Medical School Application Guide

 

The MCAT

 

General information

 

The MCAT is an American test that is accepted in most countries except the UK. It is required for application in the US, and most Canadian schools require the MCAT as well. Schools in Australia, the Caribbean, Ireland, Poland and some other Eastern European schools will also consider the MCAT.

 

The MCAT is a time constrained, computer-based exam. Unlike some other computer-based exams, the MCAT is not an adaptive test (an adaptive test is one where the next questions are chosen based on how well the test writer performed on the previous ones). For the MCAT, the questions are fixed before you start, which means you can review and change answers on the current section, just like on a paper exam. There is no penalty for wrong answers.

 

There are four parts in the exam:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems,
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills:

 

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 67 multiple-choice questions in 95 minutes on biological and biochemical foundational concepts covered in first year university biochemistry courses.

 

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems 67 multiple choice questions in 95 minutes on chemical and physical foundational concepts.

 

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 67 multiple choice questions in 95 minutes. This section test your ability to understand social, cultural, biological and psychological influences on behaviour and social interactions.

 

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 60 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes on comprehension, analysis and reasoning skills. 42 Complete medical school application preparation

 

Uses, scoring and your chances

 

The four multiple-choice sections are graded on a bell-curve and given a score from 1 to 15. A score of 8 roughly corresponds to the mean (50th percentile), with every ~2.5 points representing a standard deviation. For the exam overall, the mean is roughly 25 and the standard deviation 6.4. These are estimates and vary slightly each year. Below is a table from the AAMC website showing what each score means in terms of percentile.

 

Hypothetica Examinee Score

 

Table. Approximate relationship between section scores and percentiles More detailed tables are available from https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/admissionsadvisors/mcat_stats/

 

For Canadian and US schools, applicants may write the MCAT once, twice, three times or even more sometimes trying to obtain the highest possible scores. As the MCAT is a key element of an application, it is essential to understand how an MCAT score can help or hurt one’s application to medical schools. In Canada, applicants with very low MCAT scores are not affected at all when applying to the medical schools that do not use the MCAT. The universities in this category are the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, the University of Ottawa and the 3 French medical programmes in Quebec. Also note that at McGill University, MCAT score submission is optional for Canadian students under certain conditions, and at the University of Saskatchewan, in-province applicants do not need to submit MCAT scores if their pre-requisite courses meet certain grade requirements, but out of province students must submit MCAT scores.

 

At the University of Toronto, once an applicant meets the minimum expected score requirements of 9 in each multiple choice section and N on the writing sample, a higher MCAT score does not increase the chances of admission (note that those who fall slightly below these requirements may be granted admission if the rest of their application is very strong). This also means that if an applicant has not excelled in their MCAT but meets these cutoffs, they will not be disadvantaged at the University of Toronto compared to applicants with very high MCAT scores.

 

It is also important to consider that when the MCAT has been written more than once, policies differ as to which scores are used by the admissions offices. Some universities like the University of Toronto consider only the latest MCAT score, while other universities like the University of British Columbia consider the best MCAT score. Also, some universities will recalculate the MCAT score based on their formula which may be beneficial to some applicants.

 

The exact MC1AT policies, cutoffs and entering class averages are available for each medical school in Canada under “MCAT” in the school specific sections.

 

In the US, the MCAT is usually used as an initial screening tool alongside the GPA before a full file review, or as part of a global assessment before students are invited for interview. More statistics and information on MCAT scores in the US is available in the country’s section.

 

At the American University of the Caribbean, the average MCATscore for the academic year 2012- 2013 was 25. At RossUniversity in the Caribbean, although there is no minimum MCAT requirement, the average MCAT score was 24 for the 2012 – 2013 academic year.More details on the admissions processes at Caribbean medical schools are available in the school specific sections.

 

At the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the MCAT average for admission was 29 in 2009(Emailed Carol for the most recent MCAT average), and scores were considered as part of the full application including reference letters, academics, personal statement and an interview. At Jagiellonian University Medical College in Poland, a minimum MCAT score of 24 was required for applicants to be considered for admission.

 

Many other schools in Eastern Europe and in Australia use the MCAT scores as part of their assessment as well. Most Australian schools require a minimum of 8/8/8/M to apply.

