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How to Overcome Panic On the MCAT

Editor’s Note: Since many of you are about to take the MCAT, I thought this post from guest writer Don Osborne was very timely.

Here’s the typical scenario that is the catalyst for MCAT panic: You’re two weeks or less from your MCAT test date. You take a practice test, and the test results aren’t what you hoped for. You scored a little lower than you have done on previous tests, and what you expected to happen on this test didn’t happen. Your test result surprised you, and not in a good way. An internal, mental dialog begins — something like this: “Uh oh, my score isn’t higher than last time. Yikes! I must be going backwards! I’ve studied so hard and worked much harder than all my friends who are slacking off on the test and pushing out their test date. Oh crap, I’m losing it … I think my med school career could be over before I even start.”

This is usually followed by an extended crying session, or you throw your books across the room in anger.

How to Solve MCAT Panic

I’d like to suggest an alternative reason why your score may have dropped on your last test, something that doesn’t include fear-inducing doom and gloom predictions for your chances for acceptance to medical school.

Start with this: You want to be careful about misinterpreting one bad practice test. Just because you got a lower score on a practice test doesn’t mean that you are backsliding, that you are losing your ability to take the test, or that you’re losing your mind. It might mean that you got a little over-confident on one test, and you let a few trick questions mess you up.

I humbly suggest that you go back over the test that got you into trouble, and look for evidence that maybe, just maybe, you got a little cocky. Look for questions where you might have made a “dumb” mistake — you picked an answer choice too hastily and didn’t think things through.

MCAT panic is a predictable part of the weeks just prior to taking the test. I write more about what to do in the last couple of weeks before you take the MCAT in this article over on INQUARTA.com. Take a look.

Getting one bad score on a practice MCAT may mean that you underestimated the test; respect MCAT and watch your score go back up.

Taking the MCAT soon? Here Are 3 Tips From an MCAT Expert

Teaching the MCAT has always been a fulfilling experience. Lots of sharp, focused students who are motivated to do well. It’s a great environment for anyone who wants to help others succeed.

After teaching the MCAT for 10 years, I’ve learned three tips that are timely right now for anyone about to take the MCAT and apply in the upcoming admissions cycle. (Note: The AMCAS application opens on May 1st, so the time is near, woot!)

Tip 1: Take practice tests — a LOT of practice tests. First question I ask when a student asks me for help on the MCAT is, “What do your practice test scores look like?” I’m always surprised when the answer is, “I haven’t taken any practice tests yet.”

Practice tests are the only opportunity to build up your stamina. You got to put the hours in, training and rehearsing both your mind and body to sit for nearly five hours, cranking out answer after answer. It’s a unique skill that needs time to develop.

Tip 2: Use practice test scores to track your progress. I know it’s tempting to delay taking a practice test until you “study a little bit more first,” but let me assure you that tactic doesn’t result in higher test scores. You really need the feedback from your practice results to help get you on track and keep you there. Sure, getting a low MCAT score might feel scary, but I’d rather see you get a 20 on a practice test, and then study some more, than get a 20 on the actual test, and lose a whole year.

Tip 3: Use the practice test score on your last practice test to predict your actual score. You can pretty much bet that your practice test score a few days before you take the actual MCAT will be within 2 or 3 points of your actual test results. If you’re targeting a 32 on the actual MCAT, and you get a 30, or a 31 on a practice test a few days before the real test, then you’re right on track.

On the other hand, if your practice score a few days before the test is substantially lower than your target, then I recommend you reset your test date and do some additional preparation. Avoid wishful thinking, get a great MCAT, and you’re on your way to med school.

I’ve written 30 MCAT Verbal Passages so you have extra practice materials on the most difficult part of the MCAT. Take a look at them while they’re on sale.

Don Osborne

Psyching Up For The MCAT

Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. Close your eyes.

Now… imagine yourself. See yourself standing. Focus vividly.

Now… imagine the MCAT. Close your eyes, and create a vivid image of the MCAT. Imagine the time, effort and energy you have and will expend to prepare for the MCAT.

Did you see yourself as “bigger” than the MCAT, or “smaller?”

This exercise gives you telling insight into how you see yourself and your relationship to the MCAT. If you see the MCAT as “big,” then your relationship with the MCAT may be characterized by overwhelm, anxiety, worry and doubt.

If you see the MCAT as “small” or “smaller than me,” then this reflects your confidence, and your scores will likely reflect this confidence.

Now do this:

Imagine yourself standing next to the MCAT. Expand your image of yourself until you are much, much smaller than the MCAT. See the MCAT as a giant mountain that seems impossible to climb.

