Video 7: Med School Prep – The MCAT
Since the MCAT is so important, in this video we’ll talk about:
- Why the MCAT is relevant
- What types of skills the exam really tests
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Hi guys, it’s Radhika here again. If you haven’t seen any of the video up until now I’ll give you a brief introduction about myself. I am the assistant director of MCAT prep at Prep101. I’ve been teaching the MCAT for about five or six years now. The purpose of this video project that we’ve launched is because as a test prep company, and instructor who has been teaching for quite a long time, we know we get lots of good information and questions from students, including those who have made it into medical school. These questions are so important for premeds to know. We’ve realized that the information is really hard to find. It’s obscure and not widely available. We kind of got thinking and sat down and said, “Hey! Why don’t we create a video series to disseminate all this information so it’s available for people out there to know?” That’s the whole purpose. We’re not trying to sell you anything. We’re just trying to pass this information on so that it’s available to you so that you can start gearing your journey to medical school in a certain way that’s going to be beneficial and yield certain advantages. In today’s video we’re going to continue talking about med school prep, specifically the MCAT. We’re going to talk about what makes the MCAT relevant and second, how it tests certain skills that are important for medical school or future physicians. Let’s get started!
What does the MCAT test? When a lot of students started studying for the exam they approach it as they would any undergraduate exam. They start reading textbooks. They start going over notes they’ve taken in class or made from their textbook. They start memorizing the information and then doing some practice questions. Many students are under the belief that if they continue studying for this exam in the same way they study for their undergraduate exams that they’ll be fine and do really well on this exam. Huge disclaimer there! That’s not the case at all. You cannot approach this exam and study for it the same way you approach your undergraduate studies. Should you, you’ll very early find out that you won’t do well on this kind of exam. The reason is that this exam isn’t like your university-level exams. This is a critical thinking exam. It tests critical thinking skills which most of your university level exams do not. Yes, you need to understand the sciences extremely well in order to be able to do well on this exam but that’s just the beginning. Knowing the sciences won’t help you hit 95th percentile or anything. It’s about knowing the sciences so well that you’re able to apply certain concepts to novel situations or contexts.
Knowing the sciences is just the beginning. Therefore, in terms of what the MCAT specifically tests in terms of skills, are the following things: critical thinking, problem solving, and scientific knowledge. Because it’s a passage based exam what you’re doing is reading this passage with a critical outlook and then picking out information that you learned from the passage you just read and applying the scientific knowledge you have alongside certain problem solving skills and techniques in order to answer those questions correctly. Those questions come from an interdisciplinary background. You may find that on the physical sciences that there is a biological twist to the questions. That’s exactly what the writers of this exam have intended. They want to see and test you on interdisciplinary thinking. You’re not peeping physics standalone from general chemistry. They really want to see if you can merge all the sciences together and think in an interdisciplinary term. This is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life should you become a successful physician. They’re testing read comprehension. They’re throwing passages that are dry and full of detail and information like numbers and statistics, formulas, equations, and they want to see if you’re able to pick up the right information while not getting caught by the detail. At the same time, they’ve put such a time constraint on it that you have to read this passage and get through the questions in a certain amount of time that isn’t very lofty on your side. While doing so you have to make sure you have the mental stamina.
I’ll tell you about the layout of the exam and how long it is but if you don’t have the mental stamina you will not make it through the completion of this exam. In order to make it through you have to keep yourself composed. If you have a bad passage or bad section you have to know that’s okay and happens, but is done, and you have to keep going and answer the rest of the questions. It’s funny, but maybe not, but this example is designed to test the skills that would be very important for you as a physician and in medical school. It’s actually a very good yardstick by which to measure how well you perform in medical school but even further beyond medical school and as a practicing physician.
So how it the MCAT relevant? I keep telling you these skills are related. One of the reasons it’s extremely relevant is that study after study for many years has shown that the best predictor of success as a physician is your MCAT score. It’s not your GPA. It’s not your extracurricular activities. It’s actually how well you did on your MCAT score as a predictor of how well you’ll perform and successful you’ll be throughout medical school and as a physician. Here is what I’ve got for you then.
