There are many myths associated with the MCAT. These MCAT myths are constructed by premedical students because they are not sure how to judge or prepare for the exam. The MCAT is significantly different from the typical exams students take in college. In this article I will go over the common myths associated with the MCAT and explain why they are not true.
MCAT Myths: The MCAT is mostly innate ability. You were born with it or you are screwed.
Why this is an MCAT myth: It’s true, some students are naturally able to think critically, thus giving them a small advantage. But this advantage isn’t as significant as you or other students may think. Virtually any student can learn to think critically. It’s just a matter of 1) learning how to think on the MCAT and 2) practicing your butt off to make it a habit.
As you are well aware, doing anything for hours can make you more natural at it. It becomes automatic. It’s just like driving a car or typing on a keyboard. You do it without much thought but it was not that easy or obvious when you first learned how. Just like driving, the AAMC (MCAT creators) have certain rules they prefer students to think towards. Once you learn this “direction” of thinking, you will realize that this test isn’t as bad as you thought and it is certainly beatable by anyone who wants it bad enough.
MCAT Myths: The MCAT determines what types of medical schools I get into.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: the MCAT is simply one part of a premedical student’s application. A large number of applicants with very high MCAT scores (520 and above) receive one or no acceptances each year. Although a high MCAT score is impressive, it can only take you so far. In order to even be considered a high MCAT and GPA will help. But just because you have high scores does not mean you will instantly get in. If your personal statement is weak or if your best extracurricular is “watching medically related YouTube videos” (yes, I’ve seen this on a 520 scorers application) you won’t get in. If you aren’t social during the interview or act nervous and obnoxious, you probably won’t get an acceptance.
Many students with low MCAT scores do get in each year and that’s because they have a strong overall application. The MCAT is only one factor. For example, a student with a very high score (520) and no significant extracurriculars is not as strong of an applicant as an above average score (512) with great research.
MCAT Myths: The MCAT determines how capable and competent I will be as a physician. And in some regards, it determines my level of intelligence with respect to other applicants.
Why it’s an MCAT Myths: The MCAT cannot and will never be an intelligence test. It wasn’t designed for that. Nor was it designed to determine how good you will be as a physician. But it does help predict whether or not you can pass medical school or score well on the boards. This is because the MCAT is basically a mini medical school exam. Medical schools want to see how well you can prepare and adjust to different exams (like the MCAT). They think that if you can adjust and prepare yourself for this 6 hour exam, you may be able to adapt to endless exams they give you throughout your medical career. It’s not really a test of how smart you are. It’s more of a “can you sit there and study for hours? Do you really want this bad enough? Can you prepare for medical school exams?” kind of exam.
MCAT Myths: It looks bad to retake the MCAT.
Why it’s an MCAT Myth: The MCAT is tough. Medical schools know you may have had a difficult time getting used to its style. Or simply you had a bad day. As long as you eventually do well, schools will overlook your first attempt. In some cases, schools take the best score of each section of the two exams you took (original and retake). In other cases, they look at only the highest MCAT score from one of the attempts. How they view the MCAT scores vary by school but absolutely no school has a policy of rejecting an applicant because they took the exam more than once.
MCAT Myths: I have to study for a year to do well on this exam.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: The MCAT is designed to be a final of all finals. Basically it’s a chemistry, physics, organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry, psychology, sociology and English final grouped into one exam.
Does that mean you need to restudy and relearn all of the concepts you learned from these classes? Nope. Not if you studied well in your first two years of college (or whenever you took the classes). The MCAT will not ask you about little details you learned. They care about the big picture for all of the concepts. As long as you mastered these concepts well when you took the class initially, studying for the MCAT should not take more than 3-4 months.
If you had a bad teacher or you just didn’t study enough for these classes, you will need additional time to catch up but it’s never more than a month per subject you are weak on. So for instance, it shouldn’t take you more than a month to really catch up for general chemistry.
MCAT Myths: Its a memory test, I have to memorize a lot of scientific details in order to do well.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: the AAMC realizes everyone knows the big concepts well. Like for example, what is an SN2 reaction? That’s the easy stuff that nearly every student will know. What they specifically test is logical thinking based on new information. They want to see if you can quickly capture the big points of each passage and use those points to answer the questions given a time constraint. That’s something no amount of memorization in the world can help you with. It’s what makes the role of a physician so highly regarded.
MCAT Myths: the MCAT is curved based on who I take the exam with that day, so I better take it when less competitive students take it.
Why it’s an MCAT myths: Your score is not dictated based on the sample of students taking it that day. That’s because it’s a standardized exam. This means every question on the exam has been “standardized” based on responses by hundreds of thousands of students in the past. This normalizes the MCAT so that a student gets their true score regardless of when they take it and who they take it with. The MCAT could give you your score right after you press, “score my exam.” (Could you imagine the reactions?)
MCAT Myths: I can’t become a doctor because my MCAT score is terrible.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: The MCAT is only one part of your application. You can definitely get into a caribbean school with a low MCAT but what I suggest is doing a masters program at a medical school that is known for accepting their students after completing it. There are a lot of good ones out there that nearly guarantee an acceptance after finishing their masters program.
MCAT Myths: If I only had two more weeks to study, I think I could have pulled off a higher score.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: the MCAT is an exam of critical thinking habit. Two weeks will not change your thinking habit. And if you don’t prepare well the second time around, you will most likely get the same score.
MCAT Myths: No matter what, I can’t improve on the CARS section.
Why it’s an MCAT myth: To improve on CARS you need to change your way of studying. It’s difficult to know who to trust when it comes to knowing what to do. But if you find an approach that you think makes sense, stick to it. I am a firm believer that anyone can improve given the right method and effort. Many of my students improve dramatically because of those two characteristics.