 

Cost of the MCAT

 

The cost of the exam is USD275 in the US and Canada. There is an additional USD90 fee in most other countries where the exam is offered . Fee assistance is available for eligible test-takers who are US citizens, permanent residents or refugees. The programme reduces the fee from USD275 to USD100.

 

Resources for the MCAT

 

There are plenty of resources to help students prepare for the MCAT. Amongst them, you can find live courses, software programmes, question banks, private tutors, books and study guides. In this section, we will review some of the resources most commonly used by students to prepare for and excel on the MCAT exam.

 

Courses

 

Large scale studies have looked at whether students who enroll in test preparation courses perform better on the MCAT. One study in particular looked at students who took the exam in 1980 (excluding those students who had written the MCAT previously), and found that those who took a course scored about 0.13 points higher on the reading section (lowest difference) and 0.43 points higher in physics section (highest difference), and had a 5% greater likelihood of getting into medical school . Although this study is over 25 years old and there are many other factors influencing how well applicants do on the test, the study shows that there is a small statistical difference between students who take an MCAT preparation course and those who do not. Overall, MCAT courses help with the following:

 

  • Learning and reviewing the content of the test
  • Learning to apply the content to specific types of questions
  • Keeping to a study timeline
  • Obtaining answers to students’ specific questions
  • Practicing full length exams under exam conditions, which helps build the endurance needed for the 7.5 hour exam.
  • Getting comments and help with writing samples
  • Meeting with mentors one on one to get help with any trouble areas.

 

There are several MCAT courses available in Canada.

 

AgencyDescriptionRough cost (USD)
Kaplan private tutoring 15 - 35 hours over 1-9 months. Students make a schedule with their tutor after taking a diagnostic test. The tutors are normally students who scored “above the 95th percentile on each section of the test”. Students who sign up for tutoring can also attend any classroom or online lectures, and get access to all the course materials,11 full-length exams and over 8,000+ MCAT 2015 practice items and the most available official AAMC practice resources 35 hours: Approximately $5,699
25 hours: Approximately $4,599
15 hours: Approximately $3,499
Oxford Seminars private tutoring Tutors are available in Toronto, York, Kingston, Calgary, Burnaby and Vancouver, but tutors may be available in other cities upon request. Tutors are generally people who have done well on the exam. If the student has taken the classroom course, the cost is approximately $50 per hour. If not, the cost is approximately $100 per hour with a minimum of 3 hours.
Approximately $13,200 for 48 hours with a premier tutor, or $2,750 for 10 hours in a single subject with a premier tutor.
Approximately $9,360 for 48 hours with a master tutor, or $1,950 for 10 hours in a single subject with a master tutor.
Princeton Review private tutoring 48 hours or more over approximately 4 months. Students can select their tutor’s experience: Private, Master or Premier tutor. Students get access to 19 Princeton Review practice exams, the 8 AAMC exams and other questions and course materials available from the online student center. The course also comes with LiveGrader credits, which allow students to submit writing samples from all their practice tests for grading and feedback. Access to online or classroom courses is NOT included. Approximately $6,480 for 48 hours with a standard level private tutor, or approximately $1,350 for 10 hours in a single subject with a standard level private tutor.
Available tutor qualification levels and experience differ from city to city. Prices also vary between Canada and the USA
Princeton Review online private tutoring Students set their own schedule with their tutor. They get access to LiveOnline credits for their practice exams (see private tutoring), as well as the same materials as those in the Princeton Review private tutoring course. See Princeton Review private tutoring. Prices are usually approximately the same
Princeton Review small group tutoring Group tutoring with one instructor for 2 to 4 students. Students can select their own group or can have the company find them a group. Same additional materials as private tutoring. Approximately $2999 per student for 48 hours

 

Table. Individual and small group private tutoring for MCAT preparation; Information obtained from the company websites and by speaking to company representatives.