On the left in the purple you’ll see the type of skill that the MCAT tests. On the right what you’ll see if how it tests that. You may ask yourself, “How is problem solving relevant to doing well on the MCAT?” That’s because problem solving skills are very essential to patient management. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re a physician and have a patient with diabetes and you’re trying to manage this patient’s severe symptoms. In order to be able to do that you have to have a very in-depth history of what the patient has been going through. Patient’s disease history basically. You have to know about them. You have to be able to describe the right plan of action and treatment, or be able to maintain that plan of action for many years. In order to be able to do that you have to take a big look, like a larger picture look, and it requires lots of problem solving skills. You have to take into consideration all the individual factors that may affect this person’s health and lifestyle. Put them all together and come up with a cohesive plan based on all of that detail. Problem solving skills are extremely crucial for patient management.
Going forward, critical thinking. The whole exam is a thinking skills exam. How is critical thinking going to be relevant to you as a physician? I’ll give you another example. What you want to ask yourself here is, “What is causing the symptoms?” Let’s say you have a patient come in with a variety of symptoms that are presenting themselves. Summing together all the symptoms, you still seem unable to pinpoint it to one disease. At that point you have to take a deeper and more critical look and say, “Hey! Is it possible that although it’s very uncommon that my patient may have a rare disease, can I put these symptoms together or find a pattern to figure out if there is something underlying that is going on that is rare and perhaps I’m just not looking at?” And then taking all of that together, taking all of those symptoms together, maybe making a diagnosis for a rare disease, can I therefore describe a treatment plan? Can I prescribe a plan of action?
So science knowledge. This one is a bit of a given because you’re making informed decisions. The MCAT is very relevant because in order to be able to answer questions correctly on this exam you have to have stellar scientific knowledge. It goes way beyond that. The scientific knowledge will only help you understand the passages. You now have to apply the information that you know, the information that the passage presented, and then be able to answer those questions correctly. When it comes to making informed decisions you’re not just reciting the stuff that you know. You’re applying the stuff that you know. That’s exactly what happens when you’re studying for the MCAT and writing the MCAT.
Elimination is something that people don’t really think of but is so crucial to this practice. What is not causing those symptoms? When a patient comes in with a complex array of symptoms that they’re presenting and you’re trying to attribute it to some sort of a disease or illness, and there are one or two symptoms not just fitting in and you don’t give them the correct diagnosis because of them, you have to be able to say, “Hey! I have to eliminate these symptoms from my study because this patient does have this underlying disease but these two symptoms are outliers. They’re as a result of something else and therefore when I come up with my diagnosis I’m going to eliminate these symptoms from the running. I’m not going to consider them.” That is a very difficult call to make. It goes back to why that critical thinking and scientific knowledge is so key.
Time constraints I think are a given as well. You’re going to be making split second decisions. Let’s say you’re a surgeon or you are an ER doctor and you have a patient with whom you have to make a decision or they’re going to bleed out on your table. You don’t know 100 percent as to what that decision is going to lead to, but if you do not make it that patient may not survive. Split second decisions are so crucial and you have to make them under severe time constraints which is kind of what the MCAT mimics as well.
Going forward, passages. Everyone always says, “Why is this a passage based exam? What exactly am I learning? Why can’t they give me multiple choice exams where I’m just applying my information?” It’s weird how uncanny the resemblance is between reading a passage and picking out that information and going through patient information perhaps through a verbal conversation or reading a patient chart. What you’re trying to do is disseminate and pull out all the information you need in order to diagnosis that patient, or in the case of the exam, read all the information presented in the passage and pull out all the information you need only to be able to answer the questions while ignoring or setting aside the extraneous information. That’s not something that comes easy. A lot of us who are trained in the sciences like to read for detail. We like to memorize passages. We like to recall that information we’ve just read in a passage. It won’t help you very much here because you’ve got a few minutes at best to be able to read that passage and answer those questions correctly.
Going through this dense information only to pick out key pieces of information important to do your job is exactly what those passages serve to do. So this is what the MCAT tests. I’ve gone over some of the factors that are relevant and present on the MCAT that you’re going to see in medical school or in practice as a future physician. I think the biggest takeaway from this video is that many of you may think this is an exam that is synonymous and will require studying of stuff you learned in your undergraduate studies. The first piece of information that I want you to take away from this video is that’s not how it’s going to work. This is a critical thinking exam. You’re going to use critical thinking skills. How are those skills relevant? We’ve gone over some of them. The second piece of information that I want you to takeaway is that the skills this exam tests are not arbitrary. This exam was made and created to test skills that will be relevant as a future physician. It’s a yardstick, a great yardstick, by which they can measure your performance on this exam versus your performance as a future physician or medical student.
Anyways, I hope you’ve been able to learn some pretty useful information from this video. I’m going to conclude it here until next time when we’ll continue to talk about the MCAT. See you soon! Bye for now.