≡ Menu

New Project: I’m Going To Pass The MCAT…Oh Crap

mcat prep

meet the new mistress, MCAT manual.

I’m writing this today to hold myself accountable, but I’ll give you the backstory of this new exercise in stupid ambition.

My department has a big study room that some students have been using for the past few months to prep for the MCAT. And every time I walk by the room I look at their white board full of abstruse hieroglyphs and I wonder just how hard it is. I know it’s even more difficult than I probably think it is, but it’s been nagging at me.

Could I?

Should I?

Would I?

There’s really no reason for me to study for, and pass the test that gets you into medical school. But I’m going to. It overlaps with enough of my interests that it’s certainly not going to hurt me, and I have nothing against learning just cuz.

The big problem

Go to Google and type in “How long should I study for the MCAT?” You’ll find people who have finished up their pre-med degrees in chemistry, physics, exercise science, biology, or various combinations or all of the above. Apparently they all prep from between 3-8 months.

Then there’s me. I did an English degree and my 101 science classes were a long time ago.

Yesterday I took an MCAT review book off the shelf, flipped it open, and laughed. Then I went and checked out Physics for Dummies, Biology for Dummies, and a comic book that is going to get me started in chemistry.

I spent the evening yesterday wrestling with standard notation and getting back on top of exponents and fractions. Heady stuff, yes?


But I don’t care. I’m going to do it. So my question becomes, for a guy at the For Dummies level in these specific areas, are we talking about a year of prep? Five years? Throw in the fact that I don’t have hours to study with every day and how does that change things?

I have no idea, but I am a curious bastard and I’m going to find out. By the end of 2011 I am going to take my first practice test and then we’ll see what’s what.

I’ll be tracking it here on the blog. I’m actually very excited about this. I do best when I have a big idiotic direction to go in, and this fits nicely.

Who’s going to join me? HAHAHAHAHAHA.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Boris April 21, 2011, 8:32 pm

    I’m not going to join you, but it does sound fun!

  • Kirk April 21, 2011, 8:45 pm

    I’m in.
    I’ve had a lot of exposure to medical science lately which has reminded me how interested I am in it… Of course I have a BA in Anthropolgy and Comparative Religion and an MA in International Relations with a focus on terrorism, so I am right there with you on needing the dummies books for pretty much anything in the MCAT… So let’s do it! I will negin my prep this weekend and will share my weapons of choice in the comments.

  • Amy April 21, 2011, 10:03 pm

    Go for it! I have always wanted to take the MCAT just to see how I’d do, but never did because my Mom and two of my sisters kept on pressing for me to go to medical school. They told me as an Exercise Physiologist I have the basics covered but I had no desire to spend 8 years of my life (medical school & residency) never seeing my son.

  • Bill Jones April 22, 2011, 4:22 am

    Very cool. I’ve thought about this off/on for years. While in college a friend of mine in med school tells me I should be a doctor. I told him I didn’t think I was smart enough. He replied,”There are a lot of dumb doctors out there.” Not on board with you yet but I’ll be thinking about it all weekend.

    Have you picked a date for the exam?

  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave April 22, 2011, 5:04 am

    Excellent!!! Thousands of years ago, right before my 25th birthday, I took the LSAT. Partially on a whim, mostly to prove a point to myself. I spent a couple of weeks with a prep book from my local library; mainly to familiarize myself with the structure. Weeks and weeks later I got that envelope–the score wasn’t stellar–but I had passed. More than two decades later I finally finished the first and then a second BA, and have no plans for law school. But I still have those scores somewhere.
    One thing I remember clearly was noticing that my stress level entering and sitting for the LSAT was miniscule compared to my fellow test-takers. I always assumed that was from my being there on a lark–but I’ve always wondered if that reduced stress improved my score.
    Anyway–I say go for it. If nothing else, you learn something new, and have a cool beans story for your son when he reaches the adolescent “Dad’s too dumb for words” stage!

