Everything You Need to Know About Taking the MCAT Exam

In this live presentation, Ken Tao, the Director of MCAT Tutoring at MedSchoolCoach, prepares students about everything they need to know about the MCAT exam, including subject sections, the scoring system, question types, test dates, the impact on admissions, what a good MCAT score is, how to study, and more!

Full Transcript

The plan for the first hour or so, we’re going to start first by talking about the unique format of the MCAT exam and really why this is the hardest pre-health exam that exists. That means the MCAT is harder than the DAT, the OAT, the PCAT. All of those are exams for the different health science schools. From there we’re going to talk about the role of the MCAT in admissions and also chat about what is a good MCAT score.

So to start off, the MCAT. The first thing you should know is that the MCAT has four sections. The first section is called chem-phys section. This is the abbreviated name we have for chem-phys. Each section of exam has a far longer name. So the chem-phys section is also called the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems which you can tell is a much longer name. By itself it doesn’t really tell you much about this section. So I want to break it down a little bit for you.

So the chem-phys section, from its name, certainly you’re gonna have chemistry as well as physics, but it’s actually going to have quite a lot more. So there are five different subjects that are covered in the chem phys section.

You’re gonna have 30 percent general chemistry. At most academic institutions, this is gonna be either 1 or 2 semesters of general chemistry. Topics covered are going to include atomic structure, electronic structure, solutions, kinetics, equilibrium, acid-base, electoral chemistry, and so forth.

Next you have physics. So you’re going to have 25 percent physics and at most schools, this is going to be two semesters. The first semester being Newtonian mechanics. That’s thinking about forces and mechanics, work and energy. The second semester is on electricity and magnetism.

Next we have 25 percent biochemistry. So biochemistry is also split. So half of the biochemistry is going to be looking at the molecules. So looking at amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, protein folding, those topics. The other half is going to be looking at biochemical pathways, so glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, electron transport chain, as well as the side pathways. So glucose angiogenesis, glycogensis, glycogenolysis, and so forth.

We also have 15 percent organic chemistry. The organic chemistry is mostly going to cover first semester topics. I know that organic chemistry is a tough class for a lot of students. The good thing is, there’s not a ton of organic chemistry, it’s not going to be focused on memorizing reactions. Instead, you’re going to be focusing on the general concepts and principles behind organic chemistry.

Finally we have 5 percent biology.

The next section we have is the CARS section. Similarly the CARS section has a much longer name which is the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the exam. The section, as you can probably imagine, doesn’t test any knowledge of science. There’s no science content that you need to know for this section. Instead, it’s really testing your ability to read texts from social studies as well as humanities topics and think critically and answer questions about the text.

The third section is the bio-biochem section also called the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems. Similar to the chem-phys section, I want to talk a little bit about the breakdown of the bio-biochem section.

Certainly, you’re going to have biology and biochemistry, and that’s the majority of this section. You’re going to have 65 percent biology and the biology, according to the MCAT, general biology is fine. So if you take a year of general biology, you should cover all of the biology concepts tested on the exam.

However, it just happens to be the case that if you only take general biology, typically you won’t have covered the material to the same level of detail that you need to know for the exam. So that’s why when it comes to biology, the more advanced biology courses that you’ve taken, the better. So the most helpful is definitely physiology because if you’ve only taken general biology, you really only go through the different organ systems. Not too much detail. So physiology is helpful, but really any other courses. So if you’ve taken cell biology, microbiology, cancer biology, immunology, microbiology, genetics, any advanced biology course is going to help.

Next we have biochemistry. So we have 25 percent biochemistry.

We also have 5 percent general chemistry, as well as 5 percent organic chemistry.

Something that should be pretty apparent is, when you’re looking at the list of subjects covered in these two sections of the exam, you’ll notice that it’s not all one subject. There’s actually quite a lot of different subjects that’s tested simultaneously and this is going be different from most of your pre-med courses in college.

Now, usually when you take a class and you take exams, it’s only on one subject. If you think about your courses, probably in your freshman or sophomore year when you took general chemistry, later on you took organic chemistry. If you think about how much you needed from your general chemistry class for your organic chemistry class, it was very very little. You could have almost not taken general chemistry at all and gone straight into organic chemistry. That’s because general chemistry is very quantitative. You’re doing all these calculations, then you switch over to organic chemistry which is all drawing molecules and lines, so they seem like very independent subjects, but that’s not how it’s going to be tested on the exam.

