posted by Kevin Jubbal, M.D.
Welcome to the next installment of our User Spotlight Series, where we highlight a recent MCAT examinee so that you can learn from their experience.
Arsalan Kamran graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and is currently completing a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology at Georgetown University.
Kevin Jubbal (KJ): Arsalan, can you tell us briefly about your MCAT experience?
Arsalan Kamran (AK): I’d describe my MCAT experience as a roller coaster. I started studying in 2018, going through Altius based in Utah. It was a rigorous program, requiring a great deal of work on top of my school load, which wasn’t realistic for me in hindsight. I ended up experiencing burnout and feel overall this was a failure as a study approach. But the reason I chose them was because they had a 90th percentile score guarantee. The catch, which I didn’t notice before signing up, is that you have to complete an insane amount of work to qualify for their guarantee, which allows you to go through their program again for free.
I went into studying for the MCAT with a strong intention to take the test once and only once. Studying for the test is grueling, and I didn’t want to go through this again if I didn’t need to. Despite putting in such effort and grueling hours into Altius, I was only at low 500s on my practice tests.
After completing Altius, I was able to self study and focus on weak areas and create my own schedule based on my life rather than following a rigorous program’s schedule. I used a variety of resources, took the MCAT on September 28, 2020, and scored a 515. My score breakdown was Chem/Phys 130, CARS 127, Bio/Biochem 128, Psych/Soc 130.
KJ: Tell us more about your self studying experience. What was your strategy in deciding resources and how did you approach self study?
AK: After my experience with the prep company, I was turned off by larger companies. I was already on dedicating my summer to studying for the MCAT to take it in August, and then COVID hit which made things even more complicated.
I looked at Reddit, SDN, and spoke with friends to create my own arsenal of content and questions. I used ExamKrackers and the Altius book for content review, UWorld for practice questions, and of course the official AAMC practice materials.
From there, I created a schedule, with a practice exam once every two weeks. I did content review for about 1 month, beginning in June, and in July to August I began focusing more heavily on practice questions/tests and thoroughly reviewing them. I was initially planning on taking the test in August, but I pushed to September because, again, I wanted to take the test once, and only once, and I didn’t feel quite ready.
I was also using Anki from the start, which I had been building and refining since my course with Altius. But as I built this deck, it just wasn’t effective. I’ll admit I actually felt inadequate, because I watched several YouTube videos and Reddit posts about how Anki is the best thing ever. I had spent significant time researching how to use Anki, trying to make my own cards, and finding premade decks, and I felt inferior for not getting it to click or work for me.
KJ: Why do you think Anki wasn’t working for you?
AK: Most obviously, there’s a massive learning curve in getting everything dialed in just right, and even then it didn’t feel fully optimized. Also as I went through the cards, I was memorizing the cards, not the content on the cards, if that makes sense. I would see a card and immediately know the answer, but it was more pattern recognition from seeing the card before rather than actually understanding what the card was testing me on.
I know my cards also weren’t optimal. A lot of them were the word on the front, and the definition of that word on the back side. But that isn’t reflective of how things are tested on the MCAT.
Making cards definitely slowed me down with Anki, but that wasn’t the full story. I was also experimenting a lot with other people’s premade decks from Reddit or experimenting with improving my own cards. The issue with other people’s decks is that they’re all too customized to that specific person, and so it doesn’t work optimally for other people. But with Memm, they designed it as a one size fits all because the cards are simply really well made, without having to adjust for my own idiosyncrasies.
KJ: Did you think spaced repetition just wasn’t for you?
AK: I was definitely considering that, but given all the praise of Anki and spaced repetition and active learning, I still felt like it was something wrong with me more than anything else. In early August, I saw a YouTube video by Med School Insiders talking about Memm, and it seemed promising so I signed up for the free trial. I actually didn’t even complete my free trial because I was so blown away, and I soon paid for 1 month. The interface was very user friendly, and there was a straightforward breakdown of each topic with sheets for biology, chemistry, physics, and so on, that made it much easier to make sense of and structure my studying before even getting to the cards.
I began with biology first, since I figured strategically it’s better to get the easiest content done first. I would describe the experience as a more streamlined and refined experience of Anki. There were still 3 buttons on the back of each card, but the cards were far better. I really mean that – the card quality was superior, and was what a flashcard should be. They were just more effective, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but doing Memm even became enjoyable. I was looking forward to reviewing the cards. There was also an option to add my own notes to the cards, but to be honest I rarely found myself ever using that since I didn’t feel the need.
I don’t think you understand how much of a game changer this was. It undercut Anki so much and I was able to get behind the spaced repetition and active recall hype. I saw a tremendous increase in my practice exams almost immediately.
Before Memm, I was scoring 505 or 506 on practice tests. After a few weeks of Memm, I was scoring 511 to 513 consistently.
KJ: How did you use Memm leading up to test day and what was that experience like?
AK: I finished all my cards by mid-September. I reviewed them every single day until test day, both the new cards and review cards that were assigned. I didn’t want to miss a single day to avoid any buildup in my review cards. Overall, it was about 3 hours of Memm studying per day, maybe a bit more or less on a given day, depending on how many review cards were due.
Overall, I would describe MCAT studying in two phases: before and after Memm. After I started using Memm, my stress levels were decreased tremendously. At baseline I’m definitely anxious and stressed out since that’s the life of a premed, and that was actually exacerbated by the fact that people all around me were using Anki, yet I was struggling to find it as worthwhile.
Memm was the perfect puzzle piece where I looked forward to it, which wasn’t the case for other MCAT study tools. It’s colorful, light feeling, and most importantly inviting to use.
My studying was streamlined because I didn’t have to spend time creating cards and then time later practicing them. I became more efficient — in fact, so much more so that I was able to watch TV or go to the gym most evenings. Prior, when using Anki, it would consume my day where I wouldn’t have time to do even do practice questions.
KJ: What would you tell other students about Memm?
AK: Memm should replace Anki as the default flashcard software for the MCAT because of its effectiveness, user-friendliness, and streamlined design. I hope that Memm overtakes Anki. I’m not an Anki hater — it’s a great tool, but it’s old and simply not as effective. It may sound over the top, but I genuinely believe that. Memm should take over this entire domain, and people should transition to using Memm if they care about their MCAT studying.
It’s a worthwhile investment. I spent a bit more than $100 on it, and it may seem like a lot to others, but it’s really not when you consider other big box companies that cost multiple thousands of dollars. I can honestly say I’ve never spent my money better than on Memm.
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