August 25, 2014

What is Changing on the MCAT 2015?

[caption id="attachment_1534" align="alignright" width="313"] New topics and areas of study will be covered on the MCAT 2015[/caption] If medical school is in your near future, you probably know that, as of April 2015, there’s a new MCAT in town, appropriately termed MCAT 2015 to differentiate it from the current exam. While much of the popular conversation has centered around the new content areas of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology, we think it's important to understand not just how the MCAT is changing in 2015, but why the MCAT is changing, and why now.

Why is the MCAT changing?

Science and medicine have advanced at an exponential rate in the past 23 years, and so has medical education, but the MCAT has not kept pace since its last update in 1992. The new MCAT is designed to resolve this discrepancy and help address and improve the preparedness of future medical students. While the new subject areas will add a significant amount of prerequisite content knowledge, the new MCAT structure will also more accurately evaluate a student’s ability to apply this content.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

This section, much like the current MCAT's Verbal Reasoning section, will test no prior knowledge. In fact, none of the passages will contain any hard science. The topics will be limited to the humanities and social sciences. They will explicitly test a student's ability to reason.

Application of the sciences on the new MCAT

The other three sections on the MCAT—Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior—will test students in the content of biological and living systems. Gone are the questions requiring you to calculate how far a ball is going to travel when thrown at a certain initial velocity and angle; here to stay are the questions that ask how much force must be generated by the muscle doing the throwing.

Is organic chemistry really gone?

While organic chemistry is the bane of many a pre-med’s existence, it is the backbone of biochemistry (literally and figuratively), and it is still going to be a content area students must know in order to do well on the MCAT. The buzz about organic chemistry has to do with the direct amount of explicit questions on the new MCAT. While there will be fewer of these, the test will still emphasize the biological application of organic chemistry.

The human element of medicine and medical school

Our current pre-medical curriculum places almost zero importance on the human element of medicine. Sure doctors know a lot about science and the human body, but they also interact with patients, who are humans with emotions and backstories. For this reason, psychology and sociology will be introduced on the new MCAT to help students better understand and heal their future patients. No transition comes without its challenges, but the new MCAT 2015 is an overall win for the future of medicine. With students entering medical school with a stronger biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology background, schools can place greater emphasis on teaching the art of medicine. Tell us which MCAT 2015 topics you’d like to see covered on Kaplan’s Med School Pulse by commenting below.  For more insider news on the future of medicine, getting into medical school, and the MCAT, register for our monthly, online pre-med series: The Pulse. more
Pre-Med Life
February 11, 2013

Romantic Valentine’s Day MCAT plans?

It’s that time of year again- when people daydream of valentines, candy hearts, roses and romantic gestures. While you, intrepid pre-med student, are preoccupied with daydreams about physics equations, the intricacies of mitosis vs. meiosis and the trends on the periodic table. As the commercials say, “every kiss begins with Kay” and you begin to wonder which K? Ksp? Keq? Temperature in Kelvin? As February 14th rolls around, you think- How can I possibly have time for a hot date on Valentine’s Day? Surely I must spend this day of romance alone and wallowing in MCAT-studying induced self-pity. That’s where you are wrong.  You DO have a hot date! It’s with your books and online study resources. Think about it. You’re in a long-term, invested, committed relationship with these resources that will last at least few months. In a romantic relationship with a significant other, Valentine’s Day can help spur you out of a romantic rut. So, the real question for spending Valentine’s Day with your MCAT resources is: how do you keep the studying magic alive and stay engaged in the resource relationship? Here are a few studying tips to help keep your relationship with your resources feeling fresh and new:
  1. Study in a different location- Sure your corner in the library or your table at the coffee shop is familiar, but to ensure that you don’t become the mayor of the library’s fourth floor on Foursquare, try a new location! A fresh location can create a new perspective on some tired material. For bonus romance and excitement points, try studying next to a window.
  2. Spice up your routine- Instead of starting with Kinematics review, then moving on to Work and Energy, start by quizzing yourself on electrostatics with flashcards or creating an exciting quiz about gases for yourself using Q-Bank. The MCAT will not organize the passages based on your desired order for content, so mimic that in your studies and make sure that you are not always practicing your content in the same order.
  3. Ask a friend for study advice- An MCAT study buddy will have a fresh perspective on how to approach the material and will provide some much-needed human conversation. Checking in with fellow MCAT studiers is also great for helping build mnemonics, memorizing formulas and helping you stay focused while you’re studying. Yes, Facebook does count as losing focus while you study and you’re less likely to creep on everyone else’s Valentine’s Day plans when you’re checking in with another person who can hold you accountable. Besides, who knows? Your platonic study buddy may eventually develop into an actual romantic relationship.
Happy Studying! more
January 22, 2013

