October 20, 2014

Fast Facts to Help You Target Your Ideal MCAT Score

[caption id="attachment_1673" align="alignright" width="171"] Want to aim for a good MCAT score? Check out these fast facts![/caption]

With autumn comes the white coat ceremony

When autumn arrives, so do lots of people’s favorite things—football season, pumpkin-flavored everything, crisp weather that makes you want to cozy up to a mug of hot chocolate. On medical school campuses across the country, autumn also brings with it the white coat ceremony—that time-honored tradition in which family and friends gather to watch you don the symbolic garment of the medical field and the singular identifier of you as a fledgling student doctor: the short white lab coat. After three months of constant wear in your third year, you'll likely grow tired of the thing, but wearing that white coat for the first time at the ceremony is a feeling you’ll never forget. If you are just deciding to apply to medical school, the white coat ceremony may seem a long way away, but—believe it or not—you, too, are well on your way to receiving your own white coat. The process of getting into medical school inevitably leads you to the MCAT and all of its mysteries: how long is the MCAT, when should you take the MCAT, what do you need to do to prepare for the MCAT, and, finally, what is a good MCAT score to shoot for? No need to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to start breaking down the process into digestible parts. Start with these fast facts about MCAT scores so you can secure a good one!  

1. The average MCAT score is rising for students getting into medical school

I can't tell you how many attending physicians I've worked with who all say the same thing (though hopefully not in front of patients): "I'm not sure I could even get into medical school if I were applying today." Generally, this is a hyperbolic statement, but it carries some truth: the average MCAT score of those getting into medical school is on the rise. According to the AAMC, the average MCAT score of those matriculating as an M1 is a 31, while the average MCAT score of those applying is 29. You do the math. Sure, some applicants with a score 29 are getting into medical school, but the majority of matriculants have a slightly higher MCAT score. On the one hand, this is good news. Now you have a realistic and tangible goal to work towards. On the other hand, the fact that the average score of those just taking the test is down around 26 means that there are a lot of MCAT test-takers out there who end up not even applying. Could insufficient prep be one possible reason for the attrition?  

2. Securing a good MCAT score requires serious prep—about 350 hours’ worth

Another interesting fast fact: the recommended number of study prep hours for the MCAT is 350. That's over 14 full days—or two weeks—straight through, not factoring in the necessary breaks for eating, sleeping, and otherwise being a normal person. Phew. That’s a daunting task to undertake—too daunting for many. Which is why many people end up taking the MCAT after insufficient—or unstructured—prep, scoring poorly, and consequently not applying. Luckily, Kaplan has a proven track record of providing students with excellent MCAT test prep. With 350 study hours to fill, it's easy to see how you could get overwhelmed, or even lost. The beauty of the classes Kaplan offers are in their structure: the schedules are designed to make every minute of your MCAT test prep count. From in-class sessions to full-length practice tests, the hours add up quickly, and in the end you'll be grateful for putting in the extra time to score well on the MCAT.  

3. Practice makes perfect

In no way does this statement become more evident than when preparing for a big test like the MCAT. The best way to simulate Test Day is to take practice tests. You can't know how far you've come without knowing where you started. Take the first step by registering for one of our free MCAT practice tests to see how you’d do right now if you were going into the exam today. After taking the test, you’ll get:
  1. A detailed score report: We’ll figure out what kind of test-taker you are and let you know your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Complete explanations to every question: We’ll show you what mistakes you made and how to guard against them in the future.
  3. Strategies for improvement: We’ll give you ideas for raising that MCAT score!
Sign up today to get started on the path toward your own white coat ceremony some future autumn not so far down the line. ...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
September 8, 2014

