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MCAT


Interested in going to medical school? After you earn an undergraduate degree, you are almost ready to apply, but first you must take an entrance exam. The MCAT exam is the primary exam for medical school admission and is required for all programs. So what is the MCAT?

About the MCAT

The MCAT exam, or Medical College Admission Test, is a computer based test that is necessary in medical school admissions. This test examines an admission candidate by testing them in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of scientific concepts. Some students describe the test as being an accumulation of all the courses that they took in college while they were studying pre-med.

The MCAT is Important

If you have any interest in going to medical school, you must first take the MCAT exam. Just about every medical school in the US requires potential candidates to have valid scores. This exam is one of only a few factors that an admissions committee will look at to compare students. So in reality, the scores of your exam can make or break your chances at getting into the school of your dreams. For an admissions committee, the exam works as an even platform on which to compare students, because the exam is uniform and taken by all applicants.

What is the Test Like?

The MCAT exam consists of four sections – all of which are multiple choice:

  • Physical sciences - The physical sciences section tests a student’s problem solving ability in chemistry and physics.
  • Verbal reasoning - The verbal reasoning section requires students to understand and evaluate written sections.
  • Biological sciences - The biological sciences section tests students in biology and organic chemistry.
  • Optional trial section

Timing is very important when taking the test and a student should pay close attention to their pace. Make sure to attempt to answer every question in the allotted time period or you could lose points.

MCAT Preparation

Preparation and practice are key to getting your best possible score. Some of the best MCAT preparation aids are printed study guides that help in specific subjects like biology, terminology or anatomy. These are great for students who need to focus on just one area of the exam.
There are also large test books that are printed by some of the bigger test prep companies. These large books have sections dedicated to each part of the exam, and also sections that include test taking tips, rules of the test, and, most importantly, what to expect from the test as far as formatting. At the end of the books you will find multiple practice tests. Most books contain 3 practice tests: one that you should take at the beginning, middle, and end of your preparation material. This is meant to show your gradual improvement in scores as you prepare.
One of the most overlooked study materials for MCAT test takers are old college textbooks in Biology, Chemistry and other subjects. These are great way to refresh on some of the information you were taught as an undergraduate.
A final great preparation material for students is MCAT courses. MCAT courses are taught by professionals who have experience taking the test and know the ins and outs of the exam. These courses can sometimes be a bit expensive, but are often seen as the best way to get your score up if you are struggling with less than desirable scores.
Another great option for students preparing for the MCAT is an MCAT coach. Coaches are like private tutors, and will design a study guide just for you. The coach will try to get a feel for your weak points and help you to fix these problems. Good coaches will have extensive experience with the MCAT test. They will also bring their own test materials that may be unlike any type of prep material on the market. The individual help can be a huge benefit for students who are having any issues in confidence or testing.

Format

The MCAT consists of four and three-quarter hours of multiple choice testing, plus one hour devoted to a writing sample. With all of the administrative details and three breaks, your test day experience can last for more than six hours.

The test is divided into four timed sections always appearing in the same order:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Physical Sciences
  3. Writing Sample
  4. Biological Sciences

Every section is designed to measure the higher-order thinking skills necessary for success in medical school, including analytical reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem solving.

Taking the MCAT is an intensive experience to say the least. The vast amount of content, especially in the sciences, can be especially overwhelming for many people. Success on this difficult exam requires targeted and focused preparation.

What the MCAT's Really Testing

Most people preparing for the MCAT fall prey to the myth that the MCAT is a straightforward science test. Well, here's the little secret no one seems to want you to know: The MCAT is not just a science test; it's also a thinking test. This means that the test is designed to let you demonstrate your thought process, not only your thought content. Every section on the MCAT tests essentially the same higher-order thinking skills: analytical reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving--skills that are essential for success in medical school.

The Sciences

With this perspective, you may be left asking the question: "What about the science? What about the content? Don't I need to know the basics?" The answer is a resounding YES. You must be fluent in the different languages of the test. You cannot do well on the MCAT if you don't know the basics of physics, general chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry.

