You can get admitted to med school. Let there be no doubt about that. However, it is an extremely competitive process and it’s made much more difficult by avoidable applicant mistakes such as sitting for the MCAT multiple times. Medical school admissions committees can see all of your scores for the past five years, although many accept the most recent score as the official one. Then the admissions committees may wonder why you didn’t wait until you were ready to take the test.
How Admissions Committees Interpret Scores
Put yourself in the position of the admissions committee. In front of you are two solid applicants competing for the last remaining spot in your class. They are identical in every way with impressive grades, majors, extracurricular activities, interview impressions, story themes and wow factors. However, Applicant A took the MCAT three times to achieve a score of 30. Applicant B took the test once and achieved that score. Admissions committees will always choose Applicant B who only needed one attempt to achieve his desired score.
Preparation Is Key
The MCAT is an extremely rigorous test that generally requires hundreds of hours of studying. Give yourself adequate time to prepare and know which courses cover material you will find on the MCAT.
To give yourself every possible advantage in the admission process, you have to start planning well in advance.
Know what to study. This may sound straight forward, but too many test takers study material unnecessarily either because they think the material will be covered or because they are the recipients of bad MCAT advice. One of the best sources for what to study is The Gold Standard, by Brett Ferdinand, MD.
Self Study v Tutor v Prep Course
Should you self study, hire a tutor, or take a course? Since we’re not a test prep company, we feel very comfortable offering impartial advice on this matter and here’s what we want you to do.
Take a diagnostic practice test. We strongly recommend the free practice test available at www.e-mcat.com. Take it under “simulated” conditions. This means time yourself, otherwise ignore your phone and generally replicate the conditions you will have at the actual testing.
Score the test. How did you do? Clearly, if you aced the test, you don’t need to prepare further. You simply need to schedule a time to take the test. If you aced much of the test and only need to focus on a few sections, then read the answer explanations for the questions that you missed. Do they make sense? If so, you can probably get away with self studying. If, however, the explanations are not clear, you may benefit from a tutor since a prep course is going to cover every part of the MCAT, including parts you have already mastered.
Interpret your results. If the diagnostic reveals you need help across the board and the answer explanations are not entirely clear, then you may benefit from a prep course.
From our conversations with thousands of MCAT test takers since 1996, we estimate that test anxiety probably affects about 25% to 30% of the population. Test anxiety, as we define it, means that a test taker does significantly better on practice exams taken under simulated conditions in the comfort of their own place than they do when they take the test for real.
So, if someone is consistently earning 35s on practice exams suddenly gets sweaty palms and a rapid heart beat when taking the exam for real and pulls a 25, we would quantify that as 10 points worth of test anxiety. That test taker should not study more. (After all, they know the material well enough to score a 35!) Fortunately, there are some competent professionals who have proven to be highly effective at helping relieve test anxiety.
In conclusion, if you have not already taken the MCAT, wait. When your practice test scores have reached a plateau and you are not seeing the benefit from further studying then you are ready. Alternatively, if you achieve very high practice scores take the test as soon as possible and get it out of the way so you can move on to other critical admissions tasks such as developing strong story themes and wow factors.