Starting a new year always prompts me to reflect on the previous year. I think of what I’ve accomplished and what didn’t. But for some reason, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I tend to focus on what I didn’t accomplish. For me, in 2018, I graduated with honors, passed my honors thesis, traveled to Canada to present my research, and was published in a book chapter. But all of these great accomplishments have been overshadowed by what I didn’t do, specifically, not taking the MCAT exam and, subsequently, withdrawing my medical school applications.

It makes me feel like I did all these amazing things for no reason and like I lost another year before I can start the next chapter of my life as a medical student. Luckily, after some reflection, I can now see past what I didn’t accomplish and how it might be a blessing in disguise. 

Last year, I applied to medical schools before taking the MCAT exam, so that my application would be processed early, and scheduled a later MCAT test date to give myself the most time to study. Then, on the day of the exam, I found out my ID was expired and didn’t have a second form of identification with me. My ID had just expired, but I was so consumed with studying that I never thought to check my ID in advance.  I thought about rescheduling, but I realized something important: I wasn’t ready to take the exam. I knew I could have a stronger application if I waited another cycle.

Regretfully, I withdrew my applications and apologized to the schools. This left me feeling defeated, discouraged, and upset at myself. I felt everything I had been working for had been for nothing. It took me a few weeks to come out of my “funk” by refocusing on why I am pursuing a career in medicine. Not only for myself and my family, but to be of service to my community. I decided to finish my senior year strong.

Not taking the MCAT exam has allowed me to assess what I did wrong in my preparation and how to be ready to take it in 2019.  If I had taken the exam last year, I know I wouldn’t have done my best. In hindsight, I realize I didn’t study in the best ways for me and that is why I wasn’t scoring well on my practice tests.

I was that student who got through college by studying the day before and did well in my classes. So, I believed that content review alone and some practice would prepare me for the exam. That did not work for me and I didn’t give myself enough time to study. I had set aside three months, one month dedicated just to content review, which was insanely stressful. I was studying 8-10 hours daily, religiously. I wasted a lot of time on reviewing content that I didn’t retain and doing practice problems as I went. This led me to a burn out early and proceeded to go downhill from there. After my month of content review, I decided that I should use my AAMC resources and start my full-length exams (FL) reviewing after each one I took. But I only scheduled one day to review each practice test. Reviewing not only what I got wrong, but also the correct answers that I knew I had only guessed on added more time. Time I didn’t have. Then, after taking the FL’s I realized I needed more practice and a LOT of it. I began to do the Question Packs and Section Bank offered by the AAMC, but ultimately, ran out of time to practice and review them, and retake the FL’s to assess where I was at.

This time around, my plan is to build a schedule with a lot of practice and give myself more time for rest days and unforeseen events or needs. I’ll also give myself time to use other resources for practice questions and FL’s, and save the AAMC resources for when I feel I have a grasp of the content to get the practice results I am hoping for. I also know not to waste time with a month of straight content review again. I am adjusting and learning new strategies, like how to approach passages. I am also finding helpful resources such as videos and practicing what I am learning from them.

Now I have a goal date to take the MCAT exam and I have a back-up date if I need a bit more time. I have given myself time to assess where I stand before I pick my test date. But with either choice, I will know my scores before I submit my applications without them being in too late. My advice is to adjust your schedule to you. You can get ideas from others but don’t create your study plan from someone else’s because they are not YOU!

So here I am again, beginning my MCAT prep and ready for what this year will bring. I wanted to say to those of you who may be feeling stressed, or discouraged that it is okay to stop, even feel a little sorry for yourself. But ALWAYS come back and fight a new fight to overcome whatever challenge or circumstance you may be facing at this point or in the future. I know that’s my main goal this year.