How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 2

By Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA

In part 1 of this two part series we looked at some of the reasons why ADCOMs (admissions committes) are searching for a new way to assess an applicant’s personality. The correlation between an applicant’s GPA and their future success in the didactical components of medical school is well established. The new frontier is a more fair and predictive way to evaluate an applicant’s character, ethics, and communication skills. That evaluation tool seems to be found in the multiple mini-interview (MMI). Continue reading “How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 2”

How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 1

By Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA

In recent months and years, the popular press and scientific journals have seen an increased interest in the multiple mini-interview (MMI) with regards to medical school admissions. It seems to be the new buzz word in the admissions circles. As one would expect, there is a bit of skepticism from the applicants and a touch of intrigue regarding the new format. This is very appropriate for any new process, especially one that plays such a big part in your future as a physician. Continue reading “How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 1”

What Is Your Weakness?

By Samir P. Desai, MD and Rajani Katta, MD

An excerpt from Medical School Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty

In 2011, the AAMC published a survey that evaluated the importance of 12 variables on medical school admissions decisions. These variables included total MCAT scores, science and math GPA, and the interview. The interview was rated the most important factor. “High grades and/or MCAT scores alone are never enough,” writes the LSU Shreveport School of Medicine. “For those interviewed, impressions from the personal interview are exceedingly important.” Continue reading “What Is Your Weakness?”

What Will You Do If You Don’t Get Into Medical School?

The end of another interview season is upon us. I hope this was your year to get the big envelope that said, “Congratulations. You’ve been accepted into medical school!”

For those who didn’t get in this round, I’m sorry. In hopes of helping next year’s campaign, I want to give you some information that may aid in answering a commonly asked interview question, as well as give you some ideas for your summer plans.

What Will You Do If You Don’t Get In?

No doubt you’ve been asked “What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” at every interview you’ve gone through. It seemed to be a classic during my interviews.

I used to think the question was a little bit odd and wasn’t too sure what the interviewer was looking for. Was the interviewer asking this because things weren’t looking good for my application? Was it designed to see how I would react under pressure? It’s not necessarily any of the above. I think this question focuses on one thing: commitment. It also provides an opportunity for you to discuss a few other areas of your application that can make you shine.

A good approach to the question is summed up in the four following points:

  • Tell them that you will reapply
  • Try to learn what areas the committee felt were weak in your application
  • Work on correcting those weaknesses
  • Continue to better yourself with the things that you love.

Reapply = Commitment

One of the major factors the admissions committee is trying to assess during the interview is your level of commitment to becoming a physician. There’s good reason for this. The process is challenging to say the least and a career as a physician remains a difficult, yet rewarding, labor of love. Some might say that it’s even more difficult in light of the current tumultuous health care environment. Why would anyone commit to such an endeavor? That’s a very good question and one that the admissions committee is trying to get you to answer.

A committed person understands the good and bad of a situation and still wants to pursue the desired end: in your case, becoming a physician. However, how can you demonstrate that you really are committed to a career in medicine? One main way is to reapply if you don’t get accepted.

I would be preaching to the choir if I belabored the painstaking details and challenges that go into applying to medical school. It’s an enormous undertaking. It’s hard to do once, let alone several times. However, admissions committees weigh the number of times an applicant has applied to medical school quite heavily in their assessment. To a certain extent their view is “the more the merrier.” In other words, you can definitively demonstrate your level of commitment to becoming a physician by continuing to reapply to medical school. This is all the more true if you make your application stronger each cycle. You’re demonstrating commitment and steady improvement. Those are two key characteristics admissions committees are looking for.

What Went Wrong?

Many medical schools will offer explanations to rejected applicants who interviewed with them as to why they were not accepted. Some of these explanations are more detailed than others. Nevertheless, this information is invaluable, especially if you notice a pattern across a number of schools. If you consistently hear back from schools that your MCAT score was too low or that you interview poorly, then you will have the best target on which to focus your future efforts for improvement.

