Video 12: MCAT Scoring – Part 1

How is the MCAT scored, and how do you approach it? In this video we’ll talk about:

  • What are raw, scaled, percentile, confidence band, and cut-off scores?
  • Some insights that are key for approaching this section

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Click here to watch the next part – Video 13: MCAT Scoring Part 2

Video Transcription:

Hi everyone! It’s Radhika here again and I’m going to continue talking about the MCAT today, more specifically scoring. If you haven’t seen any of the videos that have been created by us thus far, I’ll give you a brief overview of the objective and some introduction of myself. Like I mentioned already, my name is Radhika, I am an MCAT prep instructor with Prep101 and I’ve been working in the MCAT industry for the last five years. I’ve been teaching this exam for the last five years. The reason we’ve created this series of videos is because, as a test prep company, we get made aware of lots of the information that’s out there.  This is really important information if you’re a pre-med student who has the intentions of perusing medical school or even if you’re a non pre-med student and you know you want to get into medical school. There are certain pieces of information that are very key to your journey to medical school, that’s the title of this project. However, we find that some of this information is very obscure and is very hard to obtain. The purpose of this video project was basically for us to take all of that information that we were able to collect as a result of being in the industry for all these years, and to disseminate that in a useful manner. We strongly feel that some of the content that’s presented in this video is really important in order for you to start tailoring and gearing your journey to getting into the medical schools of your interest.

Today, specifically, we are going to talk about scoring on this exam. I want to talk about four things over the course of this video. First I’m going to give you a basic overview about some of the scoring. I’m going to give you the types of scores that you’ll be able to see or that you’ll have access to. Third, I’ll talk about how the scaled scoring system of this exam works. Lastly, fourth, I will show you an example of a sample score report.  So if this is an exam that you’re planning on writing and you want to know more about the scoring, let’s continue!

Here’s the first thing, these are some of the basics that you should know about the score of the MCAT exam. First and foremost, this is so crucial, all questions are weighted equally. That means, no matter the difficulty level of a question, whether it’s something you could do with your eyes closed in your sleep without even thinking or whether it’s something you would need seven sheets of paper and a pen with unlimited ink to be able to answer, doesn’t matter how long or short and regardless of the difficulty of each question, all questions are weighted the exact same, that’s one mark. Second, there is no penalty, no deduction, for getting answers wrong. One of the things I tell my students all the time is, “should you ever, ever be leaving the question blank?” No.  Essentially a wrong answer, that you selected, is going to be calculated or used in the same manner as an unanswered question. However, there are four answer options for each question on the MCAT. A, B, C and D that follows every single multiple-choice question. Even though you may not know the answer to the question, by selecting one of those answer options you’ve given yourself a chance to be able to get that question correct. So you should never be leaving the question blank considering that there’s no penalty for incorrect answers. You should always take a guess. Third, the MCAT is unlike other standardized exams such as the GMAT. The GMAT is one of those exams which selects the next question that you’re going to get based on the difficulty level of the previously answered questions. It’s one that will give you more difficult or easier questions based on how you perform on a current question. The MCAT isn’t like that.  That means that the questions are in a random order of difficulty. There is no order whatsoever. The first question that you may see on this exam may be extremely difficult or the last question that you see on this exam may be extremely difficult. There is no correlation, no pattern, whatsoever, with the difficulty level on this exam and the order in which the questions are presented to you. That’s why timing techniques are crucial for your successful performance on this exam. Because each question is weighted the same, because you know that there is no order of difficulty, that it is completely random, you should be setting an allotted amount for doing each question. Once that time passes, you should know very strictly to move onto the next question. There might be something very easy on that you may miss because you spent too much time doing this question that was super hard.