Back-to-School Pre-Med Resolutions

[caption id="attachment_1576" align="alignright" width="225"] Emily and her roommates on the first day of their second year of medical school.[/caption] Hello my scholarly pre-med readers! Let’s talk about our pre-med resolutions for this year! Summer is winding down and for many of you sophomores, juniors and seniors, that means it's time to head back to school. Now, the novelty of college may have worn off and moving back into a dorm room or frat house may not be as exciting as it was your freshman year. You may be dreading classes such as Organic Chemistry or Cell Physiology (a notedly difficult class at my undergrad, Lawrence University). You may also be about to fall into some familiar study habits and patterns that keep you from achieving your dream grades and getting your GPA up. Let’s tackle these bad habits head-on, so that you can have the best GPA and MCAT score possible for your medical school application and increase your chances of getting in! You've heard of New Years resolutions; you might have seen my own med school resolutions article in January. Today I want to help you create your own list of new school year, pre-med resolutions! Side-note- these are partially inspired by my own list of resolutions for my second year of medical school. You never stop needing to shake bad habits! Together, let’s work to make this year wonderful so we can start living the good life!

Resolution #1- Spend less time on Social Media/the internet in general

The day before I test, I guarantee that I know everyone's Facebook status and have thoroughly stalked any pictures that have been posted in the last month. Unfortunately, the fact that my cousin ate a really great slice of pizza during her New York vacation last week is not information that will be on my test the next day. Now, you don't have to go as radical as deactivating your Facebook account, but you should definitely limit your time on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever your time-wasting site of choice may be. Set a timer or have a friend remind you to hop off! I find that I am most productive if I print my notes and close my computer when I study. Hard on the trees, but much better for my studies.

Resolution #2- Plan Your Fun

Lots of people might tell you that school should be focused solely on studying and that fun should be a secondary concern. However, since the majority of medical school students and physicians will at some point struggle with burn-out, I suggest learning how to plan in time for your fun now. It will help you keep your sanity and make your study-time more effective since you've been able to blow off steam. Practically speaking, if there's a football game on Saturday and you plan to tailgate and spend the day at the stadium, also plan to stay in and study on Friday night. It may seem horrifically lame, but in the long run you'll enjoy your time at the game more if you know that you put in some good study time the night before.

Resolution #3- Get Some Sleep

Research continues to illustrate the benefits of getting a good night of sleep (we're talking eight hours here people). Getting insufficient amounts of sleep has been linked to negative consequences such as poor academic performance, increased obesity and a greater number of car accidents. I can hear you protesting already. "But Emily," you say, "I'm just so busy! There aren't enough hours in the day!" I agree that with a packed pre-med schedule, prioritizing sleep is extremely difficult. That said, I am in a class with 159 other medical students and nearly every single one of them will attest to the fact that they make sure to get a good night's sleep as often as possible and especially the night before an exam. If a bunch of medical students who are involved in student council, clinic, volunteering, research, sports/athletic pursuits, and a million other things can make sure to get eight hours of sleep, so can you!

Resolution #4- Prep for the MCAT

If you haven’t already signed up for your Kaplan MCAT class, now is a great time to do so! There is still time to take the MCAT before the test changes go into effect in 2015. We’ve already talked about the fact that the MCAT is an important factor in boosting your application even after your GPA is pretty much solidified. So, why wait? Get started prepping for the MCAT today!   We want to hear from you! What are your New School Year’s Pre-Med Resolutions? What bad habits are you trying to kick to help you rock your GPA, destroy the MCAT, and move closer towards your “good life”? 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. Happy studying! ...read more
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! ...read more
April 4, 2014

