How To Improve MCAT Score From 509 to 521 In Three Weeks

How To Improve MCAT Score From 509 to 521 In Three Weeks

To preface this, I am not an expert. I took the MCAT once. Here I will share my own personal experience and my recommendations; however, each person is different, and what worked for me may not work for you. Take the time to figure out what works best for you and stick to it.

Background on Me

  • I took the MCAT on May 31st, immediately following my junior year of undergrad. I entered my university as a pre-med biology major, and I minored in Spanish. Freshman year, I took two semesters of intro bio and two of gen chem. Sophomore year, I took genetics and two semesters of organic chemistry. Junior fall I took physiology  and physics I, and in the spring (right before the MCAT) I took biochemistry, physics II, and a class on the nucleus.
  • When I took the MCAT, I had never taken psychology or sociology. For these two subjects i used the terms and notes which helped me get good score on it here is the link
  • I also work in a genetics lab, so I’m used to reading genetics papers and figures and whatnot which was definitely useful in understanding B/B passages. I was also an EMT which helped me get a few MCAT questions here and there surprisingly enough.
  • My original plan was to start studying in January, finish classes by the beginning of May, take finals, cram for the MCAT for three weeks, and take it on May 31st, but I’m a horrible procrastinator, and I really only studied for those three weeks in May after my finals.

Resources I Used

  • You gotta take biochem  [here are the mutshell notes which helped me in biochem ] before the MCAT if you can, it’s super important.
    • IMO the most important classes besides pre-med requirements are biochemistry, physiology, and genetics. Also, I'm sure psych and sociology would make your life easier than mine was.
  • I signed up for a heavily discounted in-person Kaplan class through my university, so I got all the Kaplan books, access to a bunch of full-lengths, and all the AAMC material through that. I also browsed /r/MCAT frequently and downloaded the Khan Academy Psych/Soc notes. I also watched a lot of KA videos for P/S. I took two Kaplan FL’s and all three AAMC practice exams. I used all the question packs a decent amount, though I did not complete them, and I kind of used the section banks but not really.
  • In terms of what I recommend, it really depends on how much time you have. If you have a lot of time, browse /r/MCAT and determine what the gold standard is for each topic area; however, there are a ton of resources out there, so just make a plan and stick to it. If you go the Kaplan route, use their books and take as many of their practice exams as possible until your exam approaches. Towards the end of your studying, focus on AAMC material. The AAMC practice exams should be saved until the very end of your studying, as they are pretty representative of what you’ll get on the real thing and can highlight how you should spend your last few weeks/days.
  • I thought the AAMC question packs were more representative than the section banks, but the section banks were difficult, and if you can do them confidently I'm sure you can do the MCAT.
  • I also used MCAT Self Prep, which is really not a well-known resource, but I appreciated it. It’s basically this guy who studied completely by himself and on a budget and scored in the 99th percentile, so he created this program which I think was pretty helpful. His strategy is basically to use Kaplan or Princeton Review books for content review (any version/edition post-2015), supplement with Khan Academy videos and other videos if necessary, and to make and use flashcards. He also lays out these “AAMC Mini Exams” where he has you do specific AAMC problems from their resources to create a mini-exam for yourself which you can score and check your progress.
  • I used Leah4Sci for her MCAT math tutorials which in my opinion are a must. Her MCAT and organic chem cheat sheets are also great.
  • I never really used Anki or UWorld but I know they are great tools if that’s your thing. I just didn’t have enough time really.

