Tag Archive: premed

5 Tips to Acing Premed Requirements

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Are A’s everything in med school admissions? Not really, in fact, you get get away with B’s on your transcript pretty comfortably. Want proof? Based on AAMC admissions data, for students who got a 30 on the MCAT, 54% of those with a GPA of 3.6 were admitted to med school. 72% of those with a 3.8 were admitted to med school. The likelihood is very high that with a 3.6 to 3.7, you’ve got some B’s on your transcript.

Obviously not all B’s are created equal, and in general you want to be performing well in your prerequisites (Organic Chem, Bio, etc.). There’s also no substitute for doing honest, hard work in your classes. In light of that point, what things can you do to optimize your chances of doing well and give you a structural approach to handling your coursework?

  1. Go to lecture!

    Classes like Organic Chemistry are tough to learn from a textbook. Although textbook and online resources such as videos are great supplements, different schools may handle problems in different ways, and you want to be on the same page with your professor. Most premed requirements at larger schools have multiple lecturers for a the course. Since the exams for these classes are usually identical for all sections, if you don’t like your lecturer, just go to a different one! You still need to take your exams with your section, but if you don’t like your lecturer you aren’t necessarily stuck.

  2. Show up for office hours.

    There are a bunch of reasons to do this.

    • You get your questions answered and help with the content.
    • The TA’s and/or professor may be able to “use personal discretion” and move your grades around if you are on the cusp of the next letter grade and they feel like you’ve been genuinely working hard for your grade.
    • The TA’s and/or professor may be helpful down the road for recommendation letters.
  3. Do the work!

    Seriously, just do it. A lot of the content covered in your premed requirements is going to show up on the MCAT too, so you get a double bonus for learning it well. Try the Pomodoro Technique for balancing work/relaxation time. Learn more about the technique here, and get a timer for it here.

  4. Look up what the med school requirements are from your premed department.

    Don’t get fooled into thinking upper level courses are requirements – they may not be! Your pre-health advisor/department can usually help and may have a list of courses. Use your advisors as a resource!

  5. Check the averages for different courses.

    Note: not all schools allow public access to grades, but it’s worth a check to see if yours does. If not, you can also get by using something like RateMyProfessor.com or other service to gauge different classes. Not all courses are created equal! While in theory you should be taking classes that interest you and not just those that have high averages, be realistic about the weighting adcoms will give your interests. At the end of the day it’s important to do well, and monitoring course averages to avoid bombing classes can do wonders for your GPA and your psyche. Different sections may have different averages with different profs as well! While this is sometimes due to random chance of the section cohort, it’s clear that some profs just don’t do their teaching job as well as others.

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/5-tips-to-acing-premed-requirements/

Making the Most of Your Practice Exams

Taking MCAT practice exams is one of the most useful things you can do in your exam preparation.  Most advice out there tells you to “understand why you got things wrong.”  Here’s the problem with that advice: it doesn’t actually tell you how to go over your exams.  Going over your wrong answers may remind you of core content you don’t know, but there is often a deeper why to why you didn’t get the correct answer.  Here, we try to provide you the materials to be able to properly go over the practice exams you take.

Last year we had a student come to us after struggling to improve her score on diagnostic tests and ask us for help.  She said her main problem was that she would narrow down the problem to two answer options and then inevitably pick the wrong one.  An interesting and tough problem.  But why should you take your own word for it?  How do you really know that’s why you’re getting things wrong if you don’t have any data to back it up?

Like any scientist, you should be testing your hypotheses.  It turns out that our student was getting questions wrong because she simply didn’t know the content/equation involved.  She was getting 5 times more questions wrong for this reason than for the reason she initially thought.  That definitely helped her refocus her energy where it counted for her: learning the equations and relevant content.  She created equation study sheets and solved a key gap in her knowledge.

Overall, doing more practice is only half the battle.  If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll keep making them over and over again.  To fully understand these mistakes is to truly analyze your practice.  For a bonus opportunity, make sure you’re reviewing questions you got right as well.  If you got lucky on a question once, don’t assume you’ll get lucky next time.  Make sure you’re getting questions right for the right reasons.