The bottom line is that there is probably no greater information that will help you to improve your application than a consistent theme from schools that did not accept you. Your ability to understand this fact and communicate it to your interviewer goes a long way in reassuring her that you’re committed to strengthening any weaknesses and are serious about becoming a physician.

Work In Progress

The great thing about the question, “What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” is that it’s totally hypothetical. It’s something that may or may not be a reality for you in the future. Anything having to do with the future involves speculation, so be sure to speculate in your favor. Meaning, don’t be afraid to throw out some bold plans. Furthermore, the plans should address any weak areas of your application.

For example, if you know that you lack a lot of research on your application, then tell them that you’d join a research project and explore this area of medicine. Or tell them that you’ve had research ideas of your own that you’d like to put to the test. Perhaps you’re lacking clinical experience. This is the perfect time to tell them that you’d shadow a doctor in the ER for the next year or volunteer at a local clinic. The situation provides a nice canvas for you to paint a great picture of a new and improved you!

Summer Plans

If you find yourself on the outside looking in with regards to medical school, then take the next couple of months to find out what areas are weakest in your application and use this summer to specifically work on them. That may mean retaking a class to improve a low grade or studying for the next MCAT or giving 20 hours a week to a clinical venue. Whatever it is, use this summer to improve your application so that next summer you’ll only have to focus on preparing for your first year as a medical student.

Focus On Your Passions

I think it’s wise to take the opportunity to show the interviewer a bit more about some of your unique attributes and passions. For some, this is their senior year of college, and if they don’t get into medical school they’ll have a great deal of time on their hands. Remembering that this question is hypothetical, tell them that you’d take a class or do something off the wall.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn more about the government’s affects on healthcare or study a new language or dedicate a significant amount of time to volunteer work. Choose something that you like and that shows some of your depth and non-medical interests. These activities and passions go a long way in showing you to be a real person who is dynamic and has a life outside of the confines of medicine. Admissions committees are looking for people who possess a broad range of talents and interests.

Bringing It All Together

A sample answer might sound something like this:

Well, if I don’t get accepted into medical school, I think the first thing I’d do is try to figure out what the committee felt were the weaknesses in my application. I’d focus my time addressing those areas specifically. I would then reapply. My heart is set on becoming a great physician and I’m going to keep at this endeavor until I succeed.

I would also like to increase my clinical exposure. I’ve had some good shadowing opportunities but I think it would be better for me to start to make some clinical decisions on my own. That’s why I would complete my EMT training so I can get some high quality, hands-on experience. 

Lastly, I’ve always wanted to learn to speak Spanish. I think it would be really useful in my day-to-day interactions so I would probably do an online course or something like that. I’d certainly be busy but I really think these goals would make me an even stronger applicant next year.

Summary

“What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” is a common question that provides an amazing opportunity to discuss your commitment to the field of medicine, your future self-improvement plans and provide a further glimpse into your unique characteristics and passions. The hypothetical nature of this question gives you ample room for creative answers and provides the opportunity to put a positive spin on potentially weak areas of your application.

Good luck with your summer plans and future interviews. I hope you rock them both.

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on June 8, 2011.

Medical School Interviews: 6 Common Mistakes That Admissions Officers Hate

By Joel Butterly

Medical school interviews come in all different shapes and sizes. Some schools interview one-on-one, some have multiple interviewers, some have multiple-mini-interviews (MMI). Some schools use students, others use faculty, and some use alumni.

In preparing this article, I interviewed admissions officers from the top medical schools – Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Penn, UCSF, and others. What I found was that their advice on med school interviews varied tremendously.

However, nearly every person I interviewed commented on several common mistakes that applicants are constantly making. These aren’t always deal-breaking mistakes, but for an applicant who is right on the cusp of admission, avoiding these mistakes can be the difference between a fat envelope and a thin rejection letter.

