August 27, 2014

Am I Ready to Take the MCAT?

Hello my MCAT-loving readers! Today I want to answer a common question posed by students - “When will I feel ready to take the MCAT?” The short answer is that you may never feel ready to take the MCAT. It's an intimidating test and feeling 100% certain that you're ready to go destroy it, may not happen for you. That doesn't mean that you're not actually ready to take the MCAT. What you should really be asking is - “How do I know that I’m ready to take the MCAT?”

You're ready to take the MCAT if:

1. Your score on MCAT practice tests is within a few points of your goal score.

Realistically, you shouldn't expect your MCAT score to vary by more than 2-3 points on Test Day. On the safe side, you should be averaging your desired test score. If you're not within the range of your desired score, you may want to consider moving your test date.

2. You've moved from pure content review to practicing MCAT-style questions.

At this point you want to be focused on utilizing strategies and fine-tuning your test-taking skills. You should have the majority of the content memorized and be ready to spit out equations and concepts like a master MCAT machine.

3. You have taken at least 8-10 practice full-length exams.

You want to make sure that you've taken both Kaplan and AAMC MCAT practice tests. By taking both types of exams, you'll be well-prepared for anything the MCAT throws at you. After 8-10 exams, you should feel confident in the test structure, your timing and the general flow of the MCAT. The more practice tests you have completed, the more well-prepared you'll be for Test Day.

4. You've put in at least 300 hours of MCAT study time.

The AAMC recommends 300+ hours of study and practice time to be fully prepared for the MCAT. The number will vary based on how recently you've taken your pre-requisite classes, but you want to be within the 300 hour ballpark. Building a successful MCAT study schedule is key to achieving success on test day.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments! What other signs or diagnostic tools can we use to tell whether or not you're ready to take the MCAT? People who have taken the MCAT, how did you know you were ready? For those of you who have not yet started your MCAT prep, sign up for a free MCAT practice test with Kaplan and view upcoming MCAT class schedules. Happy studying! more
June 14, 2013

Avoiding MCAT Meltdown

Hello my studious pre-med readers! Today I want to talk about a topic that gets brought up by at least one student in every class that I teach. It's a topic that is very sensitive and when left unaddressed can be extremely detrimental to studying for the MCAT- Test Anxiety.
Now, if you have never had anxiety about anything, the concept of test anxiety is very foreign. But if you have had anxiety, you know all too well the tightness in your chest, the cramps in your stomach and the general loss of intelligent, rational thought that accompanies true test anxiety.
However, there are a few strategies that I recommend to help prepare both your body and mind to hopefully reduce anxiety on Test Day.
1) Practice- Do you have anxiety about brushing your teeth or tying your shoes? No. Why not? Because you do it every day. Taking practice MCAT exams will help reduce your anxiety because you will become familiar with the test questions, the test format and become able to integrate test-taking strategies into a regular routine. That said, don't go overboard and take a full MCAT every day. It IS possible to have too much of a good thing!
2) Plan- If you know that test anxiety is an issue for you, have a plan for when the panicky feeling starts to set in. There are many different strategies for coping with anxiety such as focusing on your breathing or having a mental image or happy place that you can imagine. One of my favorite strategies is to focus on a moment when you were truly happy (hint, mine involves a lake on a summer day) and have that happy moment waiting in your back pocket to reassure you and propel you forward. A key component to planning is also to practice your anxiety-relieving strategies so you know which is most effective for Test Day.
3) Take a break- When the letters on the screen start to blur together and you start imaging what a future as a lawyer or farmer would look like, stop and take a break. You may worry that because it's a timed test, you are losing valuable seconds. However, the clarity that taking a break can provide will more than compensate for the few lost seconds.
4) Moral support- When I was preparing to take my first MCAT, I had one of my best friends give me pep talks any time I was feeling stupid, anxious or unprepared which, let's face it, was pretty often. One of the worst parts of anxiety is feeling entirely alone. Make sure your friends and family know that you are having anxiety and let them help and support you. A good pep talk can do wonders.
If you have strategies for managing test anxiety, I would love to read them in the comments. It's an important issue for many students!
Happy studying! more
March 21, 2013

