Whether you’ve been invited to a panel, traditional, conversational, or multiple mini interview for med school, the key to performing well is to be prepared. In this blog we’ll tell you everything you need to know to succeed in your medical school interview, from the day you receive your invitation to the interview itself and after. At the end, we’ll also answer some of the most common questions regarding the medical school interview and its logistics.

Before The Interview

“Preparation is the key to success” as the well-worn cliché goes, and medical school interviews are no exception. One of the most stressful aspects of student life is abiding by often strict or overlapping deadlines, resulting in cramming for tests, all-night essay-writing sessions, and many other unpleasant instances of racing against the clock. Your interview for medical school requires copious preparation, but if you get started early, you can have a pleasant and productive experience that leaves your committee with a clear sense of your fit for their program. How early is early enough? Starting the day you’re invited is certainly good, but earlier than that is even better. Unfortunately, some medical schools will only give you a couple or weeks’ notice, so it’s wise to start preparing for a potential interview shortly after applying. If you do start that early, focus on basic info-gathering like schools’ interview formats, common medical school interview questions, and other more general information. Part of the benefit of starting early is that you won’t have to cram with an immanent deadline hanging over you, so take your time and seek to really understand what you may be heading into.

Once you receive your invitation, it’s time to really get to work. 

Get in touch right away.

The very first thing you need to do in preparing for your medical school interview is respond to your interview requests immediately. No one likes to be kept waiting, and given the volume of students most interview committees need to process, their time is especially short and strained. Assuming you’re grateful for the opportunity when you hear back from medical schools, you owe it to them to be as prompt as possible. If you don't respond promptly, you'll give the impression that you’re not especially interested in the school or program.

It's important to remember that some schools send out more interview invitations than available slots, so in addition to being respectful, your promptness will in some cases make or break your chance to attend the interview at all. It would be devastating to be offered an interview but miss the opportunity because you failed to respond quickly enough. More importantly though, responding right away will allow you to choose an optimal date and time for your schedule, ensuring that you’ll be able to travel to and attend your interview as comfortably as possible.

Determine your interview’s format.

The next thing you'll want to find out is what format your interviews will take. You could be participating in a group interview, a traditional interview, a panel interview or a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). To prepare effectively, you need to know which of these interview types is being used by your medical school(s) of choice. Most interview invites will outline this information for you, including both interview format and what to expect on the day of the interview. If the invite does not contain this information, though, don’t panic! There are a few places to obtain this information if it isn’t provided right away.

You should be able to find this information on the school's website, but if not, sign into the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website and look under “Selection Factors.” This section will give you up-to-date information on the types of interview(s) used by the medical school in question.

The tips in this article are applicable to each of these interview types, but the Multiple Mini Interview is often especially daunting for students. This is why familiarizing yourself with the MMI question types and format is especially important. You can find a lot of informative and detailed blogs on the MMI on our website. 

Did you know that in some medical schools, your interview performance counts for 100% of your admissions chances?

Practice, practice, practice.

Once you've determined your interview’s format, it's time to start practicing with sample questions and real-life mock interviews. Practice questions, like our MMI questions or medical school interview questions give you the opportunity to prepare for commonly asked questions and will give you an idea of what type of questions you can expect. Some of these include:

  1. “Teach me something that most people don’t know how to do” — This is an example of a personal or “quirky” question. This question and others like it are expressly not about teaching a seasoned medical professional some arcane way of intubating a patient. Rather, it’s about taking the opportunity to be engaging and show your individuality. Tell them how to say a phrase in another language, or a dance or gesture from another culture. Be engaging and try to have fun while remaining professional.
  2. “Is it ethical for doctors to strike? If so, under what conditions?” — Ethical dilemmas like this are also regular question types. You could always just say “No” and leave it at that, but what this question is really asking for is evidence of you understanding the moral complexity of being a medical professional on both the side of patient care and as a worker within an institution. The MCAT tests critical analysis and reasoning skills, and you should use a question like this to show these same abilities, aimed at a coherent and concise answer to a rather complicated prompt.
  3. “Your 5 year-old nephew asks you, ‘Why is the sky blue?" How would you answer him using a series of simple scientific experiments?” — Similar to the question above, this is asking for you to use your reasoning abilities to make a complicated thing concise. However, it also requires a mastery of basic scientific concepts and the ability to curate your communication to your audience (in this case, a child). Situational questions like this can allow you to show empathy and understanding of your hypothetical nephew’s novice-at-best understanding of the world, and can even be a springboard for showing how keen you are to one day contribute to educating young scientists and medical professionals. Don’t try to say too much—just talk to your nephew—but in the practice phase it’s good to play out all the different potential parts of an answer like this, and then settle on what feels natural and sincere.

