Sunday, November 13, 2011

The MCATs and me

I took the MCATs a long, long time ago. Back in those days, we had to hike five miles in the snow to get to the testing site and then churned our own butter. (Butter churning used to be one of the domains tested on the MCATs.) Back in those days, the test was on paper and we bubbled in our answers on something called a "scantron". Ask your parents about it.

Since the test was such a big, exciting event, it only took place twice a year: in August and April. I didn't want to take it during the school year and I thought the August before my senior year was too late, so I took it during the August between my sophomore and junior year of college. I had taken all my prereqs at that point aside from Term 2 of Biology, so I figured I was set.

I decided I didn't see a point to them fancy prep classes, so I spent the summer doing studying on my own. I already knew my strengths and my weaknesses. English, biology, and orgo were my weaker areas. Chemistry and physics were my stronger areas. I figured if I could at least get a solid 10-ish score in everything else, I'd balance it out by getting 14 or 15 in chem/physics. I never got below a 13 on that section in the practice tests, so I figured I was golden. (For those of you not in the know, scores were out of 15 points.)

The format that the test used to have (and perhaps still does) is that there would be a reading passage followed by questions. I recently explained this to my husband and he was utterly perplexed.

Husband: "You mean, there would be a reading passage for the English sections only."

Me: "No, the science sections would have a passage too."

Husband: "Even, like, physics?"

Me: "Yes."

Husband: "Like what?"

Me: "I don't know... there would be a little story about physics and then you'd have to answer questions about it."

Husband: [baffled] "A story... about physics??"

I don't know why it was done this way, but it was. I'm a fast reader, so it wasn't necessarily a bad thing for me. The bad part is if you run into one hard passage or something that isn't your strength, you're screwed on like 6-7 questions instead of just one. And in my case, I ran into TWO really hard passages on the chem/physics section.

I swear, it was unfairly hard, you guys. I can't remember anymore what the passages were, but I remember telling a physics major friend about the hard physics passage, and he said, "Whoa, that's pretty hard." And then a second hard one too... it really hurt me. I walked out of that test not feeling good about it.

Ultimately, I swung a disappointing but sufficient 10 on the chem/physics section. Fortunately for me, I did much better than expected on the other two sections, so overall I got around the score I had hoped for and decided I had a good enough total score to avoid retaking it, especially since I didn't want to go to a fancy schmancy school.

Oh, and the writing section? Abysmal. One interviewer made fun of me and asked if I was literate. (I did get into that school, so that goes to show how little that section mattered. Although an attending once told me the writing section correlates best with med school performance.)


  1. You drew a cartoon for the writing section, admit it!

  2. Well, a cartoon counts for 1000 words, right?

  3. If it's any consolation, I was employed as a technical writer and doing contract writing jobs when I took the MCAT, and I nonetheless just barely scored high enough on the writing section to even apply to my medical school of choice.

  4. I just wrote the MCAT this past summer, and the format is still passages with questions, plus a few stand-alone questions. They are completely changing it though starting in 2015, so hopefully I can get into med school before then and not have to rewrite :p

  5. When I took the MCAT we had to chisel our answers onto stone tablets, using a #2 steel-tip.

  6. Solitary: Is there some writing cut-off you need to apply? I totally disregarded my score.

    Grumpy: And did you have to drive there in a stone car powered by your feet?

  7. More importantly, what was your score for butter churning?

  8. I am MCATing in the age of 47. I hope there are questions about pterodactyls on it. I lived with them, in my cave, while beating the saber tooth silly...

  9. Dang, wish they kept the butter churning section and got rid of Physics. I can churn butter like nobody's business :P

  10. It's interesting about the writing sample correlating with being a good doctor - I got into medical school based on my writing sample, essentially! :)

    Man; I wrote the pen and paper MCAT too. When I mention it around these parts of the woods people go WHAAAAAA you only could write it TWICE a YEAR?

  11. The writing part is where I always excel ... it always made me sad it didn't matter more! Oh well ... I still got in.

  12. The writing part, I found, was pretty straightforward if you knew what they were looking for (that whole Thesis-CounterThesis-Conclusion three paragraph BS). I found that section didn't reward good writing, but rather an ability to game the system; I knew some *very* talented writers (one is now working for a major Canadian newspaper) who scored rather poorly on that section because they couldn't shoehorn their writing into the arbitrary categories.

    Now, physics on the other hand...

  13. I used to teach the Kaplan MCAT prep course and the instructions they give students for the writing section is actually quite good. Most of my former students that I heard back from did really well on it.

  14. My preferred school had minimum MCAT scores to apply - I think it was an average of 8 on each section, with nothing lower than a 7 on any single section. For the writing section, the minimum score was an M (I think), and I did just slightly better than that. I hope that the writing section isn't actually reflective of one's skills as a physician, otherwise I'm hooped. (Or at least my patients are.)

  15. I've read that they're revamping the MCAT in 2015 to include the following:

    1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
    2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
    3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
    4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

    I guess writing is out (I propose reinstating butter churning for future pre-meds).