2013 MCAT Success – Part 1

Psychology Today by Ray Williams, there are many reasons that people start to not follow through with their original resolution and I want to focus on a couple points specifically from that article that might help put you on track for MCAT success in 2013!
  • Focus on one solution rather than several.  – Don’t go out and just say I am going to study 3 hours every day on each of the sections of the MCAT.  If you began with that routine you would be at 9 hours a day of just MCAT studying! Remember those other things in your life… school, research, extracurricular, family and friends, and maybe some down time?!
  • Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to – This can be the key to sticking to that MCAT resolution.  Try finding someone who will have the right balance of keeping you motivated but also reeling you back in when you are going on 12 hour study marathons and haven’t seen the outside of the library in weeks….
  • Focus on the present. What's the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal? – Tomorrow you can’t just take a full length practice test and magically see your score increase, because frankly, it won’t.  You need to start small and take the appropriate steps to get there. How about today you focus on electrostatics? Yes I know that terribly painful subject in Physics, however, one of your biggest opportunities to increase your score! The small steps build to the great journey!
  • Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future. – This is the KEY with MCAT studying.  So many students go on “study binges” where they sit in the library for hours on end.  While this is great time spent in the library, it tends to burn you out and when you wake up the next morning the last thing you want to do is study for the MCAT.  Take care of yourself, you need to find that balance, so that you are physically, emotionally, and mentally happy!
Yes, I said it. You can be HAPPY when studying for the MCAT.  In my next post we are going to follow up on this with how to be truly happy in MCAT studying this year! Take the challenge I dare you… 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
April 10, 2012

Teaching the MCAT: How I became a better doctor

The cliché “never say never” has been around for so long that its significance might be lost on most people. For me, though, every time I hear someone say it, I think back to when I was an undergrad studying for the MCAT. A group of us taking the prep class would study together and at times the conversation would veer towards our MCAT  instructor. “He’s so smart, there’s nothing that he doesn’t know,” one of my friends would say. Another overly-optimistic one would chime in with, “I bet he got a perfect score on the test.” At the time, we were all premeds preparing for the exam, but I was unaware that later on I would not only be helping students like me achieve their goals and get into medical school, but I would also be helping them become instructors, and in the process better doctors! One of my favorite examples is a student I had who did great on the exam, was accepted by the same medical school as me, and then became an instructor trained by (can you guess where this is going?): me! We became great classmates and coworkers, and the reasoning behind it is pretty simple when you get down to it. Many test takers have an “Ah ha!” moment with the MCAT; this occurs when you stop thinking like a test-taker, and you begin to see things from the perspective of the test-maker. The wrong answer choices stand out and the passages are more lucid in terms of where the questions will come from. It takes time, dedication, and definitely perseverance to get to this point, but once you do, you don’t lose it. Fortunately, even though the subject areas of the test are different, the MCAT maintains the same structure throughout, so this state of “MCAT nirvana” helps you do well from beginning to end. When I started medical school, I felt motivated to go back and teach the MCAT exam, hoping to impart that same ability to see the exam in a different light on my students. I didn’t realize at the time that this would be a symbiotic relationship. Explaining test-taking techniques and MCAT strategy helped me think more critically. Doing so provided me with better diagnostic abilities and bedside manner when I entered my clinical years of medical school. If I could explain a complicated passage on quantum mechanics to an entire classroom of MCAT students, then I could properly assess patients in the emergency room suffering from acute pain and carefully explain to them the plan for getting them better. As if there weren’t enough benefits to teaching already, I often casually mention to students how that same “MCAT nirvana” will be extremely helpful when it comes time to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) Step exams in medical school. USMLE scores are a big factor when applying to residencies, and there are numerous studies that correlate success on the MCAT with success on the Step exams - so keeping your wits sharp and ready will give you a large advantage when the time comes. Furthermore, the analytical skills required of a physician are not that different from those of an accomplished teacher: both need to reach the level of their patients and pupils in a way that makes difficult concepts easier to understand. It’s for these reasons that I always tell the students in my MCAT classes to not think of the MCAT as a roadblock to success, but rather a catapult to greater things!   EDITOR’S NOTE: Kaplan is always looking for qualified instructors for the MCAT as well as a range of other exams. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for a teaching position, please visit to learn more; note that a score qualification of 90th percentile or higher is required for all applicants. 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

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