Path to Medicine

GPA and MCAT

GPA

When applying for medical school it is clearly advantageous to have a higher GPA, but how high is high enough? It is generally thought that in order to get into medical school you need to have a 4.0 GPA, but the reality of the situation is that you need to have a competitive GPA.

So what is a competitive GPA? Anything 3.5 and above is considered to be competitive for admission into medical school. When admission committees screen GPA’s the difference between an applicant with a 3.0 and one with a 3.5 is huge! On the other spectrum when they consider the difference between someone with a 3.5 and a 4.0 it doesn’t make much difference.

The target GPA should always be a 4.0, but that isn’t always realistic…. so try to keep it above a 3.5 in order to be competitive.

I am sure you have heard about the two different kinds of GPA…..Science GPA and non-science GPA.

The science GPA is comprised of all the biology, chemistry, physics, and sometimes math courses you took. Sometimes referred to as “BCPM” GPA

The non science GPA…you guessed it…. everything else.

While it is very important to have a high overall GPA more weight is given in the admissions process to a high science GPA. It is imperative that you strive for a high GPA in both categories because it will display you ability to perform in both science and non-science courses.

Most schools have a minimum requirement for GPA…. it is typically 3.0, but I have seen ranges of 2.75-3.2 so check with you respective schools of interest.

It is worth noting that a high GPA can in some instances make up for a less than stellar MCAT score, and vice versa. These two tools are screening metrics at most schools though… by this I mean they are used to only screen out applicants that don’t meet the minimum qualifications, and also they come into play when deciding between two applicants with similar applications. Like I mentioned, always try your best to get the highest possible GPA, but there is much more to the medical school application process than just GPA.

 

MCAT

The MCAT is one of the most feared parts of a pre med students undergraduate career. This is probably the most important test that any pre med student will take. However, if you are serious about getting into medical school then you need to take this test serious and do not be scared of it, embrace it because it can help you out tremendously! It is something that every medical school in the United States requires their applicants to take, so get use to it and OWN it!

The test underwent some dramatic changes in April 2015. It went from a four hour test to approximately a seven hour test. Most medical schools will accept test scores from three years prior to application. This means that for a little while there will be applicants that have taken the old test and the new test.

So what has changed?…….

The old MCAT was comprised of three sections…

  • Physical Sciences
  • Biological Sciences
  • Verbal reasoning

These covered basic biology (some microbiology), chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics… with some physiology.

The new MCAT has four sections……

These cover chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, biology (some microbiology), sociology, and psychology… also with some physiology. Here is a PDF outline of the test.

This test is administered multiple times each year check out AAMC for details on this.

You want to try and take this test as soon as possible. Obviously you want to be prepared for it so make sure you take all the classes that cover the topics on the test…Below are the classes I would recommend you take prior to studying for the MCAT.

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Microbiology
  • Physiology

You want to ideally time the test so that you get your results back as you are submitting your primary applications. Test results generally take about 30 days to get back, so taking the test sometime in April or May should suffice for submitting you application the first week of June.

The critical analysis section is one that is feared the most by pre med students. In this section you read a passage and then answer questions based on “between the line” inferences made by the author of the passage. When reading you really need to think about the authors opinion and tone, don;t worry about remembering too many specifics as the answers to the majority of the questions won’t be found in the passage but rather in the overall tone of the passage.

Below is a list of ten tips for your MCAT test day:

1. Get a good nights rest the night before

2. Do not study the night before, take a break and maybe read something (not related to MCAT) in the morning to get your brain functioning.

3.Bring good healthy slow digesting snacks with you to the testing center. And bring a good drink (juice, or something with some glucose in it)

4.Wear comfortable clothes, don’t worry too much about how good you look in those jeans, be comfortable.

5.Bring a jacket. You might be testing in the summer, but the center might have its AC on blast, so make sure to be ready if that is the case.

6.Wear clothes with few pockets…. you go through a full metal detector test before entering, this means they make you pull everything out of all your pockets including the pocket itself.

7.Show up early. If you are early you might be able to get all the pre screen stuff done soon so you don’t have to stand in line for that.

8. Use the bathroom at every break (you get a break between every section). Even if you don’t have to go, go in and make yourself go! Cause you can’t leave in the middle of a section.

9.Bring your own ear plugs. They can’t have a wire, and must be in the packaging. Bring the same ones you used while taking practice tests.

10. Have a good positive attitude, go in with the mindset that you have done this a thousand times and you are gonna OWN this test!

 

A big must on the MCAT is learning to pace yourself. I listed the amount of both time and questions in each section above.

