This article is a guest post by Dr. Lindy Ledohowski.
While medical school acceptance rates on average can be around 10%, depending on the selectivity of the medical school itself, that acceptance rate can be much lower. For example, Harvard Medical School has a 3.5% acceptance rate. For those wanting to be competitive in this application process, a Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score of at least 510 is required. A score below 507 on the MCAT is considered low, while a score of 518 is considered high. So to be competitive as a medical school applicant, you have your work cut out for you in preparing for the MCAT to increase your competitiveness.
Add to that the fact that often medical schools prefer a higher score on the MCAT with fewer tries, and you get a picture of the role that a high MCAT score plays in your overall application to medical school.
It can be a high stress, high anxiety, high stakes scenario, and we’ve got some guidance and tips to help you put your very best foot forward.
The MCAT tests your content knowledge in: General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology, and importantly, it evaluates your critical thinking and reasoning skills. And, of course, just to pile on the pressure, it does all of this in a timed setting at certain points in the year.
The MCAT sections are broken down into:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
There are a few key tips and tricks that we recommend that can help you be successful in each section.
Tip #1: Take an online MCAT prep course
Our recommendation is Wize’s MCAT course, which is by far the best value for money. It has one of the most competitive price points of the resources that you will find out there, but it also has a “satisfaction guaranteed” clause so that if you don’t like it, you can get a full refund within the first two days. The course and its offerings has multiple profs, and was put together by an instructor who scored within the top 98th percentile on the MCAT when she took it. There are video lessons, practice problems, and an opportunity to ask your own questions of the instructors. Best of all, the instructors are real people who have gone through the MCAT and can share their own experiences with you. Check around at some of the other MCAT prep courses, but Wize’s is the one that we recommend. Getting help to prepare for this exam and medical school admissions is key to going after what you want and being successful at it.
Tip #2: Take care of yourself
This goes without saying, but you need to eat well and sleep well as you prepare for the MCAT. We like to think of taking the MCAT much the same as we would train for an athletic event. Just as we need to take care of our bodies to have peak performance on race day, similarly we need to take care of ourselves when it comes to studying for tough exams. Dietician Andy DeSantis gives some key advice about test-taking nutrition, suggesting students: 1. focus on hydration, 2. be smart with caffeine, 3. get lots of Omega 3 fats, 4. vary the food groups, and 5. make sure to separate food time from study time! The MCAT takes just over 7 hours, so you have to have the stamina to keep your brain alert and capable for that long.
Tip #3: Do lots of practice exams
Some students think that learning content or taking notes is the best way to prepare. Afterall, if you know your material, surely you’ll do well on the test, right? Actually it’s wrong! The best way to perform well on any given task is to repeatedly do the task as many times as possible in advance. Part of the MCAT is knowing the content, but part of it is being able to work smartly in a time crunched manner. This advice is especially crucial for the CARS section. While the other three sections test your previous knowledge, the CARS section is an on-the-spot evaluation of your abilities to think critically and reason. You must respond to what is given in the exam, and the more you practice reasoning in that test setting, the better prepared you’ll be on your test day.
While different people learn best in different ways, these are our top three overall tips for preparing well for the MCAT. Content mastery is key, of course, but as is test taking strategy and preparedness. If you take an online course focusing specifically on MCAT preparation, look after your health and nutrition and “train” for the exam, and do a lot of practice, especially on the CARS section, you will be well on your way to being able to perform to your best on your MCAT day.
And, of course, importantly, you’ll want to have strategies to deal with stress and anxiety. Some people like meditation, others prefer music, and others are more active in how they tackle stress with a run or a swim. Whatever your stress-mastery techniques, you will need them in full force to be able to stay calm throughout the whole process leading up to and throughout your MCAT experience.
By Dr. Lindy Ledohowski, award-winning scholar, speaker, educator, and author and founder of EssayJack and VP at Wize, which offers a Netflix-like subscription for college and university students, and specific MCAT and LSAT prep.
- Navigate the Med School Maze, a free guide
- Tips for Applicants With a Low MCAT Score
- MCAT Veteran Teaches You How to Prepare for Your Test, a podcast episode