Youtuber Terence Thomas received 10 medical school acceptance letters in part by an MCAT strategy focusing on his weaknesses.
1. Introduce yourself
I’m Terence Thomas, a current medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia, PA. I also have a YouTube Channel where I document my journey as a medical student and provide advice to aspiring medical students on medical school admissions and the MCAT.
New to the MCAT? Start Here.
2. We learned that you delayed medical school. Why?
Primarily, I delayed medical school to improve my MCAT score. My advisors suggested that with a 500 MCAT score and the extracurriculars I had under my belt, I could have gained an acceptance into medical school. But with my MCAT score in the 47th percentile, I knew this would have limited my options as an applicant.
I pushed medical school off for a year to give my absolute best in studying for the MCAT. I know a lot of premeds assess the number of years of schooling and then training and they just want to be in the profession already, but I try to have a big-picture view of things. I knew that by taking a step back and overcoming this weakness in my application, the overall accomplishment of getting into medical school would be worth it. I’m glad I did take that time because I believe improving my MCAT score was a major reason why I ultimately received 10 medical school acceptance letters.
3. What schools were you intending to apply to, and what was your decision around boosting your MCAT score?
I wanted to see what I was truly capable of, and I didn’t want my MCAT score to be a barrier to entry. I knew I could do this by studying hard and reaching the highest score possible with the time I was given. I was interested in applying to allopathic (MD) medical schools, where the average matriculated MCAT score ranged anywhere from 510-518. My goal in studying was to score in this range and make my application as competitive as possible.
Read more on MCAT scores
4. How many times did you take the MCAT? How did you decide when to take the MCAT?
In total, I took the MCAT twice. The first time I took the MCAT, I was still in school. It was a challenge to balance the rigors of my undergraduate coursework and preparing for the MCAT. The benefit of my first attempt, however, was that it gave me a strong sense of what the experience would be like, so I was more prepared for my second time around. I knew I was ready to take it again when I felt that the sections I was initially stuck on were, over time, solvable. I really hammered on my weaknesses. Once those weaknesses strengthened, I knew I had to take another shot at the exam. I didn’t score a perfect 99th percentile on my second attempt, so there was always room to improve, but I eventually got to a point where I was comfortable with my score.
5. Approximately how many hours, total, did you study for the MCAT?
I studied around eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday, for three months.
6. What was your MCAT score?
My final MCAT score was 513, which landed me in the 88th percentile that year (2019).
7. How did you increase your MCAT score? What detailed step-by-step MCAT strategy could you offer to future MCAT test takers?
1. Dedicate time and do not multitask.
When I took the MCAT the first time, I was also finishing my undergraduate courses. I realized that I needed to spend independent time studying for my MCAT without the distraction of my college classes. I took three months just to study for the MCAT full-time, with nothing else. I treated the MCAT like a full-time job. I was lucky enough to move in with my parents, where I didn’t have to worry about working or struggling financially. In general, the biggest change from the first to the second was the distraction-free time dedicated to studying for the MCAT.
2. Hammer out practice questions and exams, plural.
UWorld’s MCAT learning tool was a game-changer for me. When I’d get an answer wrong, it would immediately tell me why I might have thought a certain way, and I would then change my way of thinking to get the right answer in the future. The answer explanations were detailed and allowed me to understand my weaknesses right then and there. Constant analysis of my practice exams allowed me to improve my test score.
3. Get comfortable identifying and approaching your weaknesses.
Each day, I would start by assessing my weaknesses from the day before. What sections went well? What sections needed more work? Being honest with myself about my struggle points was a skill in its own that I had developed years before I took the MCAT. Since I had the time, I would review each question that had stumped me, focusing on why it was a trouble spot and how I could learn what was required in case I was confronted with the same topic on the real exam. I made sure to cover my bases in a detailed way, and the only way I could do this was to focus on my problems.
It’s uncomfortable to focus on your weaknesses, especially for us premeds who are typically used to excelling, but it’s crucial for MCAT success. I knew what I needed to learn because I was hyper aware of my weaknesses when they’d surface through practice tests. Then, I’d work them out, either on my own or with other premeds, until I completely understood each concept.
4. Take the long route.
The MCAT asks you multifaceted, multilayered questions. If you have a weak spot in the foundational element of, say, cellular biology, that’s a pain point that’s going to keep arising if you don’t identify and target it. I really learned to take my time. One of the most imperative keys to my study success was taking that step back and taking the long route. From underachieving during my first attempt, I learned that there are no shortcuts to overcoming the MCAT. Eventually, I understood that diving deep into each topic would be much more beneficial than dabbling a little bit in everything.
5. See your wrong answers as an opportunity.
At some point in my study process, I began to get excited about answering questions wrong. I began seeing the “Incorrect” notification in a positive light—as an opportunity for growth. This way, I could learn that concept and not get it wrong in the future.
6. Balance between structure and flexibility.
A lot of premeds, including myself, would draft a highly specific study plan that we aimed to stick to over months at a time. But when I studied for the MCAT the second time, I changed my mindset and decided that genuine understanding would guide my study route. Rather than equally distributing time on each subject or topic, I’d instead take the time necessary to review each topic thoroughly. Subjects that came more naturally to me, I reviewed faster. But if it was an area I historically struggled in, I would review, and even re-teach myself, in more depth. Choosing understanding over rote memorization was one of the biggest things for me.