We’ve created an Excel spreadsheet (v2.1 updated 7/2015) that you can use to analyze your practice exams and really understand why you’re getting questions wrong.  Try it out and let us know what you think!

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/making-the-most-of-your-practice-exams/

Should I Retake the MCAT?

You were shooting for a 38 but instead you got a 37.  Time to buckle down and study harder to retake the exam?  Probably not.  Unfortunately, most students don’t find themselves in this wonderful dilemma.  Instead, they were shooting for 30+ and perhaps received a 28.  If you missed your mark by a few or more points, should you retake the exam?  The short answer is: it depends.

Continue reading below for a quantitative analysis, and make sure to also check out our MCAT retake calculator!

The two major questions to ask are:

  1. What’s a “good enough” MCAT score for me?
  2. What are my chances of improving my score?

What’s a “good enough” MCAT score?

Let’s examine the issue as objectively as possible with some statistics.  First, the big numbers: in 2011 there were 43,919 applicants to all US medical schools.1 Of those, 19,230 matriculated; just under 44%.

So how do these two groups compare in terms of their MCAT stats?

Student scores for applicants, matriculants, and students not accepted.  Ranges from each group include one standard deviation above and below the mean. The data for students not accepted were extrapolated from 2009-2011 aggregate data2

This graph shows us the range of scores one standard deviation above and below the mean for each group. Overall that means each bar represents 68% of students in that particular group. It’s clear that if you’ve scored 30+, your chances of getting into med school are good.

Confirming these observations, 69% of students who scored 30-45 were accepted in 2009-11 while only 29% of students who scored 18-29 were accepted. To that point, scoring 27-29 made you twice as likely to be admitted as scoring 24-26, and scoring 30-32 made you 42% more likely to be admitted as scoring 27-29. Once you hit the 33+ range, the increases in your chances of acceptance are marginal.

Ultimately what is more telling is how your GPA is coupled with your MCAT score. A great GPA can only help you so much with a low score, and vice versa.

Correlation of GPA, MCAT Score, and Acceptance Rate from aggregated 2009 to 2011 data2. Yellow area indicates acceptance rates of >50%. Note that the smallest dots do not distinguish between a 0% acceptance rate and a lack of applicants with that combination of scores.

Aside from a few outliers, the data show a clear “sweet spot” of score combinations where a majority of applicants are accepted. Our earlier range of 30+ can be revised down to 28+ if you’ve got the GPA to back it up (3.7 or higher). However, your leeway diminishes rapidly with your GPA.

Since admissions aren’t a lottery, you should always factor in various personal characteristics, extracurricular activities, and other experiences. Indeed there were about 9% of people with a GPA of 3.8+ and an MCAT of 39+ who were not accepted to med school. Clearly there are no guarantees.

What are my chances of improving my score?

Even if you think you may want to retake the MCAT, you should still carefully consider your chances of improving your score.  Only 2/3 students manage to increase their score by 1 or more points.  To make it worth all the extra effort and time studying, extra money, and opportunity cost of not doing other application-enhancing activities, you probably want to see at least a 2-3 point increase in your score.  This is something only half of retakers manage to achieve.

Some students may be concerned that the higher their original score, the lower their chances of improving their score.  This turns out not to be the case.  If you scored below 21, your chance of improving by 2 or more points is only 58%.  However, if you scored over 30, your chance of improving by 2 or more points is 49%.  Overall a difference of 58% vs. 49% is marginal given the difference in starting score.

No matter what, however, if you do decide to retake the exam, your chances of improvement are very low if you don’t study hard and really focus in on your trouble areas.  Make sure you have a good answer to ‘How will you study differently this time?’ Quantity of time studying is rarely the key factor in your score; study strategies, pacing, subject focus, and a number of other factors can have a much bigger influence.  That’s why it’s important to make sure you supplement your studying with reliable MCAT prep content or courses.