Now imagine yourself towering over the MCAT. Create your image of yourself as a giant, standing hundreds of feet tall, and the MCAT is smaller than an ant, insignificant.

Experience the difference in your relationship with the MCAT. Take note of how you feel as you shift your perspective. Every time you study for the MCAT, every time you start a practice test, take 30 seconds and imagine yourself being bigger than the MCAT. Stand up tall and grow yourself taller. Feel the change in your relationship with the MCAT, and take note of the dominance and superiority you experience over it. Read my rant on test prep, and use the “Open Source MCAT Course” as a great tool to supplement your MCAT preparation.

Write a comment below with your feedback on MCAT mindset. I’m looking forward to reading them!

-DonO

3 Medical School Admissions Assumptions That Can Screw You Over

Like so many things in life, medical school admissions is filled with assumptions and myths that are 1) surprising, 2) not true, and, if you rely on them, 3) can get you into a heap of trouble. Here are three little-known medical school admissions assumptions. All of these have to do with the MCAT.

Assumption #1: You have to have your MCAT scores before you can apply.

Wrong. Your primary application is independent of your MCAT scores, so you can submit your primary application as soon as it is ready. However, you need to have both the primary application and the MCAT score to the medical school admissions office in order for your application to be considered. (You’ll need other documents, too).

Assumption #2: It’s a good idea to take the MCAT regardless of your practice scores, just to get the experience.

Wrong. Too many students make this mistake. I would never recommend you take the MCAT just to practice. It’s much better to take free practice tests at home, instead. Further, if your scores on practice tests are in the mid-20s, it’s highly unlikely your MCAT score will jump into the low 30s in just a few days.

Assumption #3: The MCAT is the most important part of the application.

Not so. Medical schools will evaluate your entire application. Like the parts to a car’s engine, all of the pieces are intricately connected; you engine won’t start without the battery, but that doesn’t make it the most important part of the engine.

I’ve got more tips and advice on my article called “Medical School Admissions: Unicorns and Other Mythical Creatures” over at my blog at INQUARTA.com. Check it out now!

- DonO

Reading Comprehension and the Future of the MCAT

It’s no surprise that reading comprehension is one of my favorite subjects. As a past MCAT instructor and co-author of materials about reading comprehension for the MCAT, I love the whole aspect of figuring out the puzzle in a verbal reasoning passage.

Now that MCAT 2015 is officially going to include social sciences and psychology content, it’s apparent that there’s too much content to make everything a prereq for medical school admissions. So if you’re thinking you might take the MCAT in a couple years, read on.

Premed Prereqs are A-changin’

The change in MCAT content implies a significant addition to the list of prerequisites for medical school admissions. The trouble is that students are already overloaded on their existing academic path. Adding-in more sociology and more psychology doesn’t sound like a winning solution. So I doubt that med schools will make this part of the premedical requirements. It’s enough that the MCAT will test these topics, making it a de facto requirement.

Verbal Techniques Widely Applied

I expect you’ll see innumerable books, courses, and online goodness all geared toward guiding you to better understand the upcoming “content.”

Don’t let yourself get too carried away, though. The nature of standardized tests, which I wrote about previously on this site, restricts test writers to a few tried-and-true approaches. None of this will change when the new subjects come online; if the process of elimination works on bio questions, and works on verbal questions, then it will also work on psych questions.

Bottom Line is Cognitive

The main thing the MCAT wants to know is this: Can you read a body of information, form your own, independent interpretation of that information, and then report the author’s perspective, bias and possible logical errors?

I write more about this on my blog … take a look.

Don Osborne is a contributing author to Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning MCAT Course. Don created the original Verbal Accelerator program and is a contributor to the latest “Cracking the MCAT” book from Princeton Review. Follow Don on Facebook to read his advice and recommendations to improve your chances of medical school admissions.

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Why The MCAT Is NOT Your Friend!

In 20 years of coaching students to take the MCAT, the two biggest lessons I share with students are:

  • Above everything else, the MCAT relies on behavioral conditioning to provide a reliable result to medical schools
  • Self-awareness of your test taking tendencies becomes paramount to significant score improvement.

Let’s look at each of these lessons.

The MCAT As a Test of Conditioned Behavior

For your entire academic life, you have been trained to look for and provide the right answers. As a child, you got significant emotional and social rewards for providing the right answers to any question. You got a “good grade,” you were called a “smart boy or girl” and you received significant emotional and non verbal cues as rewards — your Mother’s smile, your Father’s hug, your teacher’s recognition.