How I Studied

  • During the spring semester, I attended the in-person Kaplan classes which were not really helpful at all. I attempted to study a few times, but it never really worked out. I didn’t have a good plan or schedule to stick to, and I’m notoriously a procrastinator which came back to bite me as usual. I did, however, take Physics II and Biochemistry in the spring which seriously helped a lot. I ended up not really having to study for biochem at all except for some brief review right before the exam. I did, however, take Kaplan’s diagnostic exam in March and got a 499.
  • My classes ended at the end of April, and I had finals the first week of May. I went home May 9th, went to a graduation on May 11th, and then went hard for three weeks straight until May 31st.
  • I started off with a Kaplan FL to see where I was at. I did Kaplan’s FL 1 and got a 503. For the next few days, I watched Khan Academy (KA) videos and followed along in the KA P/S 300 page document. I took Kaplan FL 2 a few days later and got a 507, but didn’t improve at all in P/S which was disappointing. I did both of these in my house which was kind of distracting. I was otherwise studying at my house or at my local library.
  • I decided I needed more content review, so I got more serious, I started going to a medical library super early in the morning and cracked open the Kaplan books for the first time really. I went through both the General and Organic Chem books in a day and a half, and probably spent around a day each on the Physics and CARS books. I only used the Bio and Biochem books towards the end if I needed to review from things I missed on FL’s. And I did look at the Behavioral Sciences book in addition to KA videos and notes for P/S. The medical library was great because it opened at like 7 AM and was absolutely dead silent throughout the entire day.
  • I took AAMC FL 1 seven days out and got a 513. I reviewed the FL for a day or two, doing content review to fix the questions I missed. Four days out, I took AAMC FL 2 and got a 512. I was disappointed, but I had heard FL 2 was harder which it was. I reviewed it for two days and took AAMC FL 3 two days before the real deal and got a 518. I was really excited about this, and I reviewed it the next day. You’ll hear differing opinions on what to do the day before your exam: some people study, some people do a little bit of studying, and some people relax the whole day and don’t touch the MCAT. I decided to study a lot and cram some last-minute math and physics knowledge in the day before. I also drove to my testing site to make sure I knew where I was going the next day.
  • In terms of reviewing your full-lengths, I made a Why I Missed It (WIMI) sheet with columns for section, question number, question topic, and reason why I missed it as well as a notes column for how to improve. I made a list as I went of content topics to review, and for P/S I wrote down massive lists of terms the AAMC cared about and googled them all.
  • As for taking the full-lengths, I recommend taking them in test-like conditions and creating a routine for yourself. I prepared a lunch and snack the evening before and reviewed as much as I could before the FL. The morning of, I drove to UC Davis Med Center and set up shop in their medical library. I showed up to the library before 7:30 and started each exam by 8:00 AM. I took every last second of every break. After C/P, I ate the top row of a Cookies and Cream Hershey bar and drank some Glacier Cherry Gatorade. For lunch, I ate a chicken caesar salad from the grocery store, another row of the chocolate bar, and some more Gatorade. I finished the chocolate bar in my third break and drank some more Gatorade. It sounds insane, but I had a routine, and I stuck to it exactly every single time. I set myself in a cubicle which is what you’ll be in on test day. I took the FL’s on my MacBook with a trackpad, but you can use a computer with a mouse if you want to be more realistic. The only change for me on test day was I had less space than I did in my practice exams because the testing site keyboard was gigantic and so I had to set up a good system on the spot in terms of using the keyboard shortcuts and finding space for my notepad. Use the highlight and strikethrough keyboard shortcuts. Hopefully, this takes away how daunting the "real thing" is. Don't let it be the "real thing," instead, it's just another FL.