How studying for the MCAT benefits you as a med student

Hello my studious readers! I was sitting in a Cardio lecture this week when the lecturer flashed the equation on the screen, P1V1=P2V2. That equation looked very familiar and I had a flashback to when I memorized it for the first time when I was studying for the MCAT. That got me thinking about skills that I had honed and material I had committed to memory when I was studying for the MCAT that has come in handy in medical school. So, despair not MCAT studiers! Here are the parts of your MCAT studying that will be useful in medical school:
1. Content- Now, I will be the first to argue that many topics that show up on the MCAT are not necessarily relevant or applicable to becoming a physician. There are, however, many topics that are exceptionally useful. So far in medical school I've used the Nernst equation, the circuits equations, pretty much every biology topic, fluid dynamics, the equilibrium constants, R and S chirality and all the biochemistry that was on the MCAT. The one thing that I teach in MCAT classes but I haven't seen much of in med school is Newtonian Mechanics. Additionally, things that I learned in medical school take on new relevance when I'm teaching and tutoring. The passages that I used to struggle with now make more sense because I know about the diseases. For example, we completed our Blood and Lymph block a few weeks ago and when I was teaching the Biology 3 lesson, I realized that the passage on Thalassemia was exactly what I had learned in medical school. I've taught that passage hundreds of times, but after my most recent classes, the passage took on an entirely new level of meaning.
2. Test Strategies- I still triage questions on my test. Most tests in medical school are timed and multiple choice with the idea that the format will help you be prepared to take the USMLE exam at the end of your second year. Due to the format being similar to the MCAT, strategies like Stop, Think, Predict and Match and triaging are absolutely still effective when taking your tests. I always try to predict an answer before I look at the choices since distracting answer choices abound on medical school exams. Looking for and eliminating extreme answer choices is another good practice that I first learned to implement when studying for the MCAT. Rarely in medicine is something always true or never true. Those are great answers to eliminate immediately.
3. Studying high yield content- You can't know everything. It's just not possible to know every single scrap of information about a topic that could possibly show up on an exam. There are definitely pieces of information that are very important and highly likely to show up on an exam. My professors like to point out specific, potentially testable material. Those are the things that you want to focus your study hours on. I'm sure that I'll get a question about different levels of AV blocks on my exam on Monday the same way that I'm pretty sure you'll get a question about electrostatics and magnetism on the MCAT.
Thoughts? Are there other MCAT skills or material that you think will be useful in medical school?
...read more
March 21, 2014

REKAP – Key Takeaways from MCAT Gen Chem 1!

MCAT Rockstars! MCAT Gen Chem 1 is in the books! We had a unique opportunity to review some Chemistry that we probably haven't seen in quite a while! Some of the big takeaways from Gen Chem 1!
  • Preview Work is absolutely essential! I constantly remind my students as we are moving through Unit 1 how important the preview work and going back to some of the basics can be.
  • Content is King. When was the last time you reviewed Quantum Numbers, Electron Configuration, and the Periodic Table? Those all seem like simple straight forward Gen Chem topics but many people when beginning their MCAT studies forget they haven't looked at material like that in 2+ years! Make sure you go back and review the basics.
  • Set Priorities. Finding the time to study for your MCAT is tough! And now it is becoming even tougher. Whether you are in school or you are working, you need to set priorities and find time in the day to make studying work. I encourage students to make a schedule and really work to hit those study goals along the way.
  • Build Confidence. The time you begin studying is a scary time when considering how much information the MCAT covers. Now that we have begun we can start to build confidence in the fact that we are making progress and we are working towards a goal. Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started. We have begun and are now seeing improvements that will only continue!
Next up is Verbal 1! Many students can be frightened of Verbal, but we are going to lay some solid ground work on the best places to see improvement for verbal and how we can score more points! Stay tuned! More MCAT wisdom to come! ...read more
August 9, 2013

Don’t forget the 3C’s of the MCAT!

Hello my critically thinking MCAT students! One of the very first things you learn in your first Strategy and Critical Thinking Session is that there are 3C's that are important to keep in mind on your MCAT journey. They are Content, Critical Reasoning and Crisis Prevention. Now, most students keep these in mind for perhaps the first week or so while they study, and by week four of studying have completely forgotten that there should be a balance between all 3 C's. Today, let's focus on how to keep all 3C's in mind throughout your MCAT journey.
Content- This is the one on which most people focus. MCAT students (myself included when I was studying) get wrapped up in the sheer volume of content that exists on the MCAT. Yes, there are equations and concepts which you absolutely have to know, but there are only 13 discrete questions in each of the science sections. Not only that, but I have never seen a single MCAT science question that simply asks you to produce an equation by name. The MCAT will never say, oh please give me the Nernst Equation. No way! You not only have to know equations and concepts, but when to use them and how to use them effectively and efficiently. Which brings us to the next important C. . .
Critical Thinking- If there were no critical thinking component to the test, it would be the same as any science test you may have taken during your undergraduate career. The MCAT is different though and requires you to apply concepts to unique situations. Remember that it's completely okay to see brand new experimental set-ups on Test Day because they're really asking you about things you know! The best way to integrate critical thinking into your practice is to try out real MCAT passages and questions. Once you review a set of equations (content!), such as the equations for circuits, put it into practice via QBank passages and discretes. That way you can test your ability to remember the equations as well as your ability to apply them in a test-like situation. Speaking of test-like practice. . .
Crisis Prevention- The MCAT is a standardized test, which means that there are tons of steps that you can take to ensure that your performance on Test Day is optimal. For example, you can take practice tests at the same time as your exam. You can visit your testing center and practice visualizing yourself testing in that environment. You can use a desktop for a practice test, instead of a laptop. Though triaging, passage mapping and using STPM (stop, think, predict and match) for questions, you have a plan for absolutely every situation on the test! If only undergraduate science finals were as predictable as the MCAT! Basically, by knowing everything about the MCAT, you can reduce stress and be fully prepared for anything you may encounter on Test Day.
The moral of the story? Don't forget all 3C's while you practice. By integrating Content, Critical Thinking and Crisis Prevention into your studies, you too can rock the MCAT!
Happy studying! ...read more
Tests & Scores
June 24, 2013

