Video 3: Med School Prep – Undergrad Studies (Part 2)

In this video, we’ll discuss two things:

  • Your GPA and how med schools will view and calculate it
  • How your GPA differs from your average

If you enjoyed this video, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel.

Click here to watch the next video: Video 4 – Med School Prep – Extracurriculars Part 2

Video Transcription:

Hey guys! It’s Radhika here again. Today, we’re going to continue our talk of medical school prep. We’re still on the undergraduate studies part. Last time I talked about undergraduate courses and choosing these courses and how much your major matters. Today I want to talk about what I consider the most important factor as an undergraduate applicant. That would be your GPA. What we’ll discuss first in this video is how medical schools see your GPA and convert your marks to get your GPA. Secondly, we’ll make a distinction between what your GPA is versus what your average is. I’m going to show you that these two are not the same thing. Let’s get started!

Last time we talked about how important these factors are: the relevance of your major to medicine, the difficulty of your course, the difficult of your major, and the prestige of your university. I told you to remember that none of these things matter at all. If you’re asking me how important they are, not very much at all. The one factor that is really important is GPA. We all go to different institutions. We all take a variety of courses. Some schools have a different grading system than other schools. When thousands of applicants applying to medical schools they have to have a system of taking everyone’s grades and converting them into a system by which they’re all standardized. They have to take all this data and make it very meaningful. There is a way you can figure out how they do this. Before I introduce that, what I want to tell you is that one of the key takeaway messages of this video is that you have to maintain a very high and consistent GPA in order to be a strong candidate for medical school. The cutoffs are pretty severe. If you’re not, you should become very aware of the medical schools that you’re interested in what kind of GPA cutoff they’re going to have by the time you apply.

Let’s get started. This is 2016’s grade conversion table. You can get this from the OMSAS website. OMSAS stands for the Ontario Medical School Application Service. This table stays pretty much the same every year. I linked it in the description of this video so if you want to check it out click the link. This table shows you how the marks that you get in school by your undergraduate institution are converted into the OMSAS value. The OMSAS value is indicated in that first column on the left there. Each of the other numeric columns, and they go from one to nine, indicate the grades that you receive as an undergraduate student. You then find horizontally what line that corresponds to and the OMSAS value it will have. Most Canadian institutions will use a percentile score. If your school is one that gives you your marks in percentages, you want to look at column number three. For example, if I got 89% in a cell biology course that I took in second year, what I would do is find the range 85-89, look at it horizontally across, and see that translates to an OMSAS value of 3.9 out of 4.0. If your institution doesn’t use percentiles it probably uses an alphabetic grading system. That would be through column number seven. This is the standard that most Canadian grade schools use too where it goes from an A+ to an F. Again, same thing. You want to figure out the grade that you got in that class and then carry it out horizontally to get the OMSAS value.

If you don’t know what grading system your undergraduate institution uses, the tables at the bottom here kind of tell you which column to be looking at. If I went to York University I would be using column number nine. It seems easy enough. Let’s now tell you how to make use of this table. This table is going to be one of your best friends as an applicant to medical school. I’ll tell you why. The same kind of GPA adjustments or grade conversions that OMSAS does and sends out to your medical school you can do all on your own. You can see exactly how medical schools will view your GPA. Now the scale is really important if you want to be a strong applicant to medical school. I’m going to tell you this very slowly. The table is arranged such that your GPA is skewed disproportionately. I’ll tell you what I mean here. The GPA is skewed disproportionately to consistently reward high marks and also skewed disproportionately to consistently punish low marks or lapses. I’m basically trying to say it’s very unforgiving if you have lower grades. On the flip side, it is extremely rewarding should you maintain high grades. Let’s go through a few examples of this.

I want to show you this. If I went to an institution that used percentiles to give me a mark, here is how it would be converted into OMSAS. Let’s say I achieved a 93% in my fourth year genetics course, a pretty good mark. What I would do is take that 93%, find it under column three, and carry it out horizontally to figure out what the OMSAS value is. That’s a 4.0. That means even though I didn’t get 100% in this class, in terms of what the medical schools will see, I got a 4.0/4.0. Basically, it’s the equivalent of having a perfect score. I will only get a 4.0 if my mark in a certain course falls between 90-100%. Let’s continue this further so I can show you the disproportionately. Let’s say I took a fourth year biochemistry course and it was really hard. Upper year biochemistry and I tried my best but only was able to get an 83%. That 83 is 10% lower than my 93% which allowed me to get a 4.0. What is it going to give me this time? I would find that 83, which lies in that range of 80-84%, carry that horizontally, and I see that I have a 3.7. Ah! So far, not so bad. Let’s say I took a fourth year physics course just because I love physics. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea because I got a 71% on it. In fourth year I really don’t want to get a 71%. What I do, again, is find that 71% and find the GPA. It’s not worth 2.7 on the OMSAS scale.