To say that you have been brainwashed is not an understatement. In my report called, “Don’s Tactical Nuclear MCAT Testing Taking Techniques,” I write extensively about how the MCAT operates within this context. Suffice it to say — before you can begin to improve on the MCAT, you have to know within what paradigm the MCAT operates.

I call MCAT test writers “psychometricians.” These are psychologists who live and breathe the answer to the question, “How do I get thousands of college students to respond to a series of test questions such that the answers from these students always results in a normal distribution?” The MCAT test writers need something to help them make sure that a certain percentage of students get a particular problem right, and a certain percentage get that same problem wrong, every time. They need tools to help them do this, and the tools really cannot be content-based, because students can always study themselves out of content-based problems.

So test writers look for some other technique. Let’s call this technique “testing linguistics,” a specific way of writing test questions and answer choices that causes a predictable, repeatable result.

OK, now you know how MCAT test writers are thinking, and how they go about structuring the MCAT. Sure, there are knowledge-based questions, but cognitive reasoning is what’s really being tested, and your ability to see past the knowledge and into the logic of a particular problem is what they’re after. So by structuring test questions in a way that subtly misleads your thinking, they are able to get the guaranteed distribution of scores they need in order to call the MCAT a “standardized” test.

Your Test-Taking Tendencies Are Paramount

How well you recognize the patterns of language that the MCAT relies upon to mislead you will determine your ability to significantly improve your score. And because the MCAT is a timed test, the additional time pressure makes it difficult to take a significant amount of time to look for and recognize these patterns. You need a shortcut.

Here’s where things get really interesting. Your test-taking habits and tendencies are different from mine. You will have a preference for specific language patterns in your answer choices. When you get that pattern, the answer just seems “right” to you, and you “feel” that you have discovered the correct answer. The trouble is, the MCAT test writers know, better than you, what those language patterns are. So how do you go about discovering this for yourself?

Create a “Wrong Answer” Journal

Consider this: What if you had a list of 200 answers that were all wrong, but that you were attracted to? Do you think you could go through all of them and discover underlying patterns that make the answers attractive? If then do you think you could better identify and AVOID these trappy patterns? I think the answer is “yes,” and I strongly encourage you to create your own “wrong answer journal” to guide you.

Taking the time to create this journal may seem like a large time investment, and it is. But you’ll soon discover how to rapidly identify language patterns that you know are trappy, and avoid them. That in itself is sufficient to raise your score significantly.

I walk through step-by-step how to create this journal in my report called, “Don’s Tactical Nuclear MCAT Testing Taking Techniques.” The report is free to all MCAT Question of the Day readers.

- Don Osborne with INQUARTA.com

Don Osborne is a contributing author to Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning MCAT Course. Don created the original Verbal Accelerator program and is a contributor to the latest “Cracking the MCAT” book from Princeton Review. Follow Don on Facebook to read his advice and recommendations to improve your chances of medical school admissions.

Kaplan MCAT Prep Review: Is It Worth It?

Kaplan MCAT ReviewThe greatest concern among pre-med students is taking the much-dreaded MCAT. Passing the MCAT and getting an outstanding, maximum score are goals that each and every pre-med student yearns to achieve. The MCAT serves the purpose of leveling the field. Although outstanding MCAT scores do not necessarily mean high competency during formal medical training, they give evaluators an idea of how well an applicant can adapt to the more rigorous and stressful learning environment found that is commonplace in medical school.

In addition, high MCAT score allows students the opportunity to be admitted to the more prestigious medical schools in the country. Although all medical schools in the US and Canada follow just about the same syllabus and curriculum, training is known to be more comprehensive, in-depth, and specialized can be found in the top medicals schools. If you are looking towards superior medical school training and education, you might as well give it your best shot and aim a high score on the MCAT.

But how can you accomplish this objective? Are the basic pre-med courses and learning enough to guarantee you a spot in your chosen medical school? Taking a preparatory course or prep course is undeniably crucial to make your dreams of becoming a successful and reliable doctor a possibility.

Kaplan is undoubtedly the bigger name when it comes to MCAT prep courses. As opposed to self-study or enrollment in a course from other MCAT course providers, that of Kaplan is truly a cut above the rest. Thousands of pre-med students successfully moved on to their chosen medical schools with immense gratitude to the additional concepts, skills, and knowledge that they were able to receive from taking up one of the many courses that Kaplan offers.