1. Don’t assume that the interviewer knows how serious you are about becoming a doctor.
In your interview, you must demonstrate that you are fully committed to this field, and convey a clear sense of purpose in your professional goals. Never assume that applying and showing up for an interview is sufficient evidence of your commitment. Here’s why:

Admissions officers have a job. For medical school admissions officers, that job includes vetting and selecting the best possible students for their program. One of the most important criteria by which these admissions officers are judged is the dropout rate. If 20% of the students that they admit end up dropping out midway through medical school, it reflects terribly on the admissions officers who selected them.

Moreover, medical students are extremely expensive. Medical schools pour hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars into training their students. Every time a student drops out, that money is wasted. Even the wealthiest medical schools cannot afford too many dropouts.

Long story short, admissions committees are extremely sensitive to indications that an applicant will “go the distance.” You would do well to convey this to your interviewer. Similarly, admissions committees are extremely sensitive to indications that an applicant is not 100% sure that medical school is right for them.

The most common example cited by admissions officers was that applicants, when asked why they wanted to attend medical school, would routinely respond that their parents are doctors. This is never a good strategy. To an admissions officer, this is like saying that you are going to move to Bhutan because your friend did it and seemed to enjoy it. Of course, you can mention that your parents are physicians, but leading with this fact is a surefire way of indicating that you haven’t thought your decision through.

Moreover, when asked why you wish to become a doctor, make your answer specific. Don’t say, “I’ve always wanted to help people.” Say how you want to help people. Better yet, give a short story that is representative of what you want to do, and why. The more specific and concrete, the more likely you are to seem like a safe bet to admissions officers.

2. Understand how difficult medical school and practicing medicine can be – and be able to explain why this isn’t a problem for you
Admissions officers want to make absolutely certain that applicants know what they are getting themselves into. The reality is that very few, if any applicants truly understand the commitment it takes to see themselves through medical school and residency.

Nonetheless, you might consider talking with some current residents or recent residency graduates to figure out what the absolute worst parts about becoming a doctor are. You should probably know this for your own sake, but for the purposes of the interview, being well-informed about the downsides of medical school and practicing medicine is a huge asset.

If your interviewer doesn’t think you know what you are getting yourself into, they may reject you because they don’t think you’ll be able to stomach the challenges. It is crucial that you show them otherwise.

Spend some time thinking about how to address these “downsides” in an interview. You could rephrase them as a positive feature: “I love intense working environments, and I think working late-nights in the hospital when there are a million things to do, and not enough people to do them, would be really exhilarating.” Obviously, you don’t want to be too over-the-top, or the interviewer will know you’re full of it.

You might also explain why these downsides don’t matter, in light of other considerations. Maybe you are so determined and passionate about a certain aspect of medicine, that these things are a small price to pay.

Bottom line: make sure that you take a moment in your interview – if at all possible – to show that you know something about the challenges you will face, and that you are fully committed to facing them head-on.

3. Compassion is key – don’t forget to show that you’re human 
Shockingly, many students go into the interview too scared or too hyped-up to demonstrate a critical characteristic: compassion. Without compassion – and a lot of it – practicing medicine is nearly impossible.

Make sure that you don’t ignore the human element of your candidacy. Interviewers know your test scores, your GPA, they’ve seen your resume…now show them that there is a compassionate, amiable human being behind it all.

Admissions committees (at least for many of the top-ranked schools) sit and debate whether an applicant should be admitted. Your interviewer will probably speak or write on your behalf during these deliberations. If you have failed to convey your compassion and amiability during your interview, chances are good that your interviewer will not fight too hard if other members of the committee decide to pass on your application. Thus, you cannot give the impression that you lack compassion; if you do, your allies on the admissions committee will be dramatically reduced.

4. A Student Interviewer is not an excuse to relax
Most applicants breathe a small sigh of relief when they find out that they are being interviewed by a medical student. This is a mistake for two reasons.

First, these student interviewers are more likely to be an “interviewer-from-hell” than their senior counterparts. They are eager to prove how rigorous and devoted they are, and that might translate to a much more aggressive and rigorous interview style.