You’re probably wondering, what is that skew she keeps talking about? Let me go through it. Let’s say you get 100% in a course. It would have an OMSAS value of 4.0. Let’s say you got 10% below that. You received a 10% drop, so a 90% overall. You would still receive a 4.0. Let’s go down 10% more to 80%. If you hit an 80% your score is now a 3.7. Although it’s the same percentage differential, 10%, you went down by 0.3%. Let’s take that down a further 10% to 70%. When we went from 90 to 80 we say the score went from 4.0 to 3.7. When go from 80 to 70, just a 10% drop, I’m not going to drop 0.3% on the OMSAS scale. I now drop from a 3.7 at 80% to a 2.7 at 70%. Do you see that? Even though the percentile drop was the same, 10% in all those scenarios, that actual OMSAS drop was a lot more. One whole unit from a 3.7 to a 2.7. That’s exactly how this scale is supposed to work. Medical schools want to consistently reward people who got high marks and consistently punish people who got lower grades. By “they” want to punish you, that’s not what I mean, but they want to be able to say they value academic excellence and if you’ve achieved certain levels of academic excellence we’ll reward you with a higher OMSAS value. This is disproportionately skewed. The reason I’m spending so much time going over this is because through my experience teaching and being with Prep101 is what we’ve constantly realized is that this idea of not knowing how medical schools will be viewing your undergraduate marks is the most common knowledge deficit. A lot of students tend to think they are very strong applicants to medical school because they have very high averages. However, that average means nothing when it’s converted to the OMSAS value.

Make sure that when you’re applying you take all of your grades that you know the medical schools you’re applying to will be considering. Plot them in an Excel today, convert each to the OMSAS value, and then try to figure out what kind of average based on the OMSAS value conversion you really have.

The second part of this video is more about telling you that your GPA is not the same as your average. I’m not talking about the conversions here. I’m talking about the formulas used to calculate these things. Your average is your mean average. It’s calculated by the summation of all the individual marks that you got and divided by the number of entities used in that calculation. Let me show you. What we’ve got here is a table showing you the grades of three students: student one, student two, and student three. They’ve all taken five courses that are numbered 1-5. What we’ve given you is the percentage that they achieved in the column on the left and the GPA that we calculated using the grade conversion table on the previous slide.

What I really want to show you here is that out of all of these students, student one happens to be the one with the highest average at 90.2%. Student three happens to be the one with the lowest average, but do you notice something here? Although student three has the lowest average, they happen to have the highest GPA. Which one is it that all of the medical school will consider? The GPA. Not your average! This is why it really matters. Student one consistently got very high grades except in course five where despite the fact that they had a very high-90 and some mid-90’s, they hit 72. Student two seems like they were hovering in the mid-80’s range with one very big outlier, one 95% there. Student three had no outliers. They were pretty much from 85 to 87 all throughout those five courses that they took. Student one got disproportionately punished for that 72%. It led to an OMSAS value of 2.7. When they have 4.0’s the whole way through, but one 2.7, it hurt them so much that their average GPA was 3.7. Just because of that one 2.7, regardless of how hard they worked in courses 1-4, it didn’t matter. Student two did pretty average. We can see that despite them not having some of the amazing marks that we see student one having, they still got a higher GPA, a 3.84 versus a 3.74. Student three stayed pretty much constant with 3.9’s the whole way through. They didn’t get a single 4.0 but also nothing below 3.9. We find out this student was rewarded the best. Their GPA average turned out to be 3.90.

This is again because of the fact the OMSAS scale is disproportionately skewed to consistently reward high scores and skewed unfortunately to punish any low or average scores. Again, I can’t stress this enough. Take all your grades that you’ve got up until now. Put them down on an Excel table. Covet them. Once you do that, find where your average GPA stands. Try to modify whatever classes you may be having this semester next year so your grades are as high and consistent as possible. Don’t fall behind in any of your classes. Don’t let a situation like course number 5 with 72% be one of the reasons you’re not the strongest applicant that you can be to medical school.

My key takeaway messages for you are to figure out your mark, convert them to the OMSAS GPA, and think about where you stand. Secondly, remember your GPA is not the same as your average. Lastly, make sure your goal as an undergraduate student is to continently have a high GPA that happens to be hovering around the same range in every single course. I hope you found this video useful. I hope the information is important to you. See you next time!


Our MCAT Prep Course runs:
May 22 to July 29, 2018

The best value of all MCAT prep courses
(Includes all course materials)

“I took the course because it kept me focused on what was important”

- Rachel D.