    • Spencer April 22, 2011, 1:56 pm


      This is a great story! I had a similar experience. Well, kind of. After graduating with a degree in English, and not knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to take the LSAT “for reals.” In preparation for that venture, I was encouraged to take a multi-week prep course provided by Kaplan. On the first night of the course, you come in and take a full practice test, cold, to gauge where you are and what level of preparation you will need. So I took the test, not stress free, but considerably less stressful than the day of the actual test. And I did moderately well. I didn’t ace it, but was within striking distance of the score I would need to get into the schools I was interested in. The class is a couple thousand bucks. I went to class every week, studied for several hours independently, and finally the day of the actual test arrived. And it was scary! And stressful! And people were freaking out!!! I took the test in an auditorium full of about 800 people, including myself, that were on the absolute edge of COMPLETELY LOSING IT! Like you, I waited for the months and months it apparently takes to calculate your results, and finally that envelope arrived. And my score had improved. By 2 points. 2 points on a 180 point test. Not worth it! Or so I thought. But you raise an interesting point. Maybe if I could have taken the test, plus the prep, but somehow minus the stress that actually taking it created for me, I could have done exceptionally well. Maybe that would have been a better use of that time/money; de-stressing exercises. Or maybe the class is a rip off. Now I will never know!

  • Gustavo April 22, 2011, 7:48 am

    I said it once and I’ll say it again: you’re crazy!

    Anyways, I can help you with biology and physics if you need a hand.

    I have been working in (marine) biology for 15 years so I am NOT taking any test remotely similar to that. Is the GRE good enough for you? (English is not my native language so it should be a challenge)

  • Spencer April 22, 2011, 2:02 pm


    I love this plan, and would usually even be on board. Tell me when you are planning on taking it, and I would maybe be game. I am very curious myself, also always up for a challenge, especially one involving idiocy. I could be persuaded!

    I want to know what kind of score you are going for, though. I’m sure you already knew this, but these tests are not exactly pass/fail. More like You’re Going to Harvard/You’re Going to some Shady No-Name Institution in Puerto Rico. Sure, you graduate, and a doctors a doctor, but I’m just saying. What kind of score are we going for? Maybe the practice test would be telling. Maybe you could get into a medical school right now. Cold (see my entry above). I am very intrigued, and will follow this line of insanity closely. Best of luck!

    • Josh Hanagarne April 22, 2011, 4:01 pm

      Good question. I hadn’t even considered that. I’ve done some quick research and it looks like the top schools have an average of 13 in the science tests. I’m going to go for 13s.

      • Spencer April 27, 2011, 3:41 pm

        I like it. Ambitious but attainable.

  • Jason April 22, 2011, 6:30 pm

    Josh, since studying in groups provides some advantages than just studying by yourself, maybe you should join those students in the study room. I’d love to hear their reaction to what you’re doing.

  • Armen Shirvanian April 24, 2011, 10:53 am

    Hi Josh.

    This is an interesting goal. I was wondering if you have set a goal for the score you would want to receive on it, like a 30R or 32S or whatnot. If not, that is cool too.

    Also, something that comes to mind is that studying for something like going on Jeopardy might be a more fitting use of effort as the items you would learn about during MCAT review like info about acetylcholine receptors and x-ray data are mostly a barrier to medical school, and not really generally usable information, while information learned for Jeopardy like world capitals and events is more globally useful. Just putting that out there since it looks as though you would be doing this mainly for the learning.

    Either way, nice to see you promoting and representing gaining of knowledge.

  • Elana April 24, 2011, 5:15 pm

    Ha! This is hilarious. I love it. I took the MCAT many years ago (I graduated from medical school last year). I would say a couple of things:

    1. If you’re aiming for 13s on every section, that’s pretty ambitious. That’s above 95th percentile – and you’re competing against people who have science degrees and probably took courses like Kaplan. I definitely didn’t do that well and I spent years taking science courses. The average is an 8 on each section (it’s curved around this).