On the exam, you’re going to have to be able to connect the different subjects together. So an example would be, in general chemistry, you talk about acid-base chemistry, so the difference between strong acids, weak acids, strong bases, and weak bases. In organic chemistry, you’re often looking at concepts like, how does the structure of a molecule tell you about the stability of the molecule. That’s very applicable in acid-base chemistry because when an acid donates a proton, you’re left with the conjugate base that has a full negative charge. Things that have a full charge are unstable. So to add organic chemistry, you have to look at what features are in the structure of your molecule that can stabilize that full negative charge. So that could be things like resonance as well as induction. So you really want to think about how you can connect the different subjects together.

The last section of the exam is the pych-soc section, also called the Psychological Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior. This is the newest section of the exam. As a result, we don’t know as much about this section as the other sections. So this way, it’s a little bit of a mystery. By this point, the new version of the MCAT, which was released in 2015, has been around for long enough that we have a pretty good idea of what’s tested.

We know for sure that it’s mostly psychology. So you’re going to have this 65 percent psychology, 30 percent sociology, and 5 percent biology. The 5 percent biology is just that psychology has a lot of connections with biology, specifically neuroscience. So if you’re thinking about how the brain is involved with psychology, there are different brain structures that you should be able to relate to different psychological functions. So this would be knowing things like the basal ganglia has structures like the nucleus accumbens, as was the VTA that are involved with reward and addiction, as well as the mic-devise, important for emotions and fear conditioning.

So those are four different sections of the exam and you also note that each section is quite long. The three science sections are 95 minutes each. The CARS section is 90 minutes long. This is important to note because in total, you’re looking at a test day of seven and a half hours and most students are not used to an exam this long. So that means endurance is a challenge on the MCAT and that’s true of all students. The best way of getting around this is taking full length practice exams. Essentially, take these full length exams so you can build up endurance where you can focus throughout the entire duration of the exam.

Next thing I want to chat about is the scoring system of the MCAT. So there are four sections and each section is going to be scored between 118 through 132. So ,118 being the lowest possible score and 132 being the highest score, and the average being a 125. This was designed very specifically by the writers of the MCAT exam to AAMC. That’s because if you have an average student that gets an average score of 125 in all four sections, then you’re left with a perfect 500. So that makes it very easy for admissions committees to look at a student’s application and see if they’re above average, meaning they’re 500 or higher, or they’re below average if their scores in the 400s.

The MCAT of course follows a normal distribution. So that means, most students are going to be somewhere in the middle around that average score of 500. Of course, the higher the scores that you can get, the higher your chances of getting into medical schools, or into multiple medical schools, or with various merit scholarships, so certainly doing well on the MCAT is great for you.

The next thing about the MCAT is the different types of questions on the exam. So that MCAT is a multiple choice test which again is going to be different from most college exams.

In college, when you take a physics exam or an organic chemistry exam, chances are it’s not multiple choice. That is not how these topics are usually tested in college. They’re usually free response exams where you’re writing out free body diagrams for physics or drawing out arrow pushing mechanisms for organic chemistry.

The MCAT is multiple choice so there are some advantages here, but at the same time, the MCAT has found its own ways of making a multiple choice exam particularly tricky and we’ll discuss this later on when we talk, not only about the content you need to know about the exam, but also strategies and techniques that you can employ and sort of be able to recognize what are common features of trap answer choices that the MCAT always plants into their questions.

The next thing is as a multiple choice test, every question is worth the same amount of points. There is no guessing penalty, that means you should never be leaving any questions blank on the MCAT.

This last point is the most important one of all which is, the MCAT is a combination of passage based questions as well as free-standing questions. Free-standing questions are exactly what they’re called. As free-stranding questions, they’re not associated with the passage, they’re standard questions and they’re mostly testing your memory. Do you know this scientific concept or not. These questions are about 25 percent of the science sections. In the vast majority of the science sections, 75 percent of the questions are passage based questions. This is what makes the MCAT harder than any other pre-health exam. That’s simply because there are lot of students who can do well in school, they can get good grades, they understand the concepts, but they can still struggle with the MCAT. That’s just because the MCAT isn’t a test a rote memorization. It’s really an applications test where these passages will introduce new situations and new concepts that you’ve never learned about before and you’re going to have to apply your knowledge of science to this new information to figure out the answers to the questions.

So that’s what these passage based questions are all about and today we’re going to do some practice passages live. You’re going to be able to see how you should approach these passages and what the questions are like.

OK. So finally, test dates. So we have people of various time periods right now. Who is planning on applying to medical school this summer or this upcoming summer?

A pretty good number of people.

For the people that are planning on applying this summer, are you registered for the MCAT yet?

All right. Not as many people.