Other general factors

  • Do not retake the exam if your only motivation is to improve your writing score. The writing section is mostly ignored by medical schools, hence why it is being completely phased-out in 2013.
  • If you scored below 7 on any individual section or if your target schools have a minimum cutoff you haven’t met, you should consider retaking the exam.  Though we didn’t discuss it, a 14-14-5 generally looks far worse than 11-11-11.  A very low individual subject score often shows significant gaps in knowledge and can be a big red flag.

You can also check out our MCAT retake calculator!

1 MCAT Scores and GPAs for Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools, 2000 – 2011. https://www.aamc.org/download/161690/data/table17.pdf

2 MCAT and GPA Grid for Applicants and Acceptees to U.S. Medical Schools, 2009-2011 (aggregated). https://www.aamc.org/download/270906/data/table24-mcatgpagridall0911.pdf

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/should-i-retake-the-mcat/

Summary of the Event: eCourse Info Session and Sample

Last night we hosted a great info session and sample for the eCourse.  We were happy to have an overwhelming response so we ended up running two sessions to fit everyone in!  We discussed details of our MCAT course options, how they work, past students performance, and we answered students’ questions.  We then ran a sample session of the eCourse with real content and practice questions to give a glimpse of what the course looks like.

Students asked some great questions that we’ve summarized for you.  You’re also welcome to check out the session for yourself and see what the eCourse is like – we’ve made it available for download!

Update: Session available for download is from February 27, 2014!
Link to the download.  You will also need the WebEx recording viewer for (Windows | Mac).

Student Questions

Why should we take your course over Kaplan or Princeton Review?

This is the question, isn’t it?  There are a couple important reasons why the eCourse can be more valuable to you than the other courses out there:

  1. Instructors: At big companies you can’t be guaranteed a great instructor.  These companies often hire grad students who may not have even taken the MCAT before.  Instructors are often paid a relatively low wage and have no vested interest in the company or in the students.  With our course, you’re guaranteed a top-rated, and top-performing instructor with hundreds of hours of teaching experience.  Our instructors are also owners in the company and have a significant interest in making sure you get the best educational experience possible.
  2. Consistent Student Performance: The success of our students demonstrates that our prep program is designed for high-performance.  Our students average in the 80th percentile, with ⅔ of students scoring between a 26 and a 34.  Our course is focused differently from others in that we focus very heavily on application of MCAT strategies and teaching content in a sequence that maximizes comprehension.
  3. Company: It’s easy to become anonymous when you’re the customer of a big company. We’re a small company and we get to know all of our students. If any one of our students isn’t satisfied, it’s a big deal to us. You won’t be an anonymous customer when you register for our course; we pride ourselves on delivering amazing service and preparation to our students.
  4. Price: There is no prep company that delivers our caliber of prep at our pricing.  Even other small companies usually charge well over $1500 for their courses which have to be done in person and lack the freedom and flexibility of the eCourse.  Other prep companies may offer video series and other content on the cheap, but with the eCourse you’re guaranteed valuable prep of the highest caliber.  For that, nobody beats our value.
  5. Free Trial: We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and let you try the eCourse to see if you like it. Our money-back guarantee gives you every dollar back within the first week if you aren’t satisfied with the course. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying it out!

I need extra support for the Verbal section. Will you be able to provide more specific Verbal prep?

Absolutely! Our primary commitment is that you perform your best on test-day.  Some students can take the existing prep materials and perform very well with them.  Other students need extra or personalized support.  We have no intention of leaving you with our materials and hoping for the best.  If you need more support, we’re more than happy to advise you personally wherever you need support for the exam.

Can we still communicate with you on the Anytime Package?

Yes! The Anytime Package is designed to give you all the same resources as the Comprehensive Package but without the need for live lectures.  Your eCourse account has a portal that allows you to ask us questions directly.  We pride ourselves on being able to respond to all student questions within 24 hours.

How much time should we leave between the end of the course and the exam?

