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Medical School - Acing the MCATs

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Entry into medical school requires a lot of work during the first four years of college. Pre-med studies can be grueling. On top of making good grades in difficult classes, your MCAT score will also affect whether you get into medical school.

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice exam needed to enter medical school. It is designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking, writing skills, and knowledge of science concepts and principles needed for the study of medicine. Scores are reported in Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences.

Almost all U.S. medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT scores as part of their admissions process. Most schools do not accept MCAT scores that are more than three years old. The MCAT exam is offered in the United States, Canada and in 15 other countries.

The physical sciences section of the exam has 52 questions. The verbal reasoning section of the test has 40 questions. The biological sciences section has 52 questions. Students will be asked to write two essays in the writing section. A few strategies for successfully taking the MCAT include:

Main Idea questions – These questions ask for a restatement of the author’s main point, the primary idea, or the overall gist of the passage. Read the answer choices and pay attention to their scope. Wrong answer choices will usually be too broad or too narrow. Eliminate these quickly and look for the answer that best matches the scope of the main theme. Main idea questions are common. It’s a good idea to look for the main idea while you read the passage. Key words to look for include “theme,” “idea,” and “purpose.”

Physical science questions – Most will contain charts. When answering the questions, look at the chart first. It helps you organize what you know so that you can access the information quickly. A common mistake on the MCAT is making a question more complex than it is. Remember that you’re reading for data—not meaning or structure. Be sure that you understand the context of every piece of data that you collect.

Writing Sample – These questions will ask you to fulfill three tasks based on a stimulus. The stimulus may be an opinion, a widely shared belief, a philosophical dictum, or an assertion. Do not use the essay as a platform from which to express your opinions on a topic. Do not emote, lecture, or try to convince. Make sure your essay is answering the three tasks asked for in the stimulus. They are looking for your ability to think critically—not emotionally. They don’t care about your personal opinions on the topic at hand. Spend 5 minutes outlining your essay before you start writing. Ask yourself questions about the stimulus and think of one or more supporting examples. This prewriting will help you organize your thoughts and see clearly whether or not you are addressing each task. Use your outline as a structural blueprint for writing your paper.

When faced with a Roman numeral-style question, use the structure of the question to your advantage. Look over each statement (I, II, and III). Consider each statement carefully and try to eliminate any that are inconsistent with the truth or are an obvious falsehood. If you can disprove one of the statements, you can quickly eliminate any answer choice that includes that particular statement. This saves you time and increases your chances for a correct answer.

If you have a disability or condition that affects your test taking abilities, you might want to apply for accommodations. Having been diagnosed with a condition or impairment will not automatically result in an accommodation. For some accommodations, primarily those that involve a change in the timing of the test, we do not know if the scores obtained will be comparable to scores obtained under standard testing conditions. Tests that are administered under some non-standard conditions will be noted as such on score-reports. Score recipients are not notified about the nature of the accommodation or the impairment or disability. Score recipients are not notified about the specific type of accommodation that was used.

Most MCAT test takers begin reviewing course material for the MCAT around November of their junior year. Look for MCAT review materials. In January or February of your junior year, take a few MCAT practice tests. This will help you to learn the format of the exam, experience of exam-taking under time constraints, and find weak areas in your knowledge. If you have to postpone taking the MCAT exam, you may not be able to make the deadline for starting medical school in the fall.

The exam fees are $500. Because of the cost, it is not worth taking the exam unless you are well-prepared. You can have the experience of exam-taking by timing yourself with practice tests. If you take the MCAT more than once, some schools look only at the last score. Others look at average scores.

You should report to the test center 30 minutes prior to your testing time to check in. You will need one current and valid form of government-issued identification containing your photo, signature, and an expiration date. A valid and current driver’s license or passport is acceptable. Any expired form of identification will not be considered valid and will not be accepted. Test Center Administrators will ensure a quiet and comfortable environment for test taking. Noise reducing headsets will be available. A digital image of your fingerprint will be taken and your identification will be re-scanned each time you enter the test room. The testing center Administrator will assign you to a seat. You will not be permitted to select your own seat. Once you have started the exam, you are considered to have tested even if you void or do not complete the test. Scores will be released approximately 30 days after completion of the exam.

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