So you definitely want to make sure that you register for the MCAT soon. Perhaps it’s not bad they haven’t registered yet because perhaps from this presentation, you’ll learn a little bit more about what is a good test date for you to select.

In terms of the timeline for applying to medical school, it’s going to start around the first week of June. That’s when you can submit your applications, but you can actually start working on your applications in May. So May or June is when you want to be working on and submitting your medical school application. That means you’re going to want to take care of your MCAT before that.

Now in terms of test dates, you can see on this slide that the MCAT is offered between January through September. It’s not offered in the month of February. I would say unless you’ve been studying very intensively for MCAT this past fall, January might be a little tough, but certainly you can still sign up for March, April, or May, and that would not impact your application at all.

The reason why I’m talking about this is because one of the most common mistakes when applying to medical school is submitting a late application. The earlier you submit your application, the more seats are available and the less stringent the guidelines are for admissions. That’s simply because if you apply in June, you’re competing for all the seats that are open. If you’re applying in July or August, by the time your application gets reviewed, half the seats or more may have already been filled. So that means they’re going to be a little bit more picky with the students that they’re evaluating.

Now to make sure that your application isn’t delayed, you do need to think about the MCAT. That’s because even though the exam is completely multiple choice the AMC takes about a month for you to get your scores. So that would mean if you take the MCAT neared the end of May, let’s say May 30th, you’re not going to get your MCAT score until near the end of June or the first week of July. By then that’s already going to delay your medical school application, because if students can submit their applications in the first week of June, then you won’t be in the first batch of applications that medical schools evaluate.

So generally we recommend students to take the exam by May at the latest. All right. I said that exam situation earlier with May 30th will delay your application, but only very slightly because if you’re still submitting your application near the end of June, it is still considered fairly early in the cycle. But certainly if you can take the exam in April or May then you don’t have to worry about that delay at all.

And for those of you that are going to be applying to medical school this summer, you should know that registration for spring test states has already opened. So I would highly encourage you to sign up as soon as possible, and that’s because test states and testing centers do fill up. So if you haven’t checked already you might want to see what is the closest testing center to where you live and where you want to take the MCAT and try to register.

It’s possible at some of the test dates right now might be full. So you might have to sign up to be on a waiting list for several locations, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that, and not just because even if you’re on the waiting list now, students, as test dates approach, always have to push back their test dates, so you’re almost for sure are going to be able to get the test date that you want as long as you’re a little patient.

So next thing I want to chat about is the role of the MCAT in admissions.

So since all of you are in this pre-med enrichment program I’m sure you’ve heard a bit about applying to medical school and the different experiences and numbers that you need to apply. And certainly this is going to include your personal statement, your letters of recommendation, your experiences, which should include research clinical and volunteer, as well as any honors and awards that you’ve received.

Now all of these aspects of your application are extremely important, but one thing to note is that because they’re not numbers, they can’t be filtered. And while medical schools say that they review medical school applications holistically, there is still to some degree a filtering when they’re looking at numbers. So this would be GPA as well as MCAT score.

So a goal that we recommend to students when they’re applying to medical school is, of course, is we want you to do the best that you can on the MCAT. But what’s really important is just making sure that your score is high enough that it’s going to at least to be evaluated by medical school. Because if you put in the time and effort to put in a solid application, as long as you can get your application reviewed by schools, then you’re already going to be halfway there. And there’s a good chance if you can get an interview with a strong application, that if you do well on the interview, then that’s going to be able to get you an offer letter.

The last thing I want to chat about is what is a good MCAT score. And you can look at various numbers here so you can certainly see that earlier when I talked about MCAT scores the average MCAT score is around 500. But of course, the average pre-medical student can’t get into medical school, and that’s because each year about 100,000 thousand students take the MCAT, about 50,000 thousand students apply to medical school, and about 20,000 students will get acceptance letters. So that means there has to be some sort of narrowing of the population of pre-medical students before they apply to medical school.

And the MCAT, 500 that is the average score. For some students that’s going to be enough. For other students, that’s not going to be enough. So one thing that’s good to consider when you’re looking at what is a good MCAT score is to consider two main numbers time medical schools will focus on which is going to be your GPA, as well as your MCAT score.

The data I have from here are from the most recent admissions data from the past couple years. So you can see from 2017 to 2019, the different GPA and MCAT combinations of applicants and what percentage of them got admitted.

So you can see for example that students who, have let’s say, a 3.40 GPA to 3.59 GPA and a 510 to a 513 MCAT, they have about a 52 percent chance of admissions. Now this doesn’t truly mean 52 percent. It really just says that 52 percent of the applicants with these numbers got admitted into medical school. Now this is for all applicants, so that means there are some differences. So some differences are definitely going to include your background. And that does include race as well as ethnicity.