For the Biological, physical, and psych sections of the exam you have roughly 96 seconds per question. So practice testing in that time limit and mind set, obviously you will be able to answer some quicker than that, but that will leave a little extra time for the harder questions. The goal is to try and keep it around a minute and a half per question.

For the Critical Analysis section you have about 101 seconds per question.  So you have about a minute and forty seconds, plan your timing and questions accordingly.

MCAT Scoring

 The scores on the MCAT 2015 can be seen by clicking here, but a summary of the scores can be seen below.

Each section has a score ranging from 118-132, with a section midpoint of 125. The new midpoint for the entire exam is 500 (range of  472-528), so this is technically the 50th percentile. An MCAT score to strive for would be around the 75th-80th percentile (A 514 would roughly give you a 75th percentile score.). Obviously you want to score as high as possible, but this range would give you good chances of not being screened out.

MCAT Prep

There are some big companies out there that focus on helping students with professional testing. The big names in the MCAT industry are Kaplan, Exam Krackers, The Princeton Review, and a newer up can coming company called Next Step.

Another great company that gets a little more involved with their customers/students is Parliament Tutors. They are a full-service education management company. That has tremendous reviews and results with their MCAT prep course.

Here is a short description from Parliament Tutors themselves:

“One of the most important factors when choosing an MCAT tutor is assuring that they are familiar with the most recent changes to the exam. While many tutors are experts in bio, chem, and math are the other fundamentals that the MCAT measures, they aren’t familiar with the exam itself.
Parliament trains its staff to be leaders in test preparation. Dozens of test prep agencies claim that they can teach a student to “beat” the MCAT by offering test-taking strategies that take advantage of the test’s format. These strategies work, to an extent, but we at Parliament Tutors have found that the best way to prepare for the test is to start with work that strengthens the very skill the MCAT examines– analytical reasoning– and then add to that an arsenal of strategies to maximize the student’s scoring potential.”
If you feel as though you need a tutor, don’t hesitate! This is a big test so if you need it then check out your options, I would highly recommend you look into Parliament Tutors!

A great idea would be to head on over to my MCAT books page and pick up a copy of one or two of these companies material and study it from cover to cover. Know everything in those books inside and out. When it comes to Critical Analysis preparation it is best to take multiple practice tests and develop a strategy. Exam Krackers has great material out there to help with this. They have an older book called 101 verbal reasoning  passages. Get this book and utilize it!

On top of all of this the AAMC has practice tests and other valuable resources about the exam. Quite honestly I would use everything the AAMC offers, because they are the ones that developed and know the test the best, so take their advice and use their materials.

When it comes to strategy develop a plan that works for you. I would highly advise starting to study as soon as you decide medicine is for you, but the books I mentioned above should be gone over in their entirety the six months leading up to your exam date.

Create a study plan where you are studying all the books simultaneously, this way all the material is fresh in your mind. The most important thing is to develop a schedule for your practice tests! If you have six month before the exam then take a diagnostic practice test on day one. This gives you a solid baseline and allows you to visualize the improvement that you have made, which is important because this test is emotionally difficult and seeing improvement helps your mindset.

A good way to schedule practice tests is to look at how many tests you have available and then compare that with your time left until test day. For example in you have 12 weeks and have four tests then you might want to take a test every two weeks. I say this instead of every three weeks because you want to review the test in its entirety.

After you are finished with each exam plan to spend a few days reviewing the test, but don’t just look at answers… look at the concepts. The answers will always change from question to question so don’t prep off answers. The key is to look at the question you missed or got right and determine the concept behind the question, then go to your prep books and go over the concept until you know it cold. Give yourself enough time after every test to review and master the material you missed.

 

A big topic out there in the world of Pre meds is that you shouldn’t take the MCAT more than once. There is validity to this, but take it with a grain of salt. What I mean is that you clearly want to do well on the test the first time, but if you happen to not get the score you want then take it again… but make sure you do better! If you do worse that is a red flag to admission committees. I honestly think that if you are getting close to wanting to take the test a forth or fifth time then it is enough. You should be able to display your academic abilities on two or three attempts if you are serious about getting into medical school. The MCAT is not so much a test of how intelligent you are…you do need to know the information being tested… but it is more of a how bad do you want it. Are you willing to put the time and effort into getting the score needed? You need to work hard! If you need to take the test more then once… do it! There has to come a time though when like I said, if you have taken the test about five times then it might be time to look elsewhere or just apply and see how you do…. you might be surprised.

If your MCAT score is in the 50th to 60th percentile range then send out applications, just make sure all the other parts of your application are SUPERB! Find schools with similar average stats to yours and send your applications there.

Apply smart and you will have good opportunities!