When I tell someone I’m nervous about taking the MCAT
With Regards to the Personal Statement (it’s Capitalized because it’s Intimidating)
The Prompt: Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school. 5300 characters (including spaces).
Before I go on, personal statement writing is pretty similar for any endeavor— substitute medical school for veterinary school, art school, a specific research program, etc. In general, it’s about being able to articulate your passion and tell the story of how you found it; and why you are suited for it.
This resource helped me quite a bit during the process: John Hopkins University Pre Professional Programs & Advising, The Personal Statement.
The point of the personal statement— this is your opportunity to speak in your own voice and tell your unique and personal story. Without it, you’re just demographics, standardized test scores, grades, and a list of activities. Be an advocate for your characteristics and strengths that are not apparent in the rest of your application.
So this is the way I approached it. First you need to identify a coherent narrative in your life story. It might be an ‘aha!’ moment or it might be a series of experiences that built one on top of the other. Regardless, you need to find a focus. This requires a lot of introspection (ie. word vomit).
The first thing I did was threw my heart at a word document in a bloody, incoherent, passionate mess (I have it saved under “Heart and Soul.doc”). Without worrying about the real essay, I just stream of consciousness responded to:
- Why do you want to be a [blank]? What experiences have motivated and reinforced your desire to pursue this profession? What about the profession specifically draws you to it?
- Identify the skills and characteristics in yourself that qualify you to pursue this career. Illustrate the experiences which exemplify or served to develop them.
- What can you as an individual contribute to the greater community?
- What personally defines you? (ie. family, ethnicity, hobbies and interests, academics, specific individuals, etc.)
Now that that’s done you’ve got a good skeleton to work off of (mind you the bones of the skeleton are probably scattered all over the place). Now you need to identify your story and the aspects and experiences you want to highlight the most. Start writing.
Just write. You’re starting early. You’ll have plenty of revisions, upon revisions; and several pairs of eyes as well to help you through it. Just write.
The story— Your story is uniquely yours. There are very few instances in which your story will be ‘cliche’. Maybe your interest in medicine stems from the health problems you experienced or witnessed in someone else when you were young. If this is legitimately your story, it won’t be cliche. The important part is to tell it honestly and with sincerity, the rest will follow.
However, don’t say you watched an open heart surgery on a 5 month old and you knew and that was it. There may be a specific moment when the passion began, but the decision to pursue anything (medicine especially) requires a lot of thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions. The more difficult the road is, the less feasible it becomes to simply say you had an ‘epiphany’.
Choose a few aspects from your application to focus on. Do not repeat your entire activities list, but choose two or three that mean the most to you and are the most relevant to illustrating your commitment to your career choice and to your story.
Revise and flesh your essay out. The character limit might seem a little restrictive (it was for me because I write so much) but this is an exercise in being as economic with your words as possible. General rules for essay writing apply— do not use passive voice, choose interesting verbs and adjectives, vary sentence structure, etc.
Also remember you have to convey qualities such as honesty, sincerity, and passion. Others to consider: leadership, integrity, commitment, ability to self-reflect, etc.
Finally, triple check everything. Use your own eyes, your friends, your mom, your friends’ moms. Take advantage of your professors and your letter writers and your pre-professional resources. As many people as you feel comfortable pestering. While you know what you are saying, it helps to have an outside perspective to address sentences that might sound awkward, or transitions that may not be as fluid. And spelling!! This essay has to be as pristine as you can make it.
If mistakes leak through, then that’s it. You can’t stress. Forgetting an ‘S’ at the end of a word that was meant to be plural doesn’t look great, but it’s not going to be the thing that prevents you from getting an interview or an acceptance.
Also be aware that this may become a talking point later during interviews. Do not even think about making something up. This is an important essay, but it’s not scary. It might be difficult to balance story telling with advocating yourself without sounding narcissistic, but it can (and will) be done.
And if you’re applying this cycle, now would be a good time to start.
Most importantly— “be yourself.” I’ve said this enough times before, but it should always be reiterated. That’s why I stuck Terriermon at the end of this post. :)
Last Minute MCAT Advice
I posted a short set of MCAT advice a while back [here] and [here], after I took my test in April (my personal experience of that day is also [here]). Since, I’ve caught up with the wee pre-med juniors at my uni., I have a few last minute, miscellaneous things to add before the test changes in 2015.
I just like sharing my experience, just in case it helps one person out there. :)
Anonymous asked: what classes besides the med school pre reqs do you recommend taking for the mcat??
Honestly there are several. Usually the answer is anatomy & physiology, genetics, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, etc. You’re pretty much set if you’re a Bio major, because those are all your requirements anyway. The good thing is a lot of these classes overlap so you don’t have to take them all— but the more times you learn it, you become more familiar with it, and that’s always a good thing.
Personally, by the time I had taken my test I had taken A&P I in high school, Genetics, and half of Biochemistry.
