October 22, 2014

Pros and Cons of Taking the New MCAT 2015 in April

[caption id="attachment_1681" align="alignright" width="300"] For more information on the MCAT 2015 Dates, visit https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/administration/[/caption] As a society, we tend to remember the trendsetters—those who break the mold, pave new pathways, boldly go where no one has gone before. We think of Tenzing Norgay & Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest or Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. If you’re a med student, maybe your mind jumps to the cloning of Dolly the sheep; or Watson, Crick, and Franklin solving the structure of DNA. These figures in history are heroes, no doubt. But we don’t often think of the fact that being the first one to do something, to break new ground, can also be a little scary. You might feel this way about taking the new MCAT, which will first be administered in April 2015. Since there’s a lot of chatter out there about whether or not you should sign on to be part of this vanguard group, we thought we should discuss a few pros and cons of taking the new MCAT in April.  

Pro: You can apply early in the primary application cycle.

To begin with, remember that, regardless of the test change, the application cycle for medical school admissions is the same. That means if you want to submit your primary applications at the start of the cycle in June and be one of the first candidates that schools evaluate, you will need to take your exam by April or May of 2015. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has stated that preliminary percentile ranks will be offered about two to three weeks after testing so students can decide whether or not they want to retest. However, examinees in April and May will receive their MCAT scores later than the usual 30-35 day window, so that AAMC can "verify and conduct analyses required to establish the new score scales and to make the necessary adjustments to correct for the anticipated idiosyncrasies of the group of early examinees." According to the AAMC, MCAT scores from the April and May exams will still be reported prior to the opening of the 2016 AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application cycle, so there will not be a disadvantage for the first group of examinees.  

Con: You will not be able to get advice from peers who have previously taken this exam.

This might seem like a disadvantage, but consider this. First, the new MCAT is a normed exam. Second, the AAMC has been very transparent about the changes to MCAT 2015; therefore, there would be no real advantage to listening to peer reviews in the first place. As for expert advice, you can rest assured that Kaplan has spent the last three years creating a whole new MCAT 2015 program to prepare for the exam, so there are plenty of resources available. Listening to friends and former test-takers, frankly, might not be the best strategy anyway.  

Pro: There is a financial benefit to being among the first to take the new MCAT.

The AAMC will be offering Amazon gift cards up to $150 to examinees who take the early April exams. This incentive is almost a direct response to a worry that students might feel compelled to wait and see how the new MCAT plays out. But, keep in mind that the AAMC will be spending considerable time ensuring that the results of the new exam are statistically valid, so there is little to worry about.  

Con: New content means more prep … right?

The fact that the test is changing is important for many reasons. You need to make sure you have developed the right critical thinking skills and acquired the appropriate content knowledge for the new MCAT. In 2015, the MCAT is adding three additional semesters’ worth of content to the test, not all of which are required for med school admission: biochemistry and behavioral sciences (psychology and sociology). If you're worried about fitting these three additional semesters into your schedule, check out our MCAT Foundations program. This is the only course available that focuses specifically on the additional material covered by the new MCAT. But the test change should not be a determining factor for choosing your test date. You’re better off putting your mental energy into creating and sticking to a personalized study plan that's efficient and gives you the practice you need for the MCAT 2015.  

Conclusion: ignore the chatter and take the exam when you are most prepared.

When you take the MCAT, you want to put your best foot forward, so structure your plan around your personal needs and schedule, just as you would if the test were not changing.   Visit Unlock the Good Life to see what MCAT scores will get you into your top schools, get resources, read interviews, and enter to win our 10K Good Life Sweepstakes. The good life is closer than you think.   ...read more
September 11, 2014

How is the MCAT Scored?

[caption id="attachment_1587" align="alignright" width="300"] Understanding MCAT scoring can help in your medical school admissions.[/caption] Over the past 15 years at Kaplan, I have spoken to thousands of pre-med students, and the question I get asked the most is “how is the MCAT scored?” Today, I want to dispel the most common myths about the current MCAT scoring process and get you the facts.  

Why Do I Have to Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?

Before we dive into the question of “how is the MCAT scored,” let's take a step back and look at the dual purpose this famed med school exam serves in admissions. First, the MCAT is used to predict how a student will perform academically in medical school—primarily in the first two years: those pre-clinical years that are primarily comprised of lectures and labs. Second, the MCAT is used to differentiate applicants in the medical school admissions process. You’ll notice that neither one of these metrics is designed to indicate whether or not someone will make a good doctor.  

MCAT Scoring and Myths

This med school exam is scored on a scale of 1-15 for each of the three sections, with an aggregate range of 3-45. The average MCAT score is around a 25; the average score of applicants is around a 28; and the average of matriculants is around a 31. So the major takeaway here is, you don't need a 45 to get into medical school. What you need is a competitive MCAT score for the schools you are applying to.  