The other thing, and this is where this exam is quite different, is that there may and probably will be experimental questions. Experimental questions are different from scored questions. These are questions that will not count towards your total score. The reason they’re being given to you is because the AMC wants to offer them as scored questions to students who will write later. They don’t know how students will perform therefore you are, so-to-speak, the guinea pig. They want to know which ones are good questions to offer in a later exam and therefore they are going to test the question on you. You will never know what these questions are. The take away from that is that not every question will count towards your final score. If you get a question that’s really difficult, that’s taking up too much time or too much effort and you just don’t seem to understand it, there is comfort of knowing that perhaps it may be an experimental question. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do all the questions. You should still be doing all of the questions and again this goes back to the fact that you don’t know which one’s the experimental one’s are. It doesn’t make sense to take a guess and say, “This is probably experimental, I’ll be fine if I don’t do it!”

Let’s move onwards, now that you know a little of the basics about the scoring, let’s talk about the types of scores that the AMC actually calculates. Essentially, there are five types of scores. The first is the raw score. Your raw score, simply put, is the number of questions in that section that you got correct or the number of questions in the entire exam that you got correct. The science sections have 59 questions each and the CARS section has 53 questions. They will calculate your raw score based on the sheer number of questions that you got correct. The raw score is something that you’ll never see and it’s not on your score report. The only purpose is for the AAMC, and no one else, not you, not the medical school that you apply to, or the application service through which you applied, will ever be able to see your raw school. It’s not made available to test takers. There are two types of scaled scores. One is a scaled section score and the other one is your total scaled score. What the AAMC does is it takes your raw score, that’s the number of questions you got correctly, and it turns it into a scaled score through a statistical process called equating. The whole purpose of a scaled score is to adjust for difficulty levels in different version of the exam. There are four sections; we’ve talked about these previously, the physical sciences, followed by CARS, followed by the biological sciences and lastly the behavioral sciences. Each of these four sections will be scored on a scale from 118 ranging to 132. When these individual sectional scaled scores are summed you get a total scaled score. 118 x 4 gives you, 472. 132 x 4 gives you 528, so that’s how the total score is calculated, the summation of each of the individual four sectional scores.

What you have to also know here is that there are many different version of the MCAT. So just because you write on July 15th and I write on July 15th doesn’t mean that we’ve necessarily written the same version of the exam. There are multiple versions of the exam. The reason the scaling system has been developed and the reason it exists is to take the number of raw correct questions and to put us onto the same scale. If we both write different versions of the exam, test takers and medical schools need to be able to see how well my abilities compared to other applicants who have also applied. Therefore, because there are different versions of the exam, there’s no magic number of correct answers that you need to get to get your targeted scaled score. For example, if I want to aim to get a 522 out of my total scaled score, that’s not the equivalent of saying I can only get two questions wrong in each section of this exam in order to hit that target. The reason being is because if I have a very easy version of the exam, that scale, that equating process is not going to be very forgiving. Such that maybe the moment I get one question wrong, if the exam was so easy, perhaps I’ve dropped down to a 125 already. Where as if you wrote it, and you had a different version of the exam, and you got only one question wrong in a section perhaps that is having the equivalent of having a 132. At the end of the day our abilities are matched by having a scaled score. 472 is the lowest you can get, 528 is the highest that you can get.

The other type of score that is important to you is a percentile rank. A percentile rank is a very statistical term. What it means is it tends to describe the percentage of candidates who score equal or below your score in that section, or the exam overall. For example, we call the median the 50th percentile. The median is the middle number in a data set and it also describes what 50% of the population scored up until.

The last type of score that you get is a confidence bands and we’ll talk about that a little more when I show you an example of a score report. Again, these are the five different types of scores. You will not be able to see the raw scores. The confidence bands are something that will appear on your score report, kind of as a range. The other three are what you should gear your studying towards. Let’s talk about those in a little more detail.