 

CourseDescriptionRough cost (USD)
Dr. Ferdinand MCAT 1 week camp Held in Montreal, QC and Las Vegas, NV. Approximately 50 hours of teaching and 50 hours of supplemental DVD video. Also includes one on one sessions and mock exams. Approximately $2095 for the course only.
Kaplan classroom course 150 hours of classroom instruction, including 12 on site core sessions and the MCAT channel 11 full-length exams and over 8,000+ MCAT 2015 practice items and the most available official AAMC practice resources.The course can be done over 1 - 12 months. Written samples are corrected by local instructors. In some cities there is an instructor dedicated to teaching and correcting writing samples. Approximately $1999
Kaplan summer intensive course Held in Boston, MA, San Diego, CA, Atlanta GA and Boulder, CO 320 hours total over the course of 6 weeks. Includes one-on-one tutoring and small group workshops, as well as full-length practice MCATs under simulated testing conditions. Approximately $9,499 without housing and meals
Approximately $12,999 with housing and meals
Oxford Seminars 22 hour courses available in most provinces over 3 days. 40 hour courses over 5 days available across Canada. Taught by students who scored in the top 2% on the exam. Course materials and practice exams are included. No simulated exam is given. Approximately $595 for 22 hour seminars.
Approx. $845 for 40 hour seminars.
Prep 101 courses Then 8 AAMC practice most of classroom instruction in class testing. Students also get accessoftoclassroom instruction exams. Offeredin-class provinces. 28 essays are also graded with feedback. Approximately $1,695 for full course
Princeton Review classroom course 105 hours of classroom instruction over 42 individual sessions. Students also get access to LiveGrader, which allows them to submit their writing sample essays for grading and feedback. Usually done over 2 months, but different schedules available, particularly in larger cities. Approximately $2100 for classroom course
Princeton Review summer of 6 weeks, as well as admission and application workshops Six week programme held in Austin, TX, Boston MA, San Diego, CA. 370 hours of instruction over the course Approximately $9499 without housing (housing and meals were offered at a cost of $4200 in 2014, or students could arrange their own housing and meals)
Renert classroom course Available in Calgary, AB. Includes approximately 32 1.5 hour lessons, access to 9000 practice questiona ans the 8 AAMC full length practice exams. Approximately $1,200

 

Table. Classroom and summer intensive MCAT courses; Information obtained from the company websites and by speaking to company representatives.

 

CourseDescriptionRough cost (USD)
Dr. Ferdinand MCAT home study cource 20 hour video lecture series. Also includes books and 3 online practice exams. Approximately $399
Dr. Ferdinand MCAT platinum study course 60 hours of live online MCAT review lectures and 16 hours of DVD science review. 8 writing sample essays corrected with feedback. 10 full-length MCAT practice exams Approximately $1200
Kaplan MCAT online course 100 hours of total instruction,, can be completed over 1 - 12 months. Sessions are pre-recorded. Writing sample grading and feedback is normally not included. Questions are answered by email. A total of 8000+ practice items, including 11 full length practice tests and MCAT Qbank with more than 1000 MCAT-style questions. Approximately $1,899
Princeton Review MCAT LiveOnline course 105 hours of live online instruction, 20 hours of personal review time with your instructors, and access to more than 135 hours of supplementary online resources. Access to 4 LiveGrader credits, which allow the student to submit writing samples for grading and feedback. Also get online coaching and email support. Comes with 11 Princeton Review practice exams, the 8 AAMC exams and other questions and course materials. Approximately $2,099

 

Table Online MCAT preparation courses; Information obtained from the company websites and by speaking to company representatives.

Several courses including those from Kaplan and Princeton Review often offer a discount of a few hundred dollars if you enroll early (usually before April or May).

 

Books

 

Kaplan and Princeton Review have their own set of books available in stores and from their website. Many of them are also included in their MCAT courses. The ExamKracker books tends to be less detail oriented but in the view of some students, more clear and to the point. Some books available include:

 

BookDescriptionRough cost (USD)
Examkrackers MCAT and approximately 30 half hour mini-exams. Approximately $110
Kaplan MCAT 45 definitions and concepts. 320 pages, targeted at the more difficult questions and topics on the test. Approximately $22
Kaplan MCAT in a Box Approximately 700 flashcards covering biology, physics and chemistry terms, Approximately $21
Kaplan MCAT Premier 1080 pages, comes with online resources, quizzes, short videos and 4 full-length Approximately $74
Princeton Review, MCAT   Approximately $62
The Gold Standard MCAT 1000 pages. Covers all components of the exam. Includes 3 online practice exams. Approximately $63
The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam 405 pages. Includes passages and questions from previous MCAT exams with explanations. Also a lot of data including the percentages of applicants admitted to medical school with different MCAT and GPA scores (also available in the MSAR book). Approximately $30

 

Kaplan MCAT CompleteThe seven-book MCAT set emulates Kaplan’s tried and true classroom experience. 7-Book Subject Review: Created for MCAT 2015With its easy-to-follow format and helpful teacher commentaries andApproximately $162 advice, students can be completely prepared for Test Day success.