3 Tips to Taking a MCAT Practice Test

What better way is there to see how you'll score on the MCAT than to take an MCAT practice test? This is the best tool to predict your score and see where there is room for improvement. If you're wondering when and how to take your MCAT practice tests, then look no further! 1. Take the practice test at the same time as the actual MCAT. Students can choose between morning and afternoon administrations when registering for the MCAT.  Once you've registered for the test, start taking practice exams at the same time as the actual MCAT.  If you're a night owl and take the practice test at 8 p.m., then chances are you're not getting the best prediction of your score. You'll be extra alert at night and not on your A-game during the real exam when you take it in the morning or early afternoon. 2. Don't take extra breaks or a one-hour hiatus between each section. Taking the MCAT requires a certain level of focus. So if you take a one-hour television break between each section or decide to finish up your exam another day, you're not accurately simulating the real exam environment. You can take sections of the practice test individually if you're just doing practice problems. But if you're practicing taking the test itself, then follow the same guidelines the proctors use. 3. Take a free MCAT practice test before you begin preparing for the real exam. The reasoning is pretty self explanatory: the practice test will let you know how much you need to prepare so you can study accordingly. Once you start preparing, take a practice test on a weekly or biweekly basis to see if you're improving. Kaplan students have access to 19 full-length exams (including access to all AAMC exams), so you'll have plenty of practice before test day. Are you ready to get started? Sign up for a free MCAT practice test with Kaplan. [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] more
January 24, 2013

A Tale of Two MCATs: Which Should I Take?

With the major MCAT revision coming up in 2015, many students are starting to ask:  which MCAT should I take?  Is there an advantage to one test versus the other? The short answer is:  it's possible to do either and score extremely well, but you'll have to plan starting today. What's changing in the 2015 MCAT? If you haven't read our other articles about the MCAT 2015 exam, make sure to go back and check them out: What classes will I have to complete before studying for the MCAT? Both the current MCAT and 2015 MCAT will require one year (2-semester sequence) of physics, general chemistry, biology and organic chemistry (8 classes total).  The 2015 MCAT will also require one semester of introductory psychology, sociology, and biochemistry (11 classes total).  All prerequisites for the current MCAT could be completed in two years (taking biology simultaneously with general chemistry one year, and organic chemistry simultaneously with physics the second year).  Thus, even if you're currently a freshman, you could complete the requirements and take the current MCAT during the summer after your sophomore year (Summer/Fall 2014).  However, if you are not positive that you'll be able to complete these requirements in this time (that is, after all, a very rigorous courseload!), it behooves you to take behavioral sciences (psychology and sociology) during the first two years of undergrad as well. The two word clouds above are created from AAMC's own content lists for the current and 2015 MCAT.  Click on the image to see a larger version! Will there be any difference in applying with an "old" MCAT score or "new" one? We do not anticipate this being an issue for the student.  It is not 100% clear yet what schools are planning to do with current MCAT scores versus MCAT 2015 scores (this was a hot topic of debate in a few of the sessions at this year's AAMC meeting), but schools were keenly aware that they'll be looking at scores from both forms of the test -- sometimes even from the same student! According to their website, AAMC's score-reporting service will release pre-2015 MCAT scores until 2017 or 2018.  Further, "The AAMC is currently developing new materials, specific to the interests and needs of medical school admissions committees. These will provide detailed information about the scoring of the new exam, the confidence bands that are associated with them, and what test scores are and are not designed to tell them in a holistic admissions process" [1].  In other words, AAMC and admissions committees are already figuring out the fairest way to score and interpret the new MCAT next to the current one. What are the pros and cons of each? In making your scheduling decisions, consider each of the following: Current MCAT
  • Shorter in length (3 hours, 20 minutes required testing time + 45-minute trial section).
  • Fewer pre-requisite classes (8 total).  No psychology, sociology or biochemistry.
  • Compared to 2015 MCAT, has a higher proportion of:
    • Organic chemistry questions (about 20-25% of Biological Sciences section).
    • Physics questions (50% of Physical Sciences section).
    • General chemistry questions (50% of Physical Sciences section).
  • Each question individually may have a large impact on score.
2015 MCAT
  • Longer in length (6 hours, 15 minutes required testing time).
  • More pre-requisite classes (11 total).
  • Compared to current MCAT, has a lower proportion of:
    • Organic chemistry questions (about 15% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
    • Physics questions (about 25% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
    • General chemistry questions (about 33% of Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section).
  • Each question individually has a smaller effect on score; more questions can be answered incorrectly without hurting score.
Can I just check out what each test will look like? Absolutely!  In addition to checking out AAMC's website, come to a Kaplan Practice Test (available online, or at a school near you through the month of February) to see the style of the current exam, or check our 2015 MCAT-style Mini-Test online. Regardless of the version you choose to take, start planning out your academic schedule now.  You don't want any surprises down the line!  And rest assured, regardless of version you choose, Kaplan is here to help you get the top score you're looking for.  How are you choosing which test to take? more
November 13, 2012