In general, you should leave 2-8 weeks between finishing the eCourse and taking the MCAT.  This may vary depending on how long ago you did your prerequisites and your comfort level with the content of the course, but 2-8 weeks is good ballpark for you to review the course material and get enough practice for test day.  If you have concerns about whether you’ll be ready for the exam, you can get in touch with us and we can talk about your options and level of preparation.

Are the live lectures recorded too?

Yep, we record all of the sessions we host, which means if you were there in lecture with us and you didn’t catch something we said, you can download that very lecture and hear it all again.

How much content is in the course?

There are a few components of the course content:

  • Lecture Content: Each lecture has on average 60-70 slides of material.  With two lectures per week and 8 weeks of material, that amounts to approximately 1000 slides of content.
  • Homework: Each week has homework associated with it, all of it passage-based (to prepare for the passages on the MCAT).  Depending on the week, there are approximately 6 passages of homework on that week’s materials.  That amounts to 40-50 passages of practice.
  • Practice Exams: We provide access to all 8 of the official AAMC practice MCAT exams.  Each exam contains 21 passages plus discrete questions, making for well over 150 passages of practice.

The course has more practice content and material than most students are able to complete in 8 weeks.  However, if you crave more, let us know and we’ll work something out!

Are slides and homework downloadable for printing?

Yes, all of the course content is downloadable in PDF format and can be printed.

How much does the eCourse cost?

Depending on the course features you’re looking for, the eCourse starts at $987 for the full 8-weeks’ worth of material.  Flexible payment plans are available for all packages.  More details and pricing options are available here.

How do I register?

You can register directly from the eCourse page.  Simply select your package and click Sign Up, then follow the registration flow!

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/summary-of-the-event-ecourse-info-session-and-sample/

Getting Into Research: Part III

We’re continuing our series on “Getting Into Research” as a strategy to increase competitiveness for medical school. Check out Part I and Part II or continue reading for Part III:

3. Reach out.

You’ve got a couple avenues depending on whether you’re taking the co-op/research program approach or a direct approach.  Research programs and co-op programs often have strict application guidelines and deadlines, so this approach is easy: follow the instructions. If you want to learn more or you’re not sure about what they are looking for, reach out to the coordinators – they are often more than happy to entertain your questions.

The direct approach is more challenging.

Establish Common Ground

Establishing common ground is a critical way to reach out to someone professionally. Most researchers and people in industry won’t talk to you if you’re a random connection. You need to have some basis of connecting with them so that your contact doesn’t seem contrived.

First, look to see if you know anyone who has worked in the researcher’s lab.  If so, ask them to make an introduction. It’s always easier to make a professional connection when you have an “in”.

Second, if you don’t know anyone who has worked in the lab before, see if you have had any instructors in the same department (TA’s or professors). If nothing else, you can reference the fact that you took a class with someone the researcher knows.

Third, if you don’t have any connections whatsoever, look for common interests or themes. Are you an avid rock climber and the researcher has their department photo of them rock climbing? Bingo.

Get in touch

If you have someone to make an introduction, great. Wait for the introduction to be made, and then reply to the researcher directly with your introduction. If not, then craft a concise but complete email that will function as your cover letter.  Request an informational interview or ask about opportunities in the lab. Do not do both at the same time. Send your resume only if you are asking for opportunities.  Don’t send your resume if you’re requesting an informational interview, but bring it with you when you meet.

Email, don’t call. At least for first contact. If you really want to work with them and they don’t respond, you can call.
Your email needs to contain the following components:

  • Salutation
  • Brief intro about yourself (e.g. “I’m a Biology major here at [your school] interested in [your interests that overlap with the researcher’s”].
  • Reference to the common ground (e.g. “I learned about your research from my friend Joe Smith who worked with you last summer”)
  • Call to action (e.g. “I would love to meet with you and learn more about your research in person.  Please let me know if you are available in the next several weeks to talk more.”)
  • Thank them for their time.

