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How To Go From a 500 to a 520 on the MCAT

We’ve worked with countless students for the MCAT for more than a decade, and through the years — and the changes to the exam — we’ve had front row seats to the techniques and approaches that yield the greatest score increases.

Here are the top 5 things you can do to get a 520 on the MCAT:

1. Do as many practice questions as you possibly can.

No matter which MCAT books and prep resources you use, the #1 most important thing for you to do to get your highest score is practice questions, practice questions, practice questions. As many as you can get your hands on.

We have seen this yield results, and again, this stands out as the single biggest differentiator for the highest MCAT scorers we’ve worked with. The best part about practice questions is that you can start early, even before you really dive completely into your focused MCAT study period.

If you’re NOT a good standardized test taker, doing a large volume of practice questions will start to help you see the patterns that strong standardized test takers often see, such as what the questions are really asking for.

If you ARE a good standardized test taker, do not underestimate how big of an impact this approach can have for you as well. Start studying for the MCAT today with our free study guides for each section of the MCAT.

2. Ask for help EARLY if you find yourself struggling with MCAT prep.

That may sound like a no-brainer, but this applies both to your science courses and your MCAT studies. Some of the highest MCAT scorers we’ve worked with had a strong self-awareness and knew their limits. When they ran up against a topic where they really struggled, they asked for help — from their peer tutors, their academic support center, upperclassmen, a formal tutor… you name it.

By attacking the topics head-on that they were struggling with (instead of avoiding the uncomfortableness), they were able to make rapid progress, ensure that they had a stronger science foundation of knowledge, and ultimately set themselves up for greater success on the MCAT.

Regarding the CARS section in particular, it’s normal to struggle because it’s out of the norm of what you would see in a typical science classroom. The good news though, is that CARS is essentially testing your testing abilities. Investment in learning the CARS section will also help you tackle questions in every other area of the exam. Download our 30-Day MCAT Study Schedule to make sure you are ready for exam day.

3. Make an MCAT study plan — avoid overwhelm.

Again, that may sound like another no-brainer, but we cannot emphasize this enough: The majority of students who just wing their MCAT studies often do not rise to their fullest potential on the MCAT. Why? For a couple different reasons:

A) If you’ve taken most or all of the required science courses for the MCAT and done decently well, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of underestimating the breadth of the MCAT itself and how it’ll test your knowledge. Students who embarked on their studies without structure have often lamented that it wasn’t until they were more than halfway through that they realized just how much they had yet to cover.

B) It feels like there are a bajillion resources out there, and it can be all too easy to jump from resource to resource, slowly burying yourself alive under growing piles of books in an attempt to “do it all.” Good news: That’s not necessary. We usually recommend that students use the AAMC materials and whichever other primary resource feels like the best fit for them (e.g. Next Step, Examkrackers, Kaplan, etc.).

4. Study efficiently — but also allow yourself plenty of time where necessary (especially for CARS).

This looks different for every student as some people have stronger foundations of knowledge and/or are stronger standardized exam takers. When it comes to your reading skills, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE give yourself enough time — perhaps more than you think you actually need — to truly invest yourself in improving your reading comprehension skills.

We can’t tell you how many students have come to us lamenting their CARS score. START EARLY. Do CARS practice questions like it’s your job. Celebrate your progress. And if you get bored with the practice questions, mix it up by reading dense publications like the Economist, medical journals, or the New Yorker.

And for the science sections, DO NOT try to skip over your areas of weakness. Doing so will very likely come back to bite you. If you can’t master the weak areas on your own, don’t despair! You CAN and WILL get the hang of it — ask for help (see #2) to get a fresh perspective.

5. Mindset is key.

Another differentiating factor that has stood out among the highest MCAT scorers is their ability to stay positive and motivated. Few people actually like standardized exams, but just because you hate taking these tests does not mean it has to be miserable.

Try to adapt a winning mindset: Tell yourself you can and will do it, no matter how long it takes. Stay positive: Celebrate your progress and your consistent effort along the way! Remember that you are not alone on this path; that countless other students are striving alongside you.

Medical school is an incredible journey, and you will ultimately benefit in ways you can’t yet imagine if you start to cultivate your mental resilience, stamina and agility now.

If you have other questions regarding MCAT study techniques that we have not yet answered, please let us know in the comments section below.

And if you want to know more about how we’ve helped students go on to achieve their best scores — even if you’re not sure if you want a tutor — schedule your free consult to talk to one of our expert student coordinators. They work in tandem with our tutors to help our students achieve their best results.