Saturday, August 19, 2006


Well, today is August 19, 2006. Not only is it eight years and one day since Greg Maddux won his 200th game, but it's also the final paper and pencil MCAT to be given by the AAMC. I was present at the historical occasion, as one of the millions of students that gathered to put themselves to the test. This may very well be a day that would determine the course of the rest of my entire life. Now that it's over, I guess I'll tell about my experiences as a reference in case anybody else is interested in taking it. I fully encourage taking the MCAT, but's not for the mentally weak.

What is the MCAT?
First, let's go over what the MCAT is. The SAT and the ACT have become legendary as standardized tests for high school students interested in going into college. Once you're an undergraduate student in college, you'll soon have to face the prospects of having to take one of four tests to get into graduate school: the GRE (for regular grad school), the GMAT (for business school), the LSAT (for law school), and the MCAT (for medical school.) The MCAT, which stands for Medical College Admission Test, is generally seen as the hardest of the four. Not only does it cover the largest variety of material, but it's also a test in physical and mental endurance.

The test consists of four different sections. The first is Physical Sciences, and the questions cover the subjects of physics and general chemistry. This section consists of 77 questions, and you get 100 minutes to answer them. The next section after a 10-minute break is Verbal Reasoning. It's a little bit like Reading Comprehension for the SAT, but it asks less about detail and more about what's going through the author's mind as he wrote the passage. This section is 85 minutes long, and consists of 60 questions. After an hour-long lunch break comes the Writing Sample section. This section is actually composed of two mini-sections. There are two essays and you have 30 minutes to write them for 60 minutes total. The thing is each essay is administered separately, and you can only work on one essay at a time. The essays are all the same. They give you a statement, and you have to write an essay describing what the statement means, give a specific counterexample given in the instructions, and discuss the criteria that determines whether the statement applies or not. Every single essay has the exact same format. After a final 10-minute break there is the Biological Sciences section, which is essentially the same as Physical Sciences, but it covers biology and organic chemistry instead. Altogether, the entire day is about 8-9 hours long, but only 5 hours and 45 minutes for testing. (If you plan on taking the MCAT in the future, the new MCAT will consist of only 4 hours and 20 minutes of test-time.)

The thing about MCAT question is that they may all be multiple choice questions, but they're often not stand-alone. All but 30 of the 214 questions are associated with a passage. The passage would introduce the subject matter of the questions, and will sometimes provide information necessary to answer the question. The thing about these passages is that you may have to take the time to read them, which makes it more difficult to finish all of the questions in the allotted time. So in the end, even though the MCAT day is long, it'll just breeze by because you'll spend most of your time trying to answer questions. The scaled score ranges between 1 and 15 for each multiple choice section, and your overall score is the sum of all three sections. 8 is set as the average, so if you get a 24, you know you're at about the average. The average score of people that apply to medical school is about 27, and the average score for people who get in is 30-33.

The MCAT is made even more difficulty because of the types of people taking them. Medical school is serious stuff. It's often seven years long if you include all of the residencies, and the acceptance rate is often less than 10%. Naturally, people trying to get into medical school are extremely competitive people. The average GPA of people that get into medical school are 3.5 to 3.8. If you think that's low, you must still be in high school and haven't taken the biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, or physics courses that pre-med students have taken yet. This competitive nature passes over into the MCAT. People are serious about getting into medical school, and because of this they'll be working their butts off to get a good score for the MCAT. The MCAT is standardized, so if everybody studies like mad, everybody's going to be getting very few questions correct, and so it'll be harder and harder to get a high score. This is going to be even more difficult with the new shortened MCAT, because there are just fewer questions to go around.

Anyways, now that the introduction is over with, I guess I can get into my personal experience.

I was supposed to have taken the MCATs in April of 2006, but since I'm a lazy bum who still hadn't finished the organic chemistry and physics courses, I decided against it. I did buy a Princeton Review MCAT book that was extremely expensive. But I mostly let it stay there while I studied for the Psychology GRE instead (690 / 860...w00t.) I didn't really get serious until I convinced my parents to sign me up for the $1,300+ KAPLAN MCAT course. Once final exams ended, I returned home to discover a stack of books dedicated to the MCAT that KAPLAN had sent. So in the two weeks before the courses started, I dedicated about 3 hours a day looking over the review notes for each subject. That was the most I spent studying for the MCAT...which shows you what type of a pre-med student I am. But I had finished reading about Organic Chemistry and Biology once the class started and I took a diagnostic test, so I owned on those two subjects. But I sucked at General Chemistry and Physics, so I still had ways to go.

The rest of the summer consisted of mostly going to classes on Mondays, Wednesday, and Saturdays...taking driving lessons with my parents because I'm a loser that waited until I was old enough to drink legally before I started driving...and using the Internet. What productivity. I did spend some of my time on the Internet doing some practice problems that KAPLAN made available, but they were unbelievably discouraging because the questions were difficult and the explanations were even more confusing. Once July 22 rolled around, Saturdays were dedicated to full-length practice tests. I had gotten a 30 on the first practice test, so that was somewhat encouraging, but at the time we had yet to cover 1/3 of the concepts. The second full-length was surprising, for I had missed only 24 out of 214 questions and had a sparkling 38 (12, 13, 13). If I can replicate that on the actual test, then I'd be set. However, this period of practice tests coincided with my increasing obsession with Tales of Symphonia. By the end of the summer, I was spending more time participating in ToS battles (usually as Sheena, but sometimes as Colette) with my sisters than I was studying. Naturally, my scores started to drop. I got a 35 (11, 12, 12) in my next practice test, and by the end I was down to 32 (11, 10, 11 & 10, 11, 11). So yeah, being a lazy bum, I didn't have the greatest confidence going into the test, and it was mostly my fault.

