ndab Ah Yes, Medical School: Freak Out: An Insider’s Guide To The MCAT

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Freak Out: An Insider’s Guide To The MCAT

Looking at my calendar this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that we are in the throes of April, when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, love is in the air (for everyone but me – cue the obligatory “awwwww”), and, most importantly, the matzah has so extensively constipated my intestines that I am confident my next bowel movement will be in September, 2010.

However, after thinking back for a moment on the Aprils that have come and gone, I couldn’t help but remember that it was only a few short years ago that one fateful April day became one of the defining days of my college career: the day I took the dreaded MCAT. With that somber memory in mind, and knowing full well that I am on what can only be described as the biggest joke of a rotation right now (affording me so much free time that I have had the opportunity to dissect and laugh at each and every circumcision comment that was sent my way – by the way, that Godwin's Law thing was fascinating – and also providing me with absolutely nothing entertaining to share in the form of news methods of self-humiliation), I thought I would provide a few pointers to those eager beavers among you who are about to take the defining standardized test of their college careers. Not that there’s any pressure or anything.

1. Don’t Take It – Seriously, have you read nothing I’ve written here? You don’t even have to know anything to take the LSAT or the GMAT. Christ, people, c’mon now.

2. Stamina – Perhaps the most challenging part of this test is simply staying awake. “But Fake Doctor,” you’re no doubt thinking, “how could one possibly fall asleep during the biggest test of his or her life?!?” Actually, it’s pretty easy. On test day you’ve probably amassed a maximum of 5 hours of sleep (or even less, if, say your mom found a place near the testing center for you and friend to stay the night before that was a cross between the Bates Motel and your average inner-city crackhouse…hypothetically speaking, of course), you’ve had to think your way through all sorts of inane questions, and you’ve had to deal with all sorts of douche bags saying things like “I just aced the physics section!” during the lunch break. Honestly, it’s a miracle people don’t end it all right then and there. Seriously though, if you can just figure out a way to stay awake to the point that you are marginally functional during that last section, you’ll be more likely to get questions right that other people who are succumbing to their fatigue will be missing. Options include eating a moderately sized meal during lunch, taking many practice tests so that it all becomes routine, and the occasional amphetamines. Can you believe I made it through an entire section about “Stamina” and didn't make even one stupid sex joke? Me neither.

3. Blowing In The Wind – One beautiful thing about the MCAT is that, unlike its medical school equivalent (USMLE Step 1), you don’t really have to know much of anything to do well. Seriously. Hell, I’m the poster child for this statement. I promise you that 60% of the answers to the test are actually in those atrocious paragraphs they give you to read, and that you literally do not have to know a single fact about organic chemistry to get a lot of organic chemistry questions right. The test makers don’t care if you memorized every way a bonobo has sex on page 689 of your 4,000 page life sciences book; they want to know if you can reason through a paragraph that describes the mating patterns and interpret the pointless population chart they give you, knowing full well you should have never seen this chart before in your life before shelling out hundreds of dollars to take this test in the first place.

4. No Biggie – One stint on the admissions committee has taught me that, contrary to the belief of every premed out there, MCAT scores really are not that big of a deal. Which is not to say that you are sitting pretty if you tallied up a 25, but there are people out there who think that getting a 45 is vastly superior to being an interesting, well-rounded person who can carry on a conversation (or at least construct complete sentences on occasion) but had a less stellar MCAT score. To be honest, I had a negative impression of the person who’s application had an almost perfect MCAT score before the interview even started, if only because I would assume that this person earned that score by locking him or herself up in a room for 4 years of college to study rather than actually developing as a human being. And I’m sad to say that I was, more often than not, correct with these assessments. The MCAT is used to weed people out, but after that initial screening it becomes quite possibly the least important part of a person’s application. The most important? Well I can’t give away every secret, silly! (Here’s a hint though: it rhymes with “imbibe” and involves giving me money).