Second, admissions committees do not send in student interviewers with the expectation that they will perform a different job than any other interviewer. They are assessing the same things as the more seasoned interviewers, and so you should maintain the same level of composure and professionalism as you would for any other interview.

A number of admissions officers and student interviewers have told me that many applicants seem to think that they can be more casual when a student is interviewing them. The truth is that while this is sometimes the case, most applicants go way too far. This is an interview, not a social interaction, and trying to act like you’re talking with a friend on the street will only make you seem unprofessional and unqualified.

Bottom line: keep it professional.

5. Know your application
Many interviewers will have your application right in front of them. Sometimes, they will start the interview asking you questions about different parts of your application. You need to know your application(s) by heart. If you put something in the activities/experiences section of the AMCAS application, and can’t remember what you wrote when your interviewer asks about it, you are going to look foolish, if not dishonest. This happens surprisingly often.

Bottom line: You should be able to recall every part of your application, so that you can talk about it fluently if and when you are asked.

6. Be honest about your weaknesses 
Many interviewers ask applicants about their weaknesses. When discussing your weaknesses, honesty and candor can make the difference between a great response and one which will, at best, do nothing for your chances of admission.

Your biggest weakness is not that you work too hard, care too much, take on too many challenges, are too hard on yourself, or any other strength-disguised-as-a-weakness. As soon as you give one of these self-serving responses, you have grouped yourself into the roughly 50% of applicants (according to one source) who believe that offering one of their positive characteristics as their “biggest weakness” is an effective strategy. It isn’t. Admissions officers see right through this, and are likely to feel that you are either too immature to be self-reflective, or too dishonest to give a straightforward answer.

This doesn’t mean that you should go nuts criticizing yourself. Don’t say that you are a heavy drinker, a drug addict, a criminal, or a psychopath; you’re right to keep those thing to yourself. However, you can and should talk about things that you really do struggle with, and how you’re working to improve on those things (this latter component is very important).

For example, maybe you are easily frustrated, have difficulty taking orders, or struggle to memorize long lists of details. What is important is that you recognize these things, and explain that (and how) you are working on improving them. This shows honesty, integrity, and maturity – all things which medical schools want to see in their students.

Bottom line: you have weaknesses which are undesirable. Pick one of them, work on it, and then tell your interviewer about it with a straight face.

Joel Butterly is a JD Student at Yale University and received his AB in Government & International Studies from Dartmouth University.

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on December 22, 2013.

Ethical Questions (Interview Advice Column)

By Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA, author of The Medical School Interview: Secrets and a System for Success

To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.

-Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

I was recently asked by an applicant how to approach ethical questions asked during an interview. His concerns about answering this type of question echoed those of many other applicants. In light of this common woe, I’d like to share a simple three-step approach for handling interview questions regarding ethics. You’ll be happy to know reasonable answers are probably easier to frame than you think. Further, interviewers are often as nervous about asking ethical questions as you are about answering them!

Abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, and pharmaceutical “perks” are super-charged topics currently facing physicians and our health care system. It is a truly scary proposition to be asked about your stance on such issues, especially in the glare of an interview. When your goal is to make a good impression (and not rock the boat), it can be hard to share your views on these sensitive topics. What’s an applicant to do?

I suggest the use of three concepts to help guide your responses:

Realize a correct response is one which falls within a fairly broad range; in other words, there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer.
Be consistent in your remarks.
Always answer with a patient-focused approach.
Normal or Extreme?

It may come as a shock, but as long as your belief about a particular ethical issue is within a fairly wide spectrum of “reasonable” it doesn’t really matter what it is. We are entitled to have our own opinions regarding controversial issues. The majority of the nation may view an issue one way – you may hold the opposing opinion. That’s okay. The key to this concept is as follows:

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as much as why you believe it.”