So the table I have is Table 23 from the AMC, and this is including all students. I would highly encourage all of you at some point to go to the AMC website and look at the different tables for the different races and ethnicities. And that’s because the numbers are different whether you’re Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and so forth. So that way you can get a better idea of, based off your GPA, as well as your experiences, what would be a good MCAT score for you to aim for. OK.

Any questions about the MCAT? MCAT score? How exam is scored?

All right. So in that case, the next thing I want to talk about is more about how to study for the MCAT exam.

So the MCAT is a very daunting exam. And when you think about how to prepare for the exam, there are a number of things that you have to be able to do. And hopefully at this point, you know a little bit about what you need to do to study for the exam.

As you’ve already seen, with what we have on the board now, the science sections cover a lot of science content. So the first step is, you do want to make sure you know this science content. So that would mean at a first step, making sure that you’ve taken all of these different prerequisite courses: general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, and so forth. The one course I really want to emphasize is biochemistry. And that’s because while you’re looking at the two natural science sections of the exam, you can see that the most tested subject is biology, which makes sense if you want to become a physician – there’s a lot of biology you need to know. But you’ll see that if you add up the percentages, the second most test is subject after biology is bio chemistry. And a lot of students don’t recognize this, and when they get to the MCAT they’re shocked at how much biochemistry questions they’re seeing on the exam. So definitely make sure you take those pre-req courses, because if you take the courses when you’re studying for them MCAT, you’re just reviewing those concepts. If you haven’t taken the courses, then a lot of them you have to teach yourself, which is much harder to do.

OK. So that’s the first thing you want to do when you’re studying for the MCAT. Number one:, you need to know the content.

And for most students who’ve taken the courses, that means the first step that you want to do is: content review.

So by content review, it means that you want to review all of the science content that’s tested on the exam. Sure you’ve taken all the prerequisite courses, but it’s been a while since you’ve taken some of those courses, especially the early courses like General Chemistry. For some you might have been two, three, four, five, or even more years ago. And there’s just a lot of content that you’ve forgotten.

The second thing you want to do is practice. And this is because, as I said before, that MCAT is not based on rote memorization. So if you know the science concepts, that’s not going to be enough to get you a good MCAT score. You need to learn how to apply your knowledge of science to MCAT questions, and the best way to do that is through practice.

Now when it comes to practice, there’s a variety of different practice questions that are available. So I’m sure a lot of you have heard about the major companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and maybe some of the smaller ones like Exam Crackers, Berkley Review, Next Step, and so forth. All of these companies have practice questions, but I’m going to tell you that these companies’ practice questions are not the best out there.

So the best packed practice questions available are those from the writers of the MCAT.

So that means if we want to see here, for practice questions, you’re sort of two sources. So the first is going to be AAMC practice questions. The second is going to be from third party practice questions.

Now the AAMC… These are the creators of the MCAT. So all of the practice questions that they’ve released are on previous MCAT exams. So they’re all from previous MCAT exams. That means these questions are going to be the closest to your actual exam. And this does make a difference because while there are many third-party practice questions and they allow you to purchase a lot of practice tests, and often for a cheaper price than the AAMC, the third-party practice questions are really just not as good as the AAMC questions and there are several reasons for this.

So the first reason is when you take a practice test from a third-party practice company, if it’s a diagnostic test, you’re almost for sure you’re gonna get a really really low score. And it’s going to make you feel bad and make you really concerned about the MCAT.

The reason why the test prep companies are doing this is because they’re trying to scare students into thinking that they really need help and they have to purchase test prep from these companies. But if you think about it, that’s not very helpful because what the companies are doing is they’re just writing very very hard practice exams.

So if it’s very hard, then students don’t do well. And if they don’t do well then they think they need to get help. But if you talk to these test prep companies and you tell them, like, hey, I heard that your practice tests are harder than the actual MCAT, the response they’re going to tell you is: Well, If you learn to practice with our practice exams that are harder, when you take the MCAT, since it’s an easier exam, you’re going to do awesome on the MCAT.

All right. So their reasoning sounds pretty good, but the problem is how they make their questions harder.

All right. So the way they make their questions harder is there’s two different ways. One way is just to make questions that are overly complex. So many of you have done practice questions and some of MCAT review books, especially for general chemistry and physics. If you see any solutions for questions or the math is half a page long, it is just way too much. You’re never going to see that on an MCAT practice test. The problem with that is that if you spend all this time trying to figure out how to do all this math, it’s really a waste of your time and effort because you’re spending all this time studying things that you don’t have to do for for MCAT.