Myth 1: MCAT scoring based on the student scores from a single test administration

False. The MCAT is a standardized test, and while many equate “standardized” with “multiple choice,” what it really means is that the scores can be compared across administrations that contain different sets of questions, So whether you took the MCAT five years ago or yesterday, the scores are comparable. To achieve that standardization, each individual exam has to be “normed” back to the original standard. How is this done? Say that one version of the test requires you to get 70% of questions on the Physical Sciences section of the test correct to score a 10, and another version requires 75%. The discrepancy can be made up for in the difficulty of the questions you receive. So the best thing you can do while taking the exam and preparing for the exam is focus on developing a solid plan of attack for each type of question. At the end of the day, you need to focus on getting as many questions correct as possible. Many times, students suffer from score paralysis—they get so obsessed with the scaled score that they lose sight of the true task at hand, which is learning how to master the MCAT. Only mastering the exam will lead you to the score you need to get into medical school.  

Myth 2: Some MCAT administration months are easier than others

False. Even if this were true, it wouldn't matter, because the test is always normed back to the standard. In fact, when you take the MCAT, even if there are 30 other students at the testing center taking the exam with you, no one has the same exact set of questions; it’s all randomized. You will definitely have overlapping questions with other students on Test Day, but this isn't like a college exam where everyone gets the same version. For the MCAT, there are multiple forms of the exam for each administration, each of which is individually normed back to the standard. There is a lot that goes into your MCAT scoring behind the scenes. This is why it takes a few weeks to get your scores back, but you shouldn't waste your time or brain energy worrying about that. Instead, apply that grey matter toward securing an MCAT score that will lead you to the white coat! Kaplan can help you achieve your MCAT goals on the current exam and the new 2015 MCAT. Check out our upcoming MCAT class schedules, and get started on your path to living the “good life” of a doctor. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries, read profiles of successful people, and see how far a higher MCAT score can take you. You will also be entered to win a $10,000 sweepstakes!   ...read more
July 25, 2013

What Makes For a Good Test-Taker?

Hello my devoted MCAT students. For those of you who are taking a July or August test, you may be losing steam in your studies. I encourage you to not lose hope! You're almost to the finish line, so give it your all for these last few weeks or days. Today I want to talk about something that you may not have thought about while you're studying for the MCAT, but it will hopefully be useful both in your MCAT studies and ideally someday in your medical school studies: What Makes for a Good Test-Taker?
What separates people who are naturally good at test-taking from those people who are not naturally as good at test-taking? There are lots of theories about what separates the two groups. In fact, you may have some of your own theories, especially if you're one of the people for whom the idea of taking a test sounds less fun than spending a day in a 100 degree metal box incessantly scooping ice cream with flies stuck with fly paper glue to your elbow and knee. Sidenote- this is decidedly not fun. I know from experience (Thanks high school summer job!).
The theory I want to talk about today is the idea that people who are naturally better test-takers have a habit of looking for the overarching pattern that unifies the details rather than memorizing the details themselves. They understand the WHY behind the WHAT of what is actually happening. Great test-takers can see the big picture and unite ideas under a common theme. Now what do I mean by that? For example, I had a moment when I was studying for a Physiology exam. The nit-picky details of the nephron were eluding me. Na+ goes where? Cl- does what? Then I had a moment when I realized that all of the intricacies of the nephron all made sense if I simply viewed them all under the over-arching goals of the nephron. The flow of ions and water makes sense if you know WHY it is happening.
How can this help you while you're studying? Instead of mindlessly memorizing each step in a reaction or the flow of ions in the nephron, take the time to ask yourself WHY things are happening. Look for the patterns to help both with memorizing information, but more importantly understanding information. The MCAT is a critical reasoning test. It's to your advantage to practice critical reasoning while you're studying in addition to using it on the test itself.
Using this rockin' strategy, you too can study for the MCAT like those naturally excelling test-takers!
Happy studying! ...read more
Tests & Scores
July 23, 2013

Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts 3: Peptide Bond

In today's Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts video from the Kaplan MCAT course, Dr. Jeff Koetje discusses the peptide bond as tested on the MCAT. Note that the MCAT tests critical thinking, not just science recall, mastery of certain science concepts is a prerequisite for the test. Do you know the peptide structure? For more great videos concerning Fast Facts, Current Events, and more, head over to our MCAT YouTube Channel. [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
Tests & Scores
July 1, 2013

Thinking About MCAT Science with Adam: E02 Combustion

Here's Episode 2 of the "Thinking About the MCAT" series!  We're going to take a trip to some General Chemistry this time, because I'm always thinking about it this time of year.  And based on the all these fireworks shows going on, I'm not the only one... For more information about the MCAT and how to prepare, visit Kaplan's MCAT Homepage. ...read more
Tests & Scores
June 17, 2013

Do You Get Good Grades, But Don’t Score Well On The MCAT? Here’s Why…

You get good grades.  Maybe even great grades.  So why is it so many "good students" like you do great on regular tests but hit a brick wall when it comes to the MCAT?  There is actually a very logical explanation.  Listen as our new MCAT Mentors explain. Need that extra push when it comes to prepping for the MCAT? The MCAT Mentors are part of Kaplan's new Advantage Plus course. Along with specially designed classes to prepare you for the MCAT, this new course includes study group meetings and exclusive one-on-one discussions with our MCAT mentors. The mentors will help review your progress, find areas that need better attention, and encourage you to stay on the right path. Want to meet some of our mentors? Watch the video and listen to just a few of them explain the difference between the MCAT and med school and why some students have trouble scoring well on the MCAT. As well, they'll give you key information as to what to expect on the exam. Questions? Send us a tweet @KaplanMCATprep where we help you find all the right answers. ...read more
June 5, 2013