The Night Before
I had spent most of August 18 doing training for my part-time job at Newcomb Hall. Originally, I was planning on skipping the Closing Ceremonies in Camp Hyrule and just silently reviewing the material, but like a moth to a flame I was drawn to my computer, where I spent over an hour pretending to be in 1998 (the absolute best year ever) in the Bonfire. And after that comes the Closing Ceremonies. I knew that I wasn't going to finish in the top 3 for any awards because of the vicious amount of campaigning going on, but still I sat there for three hours trying to get in. In the end I spammed the inboxes of the SSC in chat asking them to give a shout-out to Li-Mark. After that, I just got my stuff ready and then read half of the book of Ezekiel, and it was lights out by 11.

The Morning Before
My alarm was set to 6 in the morning, but I spent about 20 minutes hitting the snooze button before I finally got up. I took care of business and updated my Excel spreadsheet about pitchers. For breakfast I had two bagels that I had taken from Newcomb the day before. At around 7 I prepared the food for the day (a box of granola bars, two bottles of Gatorade, and a Harris Teeter chicken salad sandwich), and I was out of the building by 7:20. I rode my bike to the testing site, and arrived by 7:25. After that it was pretending to look at flashcards while looking at all of the other people taking the test. At about 8, it was announced that the test-takers will be split into four different testing sites, so I had to move upstairs. Signing in was a bit boring. They took the admissions card and made us sign the back. The thumbprint thing was pretty cool. Instead of doing it with the traditional ink, they had a special ink that was clear on our fingers, but showed up just fine on the sticker. After that it was just waiting. The actual test didn't begin until 9.

The Proctors
I guess I should talk about the proctors, because the test experience is largely determined by the quality of the proctors. I was lucky to get a pair of great proctors. They adhered to the standard MCAT regulations, but they still kept the room loose by joking with the students. It was very refreshing. They worked pretty quickly, and were just extremely friendly. Ah well.

Physical Sciences
I guess I'm the most worried about Physical Sciences, largely because I got a 10 on the last practice test, and because General Chemistry and Physics were my worst subjects. However, the Physical Sciences section on the actual test was the easiest section thing in the entire day. It felt like I knew how to do all 77 of the questions, even though there were a couple whose answer I wasn't entirely sure about. While most of the times I found myself in varying degrees of mental fatigue by the end of the section, I actually felt more energized. I finished all 77 questions with about 20 minutes to spare. It could have been more, but I read a question wrong for about 10 minutes. The only problem is that if I found it to be so easy, everybody may find it extremely easy, and so if I miss any question, my score is going to drop, and I can't afford that.

First Break
The break is actually about 20 minutes long because the proctors took a while to collect and examine our test booklets. However, I guess the first ten minutes doesn't count because we had to stay in our seats. At least we weren't poring over questions. I ate one granola bar during this break, and it was back to the test once more. I tried reading the magazine, but I guess it was too close to the end of the break, and the proctor made me put it away.

Verbal Reasoning
Verbal Reasoning is hard because it's the most important section, since it's the most closely correlated with success in the medical school standardized test. And unfortunately, I didn't find it as easy as the Physical Sciences. The questions were somewhat different than the ones on the practice tests, in that a whole variety of them were of the "if this new information was found, how would this affect the author's argument" types. There was one killer passage about satire. Not only was it deep and hard to understand, but there were also ten questions about it. Yeah, I answered every question, but the confidence I had gained at the end of the Physical Sciences was pretty much shattered.

Lunch Break
The lunch break was pretty mundane, since I finished my sandwich and two more granola bars in about 15 minutes. After wandering the building for an hour, I found somebody I knew, and talked with him for the next 30 minutes or so. After that, I went back upstairs and looked at my 200-game winners Topps cards while waiting to be readmitted. After that, it's ID check, ID card sign, and back to the test.

Writing Sample
The Writing Sample is another section in which my confidence had waned over the course of the summer. I did very well in the first few samples, but lately my writing quality had been going down, and I was afraid it would happen on the real thing. The first prompt was weird, because it was about the exact same thing as the first passage in Verbal Reasoning. I didn't want to repeat everything that was said in the passage, so I had to pick a different criterion. The problem was, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about, but in writing about the counterexample I wasn't quite sure how to get it down in the right words, so in the end I barely had time to write up a conclusion. The second essay wasn't as bad. I didn't write as much, but I knew exactly what to say and how to say it. I tried applying it to being a doctor, but I don't know if that was integrated too well. Oh well.

Final 10 Minute Break
Yep, it's just like the first one.

Biological Sciences
Biological Sciences is the section I was least worried about, but unfortunately, there seems to be an inverse correlation between amount of worrying and the difficulty of the section, because this section was quite hard. It didn't help that for many passages the actual passage was on one page and the questions were on the back of that page, so I had to flip several times. There were a lot of gimmes among the 77 questions, but there were also a lot of questions in which I had very little clue. So yeah. Overall, I'm hoping for a 12-14 on Physical Sciences, an 11 on Verbal and Biological Sciences (although I'm probably getting a 9 or a 10 on both). So yeah, I guess I'm going to plateau at a 32.

The Questionnaire
The questionnaire at the end wasn't too bad. It's just that they say that it takes 20 minutes to complete, except I spent more time filling in my information on the answer sheet. In the end I gave them pretty high scores, because even though the test itself sucked, the administration was actually pretty good.

The Night After
Um, for now I've had supper with my sister, and I've been writing about my experiences since then, and since I can't find a TV I guess I won't be playing the Nintendo 64 to celebrate. that's the MCAT.