Whether you've been invited to a panel, traditional, conversational or multiple mini interview, the key to performing well is to be prepared. This blog will tell you everything you need to know to prepare for your med school interview, from the day you first receive your interview invitations, to the day of your interviews. Lastly, it will answer some of your most common questions regarding the interview itself.
Here's what you're going to learn:
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The very first thing you need to do in preparing for your medical school interview is to respond to your interview requests immediately. Communication is so important, and nobody likes to be kept waiting. If like many students, you're wondering “when do you hear back from medical schools for interviews?” check out our blog for a detailed response. If you don't respond promptly, you'll be giving the impression that you are not overly interested in the school or the program. It's important to note that some schools send out more invitations than available slots, it would be heartbreaking to be offered an interview but to have missed the opportunity because you failed to respond quickly enough. The next thing you'll want to do is to find out the interview format. You could be participating in a group interview, a traditional one-on-one interview, a panel interview or a MMI. In order to prepare effectively, you need to know which type of interview you should prepare for. 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”
Practice, practice, practice.
Once you've determined your interview format, it's time to start practicing with sample questions and real-life mock interviews if you haven't already been practicing. 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. 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 which is achievable through preparation. If you're nervous driving on the highway and only do it once every year, likely, you'll always be nervous driving on the highway. If however, you slowly introduce yourself to highway driving and continue increasing the frequency and duration over time, you can probably overcome the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing because you begin normalizing the experience through practice. A lot of fear and anxiety 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 come across well or perform a certain way. 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, allow you to adopt a strategy to answer any type of question you may encounter. That's the key, it's not about memorizing a whole bunch of answers or trying to guess exactly which questions you will be asked. It's about mastering a technique to identify and answer ANY type of question that's thrown at you and to do it calmly and confidently. Confidence can't be taught, but it can be developed and it can grow with medical school interview preparation.
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Know yourself and your application inside and out.
Preparing for your interview is going to take a lot of self-reflection. You have to understand yourself, your choices and your motivations before you'll able to share them with others, and that's exactly what you'll be doing during your interview. You can expect to be asked questions such as “why medicine? “Why do you want to be a doctor?” and “tell me about yourself.” These are not questions that are easily answered on the spot, instead, they can be answered through thoughtful reflection and brainstorming. If you're having difficulties identifying why you do what you do, or where your passions come from, it can be helpful speaking with friends and family because sometimes they can see qualities, traits, and passions that you haven't been able to identify in yourself. In addition to knowing yourself, you need to know your application. Depending on the interview type, open vs closed interview, your evaluators may have access to your application and 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 re-visit your application to familiarize yourself with experiences you've had so you are confident discussing them.
Don't memorize your answers.
Some students think that the best way to prepare for an interview is to memorize their answers. They think that when they are asked a question they have prepared for, they can easily state their memorized piece and it's a golden ticket to success. There are two main problems with this approach. First and foremost, a canned answer will always appear fake and therefore, won't be genuine. Evaluators want to get to know the real you and hear about your experiences, accomplishments, and motivations for pursuing medicine. You know when you meet people and right away you can tell whether or not they are genuinely nice, friendly and interested in what you're saying? Evaluators can also tell the difference from a memorized answer compared with a genuine answer. It's not to say a memorized answer isn't also truthful, but it's harder to tell and just doesn't leave a good impression. The second issue with memorizing answers is that this has the potential to, and often does, backfire. If you've prepared a specific answer to a specific question and you receive a variation of that question, with no preparation other than memorization, it is very difficult to modify a memorized response accordingly. Some students end up just repeating what they had memorized which likely is inappropriate, doesn't directly answer the question, and may include irrelevant information. Memory blanks are also a strong possibility with memorization. With memorization, you're preparing a very ridged answer without room for flexibility or natural thought. If you forget a line or skip sentences, it can affect the entire memorized piece, leading to a complete blank in thought. Nerves can also cause you to forget your answer entirely, just like stage fright, so it's best to avoid memorizing answers. Instead, the best strategy is to think of a few important points or experiences you'd like to discuss. Practice your answers including these points, but note that each time you answer the same question, your response will likely differ slightly which is a good thing.
Read endlessly to be in the know.
If you're not a fan of reading, this is a skill that you need to gain quickly. To effectively prepare for your med school interview, you need to read and retain a lot of information. Firstly, you need to learn about the school. Review their mission statement, their core values, their research opportunities, interesting developments or important stories in the school's news section. Just as with the previous strategy, this isn't for memorization. This is 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 of interest to you. During your research, you should always be looking to connect back to your own goals and interests as these will be great talking points during your interview, and it will help you answer the common “why our school?” prompt. 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 for your option on a certain policy or a big story revolving around medicine in the news. Review our blog to learn how to ace policy type questions.
Check out this video for in-depth tips for how to prepare on the day of your interview:
Be keen, arrive early.
What you don't need on your interview day is more stress, but this added stress is inevitable if you don't give yourself enough time and are running late. In general, you should be at the location of your interview the day before. 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 on the day of your interview, you'll feel confident and comfortable because you'll know exactly where to go. Arriving the day before also allows you to relax, unwind, settle in and get a good night's sleep. On your interview day, as a general rule of thumb, you should arrive roughly 20-30 minutes before registration. If you're driving yourself, give yourself more time to allow for navigation and finding parking. This will give you a chance to grab something to eat, have a drink, or use the restrooms before you begin. Plus, arriving early gives you some wiggle room in case there was an unexpected slow down from leaving your accommodation to arriving at the interview location.
To dress appropriately means to dress professionally. Remember, your evaluators will be assessing whether or not you are suitable for the profession, so what you wear matters. If you show up in blue jeans and a tank top, not only is this inappropriate, it also shows that you don't really care about the interview, didn't put in much effort, and are unlikely to be seen in a professional light. 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 that person you ran into without apologizing, or that person you rudely ordered a coffee from can report unprofessional behavior. You know what's awkward, realizing the person you ran into earlier is one of the people conducting your interview. Always put your best self forward, smile, introduce yourself, say please and thank you, all the things you were taught when you were little. 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 so valuable because they stick, it's simply the way our brains work. It's therefore essential for you to nail them both. Making a bad first impression by barging into the room because you were late and are out of breath is not going to get you anywhere. When you first arrive at your interview, be sure to introduce yourself, make eye contact, smile and try to remember your evaluator's names. Don't panic if you're terrible with names and don't manage to catch them, the important thing is that you were friendly and introduced yourself. Similarly, when you leave, don't forget to thank your interviewers for their time, smile, make eye contact, shake hands again and leave with your head held high.
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. Even if you feel silly asking, it's so much better than going through an entire answer only to have the interviewer point out that wasn't what they asked, or to have an evaluator who isn't able to give you feedback judge you poorly because 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.
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.
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.
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 fussed 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 get close to 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.
How much will my interviews cost?
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, that's not to say that they 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.
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.
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To your succes,
Your Friends at BeMo