Category Archives: MCAT

The MCAT: An Overview

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15. According to the AAMC, the test was changed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The MCAT is now double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. Medical schools vary in their policy about whether they will still accept the old MCAT for the 2019 application cycle.

Before we provide you with a detailed look at the test, it’s important to keep in mind that the MCAT is just one of various factors used by medical schools. The evaluation process also reviews college grades, trends in grades, extracurricular activities, and medically-related experiences such as research, shadowing, and clinical work.

Test Structure 

The current MCAT consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes—double the length of the previous version of the test.

The first three sections of the MCAT are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

The MCAT will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The newest section, added during the 2015 revamp, is “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” which comprises 25% of the test and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observed:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

MCAT Test Dates and Centers

The MCAT is offered 30 times throughout the year, from January through September, with scores released five weeks after administration. You can find a local test center here.

MCAT Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The test is not graded on a curve, and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Below is the expected distribution of total scores for the MCAT taken between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019.

The score reports provide details on your test performance, and combines MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles. See the sample score report below.

 

What Are Percentile Ranks?

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Percentile ranks are updated May 1 of every year. This info has been particularly useful to med schools in the first 3 years after the new MCAT was implemented, before sufficient historical data was available to evaluate applicant’s scores.

Importantly, on May 1, 2019, the percentile ranks will be based on the MCATs from the entire four preceding years; having this history will provide much more useful information to both students and med schools.

Below is a chart outlining the percentile ranks in effect from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019:

What Are Confidence Bands?

Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam. According to the AAMC, “non-overlapping confidence bands show a test taker’s likely strengths and weaknesses. Overlapping confidence bands suggest that there are not meaningful differences in performance between sections.” For instance, in the example above, the student would have strengths in the BBFL and PSBB areas, and relative weaknesses in the CPBS and CARS areas, but would have comparable strengths between BBFL and PSBB; and between CPBS and CARS.

Note that the confidence bands for each of the four section scores are two points, whereas the confidence band for the overall total is four points. So if your total score is 501, and you retake the MCAT, you have a reasonable chance of scoring anywhere from 499 – 503.

Average MCAT Scores for Selected Medical Schools

Below are the median new MCAT scores and GPAs for accepted students at a variety of medical schools.

Medical School US News Rank MEDIAN
GPA
MEDIAN NEW MCAT SCORE
Columbia 6 3.87 519
Drexel 83 3.73 511
Emory 23 3.79 515
Georgetown 45 3.74 512
Harvard 1 3.92 518
NYU 12 3.9 520
Stanford 2 3.89 518
Temple 55 3.79 512
Washington Univ 7 3.89 521
Univ of Miami 48 3.8 513

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Taking a Gap Year before Medical School

Deciding when to attend medical school—and therefore when to apply—is one of the most important decisions that you’ll face as an applicant. Sometimes, taking a gap year before applying can be a beneficial decision, both personally and academically. To make the best use of a gap year, students should reflect on their career goals, and use the time to both confirm their interest in medicine and strengthen their candidacy for medical school.

According to Washington University in St. Louis, students should choose gap year activities carefully, and seek ways to grow as a competitive, interesting applicant.

“For example, a student with a marginal GPA would be best served by using that GAP year to strengthen his or her academic record more than taking time off to travel abroad to engage in volunteer work. Likewise, someone with strong academic credentials but no experience in medically related activities would best be served using that time to engage in activities that demonstrate a capacity and passion for such work. Either way, it’s best to always “stay connected” to medicine during this year off. Unless you are an academic superstar with a stellar record in every way, I would be very careful using your GAP year to simply travel the world and nothing else. Use your time wisely. For a great list of ideas, check out GAP Year Resources.”

Taking a gap year or years before medical school is common and encouraged. In 2015-16, the mean age of applicants at anticipated matriculation to medical school was 24 years old for women and 25 years old for men (AAMC).

Robert J. Mayer, faculty associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School, has noticed an increasing trend of applicants taking a gap year over his ten years in admissions at HMS. “[When I first started] about 60 percent were coming out of college. Now, it’s about 35 percent.”

According to Duke University, more than 75% of Duke students apply to medical school after they graduate, and the average age among the incoming Duke Medical School class is 24. Duke’s Office of Health Professions Advising states, “Students who engage in a year or more of experiential activity after graduation and before entering a health professions school are more mature, resilient, confident, and accomplished… and competitive.”

Northwestern University’s Academic Advising Center notes the struggle pre-meds face in managing the application process alongside the responsibilities of being an upperclassman:

“Balancing school, extracurricular activities, clinical volunteer experience and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, completing a post-bac program, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a “gap year” or a “bridge year” can be a great option! In fact, about 60% of NU students who are accepted to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s).”

In addition to taking a break after college to recharge and reflect, there are a number of ways you can use your gap year to make yourself a stronger applicant.