However, there’s no right answer here because it depends on the material your med school pre reqs cover. For me, Biology II was Genetics, and there were concepts from Physics and Organic I had to study on my own, just because we didn’t get to them in my classes.
If it helps, all the MCAT content is listed here.
I’m going to be getting ACS and KaplanMCAT emails for the rest of my life, aren’t I…?
Sitting in Valdosta.
Is it me or is Valdosta kind of romantic sounding?
Anyway, finally an undergraduate senior, but in denial about that. I’ll just be here sitting in limbo with Virgil and Homer and those other cool ancient Greeks.
If it wasn’t clear from my post before, this was a tough year. I (kind of) transferred schools and it was such a different environment from before, especially academically. After taking Bio and Orgo together, doing research, and SI-ing for Anthro, I figured I could deal with anything. Instead I just barely made it through only taking 12 credits—really guys this sem was worse than first semester freshman year.
But it’s finally over. :) Once I’m home tomorrow, I get to sit back, make the most of my summer, and focus this month on applications—making my list, polishing my personal statement, padding out my resume, etc. among other fun things. :) After only okay winter and spring breaks, I’m ready for summer to be awesome.
((Me feeling “Ohyeahbadass.”))
And I can go into it with a huuge weight lifted off of my back. I got my MCAT scores back at 3am last night. I made the minimum goal I set for myself, but you know what? That’s good for me. It’s a score that won’t prevent me from getting into a medical school—at least not the ones in my state. And I am A-Okay with that. My biggest fear was that I’d have to take it again—over the summer when the curve’s the steepest, and have to complain and hear myself complain about it all over again. ><
But this is me NOT complaining and ready to enjoy my breakk. :D
lambie’s MCAT Advice (Pt. 2)
Okay, time for subject specific advice. Knowing all of the information expected of you is a daunting task. The test is essentially asking you to cram four thousand pages of information into your brain. Just start ahead of time, and continuously review the information so it sticks.
Physics- There’s no formula sheet for this one, so you have to know them all. Understanding units are usually a good way to get the equations all in order. Don’t let it scare you!
General Chemistry- Probably the same as Physics, but there’s a lot more to know conceptually, I feel. Just know all your stuff—periodic trends, acid base chemistry, reaction kinetics, all that.
This is probably the section where pacing is the most important. There’s less time on this one so shoot for 8-9 min per section. Old SAT strategies probably apply the way they do here, given that they work for you. In my experience, VR gets easier the more you practice it.
Discipline yourself in focusing on passages that are really uninteresting. You only have to do it for an hour. Just tell yourself it’s actually fascinating.
The thing with the Verbal is that every answer is in the passage, and with a fair amount of searching, you can answer every question in this section correctly.
Also, make sure to read the little blurbs at the bottom, if they’re there. You usually won’t recognize the author, but in a case where the passage was adapted from Rousseau or Plato, knowing who the author is could potentially change your entire understanding of what you just read.
A good Writing score could make up for a lower Verbal score, but otherwise, it’s not taken into much consideration. So don’t stress over it.
All the prompts have the same format (examples here). I would read the newspaper or classic novels to make sure you have something relevant to write about.
Biology- Hopefully, the basics of cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics are second nature by now, make sure you have some of the specifics down. And for physiology, if you know nothing else, know the kidneys, heart, hormones, and osteoporosis. Biology’s a lot more about reading and understanding passages, experiments, results, graphs, etc. than it is about memorization.
Organic Chemistry- There’s so little of it on the test, it’s unfair how much you need to know. Don’t go nuts memorizing the mechanisms for 50+ reactions. Focus on knowing the start and end products and know reactions you began with really well (SN2, E2, dehydration, etc.)
I’m sorry I don’t have much in the way of materials to put here. I relied mostly on my text books and practice tests to study. I know they help, but the review books are expensive, and I didn’t see the need if I already had all of the information in my college texts. You might have to do some sifting through information you don’t need to know, but all the MCAT content is listed here, so I just studied what I needed.
I had a PR book and three practice tests that were wayy hard compared to the real thing. Still, PR offers a free test online and so does AAMC ((I think Kaplan does too)). These two were pretty hard and pretty easy, respectively. Keep an eye out for the free practice tests offered at your school—even if they are just trying to suck you into their class. AAMC also sells tests for $35 each. In my opinion, practice problems are the most useful thing available to you.
But do what works for you. Classes are good if you need structure or discipline to study ((or if you’re one of the few people the strategies actually work for)). Books, online exams, study groups, teaching your friends the material even though they don’t want to hear it. You should know what works best for yourself.
Finally, no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay. It’s just a test, life moves on, and no matter what the result, you can pick yourself up and make it work.
lambie’s MCAT Advice (Pt. 1)
I’m probably the last person who should be offering advice at this point; preparing for this exam was a painful endeavor.
Despite being completely panicked, I’m not very disciplined, and I didn’t study nearly as much as I told myself I would.
Still, I got everything I needed to done. I essentially went through my Chemistry and Biology text books twice, reviewed my physics notes, dug up my Orgo reaction cards, and found all the information I didn’t already have on my own.