Practice questions are certainly a good start, but the most valuable practice is to go through real-life mock interviews. Mock interviews provide the closest experience you can get to the actual interview and are therefore the best at bringing forth the real emotions you will experience including stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. The goal is to get these emotions under control through preparation, as well as familiarize yourself with the format and get personalized feedback on what to work on.

For instance, if you're nervous driving on the highway and only do it once every year, then you'll probably always be nervous driving on the highway. But if you slowly introduce yourself to highway driving, increasing the frequency and duration over time, you’ll likely overcome the stress and anxiety you initially experienced. Practice and repetition normalize stressful experiences like this.

A lot of the fear and anxiety that students experience during an interview comes from the unknown: not knowing what to expect, not knowing what questions they'll be asked, and not knowing if they'll perform well. Mock interviews with expert feedback can reduce or eliminate these fears and unknowns. Excellent realistic mock interview with expert, personalized feedback from a medical school advisor will let you know exactly how you come across and give you insight into the strength and quality of your responses. This feedback can help identify weaknesses, help you structure your answers, and most importantly provide you with an adaptable strategy for nearly any type of question. This kind of adaptability is key: it's not about memorizing tons of answers or trying to guess exactly which questions you will be asked. It's about mastering a flexible technique to calmly and confidently answer any type of question that's thrown at you. Confidence can't be taught but it can be developed, and the right kind of medical school interview preparation can significantly accelerate this development.

Check out most common medical school interview questions:

Know yourself and your application inside and out.

Preparing for your interview takes a lot of self-reflection. You have to understand yourself, your choices, and your motivations in order to share them with others, which is exactly what you'll do in your interview. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why medicine?” “Why do you want to be a doctor?” and the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.” These questions are not easily answered on the spot—they need ample brainstorming and thoughtful reflection in order to have an earnest and believable response. 

If you find it difficult to identify why you do what you do, or where your passions come from, it can be helpful to speak with friends and family. The people closest to you can often see qualities, traits, and passions that you haven't been able to identify in yourself. To paraphrase a common saying in psychotherapy, it’s impossible to see the back of your own head! To understand yourself in the completest sense possible, you need to know how others understand you too.

In addition to knowing yourself, you need to know your application components inside and out, including your medical school personal statement and extracurriculars. Depending on whether your interview is open or closed (or “blind”), your evaluators may have access to your application. If they do, be prepared to answer some specific questions. For example, if you contributed to a research paper, no matter how small your contribution, you may be asked questions surrounding the research. Make sure you revisit your application regularly to familiarize yourself with its contents. In so doing, you’ll be able to speak about them far more confidently than if you simply dump everything into the AMCAS work and activities section and forget about it.

Don't memorize your answers.

Students sometimes think that the best way to prepare for an interview is to memorize their answers. They think that when they’re asked a question for which they’re copiously prepared, they can (re-)state a well-memorized response and dazzle their interviewers. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are two main problems with relying on a catalog of memorized responses. First and foremost, a canned answer will always sound postured or fake. Evaluators want to get to know the real you and hear about your experiences, accomplishments, and motivations for pursuing medicine. Evaluators listen to dozens if not hundreds of students give answers to these questions every year, and can tell a memorized answer from a genuine one without breaking their poker face. That’s not to say that a memorized answer can’t be truthful of course, but for seasoned interviewers a well-worn response will just seem “off,” and likely give them a sense that it isn’t entirely sincere.

