it down then choosing the wrong one. I think some of this is experience in taking the test… which I don’t have at this point.
I do agree that I still need to review quite a bit. I also need to familiarize myself with the graphs that I’m seeing, and reading those graphs.
My plan right now is to take another practice test in the next couple of days and see how my scores are. I will try to take the test with the mentality that it really counts, mainly because it will decide whether I take the test in April or not. I think that I should be able to improve my verbal scores somewhat before the test, as they are not terribly far from what I was hoping for… but the PS and BS sections need to improve dramatically.
I know several people have suggested that 35 is the score to get… I think that’s great, but realistically right now I’m hoping for a 30… which would be a dramatic improvement over what I have now.
Anyway… thanks for the advice, sorry it got a little “charged”… it’s just coming down to make the decision and deciding if I want to take the plunge (and everything that that means).
Andrea, who is up all night with the stomach flu (blech!)

I hope you feel better really soon!!!
I got a 4 in PS on my practice tests and only managed a 6 on the real thing. I HATED physics, never understood it and the physics questions on the MCAT killed me. But I still got in to med school with that 6.
You just have to make sure if you are struggling in one area and if it is hopeless to pull that area up, then concentrate on the other areas so you can use their score to help off set the lowest score. Granted it doesn’t help to have one low score, but sometimes try as people may, they just can’t do well in one area. That was what happened to me. Thankfully my other areas were strong.
Just my 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

Also often times the prep classes exams are just not like the real schmeal so if you can get your hand on an aamc practice exam you may be really surprised and kick arse on it…

Quote:

Hi,
I just wanted to ask about something you wrote in another thread. You said:
"If you got a total score of about 18, you are right there with the average student. 25 would be good. 30 would be great. 35, go ahead and take the MCAT."
Since you’ve taught prep classes and are pretty familiar with how people tend to score on the various practice exams, I’m just wondering how serious you were about each of those numbers. Is 35 really a fair cutoff for taking the MCAT with confidence?
I’m mainly asking because it’s three weeks before the MCAT, and the thought of 35 as a minimal practice test score has given me a little bit of panic. I’m scoring reasonably well on the practice tests (in the 30s), but I don’t want to go in and take the real thing only marginally prepared… So I just wondered how seriously you meant it. Sorry if I misread your tone in any way, and I’m SURE I’m overreacting, but this close to the exam I’m prone to get worried one way or the other! So if you don’t mind clarifying, I’d really appreciate it.
Thanks!


We definitely need some clarification here. I am talking about a score on the FIRST FULL-LENGTH/DIAGNOSTIC TEST ONLY, with no preparation, assuming you are going to spend the next weeks preparing for the MCAT.
The average student scores about 16-20 on this first test, with no preparation, and should spend 8-10 weeks studying, at about 3 hours/day, 6 days/week (plus extra time for full-length exams). This assumes no major problems with content, language, or testing skills/anxiety.
A student who is scoring 35 on their first test, on the other hand, has a pretty good chance of going in and scoring over 30 on the MCAT, especially if they spend some time on preparation.
If you are scoring in the 30s with a few weeks to go, you are in great shape. Keep doing your review and full-length practice. Good luck!