Your email should lack the following (among other things):

  • An immature email address. If your email is ilovecutekittens1992@hotmail.com, it’s time to get a grown-up email address.
  • Seeming desperate. If you don’t know how to not sound desperate, have a friend read your email.
  • Any detailed review of their research papers or their work.  The researcher cares that you care, but not enough to read over an essay about their own work.  That’s particularly true since they know their work far better than you do, and the more you talk, the more you increase your chances that you will butcher it.
  • Random, unrelated stories of any kind.  Cool, you both like rock climbing.  You can talk all you want about it in person; it shouldn’t get anything more than a mention in your email.
  • Overly verbose or formal language.  Be a real person.  People know when you’re putting on a show.
  • More than 150 words.  Researchers are busy people and won’t read that much text even if they’re marginally interested.

The meeting

Dress cleanly but not too formally.  Researchers usually dress casually.  If you overdress, it says “I don’t understand you,” if you underdress, it says “I don’t respect you.”  Strike the balance.

And that’s it!  Ask questions, be interesting, see if it’s a good fit.  Ask if they have any opportunities for you to get involved.  Go with the flow of the conversation and you’ll be great!

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/getting-into-research-part-iii/

Getting Into Research: Part II

We’re continuing our series on “Getting Into Research” as a strategy to increase competitiveness for medical school.  Check out Part I or continue reading Part II below:

2. Build your case.

Researchers are often very busy people. If you ask “do you have a job?” and they don’t, you’ll be lucky if they respond to tell you no. But if you ask “do you have time next week to tell me more about your research,” you’re in business. Researchers are far more likely to respond to a request for an informational interview than to a request for a job. If they see that you are interested in their work and just want to learn more, they may even create a spot for you that didn’t previously exist. This is a great way to learn about researchers’ needs. It’s also an easy way to get your foot in the door.

Go through your resume, your coursework (including high school, if recent enough), and any other experience you’ve had which might be relevant. Tie together common themes into a narrative, tell your story. Update your resume and have it include as much technical experience as you can. Students will often create a “scientific” resume and a “regular” resume. Your experiences may be limited to working in the university bookstore, the dorm cafeteria, or as a server in a restaurant. Err on the side of including a few stronger positions that you have held that show your dedication and work ethic. You can also demonstrate these features with excellence in coursework or volunteer projects.

Make a list of your technical skills. This is a personal list and it’s there for you to remember what you’ve learned and add/replace items on your resume as needed for the researcher. As you get more experience and learn more, keep adding to your list. You’ll be surprised how quickly it grows.

Remember that your case involves more than just your resume.  As you look through your list of researchers, think about what concerns they may have. Is the lab a factory, housing over 100 scientists, or a small one with just a grad student or two? Your narrative should be tailored as best as possible to each lab. Here are some general rules to keep in mind that will help you answer concerns and boost your case:

  • Small labs (fewer than 5 people) are much more interested in mentoring students, especially first-timers. Researchers in large labs do not have time for you (sorry).
  • If you lack experience in the lab, one of the researcher’s primary concerns will be whether you can handle yourself and how much training you’ll need. You can overcome this by showing that you’re overall a competent and clean person. Think about hobbies you might have that require attention to detail – those are things you may want to emphasize if you don’t have a strong technical foundation.
  • Undergrads are usually managed by grad students/post-docs. That means that if the prof doesn’t respond, reaching out to their grad students may prove more successful.
  • Very large labs are inevitably prestigious. Prestigious labs want rockstars and are often the target of many qualified undergrads, which means it’s very hard to get in if you don’t have sufficient lab experience.
  • All labs want to see an overlap in interest. It’s common for researchers to hire a weaker student who shows genuine interest in continuing the work than a strong student whose passion is lackluster.
  • Many PhD and even MD/PhD researchers are wary of undergrads using them as stepping stones to med school. The best way to deal with this stigma is to express and demonstrate genuine interest in the work itself and their desire to put effort in the work.
  • Nothing strokes a researcher’s ego more than a student who has read some of the researcher’s publications and can engage in discussion with the research. Prior reading will also give you valuable insight into whether the lab’s work is interesting for you and heavily impress your potential boss.
  • All labs should pay their students, but the reality is many researchers salivate when undergrads come knocking because they see you as free labor. They may even apply for grants to pay for your salary and keep half of it to fund the lab instead of giving it to you.  This is something you should prepare to accept if it’s your first time in the lab, but don’t put up with it when you have experience under your belt. Your first time in the lab really is a learning experience and the researcher is investing time (and therefore money) to train you.
  • Not all researchers want the same level of commitment. Some only have a temporary opening while others want someone to stay for 2 years or even become a grad student with them (unlikely if you’re headed to med school!). Being aware of their needs will help you figure out how to position yourself. You can be up front asking this question, or you can also get a sense of it from current grad students in the lab.
  • If you’re planning on committing only a few hours per week, don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms and don’t expect to be paid. Researchers typically want someone who can commit 10 hours per week or more. If you aren’t able to do that, the summer is a great way to offer more commitment.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the “Getting Into Research” series. Check out Part 1.