The second issue with memorizing answers is that it often backfires entirely. If you receive a slightly varied version of a question for which you have a canned response, it’s very difficult to modify your burned-in response in the moment. Some students in this situation simply end up repeating what they’ve memorized, which is now likely inappropriate, doesn't directly answer the question, or may include irrelevant information.

Memory blanks are also a strong possibility with memorization. Memorization is fundamentally opposed to flexibility and natural thought, so if you forget a line or skip sentences in your memorized response it can affect the entire piece, leading to a complete blank in thought. In cases of strong nervousness, you may forget your answer entirely, leaving you stunned or spaced out in the face of what otherwise seems like a normal and totally manageable question.

The best strategy is to think of a few important points or experiences you'd like to discuss and practice your answers including these points. But note that your response will likely differ slightly each time you answer a given question, which is a good thing. Explore the ways your answers come up when asked a question—pay attention to the surrounding ideas and contexts that make your answer your own. You may even want to consider a daily meditation or mindfulness practice to gain confidence and understanding in plumbing the depths of your thoughts and motivations. Given that medical school is incredibly stressful and fast-paced, heading into it with a better sense of your own mental “center” can be extremely helpful, both in interviews and throughout your medical career.

Stay informed and read endlessly.

If you're somehow not a big reader, become one immediately. To effectively prepare for your med school interview, you need to read and retain a lot of information, and this kind of emotionally-charged research is a lot harder if you’re out of practice.

First, you need to learn about the school. Review their mission statement, their core values, their research opportunities, interesting developments, and important stories in the school's news section. Like the previous strategy though, the goal is not purely robotic memorization. You want to gain a general understanding of what a school stands for, what's important to them, and what upcoming projects, research opportunities, facilities, etc. are important to you. During your research, you should always seek to connect this information to your own goals and interests, as these will be great talking points during your interview. It will even help you answer the common “Why our school?” prompt, which often trips students up not out of total ignorance but out of having too general an idea of why they’ve chosen it. Admissions committees know their school’s reputation, standing, and general place in the medical education ecosystem, so seek to address points beyond these superficial facts.

Other than learning about the school you'll be interviewing at, you also need to be in the know about hot topics and current events in the field of medicine. Make an effort to keep up to date on these issues and topics as you'll likely be asked to share your opinion on specific policies or events. Review our blog to learn how to ace policy type questions.

Are you preparing for an MMI interview? Check out the different MMI question types:

The Day of the Interview 

The big day is here, but don’t panic! Provided you’ve maintained a smart and consistent preparation schedule up to this point, there are only a few more things to keep in mind, and the interview itself should feel natural or even illuminating for both you and your committee.

Be keen and arrive early.

The last thing you need on your interview day is more stress, which is inevitable if you don't give yourself enough time and end up running late. In general, you should arrive at the location the day before your interview. This gives you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings, especially if this is an interview you've flown in for. You want to have the opportunity to explore the campus and find your exact interview room, so that on the day of your interview you can feel confident and comfortable, knowing exactly where to go (and what awaits you inside).

Arriving the day before also allows you to relax, settle in, and get a good night's sleep. Few things feel worse than knowing you bombed an interview simply because your brain was fried from insomnia. As a general rule, you should try to arrive roughly 20-30 minutes before registration on the day of your interview. If you're driving yourself, give yourself more time to allow for navigation and parking. This will give you a chance to grab something to eat, have a drink, or use the restrooms before you begin. You can even meditate or at least sit quietly and settle your breathing, avoiding heading into the interview visibly rushed or uncomfortable. Plus, arriving early gives you some wiggle room in case of traffic on route to the interview location. Be prepared, and give yourself at least a little more time than you need.

Dress Appropriately

To dress appropriately means to dress professionally. Remember, your evaluators will be assessing if you’re suitable for the profession, so look like a professional! If you show up in loungewear or jeans, it signals that you don't really care about the interview or even providing a basic sense of composure. You may be on a university campus, but you don’t want to blend in with the students who’ve been guzzling energy drinks and pretzels in the library for 20 hours straight. Our medical school interview attire blog is an in-depth guide that will tell you exactly what you should and shouldn't wear to your medical school interviews. 

