Dispelling MCAT Myths and Misinformation
Preparation for the MCAT is not without its lore among many pre-meds and instructors alike. Some of this falls into the realm of myth and misinformation and because of the volume of advice out there, it is hard sometimes to tell which of it is real and which falls into the category of myth. I will try to dispel some of these myths to arrive at some useful information that will help you better prepare for the MCAT.
Myth #1: It has been posited that extra reading will not be helpful for the MCAT verbal reasoning section. It has also been taught that time is better spent analyzing passages.
While this may be true, it is only partly so. First, just analyzing past passages isn't enough. Outside reading from sources such as The Economist has its benefits. A typical pre-med does not have a lot of experience reading passages written in a certain style and tone that is found in social sciences passages and humanities passages. Such a student is exposed to a lot of the objective and less opinionated style that is used in scientific journals where the focus is on data, evidence, and mechanisms of action. The Economist and other periodicals will help the pre-med become used to a different tone and writing style so that it won't seem so foreign come test time.
Myth #2: Another myth is that there isn't much that a student can do to improve their verbal reasoning abilities.
This is not entirely true. However, the issue is that a great deal of time and energy must be invested into verbal reasoning preparation. Most students are not able to dedicate this amount of time and effort and so, there can only be minimal gains in scores on the verbal reasoning section. With enough time and attention, gains in score are very possible. It all depends on how dedicated the student is.
Myth #3: Studying 200 hours is enough to score well.
Again, this would depend on the student. For some students, less time is needed. For still others, 200 hours is just the starting point. Some students already have a strong background in the basic sciences and will need to spend less time in review and preparation for the MCAT. Other students may need to re-learn the material. Either way, it is important to put in the time and effort because the MCAT is an important part of the medical school application. Furthermore, it is always best to be as prepared as possible because what transpires on the actual test day is not always as expected. There could be metaphoric curve balls on the exam and the student will already be under a great deal of stress and may not be able to cope. Copious amounts of studying and preparation will make a student less prone to stress or other unexpected occurrences during the test day. It must also be mentioned that 200 hours is actually somewhat subjective. It boils down to quality over quantity. If those 200 hours are spent in actual study, of going over material and committing it to long-term memory and finding holes in one's understanding of the material, then that is time well spent. Yet, if that time is spent organizing notes, reading passively, and not really using the material for any active learning, then the quality in that study time isn't there.
Myth #4: A balanced 30 is all that you need to get accepted into medical school.
This largely depends on the medical school as well as the applicant's entire application including overall GPA, science GPA, educational background and level, extracurricular activities, research background, interview score, and letters of reference, etc. It isn't written in stone and some people with a lower MCAT score can get accepted and some with a higher MCAT score may not get accepted. The point is that every applicant should prepare for the MCAT while aiming for highest score possible because every little bit counts.
Myth #5: If you are running out of study time, you can still cram for the MCAT and do really well; a bioengineering student did it and so can you.
While it is true that a bioengineering student crammed for 3 weeks and scored a 43S, it may not happen for everyone else. Engineering programs are more applications based compared with a standard pre-medical program and course load. A typical engineering student could possibly already be more prepared to challenge the MCAT. As well, the average student is not able to put forth approximately 15 hours/day for 3 weeks that this engineering student did in preparation for the MCAT. If you are running out of study time, it is probably best to postpone the test date to a later date and allow yourself time to study without such a heavy time constraint and to preserve your sanity.
Myth #6: A good approach to the verbal reasoning section is to seek the hardest passage and guess on its questions to allow yourself enough time to do the other remaining passages properly.
This is a strategy that could have worked for the old MCAT Verbal Reasoning section that had 9 passages and 60 questions, but it won't work for the new MCAT with only 7 passages and 40 questions. Getting 5 questions wrong out of 40 on the current MCAT will reduce your scaled score far more than getting 5 or 6 questions wrong out of 60 on the old MCAT. You will also lose time trying to find the hardest passage because some passages are hard to understand, but have easy questions, and some passages may be easy to understand, but have very difficult and convoluted questions. It is not a good idea to find and skip the hardest passage.
Myth #7: I'm a biology major and because of this, I don't really need to prepare for the biological sciences section.
The biological sciences section is supposed to have less organic chemistry than before, however, this is not always the case. There are different versions of the MCAT for each administration date. Some may have less organic chemistry than others, however, it is still a good idea to study your biology notes as well as organic chemistry notes. As well, it would be a good move to read articles from molecular biology journals and go over experiments and the rationale for those experiments. The biological sciences section will have passages that require good reasoning skills and reading comprehension skills.
These are just some of the myths out there regarding the MCAT. There could be more out there and probably are. It is best to think about the advice that you are given and to weigh it against your own body of knowledge and experiences and determine how reasonable that information is. Dispelling myths is sometimes hard to do because you may have to weigh it against what the consensus holds as true and sometimes even the consensus is wrong. If you have specific questions that are not answered elsewhere, visit the premed forum to discuss premed issues or post questions in the MCAT forum.