MCAT Basics Podcast

Intro to the MCAT with Dr. Shemmassian

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian, the founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting, talks about the four MCAT sections, studying for the MCAT, and preparing for passage-based questions.

  • [01:03] Dr. Shemmassian’s Journey into the Academic Consulting Space
  • [05:56] Breakdown of the Four MCAT Sections
  • [08:20] How to Study for Passage-Based Questions
  • [12:28] How to Prepare for MCAT CARS
  • [17:20] Do’s and Don’ts When Preparing for CARS
  • [20:14] How to Tell if You’re Ready for the MCAT
  • [25:36] Benefits of Simulating the MCAT Test Day
  • [29:30] The Role of MCATs in Medical School Admissions
  • [36:32] What is a Good MCAT Score?
  • [39:38] Will the MCAT Ever Become a Pass/Fail Exam?

Breakdown of the Four MCAT Sections

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multiple-choice, computer-based, standardized exam required for med school admissions in the United States and Canada. The exam is administered to provide med schools with standard measures for comparing applicants’ preparedness and qualifications for medical school. The thing to note here is that a high MCAT score will have a direct and positive impact on your med school application.

The MCAT is broken down into four test sections:

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem Phys)
  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
  3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio Biochem)
  4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych Soc)

The MCAT exam measures content knowledge and tests your critical analysis and reasoning skills. This means that the exams require more than just an understanding of course content. Over the years, Dr. Shemmassian has witnessed students struggling with the CARS section. This is because medical students spend more time ingesting biology content, whereas CARS tests reasoning and analysis skills, through non-science passages.

How to Study for Passage-Based Questions

Interestingly, struggles associated with passage-based questions are not necessarily linked to content knowledge. According to Dr. Shemmassian, students who struggle with passage-based questions often employ the wrong strategy or no strategies at all. This is because the passages supply relevant information necessary for answering questions and superfluous information meant to distract you from the main topics.

How to Prepare for CARS

Of all the MCAT sections, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) is the most difficult for most medical students. Most pre-meds struggle with cryptic passages, complicated verbal reasoning questions, and the seemingly short time frame. This is due to the fact that most medical students gravitate toward the hard sciences while topics in CARS range from history all the way to philosophy. So, if you’re two or three years away from your MCAT exams, start reading and develop your comprehension skills. Dr. Shemmassian believes the best way to do this is to read everything from books to magazines to build up your comprehension stamina.

However, if you only have a few weeks or months to prepare for your CARS exam, practice and commit to doing CARS passages every day. Reading passages and answering questions will build stamina and generally improve your analytical skills. Over time, you will learn how to tackle CARS-type questions, improve your answering speed and comprehension.

The Role of the MCAT in Medical School Admissions

Although the MCAT is not the single most important factor in getting into med schools, it plays a significant role in getting you accepted. Admission committees look at both GPA and MCAT score; thus, the MCAT is just one piece of the puzzle. In addition, to overall MCAT score, the subsection scores are important to getting accepted to medical school. The MSAR sheet shows that students with a subsection score below 125 have a difficult time getting accepted to medical school.

Check out the resources that Shemmassian Consulting provides:

MCAT blog articles

MCAT tutoring

Med school admissions blog articles

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