Be friendly and respectful to everyone you meet.

There are eyes and ears everywhere on campus, and owners of those eyes and ears often know each other pretty well regardless of position. That person you ran into without apologizing, or that person you rudely ordered a coffee, may relay your discourteous or unprofessional behavior to someone directly involved with your interview. Always put your best self forward: smile, introduce yourself, say please and thank you, and do all the little niceties you’ve been taught since childhood.

This also goes for MMI acting or collaboration stations. An actor in your scenario may be portraying a belligerent character, or you may have to work with a difficult student or evaluator in a collaboration station. Keep your cool and respect the thoughts and opinions of others, even if you don't agree with them. Check out our blog for tips to ace MMI collaboration/acting stations

Make excellent first and last impressions.

First and last impressions are valuable because they stick—it's simply the way our brains work. Barging into the room late and out of breath is not going to get you anywhere, and it’s incredibly hard to recover from a bad first impression. Don’t put yourself in the position of having to dig yourself out of a pit throughout your interview because you started it on the wrong foot. Introduce yourself politely when you first arrive: make eye contact, smile, and try to remember your evaluator's names. Of course, don't panic if you're terrible with names and have a hard time holding onto them—the important thing is that you were friendly and introduced yourself (they may even empathize given the volume of names they have to navigate during interview season). Similarly, when you leave, don't forget to thank your interviewers for their time with another round of eye contact, a smile, and one last handshake, and making eye contact. Leave with your head held high (but not arrogantly!).

Ask for clarification.

This is something that a lot of students wish they did but were too nervous to actually do. If you are presented with a question and you don't understand it, ask for more information. Even if you feel silly asking, it’s much better to do so than to wobble through an entire answer and then have the interviewer point out that wasn't what they asked, or that you failed to grasp the context of the question or discussion. As the old saying goes, he who asks a question is a fool for a minute, but he who does not ask a question is a fool for life.

Be engaged! Don't let nerves glue your mouth shut. You're the focus of the interview, so feel encouraged to actively participate in it. Be conversational and try to let go of all that's riding on this interview, and instead engage in an actual dialogue. If your interest in medicine and the school you're interviewing with is sincere, you should be able to let this emotional attachment guide you to ask relevant questions in order to fully respond.

Behave Appropriately

Video Interviews

Prior to your formal in-person interviews, you may be invited to participate in one of the following video interview formats. Although nearly all of the guidelines above apply to these, there are some important distinctions to keep in mind as you prepare. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Video Interviews for extensive discussion of the points below.

The AAMC Video Interview Tool for Admissions (VITA)

AAMC VITA is a one-way video interview tool that allows admissions committees to evaluate your competencies and suitability for medical school. It assesses you using six questions, each of which is designed to gather additional information on your knowledge of five core competencies: social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, reliability and dependability, and resilience and adaptability.

The six questions differ from test to test but are never school specific—VITA is all about getting to know you better, not quizzing you on your knowledge of a school's medical program. These six questions break down into three types. The first question will ask you to describe your journey to medical school using experiences that have led you to pursue a career in medicine. The other five questions will evaluate your knowledge of the aforementioned competencies by asking you to discuss past behavior and your response to different hypothetical scenarios.  The "one-way" aspect of this interview type is one of its more intimidating qualities, but traditional techniques of preparation still apply. Although you're speaking into a personless screen, you should always remember that your responses are being viewed by admissions committees. Dress professionally, speak clearly, test your equipment repeatedly before beginning, and view the tutorial more than once to ensure you understand how to proceed technically.

Because the VITA focuses on evaluating your experiences and activities, your answers will closely align with some of the information in your AMCAS application, specifically the AMCAS Work and Activities section and AMCAS Personal Statement. Study what you've provided in these over and over, although don't try to memorize them. Seek to feel like the experiences in these are fresh memories that you can discuss clearly and in great detail.

