Getting ready for the MCAT
You know how important the MCAT is: A good score is an entree to medical school interviews; a bad score can sink even a great GPA and extracurriculars.
While the MCAT is not the most important part of medicine (not by a long shot), it is a necessary evil. And it’s important to keep in mind the role MCAT scores play in the admissions process.
Preparing thoroughly for the test can really pay off. In the long run an investment of $1,000 to $2,000 for an MCAT test prep course – if it improves your score – is well worth it.
While the amount of material you need to know for the MCAT may seem daunting, keep in mind that it is finite.
A focused and disciplined approach to studying will let you cover almost everything you need to know. Practicing the test will get you even farther. And learning est-taking techniques can get you very far on the MCAT.
Having taught MCAT prep courses for many years, here are my recommendations for planning for success on the MCAT and getting into medical school:
Making an MCAT preparation plan
1. Make a study plan.
The first thing to do is schedule your study time. Plan for at least two months of study time, longer if you don’t feel comfortable with all the core material. Set specific goals for each week.
Second, find out what’s important to study. You don’t want to spend your whole life studying every synthesis reaction in organic chemistry or quantum mechanics. Find out what’s important on the MCAT test.
It’s surprisingly easy to figure out what is important – the makers of the MCAT tell you! You can find Physical Sciences topics (including general chemistry) and Biological Sciences topics (including organic chemistry) through the AAMC website.
More importantly, the AAMC also tells you the relative importance of all these MCAT topics.
2. Continually test yourself with MCAT type practice questions.
The MCAT has specific ways of asking about certain topics – so do as many MCAT practice questions as you possibly can. There are a variety of MCAT prep courses, the most respected are from Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Here are a few options:
A friend of mine spent a whole summer doing question banks and Kaplan review materials, and he aced the MCAT. When I interviewed at Harvard, I was slightly annoyed to be asked about him and his phenomenal MCAT scores. He got in, I went somewhere else. It pays to do well on the MCAT!
3. Learn test-taking skills.
Develop techniques for guessing when you are stuck. When I taught MCAT prep, I used to give a demonstration of test-taking skills: I asked half the class to skip the text portion of the question and just answer the questions. The other half read the text and the questions, then answered the questions. The first group did almost as well as the group that read everything – in much less time!
Even more surprising, students that read just the answers (not the questions or the text) did much better than chance when answering the questions. When you’re extremely strapped for time, understanding how answers are phrased and ordered can be a huge help. Try it while you take a practice test. Guess the answers without reading the question first, then answer again after having read the question.
These test-taking skills can be learned – if you are not familiar with them, you might consider finding an MCAT tutor.
If you have any questions on MCAT prep or the test itself, please post them to our mcat forum.