Video 9: The MCAT – What is it really (Part 2)
In this video, we’ll talk about what an MCAT test day would look like followed by an introduction to the science sections of the exam.
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Hi guys, it’s Radhika here again. Today we’re going to continue our discussion of the MCAT and what it is really. We’re on the step where we’re really breaking down the exam. In this video I’m going to discuss three things. First, I’ll give you an overview of what test day looks like. Second, we’ll dive into a discussion about the science sections of this exam, three of the four. Last, we’ll talk about the passages and types of passages you can find in the science section. Let’s get started!
Here is an example of what your test day schedule really looks like. You can see on this table the types of sections you will find, the questions, the style of question, the scoring, and the time allotted to each type of question. The first thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to select a day and register for that date. You’ll then spend a couple of months studying for this exam. When test day rolls around when you actually get to the test centre the first thing you’ll have to proceed with is check-in. This is where they ask you for ID. Certain centres take fingerprints. The time allotted for check-in really varies. The reason for that is because it depends on how many people are writing the MCAT in the testing centre that you’ve chosen. If it’s a small testing centre with only 10 or 15 people writing the exam on the day you are, check-in isn’t going to take that long. If there are 70 people writing the exam on the same day you are in the same location, check-in is going to vary. Notice that in this total time listed at the bottom, 7 hours and 30 minutes, check-in time is not listed. That is on top.
Once you do check-in they guide you to your seat and you go through an exam agreement where you read through text that they give you. It basically tells you that you cannot share the information on your exam with anyone else. You sign off on that. I believe it’s legally binding. After that, that’s 10 minutes long, you go through a 5 minute optional tutorial. The tutorial tells you about the features that are available for you on this computerized exam. It tells you about the strikeout option, that you can highlight text, and exhibit button so you can see the periodic table. If you’ve done a lot of full-length practice tests before you’ll know these features and you won’t actually have to spend time going through the tutorial. Once the tutorial is finished you’ve actually hit the first section.
That section is the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It is 95 minutes long. After that you have an optional 10-minute break. I recommend that you take those breaks. Your eyes need a rest from staring at this screen that is constantly putting light out at you. It’s black text on a white background and your eyes after 95 minutes of staring really need a break. After that 10 minute break you hit CARS, the “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills” section. We will not be talking about that section in today’s video but we will be talking about it in the next set of videos. It’s the shortest content section and 90 minutes long for 53 questions. The “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems” section is followed by a 30-minute break after CARS. That 30-minute break, although optional, is basically your lunch break. You bring your lunch and fuel up because you’ve already gone through half of the exam and still have half of it left. Once you take that 30-minute break and hit the “Biological and Biochemical” section, which is like the first section, 95 minutes in length and 95 questions. You then have another 10-minute break which is followed by the behavioural sciences section. Again, like the two other science sections, it is 95 minutes in length and 59 questions. This is going to be the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Living Systems” section. This is kind of what the content part of your exam will be.
After you’re done with those four sections and have taken your breaks, you’ve essentially completed your exam. But not so fast! You will get the option to void your exam. This option is a very simple question. It asks if you would like to have your exam scored. It gives you two options, yes or no. You have five minutes to answer this question. Once that’s done there is an optional five-minute satisfaction survey and the AAMC does take a lot of this information into consideration. I do encourage you to actually complete it. After that, should you choose to complete it, you’re finally done. Your total content time is 6 hours and 15 minutes and your total seated time is 7 hours and 30 minutes. Again, just a disclaimer, this doesn’t factor in the amount of time that you’ve acquired during check-in which can range from 30 minutes to about two hours. Be prepared for that and take it into consideration when you’re planning this day out.
Let’s now move onto our second part, talking about these sections themselves. In this video I’m going to talk about just the sciences. That is the first, third, and fourth, out of the four, sections that will appear. We will be talking about CARS in a later video. The first section that you will see is called the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” This section is going to be 59 questions which you have 95 minutes to answer over a series of 10 passages. If you divide that 95 minutes between the 59 questions that basically gives you 97 seconds per question. I do want to offer you a little bit of caution here. When we’re talking about 97 seconds per question that’s not just for answering that question. Remember, the vast majority of these questions are passage based. In those 97 seconds you are also making sure that you are allotting part of that time towards reading the passage. You have quite a bit less than 97 seconds to actually answer that question. Although the physical sciences section, it is going to be comprised of 30 percent general chemistry, 25 percent physics, your physical sciences, however a quarter of it is going to be biochemistry. Five percent is going to be biology and a significant portion, 15 percent, is going to be organic chemistry.
In terms of what the MCAT actually tests, it’s the skills we talked about in a previous video. If you haven’t taken a look go back one video and you’ll be able to get some information about these skills specifically. I want to spend a little bit more time talking to you about the format. I have now reiterated that it is 59 questions that you’re answering in 95 minutes over a series of 10 passages. Each passage will be followed by four to six questions. Not all questions will come from a passage. You will sometimes hit a screen where it will say, “The following questions will not be based on a passage.” You’re just answering them. They will most likely be retrieval questions where you’ve learnt the information through your studying. Those 59 questions are divided into a three to one ratio. Forty-four will be passage based questions meaning that in order to answer them correctly you must have read and understood the passage, unless you had some luck. Fifteen of those questions will be independent questions. Independent questions mean that if you had a strong study background you would be able to answer those questions right away. They will not be based on information that you have to retrieve from a passage. That basically sums up the physical sciences section which is the first section that you see. This is going to be followed by a 10-minute break and then you’re going to do CARS.
