In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “Know your enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” History overflows with examples of misinformation that brought about disaster. What could this possibly have to do with preparing for the MCAT? The MCAT is such a unique test that going in with the fullest knowledge possible of the exam will assist you in optimally preparing. Below are several common misconceptions about the test.
1. The MCAT is similar to a final exam for five specific classes
This notion can cause undue stress in the days preceding the test. It is easy to imagine how excruciatingly painful it would be to take an exam with questions selected from a plethora of specific topics related to biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics – on a single test. Fortunately, this is not the case. The level of knowledge required to pass those classes is far deeper than much of what you will be tested on during the MCAT. Rather than covering minute details, the MCAT mainly requires students to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of each subject and to understand how to work with basic equations.
2. You’ll have to relearn all of the sciences because you will have forgotten everything from your college courses
For traditional students, there is typically a gap between their basic science classes and the time they dedicate to studying for the MCAT. If that knowledge was not needed for additional classes, it is likely that the majority of details were lost. Students are often surprised at how many of the general concepts they remember, however – and this is much more important for the MCAT. Most people certainly need to review a subject or two to firm up their understanding, but it isn’t an entire relearning process.
3. This is a test of how intelligent you are
Like any exam, intelligence is a factor – but much more than that, the MCAT tests a person’s ability to work diligently toward a goal. The people who do well are not necessarily the smartest ones – they’re the individuals who put in the time and effort to understand what the MCAT covers, how it presents that material, and how you should apply those concepts as the test-taker. Familiarizing yourself with the structure and format of the test is half the battle.
4. A high mark will automatically get you into medical school
Just like a solid SAT or ACT score helped get you into college, an impressive MCAT score will only help you get into med school, and med school admissions are typically much more competitive than college admissions. There are many factors besides the MCAT that contribute to an admissions decision. This test will not solely determine whether or not you gain entrance into medical school. It’s one miniscule piece of a very large puzzle.
5. Other than the biology portion, nothing on the MCAT will prepare you for medical school
You may think that much of the material is not directly relevant to your medical school career, but the process involved in studying for med school courses strongly reminds me of what it was like to study for the MCAT. Completing that process will aid you in determining what study methods, learning styles, and practice techniques work best for you. This will be crucial knowledge when you’re challenged by your first med school exam.
6. You won’t be able to have a life while studying for the MCAT
One of the key lessons everyone learns in life is how to balance work and play, and if you hope to be a doctor, this is the perfect opportunity to begin developing that delicate balance. This is especially important for the MCAT because if you focus so much on studying for the test that other elements of your life are neglected, this will lead to a decreased ability to cope with stress; it’s not difficult to imagine where that will lead.
You’ll notice that all of these myths were negatives; these misconceptions can make the MCAT sound harder than it is in reality, and they can add to your stress while preparing for it. If there’s one item that isn’t necessary during this process, it’s additional stress. With any luck, clearing up these myths will help you fight that battle and attain the high score you’re after!
Eric Secrist is a professional MCAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Washington and is a current medical student at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.