Strengthen Your Academics:

Improve your GPA. Most students see their academic records improve during their senior year; you have more control over the courses you take, you’re used to the college environment, and more of your courses are within your chosen major. The transcript you submit to medical schools during your senior year might look different than the one you’d submit a year later, after you’ve finished your undergraduate coursework. Waiting a year to apply to med school gives you an additional semester to take extra and/or high level coursework that could strengthen your academic record. Moreover, taking extra time gives you the opportunity to enroll in a post-bac program (more on these below) to improve your GPA during the year you are applying. If you are concerned that you may be applying with a less than ideal GPA, here are some more helpful tips.

Study for the MCAT exam. Studying for the MCAT while balancing a full-course load, an internship, and the rest of your many responsibilities can be quite challenging. Taking time off can be a great way to give yourself extra study time. Most importantly, it allows you the flexibility to retake the test if you are unhappy with your results the first time around.

Gain Medically-Related Experience

Gaining real-world perspectives on medicine can reinforce whether medicine is the right path for you; and if so, help you explore which areas of medicine most interest you. In addition, it can also strengthen your admissions chances. There are many ways in which you can gain experience in the field. Here are some the best:

Research: Participating in laboratory or clinical research is a phenomenal way to explore the field of medicine with an especially scientific focus. While many students pursue research while on campus during the school year, there are also numerous research opportunities at medical schools and research centers over the summer and beyond. Just like finding the right job or internship, it is important to find a research position that is a good fit for your abilities, interests, and goals. So do your research!

Volunteer Work: 
Medically-related volunteer opportunities are a great way to give back while also gaining hands-on experience. Working with patients in a clinical setting is beneficial for your own professional development and in the application process. Almost all volunteer efforts will help you to develop communication skills, motivation and teamwork. And sometimes, they’ll provide you with a good reference!

It can be equally beneficial to work for a local organization, such as a hospital or community clinic, or a national organization, such as Americorps or GlobeMed; it depends on the particular opportunity available, and whether it matches your interests. There are many resources to help you find volunteer opportunities, including the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and the International Medical Volunteers Association. As always, the trick is to find an opportunity that matches your interests and rounds out your experiences.

Post Baccalaureate Programs:  Post-bac programs are especially useful for students who need to bolster their GPAs. They also allow college graduates to fill gaps in their academic record by taking one or all of the courses required to apply to medical school. Some post-bac programs cater to career changers (those who need to complete most or all of the science core), and others to academic enhancers (those who have completed the core but are taking advanced science electives to improve their science GPA, or prepare for the MCAT), and some accept both. Programs are offered across the country, by colleges large (e.g. CornellUSC) and small (e.g. BrandeisBryn Mawr)

Additionally, some programs, such as those offered by Columbia University and NYU, offer “linkage programs” with their affiliated medical schools. These programs help especially competitive students “link” directly into the university’s medical school following the completion of the post-bac program. 

Pay Down Debt

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt for medical students graduating in 2015 was $183,000.  It’s important, therefore, to try to limit any other debts you might have beforehand. A recent US News article recommends paying particular attention to credit card balances, as having a high amount of consumer debt can limit your ability to borrow money to pay for medical school.

There are many reasons, both personal and professional, to take a gap year before applying to medical school, and there are a variety of ways to use that time productively and effectively. For more information, or to talk about the best options for you, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.

The MCAT2015 has Arrived!

 

The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, officially launched a new version of the MCAT, called the MCAT2015 on April 17, 2015. Approximately 8,200 individuals took this new version of the exam. The test has been changed for the first time since 1991, and AAMC is calling it “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.” It was designed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.”

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT has changed in several major ways. Most notably, it has doubled in length. The MCAT2015 consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes, whereas the previous version consisted of 144 questions over 3 hours and 20 minutes. But despite the greater overall length, students taking the newer exam actually have more time to complete each question.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.17 PM

The MCAT2015 includes both new topic areas and different types of questions. The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

Here is a sample question from the MCAT2015 from the section, “Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It focuses on using scientific theories and models to solve a specific problem.

The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 10-4 cm with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 10-2 cm/s. Using this data, what is approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

  1. 1   104
  2. 2   107
  3. 4   109
  4. 7   1012

The new sections will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The new section, “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” comprises 25% of the test, and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observes:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.52 PM

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology,
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The new score reports will provide details on your test performance. “The AAMC envisions a score report that will bring together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights applicants’ strengths and weaknesses.” The MCAT Score Report Prototype released by the AAMC illustrates each of these aspects of scoring on a sample score report.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.04.36 PM

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam.

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. Not to mention competitive: just under 50,000 students applied to medical school in 2014, with an average MCAT score of 28.6 and GPA of 3.55. Of those accepted, the mean MCAT score was 31.4, with a 3.69 GPA.

For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.