Introduction – Kaplan MCAT Courses

With years of excellence and prestige under their belt, Kaplan is known as the most outstanding prep center worldwide. They have revolutionized the academic industry, specifically, the professional training and test preparation field by introducing educational materials through innovative teaching strategies across a variety of learning platforms.

One of the more popular courses from Kaplan is that for the MCAT. The prep centre created five courses that cater to the varying needs of pre-med students. Kaplan realizes the importance of preparation in the success of MCAT by including the right set of subjects, concepts, and fundamentals into programs that are comprehensive, detailed, and are far enriching than competing courses from The Princeton Review and Exam Krackers.

Depending on your needs, strengths and weaknesses, as well as personal preferences, you can choose from the following MCAT prep courses from Kaplan:

  • MCAT Advantage
  • MCAT Advanced
  • MCAT Summer Intensive

These three general programs are further subdivided into four categories namely:

  • Prep On Site – held in a structured and scheduled classroom setting
  • Prep Anywhere – classes are held in a live online setting
  • Prep On Demand – online classes that provide 24/7 access to video instructions courses
  • Prep One-on-One – offers intensive one-on-one tutoring for a more personalized learning experience

Additional MCAT Preparatory courses serve as supplements to these MCAT courses and may be taken by students independently from the courses mentioned above:

  • One-on-One
  • Supplementary Practice Tests in four areas namely:
  • MCAT Online Science Review
  • MCAT QBank
  • MCAT Organic Edge
  • MCAT Physics Edge
  • MCAT Verbal Edge

MCAT Advantage

Those who have chosen to take up an MCAT prep course under Kaplan most commonly choose MCAT Advantage. Majority of pre-med students are not only preoccupied with schoolwork and projects, but are typically with extra-curricular activities as well as to performing part-time jobs as well. In order to achieve perfect balance, the MCAT Advantage prep course provides flexibility through classroom instructions that are held three up to four times a week. A total of 70+ hours of live instruction is offered under MCAT Advantage course. MCAT Advantage runs for a full semester- that is four to six months before the actual MCAT schedule.

Fifty-four hours are solely allocated to pure lecture while almost 30 hours are then dedicated to practice of test-taking skills. There are almost 11,000 practice items under the Advantage prep course- that which includes 19 full-length mock tests wherein 8 of which are in AAMC format and the rest formulated by Kaplan’s pool of experts.

MCAT Advanced

MCAT Advanced on the other hand is strongly recommended to premed students who garnered 27 or who belong in the 75th percentile of previous Kaplan MCAT practice examination takers. The prep course offers advanced concepts that are most commonly included on the actual MCAT. If you are aiming to get a remarkable score on the MCAT, and is already familiar with the basic concepts, enrolling in the MCAT Advanced course will most definitely give you that extra edge to achieve a promising profession in medical school.

MCAT Advanced enrollees are given up to 70 hours of live online instructions which can be combined with their basic MCAT Advantage Prep On Site course. The same amount of test question items is supplemented to Kaplan MCAT Advanced students too. The Advanced prep course is taken over a period of four to six months with classes scheduled two to three times weekly.

MCAT Summer Intensive

If you are in for a full-on, intensive MCAT prep course, the MCAT Summer Intensive by Kaplan offers that and so much more. With over 320 hours of On-Site live classes, students are in for a concentrated ad in-depth review course that will make the more prepared and confident in taking the actual MCAT.

The MCAT Summer Intensive Review is held in two locations namely Boston University and University of California-San Diego. The intensive review preparation runs for six weeks which is approximately all summer long.

Evaluation

The Kaplan MCAT offers the much needed structure for premed students. Attending classes condition premed students to the fact that the MCAT is indeed only a few months away. With a well-laid out schedule to attend classes or learn online, premed students eventually gets used to the rigors of test taking that is well needed once the MCAT is to be taken.

Content wise, the prep books and materials that are developed by Kaplan focus on the fundamentals, most of which are crucial for easier comprehension and understanding of the more advanced concepts. There are a total of six prep books that are provided to enrollees which directly correspond to the basic subjects tackled in the MCAT.

  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Writing

These prep books are a result of the hard work and years of expertise by Kaplan instructors. A compilation of previous MCAT questionnaires and materials from the AAMC can be found on all prep books and are delivered in a manner that can be easily understood and grasped by premed students.

Another great advantage of opting to take Kaplan MCAT prep course is that they offer the greatest number of test materials, thus ensuring improvement in the test taking skills of premed students and delivering confidence- a quality which all premed students obviously need to endure the grueling MCAT.