Instead, the MCAT does test a lot of content that you need to know and your time could be much better spent doing things other than worry about those ridiculously hard practice questions.

The second reason or the second way that the test prep companies make their questions hard is they test exceptions. So that means you’ve probably heard before for some topics like electron configuration, which is, if you recall back in your general chemistry classes, this is like your 1S2, 2S2, 2P6, 3S2, you know, that kind of thing.

Most elements in the periodic table, they’re pretty easy. You can just follow the periodic table and start from the top left with hydrogen and work your way down into the right to figure out what the electron configuration should be. However, there are a few exceptions. So that means there are some elements that don’t follow the basic rules and you probably recall these are some of the elements in the D4 and D9 columns with chromium and copper and they have an unusual electron configuration. I’ll tell you that MCAT does test electron configurations. You do need to know what they are.

However, the frequency that they will test these exceptions, these normal electron configuration is less than 1 percent of the time. So less than 1 percent of the time you’re going to see these types of questions show up. If you look at a practice passage from a test prep company, you’re going to see those exceptions show up two or three times in a single practice passage.

Right. Now that might not seem like a bad thing, you know, if you know the general trends as well as the exceptions. But the problem there is students fall for those questions all the time. They always forget the exceptions. So they get sort of stuck with this mindset that when I’m doing a practice question if the answer seems too obvious, if it seems too easy, then they think they’re missing something. And then they essentially overthink the question, trying to figure out there must be some exception there and then they end up picking the wrong question or the wrong answer choice.

So the idea is that if you look at any individual question it’s really quite fair. There’s nothing ridiculous about this questions that you’re going to see from test prep companies. So as much as possible I highly encourage all of you to purchase access to the AAMC practice questions because these are going to be the most valuable study resource you have for preparing for the MCAT. At the same time I would discourage you from doing the third-party practice questions because some students think that they’re a good practice. But if you spend too much time focusing on them, they’re actually going to hurt your studies as opposed to helping you.

Now this seems simple. You’re going to review the content you need to know for exam and then you’re going to do practice questions. Both of these are important, but some of you are going to have time constraints.

So if you have time constraints you need to be efficient with your studies. You need to identify what are your weak areas that you need to focus on more and stronger areas that you’re better in to spend less time on those subjects.

One thing that all of you should consider doing in the beginning is to take a diagnostic test. So a diagnostic test is helpful because you take a practice exam and you see how you’re doing to start with.

Now remember what I said earlier, if you’re going to do a diagnostic test make sure it’s not from a third-party company because it’s going to say that you need help with all four sections of the exam. So when you take a diagnostic test, take an AAMC practice exam because that’s going to give you very accurate reflection of your current standing with MCAT preparation.

Now when you take that diagnostic test, because it’s a diagnostic test, you for sure are not going to get the score that you want because you haven’t really studied and that’s completely fine. That being said, there are a couple important pieces information that you can gather.

Number one. The CARS section. The CARS section doesn’t test any science content so you can’t make that excuse of “Oh I haven’t studied any science content for the CARS section.”

So the CARS section is going to be pretty reflective of how you’re currently doing in that section, and the CARS section is very important, and that’s because there are some medical school admissions committees out there that believe that the CARS section is the most important section. So when they’re looking at a student’s MCAT score, if they see high science scores and a really really low CARS score, they’re not going to be happy with that.

And that’s a trap that some students fall into. They think that when they apply to medical school it’s the overall MCAT score and that’s important. But medical schools do look at the individual sections and better than having unbalanced sections where some sections are really high and some sections are really low, as much as possible, you want to have even scores across the board.

Now it’s pretty inevitable that some sections are going to be higher than others but you just don’t want the difference to be that much. So that means if you’re getting 126 or 127 in the science sections, hopefully you’re getting at least a 124 or 125 in CARS. So that way it’s pretty comparable. And it’s not like a 4, 5 point or more gap. All right.

So that’s one part of the diagnostic tests. You’re going to be able to see where you’re starting with CARS. And the helpful information from this is there’s a lot of students and several of you here that you’re going to take that practice exam in your first CARS score is going to be a 126, 127, 128. One of those scores. And if that’s the case, that’s fantastic, because there’s a good chance that you don’t have to do anything to prepare for the CARS section at all. And that’s fantastic. That’s one less section of worry about.