However, the key point here is that knowing these basics is just the beginning of doing well on the MCAT. That's a shock to most test takers. They presume that once they recall or re-learn their undergraduate science, they are ready to do battle against the MCAT. Wrong. They merely have directions to the battlefield. They lack what they need to beat the test: a copy of the test maker's battle plan.

The Night Before the Exam

Once you’ve done all of your studying and preparing, it is a good idea to take a short break right before the exam day. Cramming on the day before the exam can actually be counterproductive and slow a person’s thought process down. The day before the exam should be used to get everything ready and make sure you are prepared for the logistical areas of the test, like having your entrance materials and having any snacks or supplies you may need. Once you get all these things set away and prepared for the test day, try to clear your mind and relax.

Sleep is maybe the most important thing you can do to prepare for the exam. Get a good night’s sleep to ensure that you are energized and fully energized the next day. The mind works best on a full night of sleep.

Test Day Preparation

Test day has finally arrived. It is time to put all of your hard work to use. Wake up at a good time and eat a good breakfast. Some people advise doing some brief reading to get your brain working, so maybe grab the newspaper or a good book and read a few articles or a passage or two. It is a good idea to leave for the testing area early. The testing center will need your ID and testing ticket or order to let you into the testing room. Once you show this, you will be led to your room and will wait for your proctor to start the exam.

Speak with your pre-medical advisor to find out the latest MCAT administration schedule and to register for the test. If you do not have a pre-medical advisor, you can find more online at http://www.aamc.org/students/mcat/

MCAT Scores and School Success

A recent study commissioned by the MCAT's authors, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), confirmed a direct correlation between MCAT scores and success in medical school. Therefore, medical schools don't need to rely on the MCAT to see what you already know schools are most interested in your intellectual potential. They choose applicants carefully because expansive knowledge is not enough to succeed in medical school or in the profession. There's something more. And it's this "something more" that the MCAT is trying to measure.

MCAT Scoring

The MCAT test is scored from 1 to 45, with each of the three sections scored between 1 and 15. Each school may have a different requirement for their program, but the standard minimum acceptable score is somewhere in the low 30s. Top universities may require a score in the high 30s or 40s to be found acceptable. So what is the MCAT? The MCAT is your portal to a future career in medicine!

MCAT Practice

Questions

1. One of the most common bacteria to infect patients with CF is Staphylococcus. If a sample from a CF patient were cultured, how would Staphylococcus appear when stained and viewed under a microscope?

  1. Helical
  2. Sickle-shaped
  3. Rod-like
  4. Spherical

2. If a spring is 64 cm long when it is outstretched and is 8% longer when a 0.5 kg mass hangs from it, how long will it be with a 0.4 kg mass suspended from it?

  1. 66 cm
  2. 68 cm
  3. 70 cm
  4. 74 cm

Answers and Explanations

1. The answer is (D). Bacteria are often classified and named on the basis of their shape, of which there are three: spherical, rod-like, and helical (spiral). Spherical bacteria are known as cocci; rod-like bacteria are known as bacilli; and helical bacteria are known as spirochetes, or spirilla. Thus, if a sample from a CF patient infected with Staphylococcus were cultured and viewed under a microscope, the bacteria would appear spherical in shape.

2. The answer is (B). To solve this problem, apply Hooke's Law F = kx, where F is the force applied to the spring, x is the distance the spring stretches, and k is the spring constant. The forces applied in this case are weights. Since weight is proportional to mass, the distance the spring stretches is also proportional to the mass of the attached to the spring.

The spring starts out with a length of 64 cm. When the 0.5 kg mass is attached, it stretches 8% longer or 64(.08) = 5.12 cm. Since the distance stretched and the mass attached are proportional, the ratio of the distance stretched to the mass attached is 5.12/(0.5 kg), which is approximately equal to 5/(0.5) = 10 cm/kg.

In other words, each kilogram attached to the spring stretches it 10 cm. Thus, when the 0.4 kg mass is attached, the spring is stretched a distance (0.4 kg)(10 cm/kg) = 4 cm. Therefore, the total length of the spring is the original length plus the distance it stretches, or 64 + 4 = 68 cm.

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