By Lauren Krumeich
Yale Med School, Class of 2015; Parent Liaison & Test Prep Advisor, Ivy Bound Test Prep.
Republishing permitted so long as author’s name and contact info are displayed.
Medical school admissions offices want to see what drives you and how you overcome adversity and push yourself to succeed. These are the qualities that will be critical in making you a strong doctor. At some point, the tests stop, and the community will depend on your independent learning to stay up to date on medical evidence and your independent thinking to advance the field of medicine.
2. What are the basic minimum courses that I need to apply?
- 2 semesters of calculus (AP can be used to opt out of at least one, but some schools still recommend that you take at least one semester of calculus in college)
- 2 semesters of English (there is flexibility here; classes need not necessarily be in the English department)
- 2 semesters of general chemistry (typically biochemistry can be used as the second semester if you have opted out of the first semester using AP chemistry, but some schools want two semesters of general chemistry AND biochemistry, in which case you will need to find an upper level chemistry course that intrigues you or not apply to these select schools). We highly recommend taking biochemistry, regardless. It serves very well in medical school courses and on the boards.
- 2 semesters of organic chemistry + lab
- 2 semesters of physics + lab
- 2 semesters of biology + lab. General biology, physiology and genetics are all good options.
Plan ahead! If you have core requirements for your university, try to use courses that overlap for both as much as possible for your own sake. Similarly, use these courses to fulfill requirements for your major.
You need not complete all of these courses before applying to medical school, but you must complete them before your admission to medical school. You can certainly apply to schools the summer before your senior year and note the courses that you will be taking during your final year to complete the requirements.
If you ever have questions about a course’s applicability, contact the admissions office of an individual medical school directly or ask the premedical dean at your university. Do not get caught at the last minute with the wrong courses for an application, because you will be unable to complete the process for that school and will have to rescind your application.
These courses may be changing in the years ahead, so be on the lookout for new requirements. Medical schools are leaning toward finding more educationally well-rounded individuals, which will be reflected in these changes, as well as in the new MCAT.
3. Can I major in a non-science?
YES! Schools want to know about your personal passions and, more and more, doctors are coming from unique educational backgrounds. Avoid the temptation to pursue a major that you dislike but think that medical schools are looking for, because you will generally be less passionate, not perform as well and not speak as profoundly about your experiences.
That being said, it will be more difficult to complete your premedical requirements and core requirements if you have a completely separate major on top of them, but anything is possible given the appropriate preparation. Be aware of courses that may count for your major and for a pre-med class. For example, if you are majoring in Spanish, there may be a translation class of Spanish text into English that can count toward your English requirement.
4. What is the MCAT?
The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is a computerized exam that you will take before applying to medical school. Many students fear this exam, but there is no reason to. This is the first step in many important medical licensing exams that you are bound to take, so it is a good time to get comfortable mastering tough concepts and challenging yourself. Prepare well, rest well, and go in focused. The test is challenging, but well-prepared students rarely find the MCAT content is surprising.
You may be pleased to know that the MCAT mostly does not emphasize “information recall”. Rather, most of the test is “passage based”. This means that you are given several passages that are related to information you studied, but that may build on this knowledge and teach you something that you are not expected to already know. You will then be asked a series of questions about the passages that require you to use this knowledge rather than recall minute facts. Much of your success on the exam comes from being familiar with the basics of the material and then being able to process the new information and use it in a meaningful way. Occasional questions will be separate from passages and will strictly be information based, though they are fairly uncommon on the exam.
5. What is tested on the MCAT?
The three main sections are:
- Physical sciences: 52 multiple choice (MC) questions, 70 minutes. Physics and general chemistry. No calculator (so be familiar with long division and estimation techniques).
- Verbal reasoning: 4 MC questions, 60 minutes. Similar to SAT style questions but notably more challenging.
- Biological sciences: 52 MC questions, 70 minutes. Biology and organic chemistry.
- Trial section (new): 32 questions, 45 minutes. Voluntary, but you receive a $30 gift card to Amazon for taking this.
The essay portion of the exam was taken out in 2011, saving students about an hour.
Because the two science sections each contain two separate subjects within them, you do not know how many passages you will get in each section. Do not be alarmed if your section is much more heavily weighted to one topic or the other. For this reason, be strong in all areas and be ready to work with whatever you are given.
For more information: https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/5e/88/5e889ea0-750f-4700-8d4d-74b6c627ebe8/mcat_essentials_2016_-_final.pdf
Please note that the structure of the exam will be changing for students taking the exam SPRING 2015 and beyond. Please visit https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/ to learn more.
5B. How is the MCAT graded?
Each of the three main sections is graded out of 15 for a total of 45 points. For perspective, the mean for 2013 was 25.3 (approximately 8.5 per section) with a standard deviation of 6.5 (https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/5e/88/5e889ea0-750f-4700-8d4d-74b6c627ebe8/mcat_essentials_2016_-_final.pdf). A 35 (11.66 per section) is the 95.5 percentile and is a very well respected score.
6. When should I take the MCAT?
Take the MCAT when you have sufficient time to dedicate to studying. This typically means that you will not want to be splitting your time studying for your important semester classes. If you are applying as a senior to start medical school directly after college, you will want to submit your preliminary application by the end of summer before senior year. This means taking the MCAT during the winter vacation of your junior year or early on in the summer before senior year. If you are working in the year(s) before applying, plan accordingly based on your work or take it during the previously listed times when the science information is fresher in your mind. Your score is generally valid for 2-3 years, depending on the school.
We highly recommend that you take the MCAT and receive your score back (leaving one month for grading) before submitting your application. You have the option to send your application first and then follow this with your MCAT score when you receive it, but this means that there is uncertainty on your part and that your school list may not perfectly reflect where you should apply based on your completed application. For example, if you do better than you initially expected, you may open up opportunities to apply to more schools, and you will want to know to do so. If you do not do as well as you would like, you may want to consider retaking the exam or editing your school list before sending the exam to all of your schools to see.
7. How do I prepare?
Certainly, the MCAT is not an easy exam and you want to give yourself time to prepare appropriately. Ideally, you will only take this exam once. We recommend retaking the exam if you think that your score truly did not reflect your abilities, and that you can score at least 2 additional points.
You will want to take all (or nearly all) of the pre-med science courses before taking the MCAT because the information will be critical for the test. We recommend buying a review book and reading it along with the courses that you take so that you are aware of the most relevant information that will be tested. How you prepare for the MCAT will be based on how you learn best. Many people will take a group course or individual tutoring. Some will prepare independently and perhaps have some add-on tutoring. An important study tool is taking many practice tests. You can find real practice tests here for purchase: https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/prepare-mcat-exam/