But that’s not going to be the case for all of you. So that means for some of you, you’re going to take the CARS section and your score is going to be below a 125. It might even be a 120, 121, 122. If that’s the case you want to keep that in mind and that’s because when you’re focusing on content review, when you’re reviewing all of the science content on the exam, students tend to focus on studying science concepts and not enough on practice for the CARS section.

And when it comes to the CARS section, because it’s critical analysis and reasoning skills, this isn’t something that you can just cram for like the sciences. So for the CARS section if you take a diagnostic test and your CARS score is low, you do want to make sure that you are doing CARS practice on a regular basis, so that way by the time you finish your content review for the science sections you’ve also been working on improving in that CARS section. OK.

So that’s one thing for a diagnostic test. The other important thing for a diagnostic test is: While you’re not going to be happy with your scores, you’re still going to be able to see some differences. And that’s because even though you probably think you’ve forgotten a lot of the science content, you’ll be surprised at how much of the science content you still retain. And you can look at the difference between your scores. So of your bio-biochem scores a 125/126, and your chem-phys score is a 121/122, that is pretty informative because that’ll tell you that for the bio section you probably still remember most of the general concepts. So for that section, you mostly have to do light review focusing on the details that you’ve forgotten. Whereas for the chem-phys section if it’s around 121/122, you’re likely going to need to take a more comprehensive approach there. Really picking up your general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and biochemistry book, and as much as possible trying to read those books cover to cover. OK. All right.

So at a minimum, that’s what you want to do. You wants to do content review and you want to do practice. For practice, you absolutely need to do the AAMC practice questions. These are the most important practice questions available.

For third-party practice questions, you’ve probably heard from other peers that they did more practice tests than those from the AAMC. So it’s not to say that the practice questions from third-party companies you shouldn’t do any, however you need to be a little careful here. And that’s because the quality of third party-practice questions from company to company is not the same. So that means some companies practice questions are pretty bad and you don’t want to do them. Some companies practice questions are very good and they’re worthwhile to do. They’re not as good as the AAMC, but they can be good practice for you.

The companies you don’t want to do practice test from are going to be the large companies. So the large companies like Kaplan, as was the Princeton Review. The reason why you don’t want to do practice tests and practice questions from these companies is as you all are familiar with the MCAT went through a big change in 2015 where the exam format changed a lot.

If you look at these companies Kaplan and Princeton Review, before 2015 they had about 10 to eleven practice tests for the old MCAT exam. When the new exam got released in 2015, they instantly had ten to eleven practice tests. And as you can probably figure out, these test prep companies, it’s not like overnight they wrote ten to eleven new practice tests for the new MCAT exam. Rather they just recycled the practice questions from the old exams and kept using them for the new exams. And you don’t want to be doing practice questions for an exam that you’re not even preparing for. So as much as possible avoid the large companies.

There are companies that created their practice questions brand new for the new MCAT. So that means all their questions were written after 2015 when the new exam was launched. Those two companies you want to keep in mind: number one is Next Step, and number two is UWorld. All right. So if you want to purchase third party practice questions, Next Step and UWorld are the two companies that you should think about.

UWorld is really good for the science sections. Next Step has full length practice tests. If science sections are your weaker areas I would recommend UWorld. And that’s because UWorld solutions are extremely thorough. If you do a practice question, it’ll usually have a paragraph explaining why it’s answer choice A incorrect, why is B incorrect, why a C correct, and why is D incorrect. UWorld will have that, but afterwards, you’ll have a full page going over what is the science content that you’re expected to know for the MCAT. And the science content in those solutions are very very thorough, so they’re very helpful for review. But, remember, go back to what I said earlier. AAMC questions are the best. So I’m saying good things about these two companies. But if you’re going to purchase practice questions, AAMC is the most important of all. And the third party practice questions, they’re a second priority. OK.

So content review practice. There are other sources that many of you have probably heard about before. So one of them being Khan Academy MCAT videos. So Khan Academy videos are a good source, but these I consider supplemental resources. All right.

So here we’ll say supplemental. So by supplemental resources, that means that these resources are helpful, but they can’t replace practice as well as content review. So. One of these resources is gonna be MCAT videos.

Now I’m putting MCAT videos instead of Khan Academy here because Khan Academy is the most well known source of MCAT videos and they’re fantastic. They probably have over a thousand videos on science content that students need to know for MCAT, but the reason why it’s supplemental and can’t replace your content review is because the Kahn Academy videos are not comprehensive.

So what I mean by that is if you watch all 1,000 Kahn Academy MCAT videos when you get to the AAMC practice questions and practice tests, you’re still going to run into a lot of science concepts and terms that you didn’t even know that you needed to know from the Kahn Academy videos.