The 2015 MCAT – Thoughts and Statistics

Last week Alex wrote about the The Big Buzz behind the 2015 MCAT changes.  Check out his post for more information on the new format and content which is also being highlighted in the Preview Guide for the 2015 MCAT Exam.
With all of this new information Kaplan surveyed medical school admissions officers to see what they thought about the revamped MCAT set to launch in 2015.  The new MCAT has the support of the medical education community.  Nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) medical school admissions officers support the changes to the MCAT, while only 1% don’t support the changes; 12% aren’t sure.   Similarly, 74% of admissions officers say the 2015 MCAT will better prepare aspiring doctors for medical school; just 5% say it won’t; and 21% aren’t sure of what its effects will mean. While the medical school admissions officers think the 2015 MCAT will produce stronger medical students, many also believe the road to medical school may become more intense for pre-meds.  40% say that pre-meds’ course loads will increase because of the additional content they will have to learn as undergrads; 46% say their course loads will stay at their current levels; and 15% aren’t sure.  No admissions officers say pre-meds’ course loads will become easier.  Many pre-med programs have already revised their curricula or are in the process of doing so to ensure that students – particularly freshmen and sophomores – are prepared to tackle the exam’s new content come 2015.
Other key results from Kaplan’s 2012 survey of medical school admissions officers:
  • MCAT’s Importance Increases: 51% of medical school admissions officers say an applicant’s MCAT score is the most important admissions factor – up from 43% in 2011’s survey; an applicant’s undergraduate GPA placed second at 23%, followed by relevant experience at 14%; the interview at 6%, letters of recommendation at 4%; and personal statement at 3%.
  • The Interview Process: 76% of medical schools say they use the traditional interview process – where applicants meet face-to-face with just a few officials for lengthier periods of time – down from 82% in Kaplan’s 2011 survey.  17% say they use the newer Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) process, where applicants are interviewed and assessed by many officials for shorter periods of time – only 6% said they used this process in Kaplan’s 2011 survey.
  In 2012, more than 45,000 aspiring doctors applied to medical school, a 3.1% increase over 2011. As always we will continue to preparing students for success.     * For the 2012 survey, 75 medical school admissions officers from the 141 Association of American Medical Colleges across the United States were polled by telephone between August and September 2012. more
Tests & Scores
June 25, 2012

How To Avoid MCAT Prep Burnout

Face it, MCAT prep is tiresome!  The daily grind of studying and the pressure to do well can make you do some crazy things, and can also cause you to potentially over-study and exhaust yourself before Test Day.  Ideally, you want to walk into the testing center feeling excited, alert, and at the peak of your performance.  Burnout is a serious issue when studying for the MCAT because you don’t want to head into your test feeling absolutely sick and tired of the MCAT – you won’t feel as sharp or motivated.  We’re going to discuss 3 quick tips to reduce the risk of burnout to maximize your test day potential. 1. Don’t go overboard on MCAT practice testsTaking 2-3 practice tests weekly is a bad idea – not only will you have very little time to review your test and learn from your mistakes, but you will also just get tired very easily.  In most cases, we recommend that you take 1 full length test a week.  If your test is in 3-5 weeks and you think that you need additional practice, you can alternate between 1 and 2 tests a week.   Use the day after a test to review your responses (both wrong and right – there are probably questions you got correct but guessed on or could have been more efficient at) and the subsequent days to brush up on weak areas. 2. Plan your breaks. Study breaks are supposed to be reinvigorating.  If you sit at the same desk where you were just studying for the MCAT and surf the web or watch a TV show, you may not feel like you went on break at all.  It helps to get up and get away from the computer.  Even better, if you make plans with others (ex. going for a run at 6 PM or lunch at noon with your friend) you will be more likely to keep those plans and actually get up from your desk. 3. Visualize your progress.  You’re tempted to over-study because you feel like you haven’t accomplished very much in your MCAT prep.  The truth is, you’ve probably come very far from Day 1, and you should be proud of your progress!  It can be hard to think that you’ve made any improvement at all when you are so stressed out, so make it easier for yourself to visualize your accomplishments!  Here are three easy ways to do so:
  • Print out the list of topics covered on the MCAT and cross out topics that you’ve mastered.
  • Sort your flashcards into stacks based on how well you know the information on each one (ex. easy, medium, hard) and as you improve,    move the cards to an easier difficulty stack.  Over time, more and more of your flashcards will move to the easy stack, and the hard one will shrink, proof that you’re really making strides!
  • If you’re statistically oriented, you can make charts or compile spreadsheets of your progress on tests and quizzes over time.  If you’re prepping for the MCAT with a Kaplan MCAT course, you have access to our Smart Reports, which provide you with an array of charts and figures to help you track your improvement and identify weaknesses.
We hope that these strategies help you avoid burning out as you prepare for the MCAT.  Remember, you want to go into Test Day feeling excited and motivated about what the future holds, not fatigued and sick of the MCAT. If you start feeling exhausted, take a break – you’ve earned it! more
April 17, 2012