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/getting-into-research-part-2/

Getting Into Research: Part I

Research is a buzzword in every pre-med’s vocabulary. It’s an important step in learning about the fast-growing field of medicine and a way to get exposure to cutting edge discoveries. Medical schools like to see some research background in applicants, so most premeds apply for a limited number of spots. On top of the competition, researchers are wary of hiring undergrads for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of experience in the lab
  • Short-term commitments and low hourly work
  • Potential lack of interest in the research
  • Plentiful graduate and post-doc researchers to hire instead

These conditions make it difficult to get your foot in the door with researchers. Despite this, there are a number of things you have working in your favor:

  • Low level of commitment
  • Undergrads are cheap (often free)
  • Potential mentorship opportunity (scientists usually LOVE to mentor and teach; that’s why they got into the profession in the first place)

Play your cards right and set yourself up in the best light. You’ll do this by emphasizing your benefits and easing researchers’ concerns. So, how do we approach this process?

1. Identify interesting researchers.

Direct Approach

Not all research is created equal, but something is better than nothing. It’s more important (to a degree) that you do research that you find interesting than doing research with someone prestigious. Start by thinking about what kind of coursework you enjoy and what you don’t. Use that to narrow down the departments and types of researchers to put on your list. You should make a list that includes the following:

  • Name
  • Department
  • Email & Phone
  • Website
  • Size of the lab & number of undergrads vs. grad students (if data is available)
  • Description of the research

These columns will help you spend less time bouncing around websites looking for info you’ve already read. It will also help you learn more about the researcher, and frankly, researchers love nothing more than students who’ve done their homework and show interest in their work.

If you want, you can even rank the labs or simply group them in terms of interest. You will need a blanket approach and reach out to a lot of labs, because you won’t hear back from many of them.

(Summer) Undergraduate Research Programs

There are many school-sponsored research groups that help get undergrads into research. Find out if your school has any of these kinds of programs (often they are for summer research) and learn more about what they are looking for. A relatively comprehensive list can be found here on the AAMC website.

Co-op and other paid research jobs

These are often more competitive and favor more experienced students, but it’s great to get in touch with these organizations if they exist on your campus. They often have many resources to help you land a great position, and they also have listings of researchers who are hiring.

Check out Part II for how to build your case.

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/getting-into-research-part-1/

Planning for College Freshmen

Welcome to college. You’re finally free of the constraints of high school – now it’s time to chill until the MCAT in a couple years, right? Wrong! If med school is on your radar, now is the time to plan the next few years of your college career. One of the biggest mistakes premeds make is not outlining milestones and critical early-stage activities in college like, connecting with faculty, joining key organizations, shadowing doctors and volunteering, or planning coursework.

Incoming freshmen this year also have one unique challenge looming: the new MCAT in 2015. Unless you take the MCAT by the end of summer 2014, you’ll be preparing for major updates to the exam. Current materials won’t adequately prepare you for the exam and should be taken with a grain of salt. Although we’ll be learning more about the exam structure between now and then, official practice materials won’t be made available until 2014.