First of all, because each of the individual scales, as shown on this diagram that has been obtained from the AAMC website, each section ranges from 118-132. The median, or the top of a normal distribution curve, or the 50th percentile of each of these four sections happens to be 125. So there it is for chemical and physical foundations, there it is for CARS, there it is the 125 for the biological and biochemical foundations and there’s the 125 for the psychological, social and biological foundations and behavior section. Since this is the median, or the top of the score for each of those sections, what I can do is sum them to get the median, or 50th percentile overall, for the exam. That’s what this curve down here is representing. This 500 is the summation of each of those 125 median scores from the individual four sections. The top of the curve, if this is a normal distribution, which it looks like it is, is where the highest frequency of scores are actually scoring. If you teach them from the last exam is, because the total score now ranges from 528 being the highest to 472 the lowest, which means there are 57 possible total scores you can get. How did I get that 57? By simply subtracting 472 from 528. This is an advantage to you if you’re going to be writing this exam. The reason being is because the old exam ranged from 3-45, where 45 was the maximum score you could get and 3 was the lowest score you could get. Now that gives a possibility of 43 different total scores that you could have gotten. You can now get 57 different scores. You can see that the MCAT has become a lot more granular and it’s increased it’s statistical power in that sense. The other thing that the AAMC has also worked to change and implement is making use of the higher range or the perfect scale score. On the old version of the exam, which was scored from 3-45, there were very many years in which no one got a 45. That means no one technically got a perfect on this exam. However, in the recent years, or the last two years, people have been known to get a 528. The reason this is possible is because, you have to remember, getting a 528 doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting perfect on this exam. What it means is that you’re achieving the 100th percentile. So to speak, you’re essentially getting perfect because you got the number questions that the AAMC had designated in order to be in the 100th percentile.

This is a little bit of an introduction on your scale score. What I really want to talk to you about is your score report. This is a sample AAMC score report. This is what you get what you’re score is released on their website and this is what you forward to the medical schools you apply to. So for example if you’re a student in Ontario and you’re applying through OMSAS, this is where you give them your AAMC ID. The AAMC ID is something that OMSAS has the ability to log into and see your final score. So what you’ll see are a few column headers, the first one being the section of the MCAT that the scores referring to, the actually score that you got, the confidence band range, the percentile rank and the score profile. Now let’s talk about some of these things, obviously the section part refers to which of four sections that you achieved that score.  The first section that you wrote was the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems and on this sample report this student scored a 125, and so be it for the others. Now what happens is when you sum all four of those sectional scores together, at the bottom it gives you your total score. So out of the 472-528 this student scored a overall 506, now that 506 refers to the 76th percentile. That means 76% of the test takers who took this exam, in the year 2015, scored equal or below this student. That means a 24% of the total takers scored above this student. So it’s a pretty self-explanatory report, what you can see that the student did very well on the biological and biochemical foundations. They got a 97th percentile, which was referring to a total score of 132. And you can see their score profile from the lowest to highest and where this band lies, this diamond. It’s very close to almost having reached the maximum score on that section.

One thing I haven’t talked to you about that I said I would explain later are the confidence bands. Here are the confidence bands for this student on each of those four exams. What the confidence bands indicate is it’s more for the medical school use and it’s to tell them to not over-emphasize small differences in scoring between similar applicants. If I achieved a 125 in the chemical and physical foundations like this student had, and you perhaps achieved a 126, the confidence band serves to elucidate, given certain testing conditions, what I could scored, what you could have scored. Because there are things that affect your ability, your test taking ability. Perhaps the room temperature wasn’t ideal, perhaps the screen wasn’t ideal, and perhaps you were very tired when you took the test. What the confidence band serves to do is use al algorithm to show and indicate what scores you could have achieved in various situations. It’s more able to reflect your true test taking ability or your true scores. Not in just this one instance, by giving you this number, but by giving you a range of where your true score is most likely to lie. It really allows medical schools to differentiate between two students, or two applicants, who have perhaps a very similar score, knowing that they both had the potential to score within a certain range.

I’ve talked about the four things I wanted to. To reiterate some of the points that I think are super important, you cannot skip any questions on this exam by leaving them blank, you may not know questions and that’s fine. Since you are not penalized for wrong answer choices, you shouldn’t be leaving any single question blank. You should be making a guess. Secondly, raw scores will never be available to you. The scores are most important are what kind of scaled score you want, based on the percentile rank that it corresponds to. The third thing is, the AAMC has introduced this idea of confidence bands, which are a reflection of where your score may lie and more predictive of your true test taking ability and therefore, your true scores range.

That concludes my little discussion for today. I hope you were able to find this talk very useful. We’ll continue next time with more of a discussion on the scores. Take care, see you then! Bye for now!

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