From the MCAT to Harvard Medical School: Dr. Ricky Grisson’s Journey

Oftentimes, we are asked about the performance of our past MCAT students; how they did on the test, where they went for medical school, and where they are today. Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with one of our many amazing Kaplan MCAT course alumni, Dr. Ricky Grisson, about where his journey in medicine has taken him and the role that Kaplan played along the way.  1. What was your reaction to taking the MCAT for the first time? Wow! I was surprised by the difficulty and really disappointed in myself. I performed poorly and felt really terrible about my hopes of becoming a physician. I was doing well in school, as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, but I did not feel prepared at all to take the MCAT! 2. What do you think it about the MCAT that makes it so challenging for premeds? The MCAT is a very unique test—from the passage-based format to the types of questions it poses. The MCAT tests more than just factual scientific information that premeds learn in college. I'm sure that many students who take the MCAT without using some sort of prep course wind-up feeling as disappointed about their outcomes as I did about mine. 3. How do you think the Kaplan MCAT course helped you prepare for the test? After having my dreams crushed by the MCAT, Kaplan really helped restore my confidence.  A large part of me still believed that I could become a physician, but I needed guidance and support­­—Kaplan provided it. Kaplan gave me strategies to deal with difficult questions and passages that make the MCAT so challenging. Finally, Kaplan also helped me focus on the science topics that I needed to know to ace the MCAT. 4. What area of medicine were you most interested in as a medical student and how did you pursue your interest? As a medical student, I was most interested in infectious diseases.  After starting Harvard Medical School and studying at the Pasteur Institute in France to gain further experience, I helped develop HIV vaccine candidates. These research experiences motivated me to travel to South Africa, where I helped develop a curriculum to train clinicians to treat HIV. 5. Do you have any last advice for premeds? Take advantage of every opportunity that you are given. By taking advantage of opportunities when they were presented to me, I have been able to travel around the world in my quest to understand and help reduce the impact of HIV. After taking my first MCAT, I could have given up on my dreams.  Instead, I looked for ways to enhance my MCAT preparation and found the Kaplan prep course. Sometimes you aren't given a second chance, so don't pass up potentially life-changing experiences and opportunities! Now that you've read about where Dr. Ricky Grisson took himself, we'd like to hear from you! Where will you take yourself? Tell us what lies in your future, what your ambitions are, how you're going to leave your mark on this world. In short, tell us what and who you're going to be. We want to hear the story of the “future you”—in 120 characters or less—and give you the chance to win cash and a free Kaplan course. Click here to enter. more
Tests & Scores
February 16, 2012