So you don’t want to rely completely in MCAT videos for your content review, the best source is still going to be a set of MCAT books from test prep companies. And I didn’t talk about this earlier, but a question I get all the time from students is:

Which set of books should I get? Should I get Kaplan? Princeton Review? Exam Crackers? Next Step? And so forth. And the first thing I’m going to tell you is, the set of books is not important and that’s simply because there are students who have used the Princeton Review books and gotten fantastic MCAT scores. There are students who have used the Kaplan books and gotten fantastic MCAT scores. And you can say the same thing for Exam Crackers, Berkeley Review, Next Step, Gold Standard. Every set of MCAT books out there, students have used them and gotten fantastic scores.

The difference, and the important aspect of books is not the set of books that you have but how you use the books. Because you can also say they’re students to have purchased access to every set of books and also gotten bad MCAT scores. So the way you don’t want to use your books is let them sit on the shelf and collect dust. That’s definitely not going to help you.

When you’re using your books, you really want to be as comprehensive as you can. Really read the book from cover to cover, page to page. And I know that reading textbooks can be really hard to do. I know that I can be really boring, but this is what makes the difference, because the average pre-medical student is good at studying, but good at studying – reading textbooks – It’s not the same thing. Reading textbooks are hard to do. But if you’re able to do what the average pre-medical students struggles to do, which is read those books, that’s what’s going to be able to push you to those higher MCAT scores. So as much as possible, I encourage you to read your MCAT books. And again, companies not too important there.

Going back to MCAT videos, I mentioned Khan Academy videos. There are a bunch of companies with videos out there. Khan Academy… You’ll find a lot of good videos, but these days there are so many companies that have released science videos. And the way you want to use videos is not to use them to comprehensively review content, but rather if there is a particular topic that you struggle a lot with. So for example if you never understood the immune system, you know, what’s going on with a B cells and the T cells and all that, What I do encourage you to do, go to YouTube, type in “immune system B cells and T cells” and you’re going to see a whole bunch of videos on that topic. Some of them might be from Khan Academy and that’s great, but there’s a bunch of other videos from companies other than Khan Academy that have great videos and can really help with your understanding of those topics.

Other supplemental resources flash cards, as well as study guides. Now this is really just a way of helping students review information. So some students prefer flashcards. Other students just prefer study guides. They can have the same exact information. It’s almost just a difference in the format. Is the format on individual cards? Or is it just a bunch of lines on one page? It’s really personal preference here if you like flash cards, great. If you prefer study guides, that’s completely fine too.

What I would say that you do not want to do is to use someone else’s flashcards or study guides. I know that this is very tempting for a lot of students and if any of you spent a lot of time on the online pre-med communities like the MCAT SubReddit page as well as SDN, there are some flash cards that are floating around that are pretty famous.

There’s the like that Anki 528 flashcards. So it’s a student who got a 528, a perfect score on the MCAT, and they shared their Anki flash cards. It’s like, three thousand flash cards. So a lot of students they think “oh if I reviewed these 3000 flashcards I’m also going to get a 528” which obviously doesn’t work that way. And that’s because if you start flipping through those flash cards, you’re going to instantly find a bunch of cards that do not make sense at all. You look at one side, you look at the definition, you’re like “I have no idea what this card is talking about.” And that’s because the person who made the card, they were trying to remember some concept or some mnemonic specific to them. And unless you made those cards yourself, you’re not going to understand those cards.

So they’re great to use flash cards and study guides to help memorize certain content topics for the MCAT but you want to make your own as much as possible. And part of it is, if you’re making a flash card or a study guide, part of it is already having you to think about the content, about how you can break it down in simple terms. And the more that you’re thinking about the concepts, the better your understanding of the material is going to be. So they’re good to use, but make sure you’re creating your own.

OK. Any questions so far about how to study for the MCAT? Anything by having addressed in terms of certain materials or resources or questions that you have?

So that’s an excellent question. This is gonna be true not just for biochemistry but also on the biology topics. Medical schools only require one year of general biology. But if you’ve taken physiology or other advanced biology courses those will help too. So there’s not a perfect solution here. All right. So the things for you to think about. Number one: if you take biochemistry 2, then certainly you’re going to know more content for an MCAT which is going to make studying for the MCAT easier. But things that you have to think about is, that’s another course that you have to take, and biochemistry is often not an easy course. So it’s not an easy course, do you want to risk that potentially hurting your GPA or do you want to let that course possibly delay your application. Right. Because maybe you can take in the spring and that’s fine. But if you can’t take it in the spring if you have to wait till next year and wait another cycle. So essentially you can’t really pick a wrong decision here because each option has its pros as well as its cons.