Most often applicants feel a strong urge to try and tell interviewers what they think they want to hear. Ethical questions usually concern sensitive, emotionally charged subjects. In the pressured setting of an interview, nobody wants to create tension. So it’s easier to simply mouth the popular view, or to try and discern views of the interviewer and espouse those. This, however, can be a very dangerous practice. (Please see the following section for further details).

Simply spend time [before a given interview is to take place] figuring out what your views are on current ethical dilemmas. Think about why you hold these views. After all, your beliefs are just an extension of who you are as an applicant and future physician. Incorporate them into the overall package you are presenting to the admissions committee. This will allow you to be who you are and will help facilitate a genuineness that is so important to success in the application process.

A quick note. The idea of reasonable or normal can be a little slippery but I like to think of it in terms of a bell shaped curve: you can probably hold a view that is within two standard deviations from the “mean” of public opinion on a topic and be within the norm. However, a view in the third standard deviation from the mean would likely be thought extreme. This approach isn’t absolute but provides some guidance.

Consistency

In hopes of determining whether an applicant is really saying what they believe, an interviewer will often ask two seemingly different moral questions and see if the applicant answers the same way, or changes his/her stance. What’s worse, these questions can come back to back, making it all the more deceptive. Therefore, it is imperative not to tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear. Now that you know that you are entitled to have reasonable opinions, simply answer questions sincerely and consistently.

It’s Always About the Patient.

A patient-focused answer is the cornerstone to any ethical question response. Remember, as a physician (soon to be), your purpose is to take care of patients. The very nature of the job is to help someone else. Regardless of your personal stance on stem cell research or abortion, your views should have the patient’s best interest in mind. Having this understanding will prove valuable during an interview and in daily practice. As I struggled through ethical dilemmas in my own practice, a mentoring physician once told me, “Do what’s right for the patient and you’ll never go wrong.”

In the End

The drive of ethical questioning is to determine whether you have thought about common dilemmas facing physicians. The questions are not designed to trip you up. The committee must determine if you have a reasonable approach for dealing with these challenging issues. You can have your own opinions on controversial matters. However, they must be reasonable, a true extension of who you are as a person and focused on the best interests of the patient.

Please view the approach I’ve presented here as a place to start. Preparation for ethical questions is best accomplished by discussing the issues with your friends and professors. Share your ideas with others as a reality check. Compare your views to those who feel differently. Become educated on as many different sides of an issue as possible. This will allow time and opportunity to strengthen your arguments and become comfortable talking about sensitive issues.

Good Luck!

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on April 5, 2007.

Conquering the MCAT: A Student Perspective

By Andrew Nguyen, Quinn Le, and David Nguyen

The MCAT is a major hurdle for many medical school applicants. The exam can be one of the most trying experiences for pre-med students and can make or break an application. For many students, their dreams of a medical career end with an unexpectedly low score on the MCAT. Jordan, a former pre-med student at California State University (Long Beach), abandoned his medical school ambitions after scoring a 24Q on his exam; a score that many students believe is a “virtual cut-off.” Despite committing more than the average amount of time to studying, Jordan could not crack the exam.

“I came out of the testing center with confidence, but when I got the score, I was completely discouraged; I never expected it to be THAT low!”

Unfortunately, Jordan’s experience is not uncommon. Many students anticipate higher scores than they actually receive. This doesn’t mean that students like Jordan aren’t intelligent or don’t prepare enough for medical school; in fact, Jordan graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA in both the sciences and non-sciences coursework. What sets high scorers and low scorers apart may not be content knowledge, but differences in test taking ability, test taking mentality, and confidence in their knowledge and ability.

There are numerous self-directed programs available free for students online. In fact, a popular one is available right here on SDN: The three-month study schedule. But, many students find themselves unable to follow a self-directed schedule. If you are one of those students who find available programs restrictive or not sufficient for your preparation, don’t fret! Many students who have scored well on the MCAT did not follow any pre-determined path. Instead, they made their own study schedule by using a blend of the techniques and programs available while adding in their own preferences.

