Video 8: The MCAT – What is it really (Part 1)

As we continue our talks about the MCAT, this video will serve to present

  • An overview of the four sections on this exam
  • Structure of the MCAT from the beginning to the end
  • Topics you may encounter

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Click here to watch the next video: Video 9 – The MCAT – What is it really Part 2

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, it’s Radhika here again. Today we’ve moved on to the next step of our ladder to the top, our journey to medical school. We are going to talk about the MCAT. This is the part of the video series where we’re really going to start breaking down what it is to give you an in-depth look. By the end of this step you should know exactly what the MCAT is. You should be at the expert level to describe it to your friends if necessary. In this video I’m going to talk about three things. The first thing I want to introduce to you are the sections you’ll find on the MCAT. We’ll talk a little bit about its breakdown. Once we’ve done that I want to give you the structure of the exam so you know what to expect when you’re writing or thinking of writing. We’ll also talk about some of the topics this exam will test you on. Let’s get started.

The MCAT exam, just to start off, is going to be offered twenty-five times in a calendar year. Sometimes this is 20 or 30, but in 2017 it’s going to be offered 25 times right from January into September. For the last couple of years, it has not been offered October to December. But it starts off in mid-January.

It written in hundreds or thousands of computer labs across the US and Canada, and even other countries. If you won’t be here for the summer and still intend on writing it take a look at I’ve linked that right here on the registration part. If you’re not going to be here there is a good possibility that you’ll be able to write it in a different country. It costs about $305-$355. The reason there is a range is because the earlier that you register for a certain date the cheaper it is. The later you register they start introducing certain late registration fees. You want to make sure, and this is key advice, that you register early at a minimum of sixty days in advance. I’ve had students who have had to write in Houston because they could not find a data not only in Canada but close to the border. There was nothing in Rochester or New York and they had to fly all the way down to the southern United States to be able to write this exam but that was the only location they could only find availability. That being said, a lot of students of mine also say, “Hey! I’m going to write it in Florida and as soon as I’m done with the exam I’m going to take a mini-vacation.” You don’t have to write in Canada. You can write anywhere. It’s the same exam offered anywhere. If you do have intentions of writing in this country, especially if you’re located in Ontario and the GTA area, you want to make sure you register early.

Once you write it the scores are released to you in about thirty to thirty-five days. You have to wait a bit. You are now limited to the number of times you can write it. You can write it three times in one calendar year. In 2017, this year, you can only write it three times or you can write it a maximum of four times in two calendar years and seven times in your lifetime. Your scores are valid for five years and there are 70,000 people who write this exam every year.

The other thing about this exam is that because it’s so long it is only offered in the morning. I’ll tell you exactly how long it is in the next slide. For those of you who are comatose in the morning you’re going to have to start practicing waking up in order to write an exam that starts at 8 or 9 o’clock and being able to sit through a six or seven-hour day at least. Another key piece of advice. It starts very early on. Start practicing waking up and studying or getting those critical thinking skills working very early on in the day.

Let’s now dive into the exam a little bit more. The first thing I want to do is talk to you about the structure of the exam. This exam is comprised of four sections that are scored. In 2015 it went through a major change and got longer. Before 2013 there used to be three questions. I’ll tell you what the new one is. The three sections that there were are shorter than they appear now. The exam is longer and there are more questions, which is great because there is a greater chance that you can still make certain errors but do well because you have more questions available to you. Simply sheer statistics. So four scored sections. One of those sections is the physical science section. This section is specifically called the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” The next section is what we call the critical reasoning section. It is actually called the “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills” section. The next one is the biological sciences, which was formerly named the “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems.” The last one is the new section, the behavioural sciences.

They found that behavioural sciences and strictly a biomedical approach to studying medicine is not adequate. The behavioural sciences are important and they felt it was time to start moving to a biopsychosocial approach where you’re taking in the psychology and the sociology of each of your patients. That does affect their health and lifestyle. More and more medical schools have started realizing how crucial it is and that this hasn’t been an emphasis up until the last couple of years. They’ve really started to play up this factor. The behavioural sciences are newly introduced. This is the four section that wasn’t around before the summer of 2015 when it first got introduced. This is the main reason why the exam is so much longer. It is actually called the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour.” So four scored sections.

Let’s talk about them a little bit more. This is kind of, in a nutshell, what to expect on your exam. Once you’ve done all the extraneous stuff, going through the tutorial, going through the exam agreement, and start the test the first section you’ll see right away is the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems” section. This section is going to be fifty-nine questions long and must be completed over 95 minutes over a series of 10 passages. Once you finish this the second section you’ll see is CARS. We call it CARS because it is actually the critical analysis and reasoning section. This is the shorted section. It is fifty-three questions, 90 minutes long, and a series of 9 passages through which you’ll be answering those questions. The third section is what most students call their favourite section. It is the “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems” section. It is 59 questions long like the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems” section, 95 minutes, so identical in time, and identical in the number of passages as well. The very last portion of this exam is the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour” section, the behavioural sciences. The new stuff appears at the very end. It is 59 questions long, like the other science sections, 95 minutes and 10 passages. You can see that the science sections, which are, the first one, “Chemical and Physical Foundations,” the third one, “Biological and Biochemical Foundations,” and the last one, “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations,” are all identical in terms of their breakdown. They’re all 59 questions long, 95 minutes over a series of 9 passages. CARS is the shortest one.