The word “flexibility” might seem counterintuitive to many when thinking of a plan. When we think of a plan or schedule, we think of rigidity and structure. We want to set the perfect MCAT study strategy from the beginning. In an ideal world, our study map would be pristine and we’d follow it like a recipe toward success. But I realized that if we have this mindset, we set ourselves up for failure. It’s important to be flexible in your study journey. It’s not so much about writing out the perfect schedule, but about being adaptable and understanding what we can do to improve along the way.
Blueprint’s MCAT also allows you to “test out of” subjects you already know. Check out our detailed review of this MCAT course.
8. What resources did you use to prep for the MCAT? Did you create your own study plan? Could you share details so that other students could follow this plan?
I had gone through several resources during my first MCAT attempt. For my second, I invested in UWorld. I knew I needed fresh questions and new content to learn from. From the layout to the practice questions, the format of UWorld’s MCAT tool mirrors the real exam. I literally have a notebook full of wrong answer choices and answer explanations from the practice tests I took through UWorld.
Here was my general study plan that I followed. It was far from flawless, but it gave me general structure in my approach. My study plan was broken down into three phases:
Weeks 1–4: Content Mastery
In my first MCAT attempt, I was frequently stumped by questions simply because I didn’t know a basic formula or what a definition meant. I wanted to avoid these mistakes this time around, so I dedicate four weeks to strictly learning and studying MCAT-related content. The MCAT strategy for this time period was to review all related material at least one time through. I did not do any practice questions during this time other than questions for the CARS section of the MCAT.
Weeks 4–6: Incorporating Practice Problems from UWorld and AAMC
Once I saw everything at least once, I felt more comfortable adding practice problems into my study regiment. I would break my days up by subject (ie. Mondays for Biology, Tuesdays for Physics, etc.) and would do questions specific to those topics on their dedicated days. At this time, I was also reviewing questions I was getting wrong, studying my notes, and reading textbooks.
Weeks 6-12: Practice, Practice, Practice
During this final phase of my MCAT strategy, I transitioned away from more ambiguously studying my notes or reading textbooks and began to tailor my days to my weaknesses. It was still important for me to review my strengths on occasions and keep them sharp, but most of my studying came from incorrect answers and mistakes. During phase 3, most of my eight-hour study days were spent doing UWorld and AAMC practice problems, reviewing questions I got right and wrong, and making notes on particular topics to review and strengthen.
As I mentioned, I kept a running list of random facts and areas I needed to strengthen, and would dedicate my study time to improving those weaknesses. Also during this time, I took at least one full-length MCAT practice test each week. This was great for helping me build my stamina in taking a seven-hour-long exam, while allowing me to assess my readiness for my actual exam.
A more detailed version of this MCAT strategy study plan can be found on my Youtube Channel.
Find some more free MCAT practice tests here.
9. Many students reach out to us for help in getting organized or motivated to prep. What tips can you share with them on how to juggle school/job/MCAT prep?
I would recommend students to be focused and strategic with the time you do have. You MCAT strategy should focus on your weaknesses and work on them until they won’t be a problem on the exam. It’s so easy to get defeated by the load that comes with studying for the MCAT. If you focus on one step at a time and not the whole staircase, you’ll eventually cover your bases and give yourself the best chance at reaching your target score.
With regards to juggling a busy life and MCAT prep, time management and prioritizing is everything. Yes, dedicating three months strictly to the MCAT is ideal, but I understand this isn’t realistic for most. However, it is important to give the MCAT the respect it deserves and take the test when you are ready. My biggest mistake when balancing undergraduate classes and MCAT studying was not prioritizing the MCAT. I thought I could take shortcuts and be fine. Unfortunately, the MCAT exposed this way of thinking and I paid the price for that. In retrospect, I would’ve stretched out my studying time further and pushed back my test to when I was truly ready. The MCAT and medical school aren’t going anywhere. They will always be there when you’re ready.
10. You mentioned 10 acceptance letters to medical schools – which schools did you get into and which did you ultimately attend?
I was very fortunate during my admissions cycle, and I am grateful until this day for the experience it gave me. Every student applies with the goal of gaining just one acceptance, and to come away with 10 was a dream come true.
I was accepted to:
- SUNY Downstate College of Medicine
- Tufts University School of Medicine
- Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell
- University of Massachusetts Medical School
- Boston University School of Medicine
- Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
- University of Connecticut School of Medicine
- Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
- Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
I ultimately chose Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
11. Any other MCAT strategy tips or suggestions for students prepping for the MCAT for the first time?
Actively learning is so much more effective than rote memorization. Invest in a learning tool, not necessarily a test prep tool. The MCAT is going to be a key barrier to medical school acceptance, but reaching your target score is possible. I truly believe that you don’t need a certain level of smarts to score high on the MCAT. You need patience, a good work ethic, and a solid MCAT strategy.
Terence Thomas is a medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Visit his YouTube channel where he provides insight on his life as a medical student and offers a unique perspective to the next generation of medical school applicants.