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! 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
May 2, 2012

Kaplan’s Medical School Insider Provides a Peek Behind the Curtain of Medical School Admissions

Every premed student has questions about getting into medical school; from the personal statement to the interview, the admissions process can seem like a daunting and confusing endeavor. Compounding the problem is the fact that nearly everyone you’ll speak to seems to have their own opinion on the best approach to take – one person might suggest listing certain experiences on your application, while another will say the complete opposite! Much of this advice is anecdotal and may not apply to your situation – you aren’t the same person as the friend of your cousin’s wife, so you shouldn’t necessarily take the same approach to applying that she did just because she was accepted. In the end, the only opinions that really matter are those of the admissions committees; after all, they’re the ones that decide whether you’ll be accepted or not. Unfortunately, opportunities to pick the brain of a Dean of Admissions are few and far between. In an effort to shed some light on what admissions committees think about when reviewing your applications, Kaplan Test Prep will once again be hosting its annual Medical School Insider event on Monday, May 7th. In this 2-hour live, online discussion a panel of experts from a variety of backgrounds in medical school admissions will convene to discuss the application process and answer students’ questions about getting into medical school. This year’s panel includes:
  • Dr. David Jones, Senior Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio
  • Dr. Darrin Latimore, Assistant Dean of Medical and Resident Diversity, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine
  • Susan Hanson, Executive Director of Admissions, Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Gina Moses, Associate Director of Application Services and Recruitment, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Dr. Danielle Salovich, National President, American Medical Student Association
  • Ellen Watts, Assistant Dean for Pre-Health Advising, Fordham University
Throughout the event the panelists will discuss the different facets of the medical school admissions process; moreover, during the discussion the panel will examine and dissect actual medical school applications to demonstrate how the different pieces work together to shape the committee’s view of the applicant. It’s a rare opportunity to see the types of conversations that will take place when your own application is reviewed. More than anything, however, Medical School Insider is a chance for students to get all of their questions answered, and with the 2013 application cycle starting soon it represents a chance to change your application for the better. Students are encouraged to submit questions for the panelists both before the event and during the broadcast, and selected comments and questions will be answered live on the air. At the same time, Kaplan MCAT experts will be leading a side discussion of the event on both Twitter and Facebook as they help students understand how the information shared by the panel affects their individual case. In the end, Medical School Insider should once again prove to be an exciting and informative event for all involved. To learn more about the event or the panelists - or to reserve your seat for the live broadcast - please visit We hope to see you there! more
Tests & Scores
April 23, 2012

Effective Studying: Relating MCAT Science to Everyday Things

Time and time again I get asked “Patrick, I feel like I am drowning! There are so many science concepts to remember on the MCAT. Do you have any tips to keep it all straight?!” And my answer is simple; all one needs to do is to relate it to an example in everyday life. Rote memorization has its time and place in studying, but the MCAT rewards the student who is able to go above and beyond to UNDERSTAND the concept in all its intricacies. With this in mind I often push my students to think of common examples, so that in the worst case scenario - if you forget what you memorized - you still understand WHY relationships are the way they are. Let’s take for example the ideal gas law. Every pre-med is required to take General Chemistry and you can bet that in that time you memorized PV=nRT. Charles’ Law, Boyle’s Law, direct relationships, and indirect relationships… so many things to remember and with just memorization it is very easy to forget or mixed up. Boyle’s Law (which I myself even mixed up once on an exam, believe it or not!) is defined when temperature is held constant under a closed system. Think about the diaphragm of the body as an example: the temperature of the human body is relatively constant at 37 degrees Celsius, and when a person is breathing they contract their diaphragm so as to expand the volume of the lungs. Using the ideal gas law, we know that when the volume increases the pressure is going to decrease. This causes a negative pressure breathing mechanism that allows the oxygen rich air to flood into the lungs. By simply relating Boyle’s Law to a familiar system like the diaphragm, we’ve created a key example that will help us remember the ideal gas law in a conceptual manner, similar to the way the MCAT is going to test it! Struggling with Charles’ Law instead? Looking back at the ideal gas law we see that pressure and temperature are going to have a direct relationship. Now how do we apply Charles’ Law to a common example? How about a soda bottle? When it is cold out there is very little pressure released when the bottle is opened. However, when it is warm outside the pressure inside the bottle builds up and causes soda to squirt out. Sometimes if it gets hot enough the warm soda can explode out of the bottle on its own! (If you’re wondering why a soda would explode in the freezer given what we’ve just covered, remember that the solid phase of water is less dense than it’s liquid phase and you’re halfway to answering your own question!) In the end, the MCAT is a critical thinking test. After taking all of your pre-med courses you might be inclined to think of the test as a 10 semester final examination, and in some ways it is. However, the format of the MCAT is very different than any other test administered during your undergraduate career – it’s doesn’t ask you to simply regurgitate your science knowledge, but instead to apply it. Memorizing key science concepts will only get you so far; by relating scientific concepts to everyday situations you are more likely to remember the material in a conceptual way, and are already one step closer to applying it to similar situations you could see on the MCAT! Happy Studies! 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
Your Future
April 16, 2012

