MCAT 20-Point Improvement as a Non-Traditional Retaker

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.

As a non-traditional applicant, Martin Balch had his work cut out for him. He was a 29 year old with a civil engineering background and a newborn requiring attention, but he was determined to overcome the MCAT and get into medical school. His first attempt at the MCAT using a test prep course went poorly, scoring a 490, but he was able to drastically improve to a competitive score using Memm as the core part of his study strategy

After taking the MCAT the second time and receiving his score, we had a chat with Martin to learn from his story.

Kevin Jubbal (KJ): Martin, you’ve taken the MCAT before. Walk us through that experience and how you did.

Martin Balch (MB): I started studying a few months before my test. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I bought into the marketing of a certain big test prep company. I spent $2,500 on it, but it came with a 510 score guarantee so I felt secure. Little did I know, there was fine print involved in this promise. I took the MCAT in January of 2020, and when I got 490 back as my test score, I definitely felt deflated. What really rubbed me the wrong way is that this didn’t qualify for the 510 score guarantee. They said since my first practice test was a 479 and I improved by 10 points or greater, I couldn’t claim it.

I knew I needed a much better score, so I went back to the drawing board. Khan Academy came up as good material and it’s free. At this point, my second test date was in September, about 6 months away, which I felt was a good amount of time to get through everything since I was still working my engineering job full time and was busy at home with our new baby. My plan was to get through all the KA content, do a couple practice tests, and hopefully arrive at a better score.

KJ: You increased your score by 20 points from your first to second MCAT. That’s quite impressive. How’d you manage that?

Memm was the biggest factor in my improvement, but it took me a while to discover it. 

Around July, I finished all the Khan Academy content but was still getting a lot of incorrect answers on practice questions.I searched Reddit extensively, specifically the MCAT subreddit, for advice on what to do next. Anki seemed to come up often.  Having never used Anki before, I decided to give it a try, so I downloaded the program on my computer and downloaded a couple premade decks. But going through the decks, I wasn’t the biggest fan. Having never used Anki, I was very unfamiliar with how the program worked and with my test date quickly approaching, I did not want to invest the time into learning it.  Also, I was noticing that I was coming across a lot of  flashcards that were about information I had never seen on the MCAT, nor on practice tests.

At around 1 month out from my test date, I saw a video on YouTube describing Memm, and I figured maybe it would help. Even though I had a decent enough grasp of the content, I wasn’t scoring well. I had just taken AAMC Full Length 3 and scored 499.

I bought the 1 month subscription and planned to get through all the content in 2 weeks, which averaged to roughly 2 topics per day. That way, I would have 2 weeks to review.  The learning curve for Memm’s platform was almost non-existent, unlike Anki. Oftentimes I would be reviewing cards on my phone while putting the baby down to sleep.

After I started using Memm, immediately, something clicked. The mnemonics made sense and stuck, and the added information on the review sheets and underneath the flashcards helped things take hold.

With Khan Academy, I was able to remember more recent videos, but those that I had watched months ago I couldn’t recall. It was actually very frustrating since I knew I had reviewed the information, I just couldn’t remember it.

After going through all of Memm’s content, I took AAMC Full Length 4 and scored a 514. I actually got perfect or near perfect scores in Bio/Biochem and Psych/Soc. This was a very surprising test for me because it felt so different. One of the biggest changes I noticed was how much more clear the passages were. I was able to finish each section about 10-15 minutes early, when previously I would have to guess on 5 or 6 questions because I was always up against the clock.

I took the MCAT for the second time in September and scored a 510, which unfortunately was largely held back by a poor 122 CARS score. My score breakdown was 128 Chem/Phys, 122 CARS, 130 Bio/Biochem, and 130 Psych/Soc.

Overall my final month was just a matter of using Memm, taking AAMC full length 4, and answering all the AAMC section bank questions, and I saw such a big improvement. Since my CARS score is weak, I’m planning on taking the MCAT again in January with focus there. Hopefully that will improve and even out my score.

KJ: Tell us more about how you used Memm. What made it work better than Anki?

MB: The difference was night and day with Memm. I was able to remember the information much quicker and also retrieve it easily on the test.

For example, on my actual MCAT, there was a question about water soluble vitamins. Before, I’d have to really sit and think and spend valuable time digging through the passage, but it came to me instantly. I still remember the “naked guy” mnemonic from Memm. What would have been a 3 minute question likely ending in a guess and raising frustration levels because I knew I had reviewed this material, turned into a 10 second question where I knew I was right.

One of the biggest things that happened in the last month was my confidence shot up. Prior, I would be ecstatic with breaking 500, but after using Memm, I knew I could do much more.

In comparing it to Anki, they’re similar but quite different. Memm was a better solution for me for a few reasons. The first being that it’s very user friendly. With a very demanding schedule, I need the time I’m preparing for the MCAT used for reviewing content and taking practice exams, not learning how to best use a new tool, like Anki. Also, the material on Memm is very high yield and it doesn’t get too much in the weeds on subjects that aren’t going to show up on the MCAT.  You’re not wasting your precious study time learning things that aren’t going to show up on the test, and that alone justifies the value of Memm over something like Anki. Immediately I could tell that the material I was reviewing were questions I had seen on previous practice tests or on the real test. For example, aromatic amino acids came up, and the WIFEY mnemonic from Memm still sticks months later while we’re doing this interview.

Having been a long-time subscriber to Med School Insiders, I knew that with Memm, I was learning from the experts, whereas with Anki I was putting faith in some random guy from Reddit, using software I wasn’t fully comfortable with.

KJ: As a non-traditional working with a busy life, how did you manage to schedule in MCAT studying?

MB: Like you said, I was incredibly busy. I had a 2 year old daughter at home while doing my full time engineering job, so unlike the typical premed I didn’t have 12 hours per day to study.

One of the biggest mistakes I made initially was thinking I could get ready for the MCAT by taking a 2 month prep class right before my test date.  While it is possible to get ready for the MCAT in that time, I just didn’t have enough hours in the day that I could dedicate to studying to do so.  So after receiving a poor score on my first MCAT,  I decided I needed to stretch out my review to around 6-8 months to space out my prep and get through everything.  Doing this allowed me to get ready for the MCAT and still get adequate sleep and exercise (both of which were almost non-existent during the prep class). 

Another reason I benefited so much from Memm was that it fit into this schedule I set for myself perfectly.  Memm wasn’t a big time commitment. I was usually on the platform for just a few hours per day. It was definitely a much more efficient use of my time, which was extra important since I had my test date approaching quickly and other demands on my time. Using a platform that allowed me to use my study time in the most efficient way possible was therefore very valuable.

KJ: What would you tell other students about Memm?

MB: You’ll be amazed how much difference even just one month of using Memm can make. It ties up all the loose ends and solidifies your content review. If you’re like me, a month out from the test and still getting high 490s or low 500s, just trust the process, be consistent in reviewing your cards, and you’ll see a world of a difference.

Last edited on: December 17, 2020

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