Premeds are constantly vying for top spots in their classes, key internships and volunteer positions, as well as building relationships with well-known professors. To stay ahead, you need to have a game plan. Start thinking about the key parts of your application; what you’ll need and what milestones you need to achieve. The following chart displays some of these key components that you should begin considering.

Dates Recommendations Volunteering/Research Coursework MCAT
Now Identify key researchers, professors and other figures who may become your recommenders for medical school. You don’t need to contact them now about writing you a rec letter – just make a running list of individuals who can provide you good mentorship during undergrad and potentially vouch for you when the time comes. Though it’s early, think about the kind of work you might be interested in. Make lists of campus organizations and people to reach out to for opportunities. Look into summer programs where you can develop these interests. It’s never too early to map out your course plan based on the different majors that might interest you. Identify the key courses you need for med school and (especially with classes that have a reputation for being difficult) try to spread them out between semesters so you can focus. The earlier you take classes that cover content on the MCAT (e.g. intro bio, orgo, etc.), the better-prepared you’ll be for the exam. Many students fail to take these courses until after or during their MCAT, making it difficult to master the content!
Freshman + Sophomore Years Keep this list and revise it as you go through the next few years. Stay in touch with promising leads. Also, check out our post about Getting Solid Rec Letters. This is your opportunity to dip your feet in different activities – volunteering, research, sports, anything! Narrow down 1-3 key positions where you can truly develop a passion and gain leadership skills and experience. Of course you should do as well as you can in your courses! Go to office hours and get to know your professors. And please, don’t just take all science – take something you find interesting. You may discover a passion you never knew you had. As more content is released, get your hands on it and start practicing! At least you will have a sense of the type of content you’ll need to know and where your weak areas are.
Junior + Senior Years Continue building your network and narrow down your list of contacts – reach out to them and let them know about your interests and your goals; ask them to provide you a recommendation. Start reflecting on your experiences and thinking about how they might tie into your personal statement. Ensure you’re meeting all your coursework requirements and take any required classes that you’re missing.. Study hard and take the MCAT!

Don’t fail to plan because you “don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 3 years.” While you may not have a magic crystal ball (you may be able to grab one from your local mystic), the point of planning isn’t to dictate the rest of your life; it’s to give you a roadmap for key milestones you need to remember and prepare for. Plans can always be updated as your goals and milestones change, so start planning early! What are some of your goals for this academic year?

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What’s NOT on the MCAT?

Everyone talks about what you can expect to see on the MCAT, but it’s hard to figure out what information won’t be on the exam. For some topics (like quantum physics or astronomy), it’s commonly understood that they’re not tested. However, there are topics covered in intro-level science courses that are often confused for being tested on the MCAT. So, we’ve compiled a list of topics that will not be on the exam!

Writing

  • Starting January 2013, there won’t be a writing section on the MCAT!  The only sections will be Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and Biological Sciences. There will also be an optional section at the end of the test that is intended to be a transition into the MCAT in 2015, but will not contribute to your overall score. Save your essay-writing chops for med school apps!

Verbal

  • Poetry or other expressive/nonstandard forms of writing.  While some social sciences passages may discuss poetry, you will not need to read and interpret poetry or other highly abstract/metaphorical texts.
  • Primary research literature.  Although natural sciences passages in the verbal section will discuss science, students often mistakenly think that reading primary research literature will be good practice for the verbal section.  This is simply not true.  The style of writing in research articles is substantially different from science writing intended for a general audience.  If you want more accurate practice, read review articles or science articles written for the public.
  • Specific content.  Although you may see passages about science, history, etc., you will not be tested on any specific content outside of information given in the passages.  Best practices for verbal say to leave your knowledge at the door and use only that information from the passage; do not rely on your background knowledge to answer questions on this section.

