The 5 Stages of Studying for the MCAT

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1. Denial and Isolation


The denial phase of the MCAT won’t start until you’ve taken your full length. At this stage you’ll find yourself saying things like:

“Maybe the answer key is totally wrong?” — after grading & receiving your practice score.

“Well, I’ve heard of time dilation, maybe I was in one, and that’s why I actually ran out of time” — after realizing how little time you actually have to finish the problems you’ve glanced at while doing the content review and thought “I totally got this”.

2. Anger


This phase usually comes after the first full length, and remains through a few practice tests when you see no improvement, and you realize the number of practice test (AAMC officials) are a limited resource:

“Brownian Motion?!?? What the expletive does this exam have to do with being a doctor?” — says a premed after no improvement from first full length exam to the second.

“Obviously this MCAT? F-THAT!” — says the bitter MCAT studying premed.

3. Bargaining


Eventually, the rage subsides and it turns into bargaining. This usually comes at the halfway point or your studies for the MCAT, the bargaining usually goes:

1. You may find yourself praying to one or more deities, for example in my case Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster.

2. You may find yourself promising you’ll be the best doctor you can be, if and only if the medical schools would ignore your future MCAT score.

3. You may find yourself recalculating your GPA several times, I mean maybe you made a mistake on the 7th re-check, and you don’t need as good a MCAT score as you first thought.

4. You’d give your right foot if only the AAMC would give you “your” best full length exam, customized for all of your strengths and non of your weaknesses.

5. You realize that points 1-4 all won’t help you, and the MCAT is actually way harder than you originally anticipated.

4. Depression


Okay, so it’s now sunk in — this test is hard — no, the hardest test you’ve ever taken in your life. This phase for me lasted a few weeks, if not months, and you may find:

1. You start to think, “Wait…maybe I can’t do this..maybe my best effort isn’t enough?”

2. You start to doubt yourself, “Maybe, if I can’t do this I’m not cut out for medical school”.

3. Hell, you might even start thumbing through alternative careers that don’t require that icky MCAT, “Hmm, well there’s always becoming a…”

4. Eventually you will start to think “Why the hell am I doing this?”, this is especially true when you see your friends living their lives, and you’re holed away like a groundhog until it’s time to take the MCAT. It will eventually start to weigh on you, like everyone else, that you’ll spend about a calender year just to take the MCAT/apply to medical school — then, it may dawn on you, if you don’t get in it’s another possible calender year. Ouch.

The key here is, will you get back on the horse?

5. Acceptance


It may be hard to believe, but eventually you should accept that this is your fate, and that well you are good enough to get into medical school. Eventually, you might even remember that the MCAT isn’t designed to keep you out, it’s designed to make sure you’d like staying in medschool. Embrace it:

The key to doing well on the MCAT is making it to this point, i.e. when you accept that the MCAT is coming + it’s that hard + it doesn’t necessarily measure your competence as a future doctor. It’s better to go ahead and move through the motions now, and know that it’s okay to doubt yourself. Learn how to pick yourself up, because medschool will be hard too, you might even fail a few things. There’s a good chance I’ll be the dumbest person in my class, and I’m okay with that, because I know now that I can pick myself up after a massive face palm (MCAT experience).

When I take my boards I’ll be sure to revisit the 5 stages, but the lessons learned from the MCAT will give me confidence to know I can walk through fire, because if I can study things I don’t care about necessarily then I know I can enjoy myself while studying for the things I actually do care about (medicine).



12 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of Studying for the MCAT

    Mike Stewart said:
    March 14, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Really awesome! Loved the “spaghetti monster”

    doctororbust responded:
    July 24, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Reblogged this on doctororbust and commented:

    Good luck on the MCAT!

    ALeo said:
    July 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I went through the anger and depression phase for a loooooong time lol I had to take a year off because I was sure I was dumb and wasn’t meant to be a doctor. I’m glad I got back on track and improved my score 7 points 🙂

      doctororbust responded:
      July 25, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Bravo on making it through the stages haha. I remember when I took my first AAMC timed and saw the score. My heart sunk because I knew how much work I had to do (and I’m kind of lazy haha).

        ALeo said:
        July 25, 2014 at 7:19 pm

        Yes, I got a dismal 19 on my first AAMC and it stayed at a 20 range foreverrrr. Then I finally made it to 31 on about 3 tests. I took the real one and got 27 :/ lol but it was a huge improvement so I took it and ran haha

        doctororbust responded:
        July 25, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        That’s a big improvement percentage wise.And that’s a reasonable dip from practice, it sort says your scores were approving a solid 29-30 but you had a hard day so you dipped. (a basic confidence interval of the 2 points MCAT is +/- 2). So, if you were a 29 scorer getting a 31 on a good day and a 27 on a bad day isn’t out of line. Either way, good job!

    ALeo said:
    July 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks! It would’ve been nice to see that 31 so my options wouldn’t be so limited, but I still got a good chance so I’m happy at this point lol btw I’ve finished multiple secondaries and have one interview so far 😀

      doctororbust responded:
      July 25, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Great job! Do your research on the school and write a really custom application. If you figure out why you fit into the school, and why you should put 200K+ into that particular school, then you’ll have a good secondary. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve done fine in that range because of the rest of their performance. Yeah, it does help to have higher scores, but it’s not a death blow like some would make it seem (unless you’re dead set on being in the top X ranking school). All that matters is accreditation and your board scores.

        ALeo said:
        July 25, 2014 at 7:56 pm

        Definitely! That’s what I’ve been doing, my eyes hurt from looking at these websites so much (and they need a tech dept because they’re not all user-friendly lol) but I’m hoping that it’ll make em look at my appl more closely haha I’m thankful for your blog for that reason though, I’m approaching this app cycle with a greatly improved approach.

        doctororbust responded:
        July 25, 2014 at 7:58 pm

        Good luck, this and the interviews are the best part (besides acceptance).

    asilbe said:
    June 12, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Reblogged this on The Oncology experience and commented:
    This is pretty accurate!

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