Today, back by popular demand, I’ll be answering a few questions from Student Doctor. Hopefully some of the topics I touch on here will help you out too and will be some of the same questions you’ve been wondering. Let’s get started!
“I took the MCAT in September 2014 and scored a 26. Not ideal at all, even for a […] resident. I’m scheduled to retake this month (January) of the 23rd. The first time studying, I completely messed up and realized a lot about myself in the process, namely that I prefer having a course to help with structure and becoming familiar with the prereqs again. So I took the course and I’m feeling confident, but I know that I could score much higher if I honestly had more time.
Here’s my options:
Take it for the second time January 23 at give it my best shot. If I score similar to the first shot, I’ll have to take it again for the third time.
How bad would this look?”
Don replies: My recommendation would be to first look at your practice test scores for your January test date. This will give you a lot of good information about your score. If you don’t see a significant improvement, then definitely stay away from taking the MCAT in January. It’s not going to help you.
Instead, keep prepping, and work on adjusting your test-taking strategy until you do see a strong improvement — at least a 30 on multiple practice tests. Most medical schools look at all your scores and it won’t be favorable to your application if you score 26, 26 and then a 30 — it just won’t look good.
I have two articles that could help you in fixing your low MCAT scores. Check out “Low MCAT Scores? Four Strategies to Consider to Help You Get In” and “MCAT Prep: When Your Score Drops.”
“When schools look at a candidate’s research experience, what exactly are they trying to gauge? I ask since I think I have good research experience, but I’ve never actually worked in a research lab (or for an experienced researcher).
Will my own independent research experiences carry weight with the more research-heavy medical schools? Should I figure out a way to get formal experience in a lab? Is all of this a moot point since my projects are psyc and public health rather than a hard science?”
To put it simply, no, you don’t need to do lab research. The whole point of having research under your belt while applying is to demonstrate to medical schools that you are competent and passionate. Medical schools are interested in the process of research; if a student is doing research before medical school, it is much easier for him/her to understand the scientific basis of medicine. You need to prove to them that you are a life-long learner.
The most research-intensive medical schools (Johns Hopkins, for example) are heavily influenced by your undergraduate research experience. If you have a clear desire to do medical research as a major part of your career, then it’s going to be a good idea for you to obtain some formal experiences in hard science in a lab. Bench work is a large part of medical science, so you’ll want to have this experience under your belt.
“I have poor study habits… I feel like I overthink things way too often. Do I just read biology notes and then take tests or do I remember all the little details? I am slow at biology because I don’t know how to approach it. What are your study habits suggestions?”
Just memorizing the material is definitely not the way to go. It just doesn’t stick that way. You need to organize the content so that it’s easily digestible. Here are some guidelines:
#1: Study in a focused environment. This is a very crucial step that many students seem to overlook. They think they can study with their friends goofing around them or in a noisy area and are then surprised when they don’t do so hot on the actual test. I go into more detail on this topic in one of my articles: “MCAT Study Tips: Tactics to Get You Focused Like a Mother.”
#2: Make a story with your study material. Instead of memorizing facts and then struggling to remember them, connect them in a type of story. For example, if you’re studying mitochondria and ATP production, don’t just remember what does what — put everything in relation to something else so that when you remember one facet of ATP production, you also remember other aspects of the cell. Everything connects, so make a story in your head.
#3: Recite the material out loud. This is crucial because sometimes students fool themselves into thinking they know the material by reading it in their heads, but then when test day comes, they realize they weren’t actually completely prepared. You should be able to recite material to a friend or just out loud to yourself without any help if you truly know the content. And research has also shown that studying out loud increases memorization and allow you to better understand the material.
#4: Teach someone else. There’s no better way to prove that you understand something than to teach it to someone else. Get into a study group and take turns teaching concepts to each other. Encourage your group members to grill you with a ton of questions about what you’re teaching — you’re basically taking a mini-mid-term or final exam right then. As much as possible, try to stump each other on the material; that’s the best way to figure out what you’re missing, or what you “think” you understand, but actually don’t. And as you’ve already figured out, the grades in classes like biology hinge on your understanding of how the little details connect to make things happen. Expect your bio professors to reward you for your ability to make connections that haven’t necessarily been spoon fed to you in class or in the textbook.
“I am a Senior in High School and I am interested in being a Physician or Veterinarian (lucky for me, they have almost the exact same pre reqs). I am going to play baseball in College (D2), and some of the recruiting schools only offer Pre med, Bio, or Chem as science majors. I am wondering if I should go into Bio and take the missing pre reqs along with it, because I fear that going Pre Med will cover more than I’m interested in and my GPA will suffer. Does it make more sense to go Pre Med to be a Doctor/Vet or should I study in Bio?”
This is an extremely common misconception people have, I think I should dispel it here once and for all. Although one or two schools may have something they call a “pre-med” track, the term “pre-med” is not a major. Some schools have programs that tailor towards pre-meds, but it is not the name of your major. Therefore, to answer your questions, yes, you should major in biology (if that is what you want) and email the pre-health department so you know what courses to take to finish all your requirements.
If your school offers a pre-med track, check with the on-campus advisor about managing possible conflicts between your athletic program and the time commitment. They may have some excellent tips on how to manage both.
These questions should answer some of your own concerns. If you’re interested in my previous Q&A, look here.