In this article, we share how three high-scoring students (35 and up) prepared for their big day. We hope to demonstrate how important it is to take all the tools at your disposal and personalize them for yourself. We feel that this aspect of test preparation is particularly important as the MCAT is scheduled to undergo a major reconstruction by 2015. With this change, some current study techniques may become obsolete. It will be critical for you to figure out which study techniques will no longer work in your favor should you have to take the new version.

Student Interviews:

Name: Peter
Major: General Biology
Strengths: Sciences
Weaknesses: Verbal
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did you prepare for the MCAT?
Peter: I started looking at the verbal section first, since it was my weak point. I read newspaper articles and articles from well-written sources such as The Economist. I’m a slow reader, so I worked to pick up the pace and learned to skim better, leaving behind unnecessary information. Being a science major, I developed a tendency to read everything thoroughly for understanding, but there is just no time for this on the MCAT. I supplemented everything by doing verbal passages regularly from practice books to apply my skills under timed conditions. I’m a terrible test taker and often blank out on test day. The practice I did also helped with using techniques such as process of elimination, which needs to be ingrained or you’ll forget to use it.

For Biological Science and Physical Sciences, I bought review books, but the most important piece of advice would be to do practice passages and questions, lots of them. If you’re a science major, chances are you’re already acquainted with the material. I felt that I just needed to be quicker and more efficient since 70 minutes is not a lot of time. In my opinion, practice is the only way to become faster at the science sections. At the end, I became so fast that I practically did each section twice.

Authors: Did you consult any of the available free programs online?
Peter: I found several free practice exams from test preparation companies and some practice problems, but other than those, I relied mainly on the practice books and exams I bought. The older versions of the actual MCAT that are available for purchase online were especially helpful. I become familiar with the actual testing system and it help got me in the test-taking mentality.

Authors: In all, how many hours and how many months did you invest in this exam?
Peter: I spent 2 hours a day on the weekdays and 6 hours a day on the weekends for 6 months. I wanted to do it in 3 months, but I had work and classroom exams to study for. Also, I didn’t want to take the MCAT in the fall since that’s when everything gets hectic. I spent January through June preparing for a July exam. Studying for a major test during undergraduate is difficult, but if you give yourself that large of a time frame, you’ll feel less overwhelmed. To me, this particularly was important. If I feel overwhelmed, my grades start to suffer along with everything else.

Authors: Is there any other advice you want to leave with us?
Peter: Sure. The MCAT is a serious exam, so don’t procrastinate and don’t waste time. Several of my friends set aside 3 months to study, but they weren’t serious about it until one month before their test date. During the first two months, they studied with the TV on or while chatting with people online. Needless to say, all of those guys had to re-take the MCAT.

Name: Lauren
Major: Psychology
Strength: Verbal
Weaknesses: Physical Sciences
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did you approach preparing for the MCAT?
Lauren: I am very comfortable with reading passages, so I knew I would be okay with the time limit for practically every section. What I focused on was reviewing my physics. I knew that if I’d get a low score for PS, it’d be because of physics. When I started reviewing, I found out I didn’t remember anything! I was tempted to re-read chapters from my textbook, but a friend told me this was a terrible idea. I ended up buying review books which summarized the subject much more succinctly. A note to this: I recommend buying single-subject review books since my experience has told me that they cover material more comprehensively.

My main focus was to understand where the MCAT could trick me. For example, I would go over a standard physics problem. After doing it myself, I would look at the solution. While looking at each step, I’d try to anticipate how a trick could be placed in. Regularly, I’d do practice passages and problem sets to see if I can solve these problems in a timely manner and if I was able to catch these tricks if any. The scores on practice material are very telling of how well you’d do on the real thing. For my verbal strategy, I look at the questions first. I don’t try to memorize the question, but I do look for keywords that I should search for in the passage.