 

Table List of some books to prepare for the MCAT Although these are some of the more popular MCAT books, there are several other complete and subject specific books available.

 

Practice and mock tests

 

Practicing full length sections and full length exams is the best way to get used to the timing of the MCAT and the style of questions. Full length exams and question banks are usually included with review courses and tutoring programmes, but are are also sold separately by some companies. Some of these separately sold question sets are listed below:

 

NameDescriptionRough cost (USD)
AAMC practice Full length practice exams sold individually. 8 available in total. $35 for each additional exam
Dr. Ferdinand practice 10 full length online examinations. Approximately $150 for all tests for one year, or $25 for each individual test. 1 free test is also available online.
Kaplan free full-length and also includes answers and explanations Free
Kaplan Qbank 1000 questions with explanations Approximately $299
Princeton Review free practice test 1 practice test. Includes report of strengths and weaknesses, and also includes 1 LiveGrader Credit, which allows students to submit a writing sample for grading and feedback. Free

 

Table. List of some online practice materials to prepare for the MCAT There are also several practice question books and paper examinations available, most of them written before the MCAT was changed to a computer based exam in 2007. A list of previous writing sample topics is available from the AAMC at: www.aamc.org/students/mcat/preparing/writingsampleitems.htm. Note that writing sample grading and feedback is not included with most of the question banks and practice examinations.

 

It can be beneficial to do as many of the tests as possible under real, time constrained test conditions, preferably with a few sections in a row. This can help build stamina for the test day.

 

When should you write the MCAT?

 

The course requirements for the MCAT 2015 are first year university biochemistry, in addition to chemical and physical foundationalconcepts. There are some subtopics on the MCAT that are sometimes not covered in first year university courses (such as thermal expansion of metals or buoyancy), but these topics will be covered in the MCAT books and prep courses.

 

Some students finish the physics, chemistry and biology courses during their first two terms of university, take two 3-4 week intensive organic chemistry courses during the first two months of their first-year summer, then study for the MCAT the last two months of the summer and write the test. The advantage is that students using this approach study for and write the MCAT with all the material fresh in their minds. Consider, however, that although most Canadian schools accept MCAT scores from the past 5 years, the University of Manitoba and several US schools including the Yale University and Rosalind Franklin, Chicago Medical School only accept MCAT scores from the past 3 years. At the University of Manitoba, MCAT scores written before April 2009 are not acceptable for entry in 2013. At Stanford University, MCAT scores earlier than August 2009 are not acceptable for entry in 2013.

 

Thus, students writing the MCAT their first-year summer and graduating in four years will, at many US schools and at the University of Manitoba, only be allowed to use their MCAT scores until their last year of college (for matriculation the year after graduation). If unsuccessful, they would have to rewrite the MCAT to reapply to these schools the following year.

 

If you wish to write your MCAT during your first year summer and need to complete organic chemistry, some universities like the University of Alberta offer an intensive 6 week organic chemistry course (first three weeks for Organic Chemistry I and the last 3 for Organic Chemistry II) starting early May. With some companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review that are available in many cities or allow courses to be taken online, you can begin the MCAT course in the city in which you are taking the organic chemistry course, and finish it in another city. Alternatively, you can take the MCAT course at an accelerated pace after finishing organic chemistry or another spring/summer course.

 

The MCAT is offered several times each month and can be taken three times in one calendar year. It takes approximately one month to receive your tentative scores. Most North American universities require the MCAT to be written by August or September of the application year. Note that if the exam does not go well on the last possible test date, it will not be possible to submit another set of scores with your application. When possible, it is a good idea to write the test with enough time left so you can rewrite it if necessary.

 

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