mcat, mcat prep, mcat tips

I know people who have scored a 24 on the old MCAT their first time around. And then a 35 the next time. They did not get a lot smarter in between those scores. They just figured out the test. And that is your job when it comes to preparing for the MCAT. It takes quite a bit of time and attention to understand the test and to review the concepts covered in the content-focused sections, which include the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.

The Exam

The exam has four sections, each section written over 90 or 95 minutes and consisting of 59 or 53 questions. You get a short break in between sections and the whole thing takes about 7.5 hours. The MCAT Essentials document provided by the AAMC illustrates that the exam is written as follows:

The Biology, Chemistry and Psychology sections have both passage-based questions and independent questions. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning section has just passage-based questions.

The AAMC has a very comprehensive web-based service that tells you exactly what’s on the exam. It offers sample questions and explanations for each section. And it’s free! (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/whats-mcat-exam/)

There are 10 foundational concepts covered by the MCAT:

  • Biomolecules have unique properties that determine how they contribute to the structure and function of cells, and how they participate in the processes necessary to maintain life.
  • Highly-organized assemblies of molecules, cells, and organs interact to carry out the functions of living organisms.
  • Complex systems of tissues and organs sense the internal and external environments of multicellular organisms, and through integrated functioning, maintain a stable internal environment within an ever-changing external environment.
  • Complex living organisms transport materials, sense their environment, process signals, and respond to changes using processes that can be understood in terms of physical principles.
  • The principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions form the basis for a broader understanding of the molecular dynamics of living systems.
  • Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world.
  • Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior and behavior change.
  • Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors influence the way we think about ourselves and others, as well as how we interact with others.
  • Cultural and social differences influence well-being.
  • Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being.

And there are five scientific inquiry and reasoning skills tested across the four sections:

1. Knowledge of Scientific Principles

2. Scientific Reasoning and Problem-solving

3. Reasoning about the Design and Execution of Research

4. Data-based Statistical Reasoning

5. General Mathematical Concepts and Techniques

And, lastly, there three CAR skills:

1. Foundations of Comprehension
  • Understanding the basic components of the text.
  • Inferring meaning from rhetorical devices, word choice, and text structure.
2. Reasoning Within the Text
  • Integrating different components of the text to increase comprehension.
3. Reasoning Beyond the Text
  • Applying or extrapolating ideas from the passage to new contexts.
  • Assessing the impact of introducing new factors, information, or conditions to ideas from the passage.

Study Schedule

It is really smart to start with a study schedule six months out from your test date. A schedule could look like this for an end of August test date with an in-person night time prep course:

Products to Help You Prepare:

Preparatory Courses

Aim to take a preparatory course in the eight weeks prior to your test date. MCAT preparatory courses are worth the time and money for most people. Unless you excel at multiple choice tests and have scored very well on practice tests and are very disciplined, you need a preparatory course.

It doesn’t matter if you take one online, in person or in a boot-camp style. It just has to work for you, given your own schedule, demands and financial means.

If you took a preparatory course the last time you wrote the MCAT and are wondering if you should take one again, it depends. If you took the course to prepare for the old MCAT, you should take another one. If your score was high enough to avoid it, you wouldn’t be taking the MCAT again. If you are considering writing again but you already took the new MCAT, take it again if you think you didn’t give it everything you had the first time. You won’t need to buy as many new materials but it will be another expense.

Online Study Resources for Content Review

Practice Products

MCAT Practice Tests from MCAT prep companies are available on Amazon and in your campus bookstore.

Sage Advice

This test is a masterful mind tease. If you’re prepared, know the concepts, and have been scoring well on practice tests, you are ready. Don’t let your confidence be shaken by a low baseline score and attack the prep according to schedule. It will all be over soon enough. 

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About the author:

Dr. Ashley Faye White is currently a rural medicine resident at McMaster University and a senior admissions expert at BeMo. She has an M.D. from McMaster medical school and has navigated her way into med school as a non-traditional applicant.

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