MCAT Practice Tests: Learning from your mistakes

Every Monday morning during the months of September through December, professional football players gather at their respective team’s facilities tired, weary, and groggy from the previous day’s game. They spread out based on their positions and assemble in dark rooms where video projectors display game film while position coaches break down the plays screen-by-screen. The players hate this. They just finished playing barely 24 hours ago. The last thing they want to do is watch the game again. If they won, they want to storm the practice field and keep up their positive momentum. If they lost, they want to charge the practice field and play until they get the sour taste of defeat out of their mouth. There are many reasons, however, why they all still gather to dissect the action from the last game. Athletes want to improve. They know that in a competitive environment they constantly have to analyze their past performance in order to ensure that their future performance will be up to par. It’s for this same reason that a structured analysis of practice test performance is essential to improving your MCAT score. No one looks forward to this part of test prep; personally, I hate it. I already have my practice test score, so I can move on, right? If I improved, then great, I’ll just keep doing what I was doing. If I haven’t improved, then I’ll just study harder. That notion is where the problem lies; the MCAT is all about studying smarter, not harder. By reviewing your practice exams and section tests, you’ll be able to see areas where you make consistent mistakes. For example, each time a question requires no information from the passage, do you pick an answer choice that has information from the passage but is not relevant to the question being asked? If so, then you’re falling for the ‘faulty use of detail’ answer choice – it’s tempting because it contains something you’ve seen from the passage, but it doesn’t answer the question you’re being asked. You can study the science as much as you like, but if you make this strategy mistake again and again your score will never improve. No amount of additional test-taking or chapter reading will uncover this behavior, but a close look at the practice tests will illuminate this bad habit quickly. To help this process along, we’ve provided Kaplan MCAT students with our adaptive learning technology called Smart Reports. The system automatically generates a report after every practice test; strengths and weaknesses are reported, along with useful data such as the number of questions changed from incorrect-to-correct, correct-to-incorrect, and incorrect-to-incorrect. I have taught plenty of students who swore that they always changed the right answer to the wrong answer, but once they looked at the Smart Report data, they saw that it was actually pretty close in terms of how many incorrect they changed to correct versus how many correct they changed to incorrect. Knowing this information helps you adjust your test-taking habits, thereby making you more confident for the real exam. While this is just a single example of the way that post-test analysis can help you improve, it’s an important point to remember as you get ready for test day. Acing the MCAT is about more than just learning the science that will be on the test – it’s about recognizing your mistakes and learning from them. Once you’re armed with this information, you’ll start to understand questions that used to be your Achilles heel. You’re now thinking like a test-maker and not a test-taker, which is a powerful transformation during your quest to master the MCAT! more
Tests & Scores
March 26, 2012

