Frustrated, discouraged, and ready to give up....

I’m a 46 year old nuclear engineer, who has been trying to prepare for the MCATs. And I’m finding it essentially impossible. I’m struggling terribly with physics (even though I was a physics undergrad).

I’m not struggling because any particular topic is overly hard on the MCAT, it is because the test is designed to evaluate students who very clearly have been taught the material recently. In my case, when I started studying I’d not taken any physics classes since 1991, any biology or chemistry since 1987, or organic chemistry at all.

Tonight I had to spend over 8 hours on electrostatics, and I’m not done yet. I took advanced E&M classes in the 1990 time period, but have not used them, and cannot even remember the basics any more. I’m literally not “reviewing”, I’m “relearning”.

I also stumbled into circuits, where I’m completely at a standstill again. I took an electronics class in 1991, and did great, but again, I’ve not used it and it is gone. And worse, Kaplan insists on me memorizing a good half-dozen different equations on capacitors alone. For me to study that and do a bunch of problem with all the permutations will be another good couple of days.

I’m finding it almost impossible to keep my morale up. There’s too much material to cover, and it seems like it is a nearly impossible effort to try and resuscitate material that has not been visited in 25+ years.

I hate to say it, but I’m thinking about giving up. I’ve been killing myself for 9 months, but I don’t think I’m even close. Physics is a complete disaster. Chemistry is about half reviewed, and I’m taking organic and biology. What is particularly frustrating is that I’ve been a highly successful nuclear engineering professional for nearly 20 years, I’ve done sterling in my classes, and when I read many of the texts used in medical schools, I really don’t find it that bad.

How have you older pre-meds handled the long detachment from the material tested on the MCAT? Other than just starting a pre-med curriculum over again, how to get caught up on the material. How can I study efficiently (and quickly) for this exam, given that my familiarity with the material has deteriorated so far?

I did take the material fresh, so I can’t address that part of your question. What I will say is that even though I DID take the material fresh, I also struggled with physics. Maybe my experience will help you in some way. For me, it wasn’t the material as such. It was the test itself. (And I wonder, in your case, if you are overestimating how much your familiarity with the material has deteriorated and how that is affecting you.)

Studying for the MCAT isn’t like studying for a physics classroom exam. It’s a completely different strategy. There’s no time for pencil-and-paper calculations, for most problems. You really need to have those equations down pat, and that is material based. So you do have to study there – memorize the equations, and understand precisely how to apply them in different permutations of situations, as you said. But it’s also about reading the problems carefully, evaluating quickly, carefully, and correctly what the question is asking you for, and then rapidly applying the material you know, usually in your head. When I actually took the MCAT two years ago, I used very little of the scratch paper provided. There simply isn’t time for that. You get about 90 seconds per question, if memory serves. That was very different from my physics class, where we were required to show all of our work, every single step, or we were docked points.

You may want to take a look at what is stumping you – is it really the material, the test itself, or maybe a combination thereof? Doing well on the MCAT may indeed require taking a refresher course. Only you can know that.

You mentioned you haven’t taken any physics in a since 1991. Some medical schools actually have time limits on from how long ago they will accept the pre-requisites. You may have looked into this already at the medical schools that interest you, but if not, I would encourage you to do so. It often matters less for physics and the chemistries, but it definitely matters for biology, which has seen drastic changes even in the last few years. Something to keep in mind and to research so you don’t find yourself with a giant, nasty surprise when you go to apply.

In short, there are no shortcuts when it comes to the MCAT. I know that isn’t what you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth. Even for those of us who did take the material recently, this is a ridiculously difficult exam. It’s not to be taken lightly, as you are discovering.

I hear you and feel your pain. The MCAT has been my stumbling block as well and it took a lot to figure out where I needed to place my effort for the best results. What has helped me is a defined course with lectures and hints that help with the test itself. As I have a family to support, I went the cheaper route (than Kaplan) and am taking the M Prep e-course

They do have a Question a Day which is also helpful to see how they do things. It has really helped me be able to break a question down in a quicker fashion than I had to do in my courses.

You need to find what works for you. There is no easy way to do this self-assessment and only you can answer those questions. I know when I get super-frustrated it is just time to look at the problem from another angle. Step back and reassess from some distance instead of hitting your head on the same or even different books.

Don’t get down on yourself. You obviously aren’t lacking the knowledge but need it to be accessible in a way that you haven’t used recently. I also know it took a while to retrain my brain to think in a course mode again after a long time away from it.

This is also a plug for Medical School HQ podcasts, but I have found them useful. Take some time, browse the list, and see if you can find something useful for your situation. -p…

It is all do-able.


One of the biggest mistakes many OPM’s make in preparing for the MCAT is allowing too many years in between when you were last enrolled in a preq course and taking the MCAT.

IMHO, 3 years is about the max. Anything greater than that, and I think ALL the “problematic” subject courses should be repeated.


For the MCAT, you have to disregard all that advanced physics you have been using the past two decades. You have retrograde yourself to a traditional physics perspective and answer MCAT test questions drawing only from the concepts that a premedical undergraduate who has only taken algebra-based physics would have learned. Utilizing Maxwell’s Equations and/or quantum theory in answering MCAT electrostatics/circuit questions will only confuse you and lengthen your time in answering questions. Even worse, applying your advanced physics knowledge may lead your to outthink the question writers and lead you to the wrong answer.