Additionally, since VITA is entirely virtual you can schedule the test at any time, ensuring that you can pick a time and place in which you feel comfortable and prepared. If you'd like help preparing for the VITA, please get in touch with us.

CASPer Snapshot

Similar to the AAMC VITA, the CASPer Snapshot is a short, one-way video interview format used by medical schools to find out more about you personally. Unlike the VITA, Snapshot responses are made available to all programs to which you've made your CASPer test results available, so it makes sense to plan for it as a necessary part of the overall process and plan accordingly.

The questions on CASPer's Snapshot will also fall into three main categories: quirky questions, personal experience-based questions, and big-picture "why do you want to become a doctor?" questions. Although these types all focus on you personally, you should strive to provide answers that discuss specific examples and details that make your stories relatable and illuminating. Show, don't tell! Try to paint vivid pictures of the scenarios or experiences you've had that have shaped you.  As with VITA, CASPer Snapshot allows you to take the test at any time you see fit. Test your equipment repeatedly before your chosen test time, dress and speak professionally, and spend some time studying common medical school interview questions, and reach out to discuss strategy and receive expert feedback. Having an admissions expert dig into the details with you will produce far better results than simply grinding through hundreds of practice questions by yourself.

For more information on the CASPer Snapshot, check out our video guide:

FAQ

1. Will I be asked about an area of poor academic performance?

This completely depends on the style of the interview and whether the interview is open or closed book. In an open book interview, the interviewers will have access to your application, including any academic lapses or breaks, so yes it is likely you'll be asked about them. Be honest about the circumstances that led to poor performance and be sure to take responsibility without making excuses or acting defensive.

2. Who will my interview be with?

Depending on the interview type, you could be meeting with faculty members or practicing professionals that may or may not have a background in the medical field. You could also be meeting with members of the student body or with upper-year medical students. Remain courteous and professional with anyone you meet, no matter how casual or expressionless they may appear.

3. How should I schedule my interviews?

It's a good idea to schedule the interviews that are near the bottom of your list first. You're likely going to be nervous at the start of the interview cycle, so placing interviews that you're not as worried about at the beginning will help you get through some of the initial jitters and nerves that the process brings. If you make mistakes or feel that your performance wasn't as strong as it could have been, you still have the opportunity to improve in time for your other, more important interviews. For this reason, place the interviews that are at the top of your list in the middle. As mentioned above, you don't want to place these very important, pressure-heavy interviews at the beginning. You also don't want to place them at the end because the interview process can be exhausting, especially as you near the end. You want to make sure that you stay fresh and upbeat, and the same can be said for the interviewers who can also experience fatigue near the end of the interview cycle.

4. How much will my interviews cost?

It is important to consider the cost of interviews when you estimate how much medical school costs. Determining the cost of your interviews will vary greatly depending on where the interviews are located, and how many of them you have. While most students apply to 16 medical schools, they might not receive interviews at all of them or any of them. Check out our blog, “how many medical schools should I apply to?” to learn about our expert strategy for applying to medical school.

If you're interviewing in your home state or province for example, the costs will be much lower as you won't have to factor in airfare. If the interviews are close to your home or close to friends or other family member's homes, you can also save money on accommodation and transport. If on the other hand, your interviews are across your state or province or are in another state or province, the costs will be significantly higher. Be sure you factor in airfare, transportation, accommodation, and food when assessing how much your interviews will cost.

5. How much weight is placed on the interview?

Some schools will make their admissions breakdown readily available on their websites while others do not specify the exact weight that is placed on the interview or other areas of the application. It's not uncommon for schools to place one-third of the weight on interview performance, nor is it uncommon for schools to place 50% of weight on interview performance. There are even some schools where the interview accounts for 100% of the admission formula. The truth is, the interview is extremely important and can make or break your chance of admission. Whatever you do, make sure you are well prepared.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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1 Comments

Khush Shah

Can I get help for framing my answers to common interview questions?

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Certainly! Schedule your free initial consultation with us by clicking Contact Us in the top right corner of the screen or the Free Strategy Call buttons in the blog or on the right side of the screen.

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