Teaching the MCAT for Kaplan

Hello my dedicated MCAT students! I have been spending the past few weeks working with some of the best MCAT teachers in the country at the Boulder MCAT Summer Intensive Program. As a teacher, this is a unique experience because I get to share and brainstorm strategies and mnemonics in-person with my fellow teachers. Additionally, I get to nerd out like crazy about things like organic functional groups (see last week's post) the glory of the the inverse relationships that are prevalent on the MCAT and the sheer beauty of a well-crafted passage and its questions.
This quality time with other awesome Kaplan instructors has also sparked a common question, "How did you start teaching for Kaplan?" which is incidentally the focus of this week's blog post.
My story involves initially taking a Kaplan class in 2006 for the last paper and pencil administration of the MCAT. I took the class and subsequently the test and scored above the 90th percentile which is the cutoff for applying to become an instructor for Kaplan. I didn't even consider becoming a teacher until 2009 when my roommate, who did marketing for Kaplan (shout out to Katie W.), mentioned that there were some openings for ACT instructors. I applied, went through teacher training and quickly became an ACT teacher. From there I cross-trained in MCAT almost immediately, since there is frequent demand for a passionate MCAT instructor. The rest is, as they say, history.
Why am I telling you this? Well, when I was in your shoes, I never dreamed that I could become an MCAT instructor. However, it has turned out to be an incredibly rewarding, stimulating and challenging experience for me. The best part is that I get to help people conquer one of the obstacles on their path to achieving their dream of becoming a doctor. Interestingly enough, several of my former students have actually become Kaplan instructors themselves. If you love the MCAT, I encourage you to consider applying.
Please hit me up if you have questions about working for Kaplan or how awesome my job really is (hint- it's pretty awesome).
Happy studying! ...read more
May 30, 2013

Functional Group Friends!

Okay, industrious MCAT students, even though Organic Chemistry has been losing some of its prevalence on the MCAT in recent years, it still makes up approximately 25-30% of the Biological Science Section. What does that mean for you as students who hope to achieve that perfect 45? That means you need to make friends with your functional groups.
Now, most of you probably dedicated a portion of your Sophomore or Junior year to rote memorization of the names and properties of various functional groups. However, on the MCAT, mere memorization won't cut it when you're looking at an entirely unique molecule and wondering how it will react with something else. So, the question remains- how should you memorize the functional groups?
Answer- treat them like they're your friends. You know your friends' habits, their reactivities in certain situations and how nicely they play with your other friends. -You have friends that are really stable and balanced with good conjugation and strong bonds to their neighbors. -Some of your friends are really needy (aka negative) and they need a lot of positive reassurance from an electrophile friend. -You have some more smelly (aromatic) friends than others. -When your friends have a good support structure (i.e. resonance and induction) they can more easily handle a negative charge and are less likely to react with the first person that comes along. -You can also have a ruthlessly positive friend who can easily handle balancing out another friend's negativity.
Basically, functional groups in organic behave the way that people behave, so start paying attention to the functional group trends and enjoy the drama that occurs when a nucleophile and an electrophile are attracted and react. I bet that hook-up shows up all over their facebook pages.
...read more
May 23, 2013

Equations and Units and Relationships, oh my!

For the past few days in the MCAT SIP program, we have been focusing on the first few chapters of the Physics review notes book. We have been tackling topics like Kinematics, Force, Motion, Gravitation, Work and Energy. There is a lot of high yield material in the first few chapters and it can often be extremely overwhelming, especially for students who haven't taken physics in a few years.
When it comes to the physical sciences, there are three things that can help increase your physics speed and accuracy. 1. Equations- It is absolutely essential to know the equations by heart and to be able to recall them quickly. To practice equations, memorize them in chunks. What are all of the equations that deal with energy? Know them as a group and you can pick up any of them individually when you need to solve a question. Use flashcards, friends, games and mnemonics, however it works best for you, but you 100% need to know your equations on test day.
2. Units- You have to know how to break down a Joule, a Newton a Watt or an Ohm into its separate components. Frequently, answer choices will feature different units and you can eliminate based on knowing that a Newton is kg*m/s^2 so that has to be in the correct answer choice. Units are your friends.
3. Relationships- You have no calculator on the MCAT so the plug-and-chug method that most of us used in our physics classes, is often not the correct way to most quickly answer a physics question. What are the relationships between the variables. If mass increases, what happens to momentum? Is that relationship direct or inverse? Again, this can help eliminate wrong answer choices with no calculations required increasing both speed and accuracy.
So, for those of you who are struggling with physics, remember to focus on your equations, units, and relationships. If you're having trouble, don't hesitate to sign up for Kaplan's MCAT prep courses. The guaranteed path to higher test scores. Happy studying! ...read more
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