    2. A third of the test is verbal reasoning (if it’s the same as when I took it). You could probably take that section today without studying and get a great score. It’s very SAT style. This was my best section.

    3. Instead of getting “science for dummies” books, I’d recommend getting your hands on the books used by a course like Kaplan or Princeton Review (I’m sure you can get them used for cheap on ebay or something). I had a set of books from Kaplan that basically had all the science I needed in them. This way you’re learning the stuff you actually need for the test without getting bogged down in everything else (95% of what I learned in my 4 years of science courses wasn’t relevant to this test).

    Anyway, I love this idea – it’s always fun to challenge yourself to learn new things. Good luck!

    • Josh Hanagarne April 24, 2011, 5:43 pm

      That is great to know, thank you! I’ll grab some of the Kaplan books tomorrow at work.

      • Muhammad, Qayyim November 10, 2011, 2:14 pm

        Josh, ironically, I’m on the same mission. I just decided to take the MCAT’s in Jan. I have a background in Psychology and teaching. I would love to know your progress. Thanks

        • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2011, 2:26 pm

          Awesome! I’ve got sidetracked slightly but am back on it. I’m just drilling the math right now. Without that foundation I was having a hard time engaging with a lot of the material. Are you giving yourself a deadline?

  • Scott April 25, 2011, 3:18 am

    This is super badass… Good luck, man.

    Will watch with much interest.

  • Dawn May 30, 2011, 3:24 pm

    Hey! I’m as silly as you! Physics 101 at the community college starts next week and I already got the school to enlist a physics tutor for me. Keep in touch. I’ve got a degree in Literature and have been taking all those 101 courses in the sciences as my bucket list. Will turn forty in two years.

  • Jimmy June 3, 2011, 1:36 am

    I’m a board certified family practice doc. As previously mentioned, there is no pass/fail score on the MCAT. That’s like saying there is a “pass” score for the SAT or ACT. Indeed the MCAT is a dreadful exam & has little to do w/ what u actually learn in med school. Oh btw, to the person who made the comment about medical schools in puerto Rico… PR is part of the US & its 4 med schools are LCME accredited. A student is actually better off going to a medical school in PR than going to one in a foreign country (I.E. Mexico or Dominica). Believe it or not u have to hey decent mcat scores to get into a med school in PR. They use the same “match” that all other US med school students use during their 4th year to get into residency. Some foreign medical schools don’teven require the MCAT for admissions. There are several hurdles foreign medical students have to go through in order to obtain a residency position in the States. Yet, many well qualified individuals seem to do it every year so it is not impossible. Going to a residency for a certain amount of time is the only way one can get licensed in any state. Also the completion of a residency is the ONLY way of obtaining board certification in that field. Best of luck on your endeavor! I know I will not personally be interested in studying for the LSAT or GMAT anytime soon.

  • Myron December 24, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Hey there, i think this task you are taking on is absolutely fantastic. i have ben thinking of doing the same and going all in taking some science 101 classes. please let me know your progress as this is very inspirational to me

  • Lisa May 21, 2012, 2:21 pm

    Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. I went to all independent studies type liberal arts colleges (aka the kinds that don’t have grades), including getting my Master of Environmental Studies. I am considering applying to get my transcripts retroactively graded and apply for medical school at McMaster University, the only school in Canada that accepts humanities students. They only use the verbal reasoning score of the MCAT but I am told they expect students to have some science background either way. If I applied for this year I’d have to do my MCAT this summer, which is super scarey being so soon. Should I just do it and throw my anxiety in the wind? Currently I work as a provincial health worker coordinating one of the main needle exchanges in downtown Toronto. I figure with my health background and a high verbal reasoning score I may stand a chance? Would appreciate hearing from others on their luck studying for MCATs without a science background. Thanks!!!