Authors: Did you take advantage of any free material online?
Lauren: Oh yeah, of course! I’m college student after all. Like most people, I took advantage of the free practice exams offered by prep companies on campus and online. Additionally, I used the three-month study schedule on SDN. I had graduated already when I started preparing for the MCAT, so I had a lot more free time. Even though I followed the schedule pretty well, I did place more emphasis on physics and general chemistry than I did on other topics. It’s my way of tweaking things around a bit.

Authors: In all, how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?
Lauren: Well, I followed the 3-month schedule, so I’d say around 600 hours for the 3 months, which I must say is pretty darn standard and I was very happy with my score (35S). I must also add that I did the entire thing over the summer (some post-graduate friends did the same thing over a different 3-month section). One summer with very little fun was a small price to pay.

Authors: Do you have any additional advice for future test-takers?
Lauren: Yes, don’t let people tell you how to prepare for a certain section. It’s good to have people’s opinions, but in the end, you are the best person to evaluate your own weaknesses and strengths.

Name: Andrew Nguyen
Major: Physiology
Strengths: Writing
Weaknesses: N/A
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did I prepare for the MCAT?
Andrew: My preparation was slightly lengthier since I did not have a real particular strength or weakness in the major sections. My first practice exam score was dead even for all sections. For me, this meant that I had to focus on all three sections equally (excluding the writing). My approach was to review my science materials. When you start out, it’s a good idea to review materials that you enjoy first. I find that this builds momentum that you can use throughout the rest of your preparation, especially through sections you don’t like. Biological sciences required that I review the contents of each topic and know the intricate relationships of the many biological systems (biology) and of chemical groups and how to interconvert compounds via the various major reactions (Organic Chemistry).

For physical sciences, I had to review basic principles and perform calculations. If you’re like me, you’ll make small errors that lead you to the wrong answer. The MCAT can anticipate common errors and will put that wrong answer as a choice on the exam! Be wary of this and practice your calculations. For verbal, I spent a lot of time reading passages from books, novels and articles from The Economist. Try to pick selections which are similar in length and practice your highlighting skills on these passages too. It’s generally a good idea to take an exam interactively; it helps you stay focus. Use process of elimination when you can. Look for extreme wording and eliminate answer choices with words like “never” or “always.” A more advanced technique involves using tone; if the tone of the passage does not match the tone of an answer choice, you should suspect that the answer may be wrong. However, this technique is often taught to humanities majors; if you’re a science major, this one may not be in your repertoire. In which case, leave it out unless you have time to develop it.

Authors: Did I take advantage of free material?
Andrew: Of course! I used many free practice exams. Your health professions adviser may also have copies of test prep books in their offices as reference material. If you cannot afford one, look for ones there. I have found that local libraries often carry outdated books. However, you could still borrow those for a source of extra practice problems. Just be on the look-out of any glaring differences; for instance, old books will say that cell respiration produces 36-38 ATPs per glucose. However, newly updated books will report a value of 30-32 ATPs per glucose.

Authors: How much time did I spend?
Andrew: I spent around 1,000 hours over a span of one year. I have a very unforgiving schedule, with on-campus activities, extracurricular activities, research and work. If you’re in my situation, make good use of your summers and winters. You’ll find the most free time during these breaks. Plus, my preparation had a rocky beginning and didn’t smooth out until after the first month or so.

Authors: Final piece of advice?
Andrew: Don’t get frustrated if you have to change your strategy, your approach or your overall schedule. Most likely, you won’t get it right the first time. I had to change my schedule around 5 times before I finally found what works. In this regard, give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Many students end up delaying their test date back at least a month so that they can have more time. There’s no shame in this at all; it’s much better to delay instead of explaining why you didn’t do well the first time. Finally, do what works for you. I have had plenty of people ask me to write down step-by-step what they should do to score well. It doesn’t quite work that way. There is no cook-book recipe for a high score, at least for a fair amount of people. For instance, some people like reading the questions of a verbal passage before they read the passage. While others, like me, don’t prefer this because we end forgetting what we just read in the questions anyway. Even if you take a course to prepare for the exam, you’ll find yourself tweaking “proven” techniques around. Find what’s good for you and work with it. “Proven” doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get a good score.