The instructors from Kaplan are the best teachers in the industry. They utilize innovative and cutting-edge tools to communicate concepts more easily and effectively as well as to ensure optimum comprehension among its students. The online access to test materials such as those provided by AAMC gives enrollees the opportunity to practice their skills and knowledge at their own preferred time and place.

Kaplan MCAT enrollees are assessed periodically and progress charts are initiated so premed students can immediately check how they are doing so far during the preparation months. Kaplan’s Smart Report page ensures that students can readily check their rate of progress and improvement so they are accordingly guided in which areas are their weaknesses and which are their key strengths too.

Although the Kaplan MCAT prep courses are relatively more expensive with a price range of $1899 up to $7,749 per course, their High Score Guarantee gives test-takers the peace of mind as well as confidence that competing MCAT prep course centers can only hope to offer.

The Kaplan MCAT prep course is an important tool that you will need to pass this all-important examination. However, it is only a part of the equation. Discipline as well as determination on the end of a student is a requirement to become successful in taking the MCAT, and eventually become an accomplished medical doctor in the future.

Should I Retake The MCAT?

This post is by Miriam of Admit2Med.com, providers of specialized advice and editing services to help you achieve the medical career of your dreams.

One of the most common questions medical school applicants have is what minimum MCAT score is required to be a competitive applicant to medical school. There is no easy answer to this question as the competitiveness of an application is determined by a variety of factors that can make up for a weak MCAT score. However there are certain guidelines that you can use to help determine if you should retake your MCAT or apply with your current score.

If you have received a 30 or above it is not advisable for you to take the MCAT again. When looking at an application there is a subtle positive effect that seeing a number beginning with a 30 has on reviewers. Since you are just on the cusp of having a score below 30 it is not worth the risk of taking the MCAT again and possibly receiving a lower score. You cannot hold back MCAT scores taken after 2003 from AMCAS. This means all schools will see your new test scores even if they are worse than your original score. Since you received a solid score it is not worth jeopardizing it for the chance of a better one.

If you have received a 29 and below you are in a murky zone. It may be beneficial you to retake your MCAT, but it is not a given that you should do so. Since schools will see all of your scores you must be as close to certain as possible that you will receive a superior score this time around. If you are taking practice tests and scoring much higher than you did before your last exam and feel overall more prepared, then retaking might work in your favor. However, if you feel your level of preparation and readiness is the same as the last time you took the exam it is not worth the delay in your application that retaking the MCAT will cause. You want schools to see your application as soon as possible, as they are more likely to be generous when offering interviews earlier in the season. If they are waiting for your new MCAT score before marking your application complete, it can negatively impact your chances. It also will not look great to have received two mediocre scores. Once score can be written off as a fluke, but two is a definite trend.

If you have received a 7 or below in any section, even if your overall score is above 30, you might want to consider retaking the MCAT. That subject score will stick out like a red flag on your application. If you do not think you can improve, or do not have the time to retake the exam, make sure to explain why this score is so low. This is most common with the verbal reasoning section. If English is your second language, make sure to indicate this somewhere on your application so that administrators know that you are starting at a disadvantage on that particular section.

Do not worry about your written essay. Very few people actually look at this score and it certainly will not hold a school back from offering you an interview. The only situation in which the essay may be more critical is if your verbal score is below a 9. If you have weak scores in both verbal and the essay it may be construed as an overall communication weakness.

There are many factors that can mitigate the effects of a low MCAT score. A high GPA and science GAP are signs that you can excel at coursework. A unique background and history that places you at a disadvantage when taking the exam will be taken into account. Life experiences and extra curricular activities that set you apart will continue to do so even with a low MCAT score. Your application will be read as a total package as very few schools have automatic cut-offs for MCAT scores. Therefore the decision to retake the MCAT is unique to each student and two students with identical scores may receive different advice on the topic. This is totally normal and appropriate. Your MCAT score is only a piece of your application and it is best not to forget that.

C+ In Organic Chemistry – Should I Drop?

MCAT QuestionsAllison Greco is a medical student in the class of 2013 and has a great passion for medicine and social media. You can read her awesome blog here, and follow her on twitter @grecoa3.

I’m currently in my second semester of organic chemistry and I’m going to end up with a C+. Should I withdraw and retake the class next semester with hopes of getting at least a B? Or is it better to take the C+ instead of a W?

This question is a little beyond my scope, and I think you should talk to your pre-med advisor. You’re certainly not the only person who has ever found themselves in this situation, and advisors are great people to turn to with questions. However, if there is something particularly challenging going on in your personal life or otherwise that is preventing you from performing your best, you may be able to write about it in a personal statement one day.


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