When you total all of this up what you find over the four sections is that throughout this day you are answering 230 questions. That is not easy. You are doing it over a duration of 6 hours and 15 minutes and you are going to be reading 39 passages. Probably passages you have never read before. One word of caution and a huge disclaimer here. This 6 hours and 15 minutes is just the writing time. This is just the 95 minutes or 90 minutes summed together. Your actual test day will be more along the lines of 8 hours because you’ll be going through registration, signing an agreement, reading a tutorial, and taking breaks between these sections. You have to mentally prepare to be ready for about an 8 to 10-hour day. Eight hours at a testing centre that is not very busy, ten hours if you’re writing somewhere really popular and there is about another hundred kids with you that day.

Let’s move on. Now that you know these sections what I want to demonstrate how interdisciplinary this exam really is. What I’ve got here is a table listing the four sections on the left and on the right the topics found in each of those sections. In the first section, that physical sciences section, the physical sciences will definitely be tested. That’s general chemistry and physics. You’ll also find that you’ll see organic chemistry, biology, and biochemistry concepts that are also going to be tied into this section in the form of questions or passage information. There is going to a twist with some of the biological sciences added to the physical sciences section. There is a key giveaway that tells you this will be the case. You are studying these physical sciences in the context of biological systems. That means that you must be able to apply concepts of physics to biology, physiology, biochemistry, etc. For CARS there are no topics that you need to know in order to do well on it. Another word of caution here. That doesn’t mean that this is one of those sections that you do not study for. This is probably the one that will require the largest amount of your time. It’s because it’s a skill that most of us haven’t practiced. We’re largely unfamiliar with it. We haven’t been exposed to these kinds of passages. Through spending a lot of time here you are kind of focusing and giving yourself the time to practice and hone in on the skills necessary to do well on this section.

The biological sciences section will focus on mostly the biological sciences. That’s biology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry. But as well they’ve added a bit of a twist by making sure that general chemistry appears here as well. Again, this is because they want to make this exam truly interdisciplinary. The last section, the behavioural sciences, will test mostly psychology and sociology but also biology. That’s because you can’t study biology and psychology and sociology without the context of biology. One of the clearest examples I can give you is talking about the psychology of personality. Most personality theorists believe that personality comes about as a result of various factors but they do understand there may be a biological or genetic component that may be underplaying those things. You can’t study psychology or the psychological and social sciences without knowing at least a little bit about biology. You cannot make decisions for the welfare of your patient without knowing their psychologies or sociological standards and contexts they’ve been exposed to.

Moving on, here is what I want to really give you in terms of the breakdown of how you should be exposing yourself to your studying. That is somewhat dependent on the value of each of these topics. This is something that the AAMC publishes. It’s information we’ve obtained for them. They do put a disclaimer saying that this is what they predict a test will be comprised of but is not the exact value. So CARS as a topic is composed of 53 of those 230 questions on this exam. It has a value of 25 percent of this exam. Now when we talk about value what we’re really referring to, and I’m going to say this very clearly and slowly, value equals the percentage of the total score of this exam, not the percentage of the total questions. CARS has a value of 25 percent. Biology will have the next highest with 44 questions, 20 percent of the value of your total score, not the total questions. This is followed very closely by psychology at 16 percent and biochemistry with 12 percent. I want to give you a note of caution here. Most of the time we, in undergraduate studies in the sciences, study biochemistry in the first and second year as a part of biology. If you actually sum together the value of biology and biochemistry what you get is 32 percent. That outranks the value that CARS would have and the number of questions as well. Just a note of caution there.

General chemistry dips down to 21 questions and makes up 9 percent of your total score. Sociology is 18 questions and counts for 7 percent. Physics is 15 questions and counts for 6 percent. Organic chemistry is 12 questions and counts for 5 percent. The biggest thing I want you to take away from this is something I’ve come across as an instructor teaching this exam. It’s when students come up and say, “You know what? There is so much to study for physics. I took physics in grade 12. I didn’t take it in university or before writing this exam. It’s only worth 6 percent of my total score. I’m not going to really study for it but will do some of the practice questions. I won’t spend time actually studying physics or studying organic chemistry because it actually has such little value on my exam and there is so much content to cover for me to be able to do what I want.” That’s the biggest mistake you can make. Although physics is on worth 6 percent of your total score or 5 percent of your total score in the case of organic chemistry, you have to realize that you do have to spend time going over these concepts and studying for them just as much as you would for some of the other concepts and topics you’re studying for. The reason is because you really can’t afford to say, “It has such low value. Because I’m exposed to these topics already I already have a good basis and shouldn’t spend time studying for it when I can focus more on CARS.” That’s not a smart strategy.

Although they aren’t worth as much as some of the other topics your goal here is to make sure that you have stellar scientific knowledge to be able to do well on all of these topics. Although physics will only present itself through 15 questions, or 12 questions in the case of organic chemistry, you cannot afford to not study them. You have to give them a little bit of time. Read those notes. Go to those classes if you’re taking a prep course. Make sure you are doing the practice for it because you cannot afford to not do well because you haven’t studied those concepts. I hope that’s very clear to you.

I’m going to conclude this video here. Basically what we’ve talked about today are some of the details about when this exam is offered and that it’s a computer based exam. We’ve gone over the structure in some detail. I’ve given you the layout of how those sections appear and we’ve started introducing the topics that you’ll find on this exam. The takeaway for this video is that this exam, although you’ll find a physical sciences section, will be interdisciplinary and will have some of the life and biological sciences embedded into it. The same thing with the behavioural sciences and biological sciences. It is a truly interdisciplinary exam. You have to start thinking in interdisciplinary terms. You have to start bridging all your knowledge of the various sciences together in a cohesive manner that helps you do well on this exam so you can understand the science that is presented and apply the science that you study to get as many questions right as possible. I hope you were able to takeaway lots of good information. I’m going to conclude it here. Until next time, bye!


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