Once CARS is done you’re going to have a 30-minute break. Following that you’re going to hit the “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems” section. This section tends to be the favourite amongst most premed students with a science background. The reason being is because some of us have taken so many courses in biology and biochemistry that this section becomes the most familiar to us. It’s the one that we have therefore the most associated confidence with. This section, thankfully, is 65 percent biology and 25 percent biochemistry. Therefore, 90 percent of this section is stuff that most science majors really enjoy. However, what the AAMC has done is added 5 percent of general chemistry and another 5 percent of organic chemistry because at the end of the day the sciences are truly interdisciplinary. Being a practicing physician means that you must consider all of those sciences in cohesion. This is what the biological sciences section looks like. In terms of the skills tested they are very similar to what we’ve talked about before so I’m not going to spend too much time here. I do want to tell you once more that this division is identical to the physical sciences division, a three to one ratio where 44 of those questions are passage based and one quarter, 15 of them, happen to be independent questions where you don’t have to know anything about the passage in order to be able to answer them correctly, and 10 passages followed by four to six questions in each passage.
The last section that you’ll see is the new one. This is the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour” section. Again, it is 59 questions and 95 minutes like the other two science sections. You therefore have 97 seconds per questions but you don’t really because you have to read that passage. The division of this section is as follows. It is going to 65 percent comprised of psychology, 30 percent sociology, and 5 percent biology. The division is exactly identical to the other two science divisions. A three to one ratio between passage based and independent questions, ten passages, each followed by four to six questions. It tests identical skills.
One thing I do want to add here is that this section is extremely important. It’s the new section. It’s the one that we probably don’t know much about because the test as only offered it for two summers, but there is an important reason the AAMC introduced it. It’s because modern medicine has lately found that in order to understand well-being, and order to make healthcare decisions that impact patients in a positive way, we can’t just use a biomedical approach. A biomedical approach would focus on the hard sciences, mostly biology, physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, general chemistry, and physics. They’ve realized that there are other influences that are extraneous to those sciences that also effect a patients mental and physical well-being. In order to make sure the quality of medicine practiced is the best possible we have to start taking these other factors into consideration. They turned to this more psychosocial approach where they consider the psychological and sociological foundations and factors that make healthcare a lot more complicated. Complicated because we are influenced in a way by those factors and our well-being should essentially take into consideration those factors. It’s a very important concept. It’s new. It’s consistently getting more and more emphasis.
Now that we’ve talked about the three sections I want to move on to talking about the types of passages that you will see. There are essentially four passage types that you will be able to find on this exam. Therefore, each of the ten passages you should be able to categorize into one of these passage types. The first is an information type passage. What we mean when we say information type passages are the ones that test your ability to understand and evaluate mostly journal passages. They will present to you an excerpt from a passage and then ask you questions based on that passage. It’s not reading comprehension per say because you still have to have the analytical and critical thinking skills in order to be able to answer those questions correctly. A second type of passage is a problem solving passage. The problem solving passages are out to test your abilities to identify causes of and solutions to various scientific problems. These may be problems that you have been introduced to in your studies or novel problems you may not know at all. They want to see if you can identify what would cause this kind of biological problem. Can you propose some viable solutions? You’re not really proposing the solutions because it’s a multiple choice exam. They’re trying to evaluate whether with a series of solutions that they propose are you able to pick out the one that is the best. The next are the experimental or research study passages. The change in the 2015 version of the MCAT made these a lot more prominent. The experimental and the research study ones. They basically will seek to understand whether you have sufficient knowledge of rationales, study designs, methods, results, and various experiments. They’ll essentially be asking you to compare various hypotheses or methods, or even give you experiment A and experiment B and say, “If I was studying the following phenomenon, which one is a better study design?” Based on the scientific understanding that you have you’ll be able to pick one out. The last type of passage is a persuasive passage. This is where they’re really trying to understand and evaluate whether you have valid understanding of the viewpoints. They may pose opposing theories about some sort of cell theory tenant and based on what you know about cell theory you would be able to say that out of all the theories proposed this one is wrong or this one is right. Again, you wouldn’t be able to make those scientifically accurate and valid evaluations if you didn’t have a strong scientific base.
These are the four types of passages. I’m going to conclude this video here. The takeaways from this video are as follows. There are three science sections. They are the first, third, and fourth section that you will see. They are truncated by breaks, most of which are 10 minutes long. All of these sections have an equal division between passage based and freestanding questions. Three quarters of the questions will be passage based and one quarter will be a free standing question where you don’t need to read a passage to answer the question correctly. All of the passages will be divided over the four types we just discussed. In order to do well on all of these passages we still need to have a strong scientific understanding and background. That’s enough of me talking. We’ll continue next time talking about the skills that the sciences test. See you then! Bye for now.