Physics

  • Calculus. Calculus is often integrated in physics classes, however, the only physics you are responsible for is non-calc based. That said, you should be familiar with the area under the curve and the equations/relationships where it is useful, as well as understanding the meaning of the slope of a graph.
  • Optical Diagrams. While you should know the Thin Lens Equation and the rules surrounding real/virtual and upright/inverted images for various lenses and mirrors, you will not be asked to interpret optical diagrams with rays of light. If you want to study this topic to get a better general understanding of lenses and mirrors, go for it, but you won’t be tested on such diagrams explicitly.
  • Constants. (It’s generally accepted that you will be given any and all constants you need to solve a problem – however, knowing some common ones may increase your speed on certain questions). The same is not true of equations – there are many of these you must know off-hand, like Snell’s Law, the Thin Lens Equation, Archimedes’ Principle, etc.

General Chemistry

  • Individual values for electronegativity. While you should know periodic table trends, you do not need to know the actual values. Any questions that involve distinguishing electronegativity between two elements will be clearly distinguished and easy to identify based on the general trends.
  • Solubility tables. These are good to know, however, the exam provides the solubility information needed to answer a given question. Therefore, you can get away without necessarily knowing your solubility tables. One caveat is your expectation to know which compounds are unquestionably soluble (e.g. NaCl, HCl, NaOH, etc.).

Organic Chemistry

  • NMR ppm shifts. While you need to know how to interpret peak splitting and peak area, you don’t need to be able to identify the specific functional group at various ppm shifts. Any problems that you see with NMR can be solved without memorizing these shifts.
  • Most IR spectroscopy peaks. The only ones ever really tested are C=O (narrow peak at 1700-1800 cm-1) and -OH (broad peak at 3200-3500 cm-1). Technically, other key functional groups are fair game, but in reality they almost never show up on the exam.
  • 13C NMR. General concepts around symmetry and peak height/splitting are still true for 13C NMR and therefore fair game for the exam. However, you likely won’t see anything about 13C NMR, especially anything that you don’t already know about 1H NMR.
  • Electron Pushing. Intro organic chemistry classes often go into electron pushing for understanding mechanisms. While this may be helpful to understand the steps of a reaction or why a reaction would occur, you will not be tested on electron-pushing diagrams explicitly nor will you be required to draw any electron-pushing diagrams.
  • Aromatics – naming and reactions. These are often confused as being on the exam, and even show up in many MCAT textbooks, but they are not on the MCAT syllabus.  Reactions like Friedel-Crafts or biochemical pathways that incorporate aromatics will not be on the exam without sufficient context for you to answer the question. However, do understand the electronic and basic reactivity properties of benzene, for example (like other alkenes, benzene is considered to be electron-withdrawing).

Biology

  • Non-human anatomy/physiology. While you do not need to know animal anatomy and physiology, certain questions may describe non-human anatomical/physiological structures and ask you to compare them to analogous human structures or systems.
  • Plants. You will not need to know anything about plant anatomy or physiology.  Plants may show up in genetics or population/evolution questions, but they will not require specific knowledge of plants.
  • Fungi. These are on the syllabus and questions regarding fungi have come up before, however, studying this topic in depth is very low-yield. At most you may see a single question testing basic features of fungi (e.g. life cycle). If a passage is provided regarding non-human physiology, there will very likely be adequate context to answer the questions without prior knowledge.
  • Names and structures of amino acids. You should know the four categories of amino acids: polar, non-polar, positively-charged and negatively-charged. However, you do not need to know the names or structures of any amino acid (except perhaps glycine, which has a hydrogen rather than an -R group). Amino acid structures will be given to you or described sufficiently to answer the question.
  • Enzymes and intermediate compound names for the steps of the major biochemical reactions including glycolysis, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain, and fermentation.  You should know the major reactants and products, what kinases do in general, and various big-picture takeaways from these pathways, but you do not need to know the intricacies as studied in many biochem classes.


The complete syllabus for the MCAT can be found here: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/about/

Do you have more things to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll add them to the list! All student additions will be marked with *.

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