I have NOT taken Physics (went through 3/4 of the semester and “life” happened… that was 2010)

I am enrolled in Kaplan. In using their books and online classes for circuits, I DO understand circuits because it just “makes sense”…

For the part of physics that I’m getting wrong on section tests, I’m using Khan Academy and it is helping immensely. Even for the basic fundamentals of physics, it is helping because if I have the building blocks down pat, the rest will come.

As everyone has said, the MCAT is not a rote memory or regurgitate information, it is a READING test with science thrown in.

BTW, I’m 50. 3.98 in pre-reqs from 2009 to now (one freaking “B” in medicinal biochem ) - DO NOT GIVE UP

I can understand your frustration. I was an engineer in undergrad. I was about 12 years removed from the classroom when I started studying for the mcat. All of the topics looked familiar yet difficult because I hadn’t thought academically about the physical properties that are testable.

It was a huge relearning process. I think having known it once before made it easier to pick back up, but it was painfully frustrating to have to basically start from scratch. I used a formal kaplan course and felt having a teacher (recorded lecture) helped a lot. i studied for 3.5 months before taking the test. I can’t say I felt truly comfortable with the material for probably the first 2.5 months and still ended up forgetting stuff during practice/real tests.

  • kennymac Said:
I used a formal kaplan course and felt having a teacher (recorded lecture) helped a lot. i studied for 3.5 months before taking the test.

I can't say I felt truly comfortable with the material for probably the first 2.5 months ...


I was sitting here last night going:

Biochem - check!

Ochem - check!

Gen Chem - check!

Biology - Check!

Genetics - Check!

Physics?!?!?!?? WTH!!!

But with Khan and the recorded Kaplan lectures (on site start on Th), I have hope I will get "there" ...

Thank you!!!

  • Adoc2be Said:
I have NOT taken Physics (went through 3/4 of the semester and "life" happened... that was 2010)

Adoc2be, I'm fairly certain that 2 semesters of Physics with labs are required preqs for admission to med school, especially MD programs.

No, Path, 2 semesters is not uniformly required by MD schools (some changed in 2009).

For instance, at Harvard 2 semesters of physics is not required, nor at the U of MN, or at many others.

If you start to look at requirements for 2016 matriculation, many schools are further changing the requirements to decrease the Ochem II requirement and add in biochem, genetics, etc. In addition, the schools are starting to require Psych and Soc and Stats rather than the 2-2-2-2 as is now.

That said, ALL med schools require ALL prereqs be taken BEFORE matriculation.

If I do crappy on MCAT, I’m done. If I do well, I take the physics :slight_smile:

  • Adoc2be Said:
For instance, at Harvard 2 semesters of physics is not required, nor at the U of MN, or at many others.

Here's a link to Harvard's requirements. s/appl...

"In the area of physics, students should be well prepared in biologically relevant areas of mechanics, kinetics, thermodynamics, the properties of matter (quantum theory) and wave theory, electricity and magnetism, and optics. Ordinarily, this requirement is accomplished most readily by a year-long course in physics."

I was recruited by Harvard after I took the MCAT the last time, so I'm pretty familiar with their requirements.

At the end of the day, you have to do what you think is best. Personally I'd never take an exam like the MCAT without having ALL the preqs FIRST, and that's how I advise the student I mentor. Sure plenty of folks get in without taking things in order and I think that's fantastic. I'm just not taking any chances and I advise students to do the same.

Good luck to you!


I was not recruited by Harvard and will not be no matter my MCAT score … but I AM familiar with the school’s requirements as many other top notch medical schools followed Harvard and U of MN’s path.

The Harvard site does not state emphatically: 2 semesters of physics… what it does state is this:

Although a formal year-long course that covers these concepts will meet the physics requirement, other innovative approaches (including interdisciplinary courses taught together with biology and biologically relevant physical sciences) that allow students to master these “competencies,” independent of discrete courses and semester time commitments, are encouraged and will be considered.

That you were recruited by Harvard and did not go, makes me wonder why? Why are you sitting for the MCAT again?

I’m not you re: taking the courses before the MCAT. What you choose to do is for you, what I am doing may not make sense to you, or anyone else, but it is my choice.

And mine alone.


I hesitated to address your original post because I recalled a less than “friendly” interaction with you a few years ago.

Based on your most recent post, I realized that I should have NOT ignored that concern. And trust me, it will NEVER happen again.

Good luck to you!

I symphathize with all of you who are struggling with the MCAT, for, I, too am feeling the same issues. Part of my problem is that it takes me a long time to get through the basic stuff, let alone reading slow and some learning disability issues. These killed me on my science GPA during my post-bacc and are causing havoc with my MCAT practice tests.

Don’t give up! I graduated college 7 years ago and studying for the MCAT wasn’t a fun path. English is my second language and I had to re-learn most of the material while working a full-time job, so I enrolled on a Kaplan course with a little help from Exam Krakers books. I’m not trying to promote any company here or say that this works for everyone, but this was the best option for me. Whatever you do, practice as much as you can! I did well on my exam because I learned to manage my time with every full length practice test I did (about 13 test in 4 months). Also, having a good support system is very important. Whether from family, friends, or other awesome Old Premeds, welcome all the encouragement and motivation you can get! I’m confident you will find people on here who have gone through this. Don’t give up!