In Closing
What should you take from all this? Well, we hope that we’ve cleared up some issues for you and gave you more options. Taking the MCAT and applying to medical school are two big (and scary, but exciting) moments in your life. It is very tempting to try and emulate a successful person in hopes of obtaining his or her results. While you will benefit from some of his or her advice, there’s still too much that relies on you specifically.

Furthermore, if you are taking the new MCAT in 2015, we encourage you to pay special attention to your strengths and weaknesses. Certain test-taking skills are almost always valuable, such as process of elimination and interactive test-taking. You’ll need to identify what your preferences are and develop skills which help you exploit your strengths and bolster your weaknesses. We hope future MCAT takers (and other test takers) find this information useful. Good luck and happy trails.

Get more advice from high scoring students in the SDN MCAT Forum. Check out: 30+ MCAT Study Habits and MCAT Study Question Q & A

This article was originally published by the Student Doctor Network on February 22, 2012.

4 Medical School Interview Topics You Must Know About

4 Medical School Interview Questions You Must Know About

It’s obvious that prior to your medical school interview, you should be comfortable talking about yourself. Often overlooked, however, is the importance of being articulate on other topics. Increasingly, medical schools are assessing applicants’ true interest in medicine by asking about topics that aren’t on your application – your answers will reveal whether your pursuit of medicine is out of a true interest in health care or if it is more self-involved. Here are 4 topics that you should be ready to discuss in medical school interviews; you don’t need to be an expert, just show your interviewers that you know and care about these issues that will shape the future of medicine:

1. Health care costs and resource allocation

Health care spending in the US is enormous, and is projected to continue growing, putting significant strain on the economy. This means that cost-cutting must occur in medicine, and tough decisions will be made.

Which drugs should insurance cover? Which procedures should patients have to pay for? What will happen to elderly people who can’t afford their medications? You don’t have to know details, but having something to say about the issue will make you stand out.

Relevant reading: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1203365

2. Social media in medicine

10 years ago Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr didn’t even exist. Today, a medical school applicant who isn’t active on at least one of these platforms is an exception. In a field that places confidentiality and professionalism above almost everything else, this is an obvious concern.

How much of your personal opinion is acceptable to post online? Is it wrong to have pictures of yourself having fun online? Should doctors use their real names online, and should they be allowed to write stories about patients? What are the benefits and risks of using social media to ask colleagues for help in managing your patients?

Relevant reading: http://mashable.com/2012/12/18/social-media-mobile-healthcare/

3. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)

Homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, iridology, Reiki, manipulation, the list goes on. By definition these fields are outside traditional medicine, but CAM is often brought up in medical school interviews. More and more patients are using CAM methods, and medical schools want to know how you would balance patients’ safety and wishes with your medical management.

Should patients be dissuaded from looking elsewhere? What do you say to the patient who wants to try a few months of homeopathic medication for their cancer that you feel needs treatment immediately? Should these fields be forced to use evidence based practice? What do you say to a patient who swears by a therapy that you feel is ineffective? Is it ethical to offer CAM therapies in your own office, despite lacking evidence?

Relevant reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/health/14patient.html?_r=0

4. Auxilliary health practitioners

In response to the rising costs and wait times for physicians, more people are asking whether other health care professionals should expand their role to relieve some of the burden. Pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physiotherapists, and other health care professionals are increasingly doing more work that was previously reserved for doctors.

Should pharmacists be able to renew prescriptions despite not being trained to examine patients? Should nurse practitioners be allowed to manage complex patients? Should anesthesiologists be able to hire nurse anesthetists that work without supervision? Should naturopathic doctors be allowed to prescribe?

Relevant reading: http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2012/05/11/should-pharmacists-prescribe-prescription-medications/