How to build the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule, Part 2

In my last post we discussed several tips for making the most of the limited study time that you have available as a premed. Now, in Part 2 of our series on the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule we’ll take a look at three different types of premeds and how each can properly utilize a day to get the most out of their studying. One quick note before we get started: you will notice in reading these I really make a point of taking active breaks. It is important to only study for a max of around 2-3 hours, unless you are taking a full length examination; doing so will help fight burnout and avoid fatigue, which can ultimately hurt your ability to remember what you’ve studied. Student #1: The Early Riser If you’re an early riser and can schedule some of your courses for the late morning/early afternoon, you can really utilize your mornings for MCAT study. This is a very similar schedule to what I personally did in my own MCAT preparation, and it was highly effective. 8am – Wake and Breakfast 9am – First Study Session 10am – Workout 11am – Second Study Session 12pm – Classes 6pm – Dinner 7pm – Study for Classes 9pm – Rest/ Relax Student #2: The “Not-a-Morning Person” Schedule Simply put, some of us are just not morning people – and that is totally OK! With the MCAT offered in the afternoon on select dates, an inability to function in the morning shouldn’t cause any concern. The trick to not being a morning person is to try and squeeze a study session in between your other classes. 11am – Wake and Breakfast 12pm – Classes 2pm – First Study Session 3pm – Classes 6pm – Dinner 7pm – Second Study Session 8pm – Study for Classes 10pm – Workout 11pm – Rest/ Relax You may have noticed in the two sample schedules above that I always recommend time for a workout or at least some break that involves physical activity. This can be the trick for keeping yourself focused and alert during long study days, as well as for managing the stress that goes along with an exam like the MCAT. Student #3: The Weekender No matter how efficient we are with our time, the fact is most of us are trying to balance studying for the MCAT with studying for our usual undergrad courses! If and when you fall behind, the best thing to do is to use your weekends to get caught up as quickly as possible. This might mean slipping in an extra study session on the weekend, or maybe just not spending quite as much time relaxing as you normally might. Most importantly however, as you get closer to test day you’ll want to use at least one of your weekend days to take a full length practice exam, which lasts a full 5 hours. Here’s an example of a typical weekend study day without a full-length test. 10am – Wake and Breakfast 11am – First Study Session 1pm – Workout/ Lunch 2pm – Second Study Session 4pm – Break/ Errands 5pm – Study Session 7pm – Enjoy your time off. Remember it’s the weekend! So there you have it! No matter what your schedule is like, it’s possible to squeeze in several study sessions each day, all of which count towards your total MCAT preparedness. In our final entry of the series we are going to look at how to use the different aspects of the Kaplan course resources to ensure that we are making the most of these sessions by studying as efficiently as possible. Remember unless it is helping you score more points on the MCAT, you shouldn’t be focusing on it! more
Tests & Scores
January 16, 2012

Read it, Hear it, See it, Try it: What is Well-Rounded MCAT Preparation?

Choosing your MCAT prep can be a difficult task in its own right, even before you crack open the books and start studying. Walk into any bookstore or search the internet for MCAT study materials, and you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you. Throughout the years, people across all industries (academic, test-prep, self-help, etc.) have published study aids and materials meant to help students achieve their goals on the MCAT, and the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. To further frustrate your efforts, try asking a friend or classmate for recommendations on what to use to study for the test; then, take that response and compare it to recommendations from a different friend or classmate – I’ll bet that you find some conflicting information. The reason for this is quite simple: we’re all different. We all study differently, we learn things in a specific way, and it can be a shock to the system to try and change that. If something works for one person, there’s no way of guaranteeing that it will work for someone else. Unfortunately though, this may lead to information overload as test takers try too many different approaches without first structuring and customizing their test prep. “You’ve got to structure, filter, and compartmentalize.” These words were repeated to me over and over again when I was preparing for the MCAT. The basis of this strategy revolves around the fact that you can choose from a plethora of study material. However, attempting to go through it without first customizing it towards what will fit your needs best is not the most effective technique. Instead, some time spent game-planning before the process will result in big gains overall. Decide first on what type of learner you are. There are the classroom types. There are the book-learning types. There are also the practice-makes-perfect types. Note that these are not mutually-exclusive, as you might want to consider how much of each would be ideal for you. Once you understand your learning style, you then need to decide how much time you want to and can commit to studying. Some study aids are meant to be used for a period of months while others fit better during a “the test is coming, oh my, the test is coming!” timeframe. Lastly, you want to have your study resources ready to go in the right order. Yes, that’s right, prioritizing your materials according to the timeframe is important for the MCAT. Books, lectures, tests, and computer-based work make up most of the scope of the study aids. In the beginning of the MCAT prep process, books and lectures will be helpful as you start building your content knowledge. After developing a deeper fund of knowledge, moving away from print material and classroom lectures and towards the computer and practice problems will be vital to doing well. Many students often state that they knew the material well, but when it came time to apply that knowledge under testing conditions, they faltered; the best way to avoid this is to become comfortable reading, thinking, and answering questions in front of the computer for long periods of time. You cannot achieve this by being in the classroom or reading out of a book, so long before it’s time to take the exam you should transition almost all of your studying to the computer. The goal should be to simplify your study plan rather than to complicate it. Making the investment (in time, money, and yourself) ahead of time will result in big gains as well as a lot less stress, which is always worthwhile when you’re preparing for the MCAT! more
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