I think what tends to be the most useful is to ask other upperclassmen, and not just because a different school’s biochemistry is offered in different ways, so that means in some schools the first master biochemistry covers the vast majority of all the concepts tested on the exam. In the second semester maybe only 20 percent of the concepts are relevant. At other schools, both semesters are equally relevant. So the easiest way to figure that out is to ask other classmates at your school that have already taken one or both courses and maybe also an MCAT and ask them how valuable would it be for you to take biochemistry 2.So

There’s a document, and we can add that under the supplemental resources, this is the AAMC MCAT Content Outline. So the AAMC MCAT content outline. I’m also going to pull a copy of this on my laptop here so all of you can see what it looks like. It is a document created by the AAMC and it has a full list of every topic that is tested on the MCAT exam.

Okay. And then let’s see if I can share this. So this is the AAMC MCAT Content Outline. You can see what is the MCAT 2015 exam. That doesn’t mean this is from four years ago. The current exam is the 2015 exam with the exam changed.

This document will go through introductions of the sections, but the key thing is when you scroll through you’re gonna get to a point where it’s going to say the content categories. It’ll tell you foundational concept one, it’s on bio molecules, and for bio molecules you need to know structure and function of proteins, how genetic information is transmitted as was inherited, and also for foundational concepts two, three, and all of the foundational concepts.

When you go further it’s going to give you additional details. So that means for foundational concept one, it even has four categories, right. One A, One B, One C, One D. And then you can see that for content category One A, it’ll tell you for amino acids you have to describe them in terms of their apps the configuration, you need to know how they work has dipolar or zwitter ions, you need to be able of classify them as acidic, basic, polar, or non polar.

So this is a document that you can definitely check out to get this information. One thing that’s a little tricky though is that this doesn’t tell you everything that you need to know and that’s just because it’s not comprehensive. So some examples that we can see is if we just scroll down further, especially for the phych-soc section and psych-social is just really hard because this is the newest section of the exam. You’ll see that for some topics like observational learning all it has as modeling, but it’s so vague. What does modeling refer to with observational learning? Or other things so just say the elaboration likelihood model, but the elaboration likelihood model, there’s so much details that you could go into. So it’s really tough to know how much do you need to know for each topic based on the outline.

Now the way you want to use it is at some point when you finish your content review, when you’re starting to do your practice questions, definitely go through this document. You want to go through every page. I know this is 128 page document. So it sounds very long. You’re not going to go through it like super carefully. Rather you just want to scroll through the document. Be like, OK do I know this topic? Do I know this topic? Do I know this topic?

If there’s any topics that you haven’t heard about before, then you want to highlight it or write it down, so you make sure when you go to Google, you look up that topic, make sure you’re familiar with it. So that way, at least you’re familiar with everything. And in terms of the details, hopefully the amount that you’ve reviewed for that topic is going to be enough.

Other questions. Yes.

So this is why there’s some differences. So remember why I said earlier the psych-soc section is the newest section, so because of that we know the least about the section. The CARS and bio biochem section. These were not only on the current exam, but they’re also on the old exam. And because they’ve had so many practice tests that had been released, we have a really really really good understanding of what do you need to know for general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology. So for these topics, if you go with your MCAT books, whatever level of detail you have in those books are going to be fine.

For the psych-soc section, this is where it’s trickier because we don’t have a full understanding of what we need to know and that’s simply because number one, the content outline isn’t very detailed. And number two, they haven’t released enough questions letting us know everything that we need to know for the exam. So by that what I mean is, if you look at the psych-soc part of the AAMC content outline, not every topic has been tested on the MCAT so far. Right so that becomes very tricky for us because it hasn’t even shown up on an MCAT before, we don’t know how they’re going to test students on it.

That being said, how important is that going to be? Well, I would actually say it’s probably not that big of a deal because if you go with your MCAT books, if you read your books, you’re already doing more studying than the average students. So whatever content they have, if you read the books you have more knowledge and understanding than they do. And the MCAT ultimately is going to have a normal distribution, so as long as you’re doing better than those other students you’re gonna be fine.

Ken Tao

Ken is nationally recognized as a premier MCAT mind. He has worked with thousands of undergraduate students as a graduate teaching assistant and MCAT instructor/tutor for the Princeton Review. At Princeton Review, Ken was the only tutor certified in all subjects, was one of the highest rated MCAT tutors ever and was a teacher trainer. Additionally, Ken worked to found Magoosh's MCAT division. He has written content for dozen's of MCAT books and guides. He is now the Director of MCAT at MedSchoolCoach

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