If you are among those aspiring to a career in medicine, there are a few things standing between you and a medical school acceptance letter. One step is taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), for which we enlisted some medical experts to help provide some useful advice.
MCAT is an extensive exam
If you plan to take the exam, be prepared to spend the entire day at your testing site. The MCAT takes seven and a half hours and comprises of 230 questions. The exam is computer-based and administered multiple times each year at hundreds of local test sites.
Focus on different sections
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) administers the exam, with more than 80,000 medical hopefuls taking the standardised, multiple choice test each year. The exam was reconfigured in 2015 and is now longer in length, with 230 questions compared to its predecessor’s 176 questions. It essentially focusses on Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, and Behavioural Sciences.
The questions are organised into the following sections:
Biological and Biochemical
Foundations of living systems
Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behaviour
Critical analysis and reasoning skills
Those who complete the test will receive five scores — an individual score for each of the sections along with an overall score. Test takers typically get to know their scores a month after the exam.
Devote time to serious studying
Begin the preparation process early in your junior year of college, aiming to take the MCAT towards the end of that school year. You would be wise to have already completed courses that align with the subjects covered in the exam — including Biology, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry. There is a huge market for MCAT test prepraration materials, guides, and courses. Try your hand at practising MCAT exams online to get a feel of the format.
Strong MCAT score can set you up for success
Total scores can range from 472 to 528 for the MCAT. A strong performance on the exam can help you stand out during admissions. The average MCAT score for everyone who applied to the US medical schools for fall 2016 was 502. While those who were accepted averaged 509. Medical schools take every part of your application into account. You can take the MCAT as many as three times in a year, four times in two consecutive years, and a maximum of seven times throughout your lifetime.
Keep in mind that a good MCAT score and GPA alone will not guarantee your admittance to medical school. Admissions officers would like to know who you are, beyond the GPA, MCAT score, academic awards and extracurricular activities. Be honest and share a personal story or experience.
Schools seek a demonstration of certain personal attributes that are important to medical practice, such as integrity, collaboration, and a commitment to service. They examine an applicant’s life experiences, extracurricular activities, and personal statements. And then there are the interviews, letters of recommendation, and alignment with the institution’s values.
Simply put, a lot goes into the admission process.
(The author is a professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and assistant dean for Graduate Studies at St George’s University)