Thinking About MCAT Science With Adam: E01 – Respiration

Come join us with MCAT Expert Adam Grey as he introduces how to relate MCAT Science to everyday life!
Like a lot of people in the world of med school admissions, I think about MCAT science a lot. Seeing the world through this lens is vital to becoming a successful medical student and physician, and it helps to maximize your MCAT score as well.
That's why I'm pleased to announce the first episode of "Thinking About MCAT Science," an web series about seeing echoes of the MCAT in our everyday lives.  Each video will be very short (no more than 2 minutes long), so the series should be a very quick-hit, low-commitment way to give yourself that extra edge on Test Day.  And, just like this blog, the content will be absolutely free.
We'll be releasing a new video every few weeks, and we have some great plans in store as the series continues.  So go check it out!  Make sure you like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to this blog or our YouTube channel (KaplanMCAT) to see more videos as they're released.
[cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
June 19, 2013

Summer Sun and Study Fun, The MCAT Way!

Hello my diligent MCAT students. Here we are in the glorious month of June and you're probably thinking to yourself that signing up to take an MCAT class during the warm, sunny months seemed like a great idea in January. Now you may be rethinking that decision since you are sitting inside missing out on some wonderful vitamin D production while all of your friends play sand volleyball and do other fun summer activities.
Today I'm going to argue that yes, you have to spend a lot of time inside studying for the MCAT and taking practice tests, but you can still study while you complete summer activities. All summer events are MCAT studying opportunities waiting to happen.
For example, (Note the use of the Verbal Reasoning keyword for the transition. You are studying while reading my blog! You are off to a great start!)
1. Going to the beach- The beach is a great place to think about fluid dynamics. You can entertain your friends by explaining the concepts of hydrostatic pressure and buoyant force. For extra fun you can calculate everyone's apparent weight and specific gravities in the water.
2. Going to a baseball game- Baseball is filled with kinematic equations. You can ponder the exact angles and velocities needed to hit a homerun or get a pop fly delivered directly to your seat. Bonus points if you can calculate sine and cosine in the midst of vendors yelling, "Popcorn! Cotton Candy!"
3. Going to the park- Swings are excellent examples of pendulums moving in simple harmonic motion. You can calculate the potential and kinetic energies, velocities and angular frequencies while swinging on a swingset. As long as you're already nerding out at the park, you may as well calculate the torques applied to the see-saw as children climb on and off. How far does that kid need to move to produce rotational equilibrium?
4. Drinking a refreshing summer beverage- While you're drinking an icy cold lemonade, you can calculate the heat exchanged between the glass and the atmosphere or reflect on the phase changes occurring in your glass as the ice melts. From there you can reflect on water re-uptake in the kidneys and how that relates to ADH and aldosterone and that lemonade you are sipping.
So the next time you're going to pass up a fun summer activity because you need to stay inside and study for the MCAT, consider taking your studying outside! The real world runs on the principles you learn in physics, chemistry and biology. Every now and then it's okay to get out and experience them first-hand.
Happy studying! ...read more

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