I’ll also say that I did not take a class to prepare for this test. I have awful memories of SAT prep courses in high school and I didn’t want to dish out thousands of dollars for a class I’ve heard others describe as a waste of time. It also might be me, but I’ve never bought into the “Strategies” these classes tend to teach. Honestly, they don’t work for me and waste my time.
First off, this is a computer based test, so I would absolutely take at a practice test ((Princeton Review Free simulates it best)) at the very least to familiarize yourself with the CBT Tools.
Secondly, this is a mean test. The questions are trying to trick you. The clock is intimidating. The amount of Orgo you have to know relative to the amount you’re tested on is ridiculous. The Writing Sample only really exists to exhaust you before you get to the Biological Sciences section. It’s a 5.5 hr long test and in a few years, they’re going to make it longer.
Approach every problem like it’s a trap, because it probably is. It’s easy to miss simple questions if you’re not paying attention. Go ahead and do the stand alone questions in the Physical and Biological Sciences first. They’re the easiest, and take the least amount of time. It’ll get you into your stride going into each section, but it’s also nice going into the passages knowing you’ve nailed a quarter of the section in 10 min.
Never skip because there’s no guessing penalty. Usually, you can at least narrow it down. If you have to guess, don’t mull over it. Do it and move on. Try not to take too much time on any one question—mark it, keep going, and review the marked questions if you have time at the end.
In regards to pacing, I’ve always been lucky in being a fast reader and test taker, but calculations can be time consuming if you end up with a lot of them on your test. If you do have issues with timing, keep a close eye on the clock. There are the same number of passages on every test, I would say spend about 8-9 min on each one. You’ll pick up time on the easier passages or the ones that have fewer questions, which you can use at the end to review.
Take all the breaks. Don’t pressure yourself into getting it all done in one go. You’re already taking a 4 hr 20 min test. You can afford to take the extra half hour to give your mind a rest.
Most importantly, don’t take the MCAT if you’re not ready for it. If you have to spend $70, $140, or $240 dollars to move it, do it. At the end of the day, you’ll be spending 1000 times more for medical school. If you feel as if you absolutely need to void it, that’s okay too. These things happen. Better to learn from it and do it right.
By about Wednesday morning, I knew there wasn’t that much left for me to at that point. My test was at 1.00p so I got to wake up at a decent time, borrowed my research partner’s car, took my time getting to the test early, etc. I spoke to both my parents and my grandma before I went in.
Then, sitting in the car in the parking lot, I just gave it up to God. I know He has taken care of me so far, and He would take care of me that day.
There weren’t more than fifteen people taking the test, and you could hear a pin drop waiting to be signed in. Even the people who knew each other weren’t talking. Had to be metal detected and fingerprinted every time you went in and out of the room, etc.
Also, I was on the second day of my feminine issues ((the worst day)) and I was just praying I would stay hydrated and not faint.
I think I was psyching myself out right before the test, but once you get in there all that goes out the other ear.
The closest approximation to the real test was AAMC #11 in terms of the style and formatting of the sections. People on SDN forums all say that it’s the hardest of the practices, but the real thing is more difficult. Not only in terms of how stressed out or whatever on test day, but because the passages are a little more difficult and there are more difficult questions on the test.
P.S. was harder than the AAMC. There were several more calculations, which are time consuming. There was also one passage that was almost so beyond me, I couldn’t really tell you now what it was about. The extra math work chewed up some of my time, and I had to guess on most of the questions to the ridiculous passage. I’m just hoping I didn’t make unnecessary mistakes on the rest of the test because I felt good about it.
Verbal’s always a toss up. Again time got me here cause the passages were a little longer and I was also falling asleep at that point. It might have been a good thing that I didn’t have time to go back and review the marked questions, because I usually talk myself out of the right answers. Again we’ll just have to see.
As for the essays, the format’s always the same. Thirty minutes go by quickly for an essay, but at least they woke me up.
I got to B.S. ready for the home stretch. At some point, I was wondering what would happen if I decided to void the test. And then I realized, for me and for my family, that would have been the worst decision. I wasn’t unprepared, I had done my best, it was hard, and that’s all it is.
So B.S. I finished really really quickly. Again some of the passages were more obscure, but I just did what I could. I was also slightly upset that an Orgo reaction came up I had never seen before, that wasn’t listed on the information we had to know. What the heck is an oxime?
Anyway, I finished.
Right at rush hour time, so I was stuck in traffic for an hour. I brought home a dozen doughnuts for my friends, and then they took me out to get dinner and dessert. :D
So here’s the thing. The test was hard. It was not impossible. And there’s no way to know what happens until scores come out. I couldn’t honestly say how I did. I just have to put it out of my mind this month, relax for a little bit, see how my score goes, focus on classes shadowing interviews volunteering, and go from there. If I retake it, that’s okay. If I don’t end up at an ivy, that’s also okay.
Like my Orgo professor says, it’s just a test.