Strategies I Recommend

  • Chem/Phys
    • I always had trouble with time on C/P, so my strategy became to skim the passages rather than reading in-depth. It depends on the passage, but a lot of times the questions have nothing to do with the nitty-gritty details of the passage.
    • My C/P section was pretty difficult, but it was the first time I had time left over after finishing all the questions. That had never happened to me on a practice test. I also was not expecting the Nernst equation to show up, but it be like that sometimes I guess.
  • CARS
    • 90 minutes for 9 passages. You have an average of 10 minutes per passage.
    • I tried various strategies of highlighting, outlining, etc., but they take too much time for me. The strategy that worked best for me was reading the whole passage in one go, highlighting names, dates, and numbers as I went. I also highlighted super important-sounding phrases or sentences. Keyboard shortcuts are your friend. Read the whole passage for understanding, then answer the questions in order as best you can. Double-check the passage if you can to confirm specific comprehension questions.
    • If you’re a pretty visual learner like me, always always always strikethrough answers you know are wrong. If it’s a comprehension or reasoning within the text question, make sure to double-check the passage to be certain your answer is consistent with the author’s perspective.
    • Kaplan’s wrong answer pathologies were pretty helpful, review them if you can. In general, don’t pick an answer that sounds too extreme, these are rarely correct. Always ask yourself if your answer choice is consistent with the author’s view, and if you’re not sure, then you need to start reading the passages to understand the author’s opinion or perspective. The AAMC cares a lot about comprehending and making assumptions based on the author’s perspective.
    • My CARS section was pretty reasonable overall. There was one passage that was just a nightmare, but the rest were fine.
  • Bio/Biochem
    • This was usually my strongest section, and I was able to read through the passages completely, answer all the questions, and still end up with around 10 minutes remaining. Adjust this for yourself, but my strategy was to read for understanding and double-check the passage if I couldn’t get the answer immediately after reading the question.
    • If you’re struggling with the passages themselves or the data, do as much practice as you can. Get used to all types of graphical representations of data, and get used to genetic nomenclature.
    • Really get to know genetics and physiology for this section.
    • My MCAT’s B/B section was absolutely brutal, I have no idea why but it was super hard. The curve must’ve been pretty nice though, I think others felt similarly.
  • Psych/Soc
    • I had never taken psych or sociology before, so I had to learn a lot here. The KA 300 pager was great along with their videos. I also used Kaplan’s P/S book to supplement. Most of my term learning came from taking full-lengths, writing down every term I didn’t recognize afterward, and googling them all until I understood them.
    • I always had mountains of time left over on P/S, and it was a problem because I would go back and change answers while reviewing even though I had no idea what I was talking about. If you usually have a lot of time leftover on P/S, move through this section slowly, do every question in order, cross out wrong answers and make your best guess / go with your gut. Only flag questions that you really need to double-check, and even then, only change your answer if you’re over 90% confident that your old answer was wrong or the new one is correct. Always double-check the passage to see if the answer is in there because it usually is. And as always, don’t choose answers that aren’t relatively explicit in the passage if the question is passage-based.
    • My MCAT’s P/S section was pretty easy overall. There were a few terms I didn’t recognize, but you just have to strikethrough everything you know for sure is wrong and do your best to reason through the remaining options. P/S terms can get really confusing, but do your best to use the words as guides to what they represent, and memorize the ones you can’t do that for. For instance, symbolic interactionism focuses on the role of symbols in daily life, and social constructionism is just the theory that everything is a social construct created by humans through social interactions.

On Test Day

  • When you show up, they’ll make you put your electronics in a sealed bag which you will put in a locker along with the rest of your stuff. You’ll set up your palm vein scan which they use to verify you are you every time you exit and enter the testing room. The only things you may bring with you into the testing room are your ID and your key to your locker. Don’t bring a watch or any other electronics. Only bring your phone which they will seal away in a bag.
  • For timing, they have a clock on the wall in the waiting room. Your break starts when they sign you out with the palm scan, not when you finish the section, so don't be too stressed about getting out of the testing room quickly. Look at the clock as soon as you get into the waiting room and know in your head when ten minutes from that time is. Go to the bathroom and come back and check the clock. Get a snack and then check the clock again. Take a couple of minutes to breathe and pump yourself up, then go back in a few minutes early. Your break is over as soon as the proctor takes you back into the room. Once they sign you back into your test, you have two minutes until you have to start. Use them. Get comfortable, breathe, and pump yourself up again.
  • As for during the test, there is a clock in the top right corner of the screen counting down the amount of time you have left. You can click on it to hide it or show it, but when you have 5 minutes left it will automatically show and you can't hide it anymore. When you take the AAMC practice exams, it will have the clock the same way the test does.


  • By the end of your studying, you will know this exam. You may not know the exact questions or passages or topics for your specific exam, but you know the content you need to know and the strategies you’ll need to succeed. You’ll know how the AAMC thinks and how they want you to answer questions. You’ll know how they write incorrect answers, and you know to not pick an answer choice that seems too extreme or something that isn't really backed up by the passage. You should take each question individually, don't let previous questions psych you out. If you can't pick an answer right off the bat, cross off incorrect answers (actually do it, use the strikethrough and highlight keyboard shortcuts). Narrow it down until you have better odds, then go with your gut or what seems MORE right.
  • Knowing the test and how the AAMC thinks is just as important as knowing the content. This is how you set yourself apart by guessing the correct answer even if you're stumped.
  • This is unlike any other exam you’ve ever taken, and it’s tough, but by your test day, you will know this exam inside and out. It’s just a matter of taking yet another FL. You can do it. Stick to your strategies, answer every question on the test, make educated guesses when necessary, and you’ll be fine.


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