The Week Before your MCAT

“One week from right now I will be in my MCAT….” That thought has haunted many pre-med minds in the week before test day; after spending months and months on your MCAT preparation, the idea of actually taking the exam can be an emotional roller coaster. Managing stress in the days leading up to the test is vital, and the best thing that one can do when preparing in the final week is to remember a few key points:
  • Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule – If your test is at 8:00 in the morning, it is going to be in your best interest to go to sleep early and wake up early throughout the week – that way when test morning comes, your body and mind are well rested and you are used to getting up at the right time. The same thinking goes for an afternoon test, although it’s somewhat less critical.
  • Eat Healthy – The phrase “You are what you eat” holds true. Make sure throughout the week that you are consuming enough food to meet the metabolic demand that intense studying and stress call for. Remember, the brain is one of the largest consumers of glucose in the body; by eating healthy you will be able to keep constant energy levels throughout the week that will allow you to rest properly and feel refreshed for test day morning.
  • Personal Responsibilities – Everyone has a life outside of studying for their MCAT and it is in your best interest NOT to ignore that! With proper planning your personal responsibilities can be managed so they don’t interfere with test day. If you are still in school ask professors well in advance if you can get assignments/ test dates moved to ease any anxiety; similarly, if you are working ask your boss to see if you can get a couple days off the week before the test.
  • Focus on your Strengths – While you are studying in the final week focus on your strengths – this will help boost your confidence going into the test and will also allow you to manage stress in the days leading up to test day. This doesn’t mean you should ignore areas where you don’t feel as strong, but don’t dwell on them either.
  • Manage Stress – Be honest with yourself and understand that this week will be stressful. The best thing one can do is to acknowledge that and find helpful avenues to direct your stress. Examples of this could be exercising, cooking, or maybe even talking with a friend. I myself went bowling with friends the week before my test and it made all the difference in the world!
  • Build Confidence - The number one thing to remember about the MCAT is that it carries an intimidating factor from the very start of your studies. With that in mind, you need to be sure that you’re approaching the test in the right frame of mind. Think about all of the long hard hours that you have put in studying over the previous weeks. The night before the test, focus on remembering that you have the strategies and knowledge to DOMINATE the MCAT. At the end of test day you are going to be one step close to your true goal: becoming a Doctor! more
Tests & Scores
February 29, 2012

Keeping up with the MCAT Test Changes

Earlier this month the Association of American Medical Colleges formally approved the first major content changes to the MCAT since the test was last revised in 1991. Since the AAMC’s announcement there has been a flurry of discussion about the new exam as students, pre-medical advisors, and medical schools all attempt to understand how they will be affected, and what they can do now to start preparing. The first step in preparing is naturally to understand exactly what the changes will entail. While the AAMC has published a 150-page MCAT2015 Preview Guide that details exactly what the new test will look like, the changes can be boiled down to 3 major points:
  • Beginning in the spring of 2015, the MCAT will be restructured into 4 new sections: the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section, the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section, the Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section, and the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section.
  • The new exam will include the addition of topics in behavioral and social sciences and advanced science concepts in biochemistry, in addition to the currently tested topics in physics, general and organic chemistry, and biology. The Writing Sample section will be eliminated from the exam starting in 2013.
  • Despite the removal of the Writing Sample, the additional content will make the 2015 MCAT about 90 minutes longer than the current one – going from 5 ½ hours to about 7 hours.
While the extent of the changes is certainly surprising to some, there is general agreement that the expanded content and restructuring of the test will create an exam that will better allow medical schools to evaluate applicants. It’s important to remember that these are beneficial and needed changes, as today’s medicine includes scientific advances that didn’t exist a generation ago, and today’s doctors serve an increasingly diverse population. In fact, in a recent Kaplan survey 73% of medical school admissions officers stated that they believe the changes will better prepare pre-meds for medical school. However, there’s little question that the new MCAT will be more difficult than the current one. The MCAT changes will challenge pre-med students to learn significantly more material within the same amount of time, a potentially daunting, but achievable challenge. The additional content will also affect undergraduate pre-med programs that will need to move quickly to ensure their curricula cover the expanded topics. If you’re among  the students who will potentially be taking the new exam it’s vitally important to speak to your pre-medical advisor sooner rather than later to fully understand how you’ll be affected. Students and faculty who are interested in learning more about the coming MCAT changes can visit the website that the AAMC has set up to discuss the changes at, as well as follow the AAMC on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll also be following the changes closely and posting regular updates as they become available. In the meantime, the results of a recent survey of January MCAT- takers sheds some light on the current premed experience:
  • A Determined Lot: 92% of pre-med students said that even if they had to face the additional content slated for the MCAT in 2015, that it would not have deterred them from pursuing a career in medicine.
  •  A Rigorous Academic Track: 95% said that their existing pre-med education was intense, including 61% who described it as “very intense.”
  •  No Time for French 101: 29% reported that the intensity of their course load prevented them from exploring areas of study outside of pre-med. 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
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