5. No Problem, Ess'ay - I believe there is still an essay portion to this exam, and I am pretty sure it is still graded on a letter scale (whereas everything else is graded with numbers). This pretty much assures that, as was the case on the admissions committee I was in last year, no adult faculty member will have any clue whatsoever on how to interpret the score you get on this, so all you have to do is refrain from drawing a stick figure and you'll be fine. In fact, you could probably throw in a paragraph discussing the fourteen linguistic origins of the name "Suri" (Hindu for "publicity stunt", Arabic for "MI-3 arrives in theaters this May!", and Swahili for "My daddy is a closeted homosexual") and no one would notice. I promise.

6. Good Times – Look at you, you’ve just taken what is up to this point in your academic career the most notoriously painful standardized test known to mankind…what are you going to do now? The answer to this question better be damn well be “Get shitfaced!”, or else you’re not going to get into medical school. Period. Call it the Fake Doctor Jinx if you need to. After finishing the test, I literally walked out the door, down to the nearest liquor store, bought a (multitude of) 40(‘s), and proceeded to get wasted on the train ride back to campus with a few equally celebratory friends. I expect each and every one of you aspiring medical students to do the same, and I expect each and every one of you to tell your equivalent post-MCAT-drinking story to your interviewer (which, should I rejoin the admissions committee this fall, may or may not be me).

I hope these pointers helped, and I hope those of you about to take this test do well. So well, in fact, that you build up enough confidence to take the LSAT or GMAT on a whim and apply elsewhere. Can I get an amen? Amen!


Blogger Mellie said...

Amen Fake Doctor!

Here in Australia we have the GAMSAT instead of the MCAT and a friend of mine that sat it mentioned that a girl sitting a few rows away from her in the science portion of the test was having a full nervous breakdown and started to hyperventilate!

Getting completely trashed afterwards sounds like the right thing to do in that situtation though!

6:43 PM  
Blogger design42 said...

Hey - all joking aside, that post and the previous one you linked to were really helpful, so thanks.

I don't take the MCAT until 2007, when it changes, and I think it gets shorter : )

6:47 PM  
Blogger Twanna A. Hines | FUNKYBROWNCHICK.com said...

AMEN!!! ... especially to the comments about the origin of the word Suri.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't think that fucking "birth" was anything more than your average remove-ze-pillow-from-ze-dress-and-sign-ze-Russian-adoption-papers ceremony.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Krupo said...

You may be interested in knowing that I came to the same conclusion a few months ago with Canadian CA accounting exams.

Perversely, the exam is designed to punish you if you try and get perfect.

The other catch is that accounting students get a job before they sit for their CA exam.

The ultimate conclusion is similar to yours, though.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting bombed after the MCAT is the advice I always tell people too. Probably the best thing I ever did after writing that stupid test was open my backpack and chug my premixed rum-and-coke-in-a- waterbottle. The faster you get drunk, the faster the pain goes away.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I warped if I think the whole thing sounds fun? I'm an Aussie too, like Mellie, so the GAMSAT is my poison. The "you don't have to know anything" part of what you said is pretty reassuring. I'm doing nursing now, and I am going to do post-grad medicine (if I get in, of course). I love reading your take on everything.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I had a huge biochem test the Monday after the MCAT so I had to go home and study. That was the most miserable weekend of my life. I support the recommendation to get bombed after the test, but if it's not possible, being a nerd and studying will also get you into med school!

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen Fake Dr, Having been driven crazy by four weekends of quiet because my kid comes home to study for the MCAT, I'm getting wasted tomorrow night! Why any smart person would go through that is boyond my ken. BonesRN

9:34 AM  
Blogger Nuclear Mom said...

Add to the list Endurance. Not in enduring the day, but enduring the multiple ID checks (even though no one has left the freakin' room). Oh and Resolve... I resolve not to slit the throat of the next ID checker who came by.

Of course since I took the MCAT 14 years ago (then the GRE and went to grad school instead), I am sure this has all changed and the proctors are wonderfully pleasant people. ;)

11:04 AM  
Blogger MedStudentGod (MSG) said...

My favorite are the people who showed up that day and opted out of taking it before the test ever began. They waited until the very last minute before they knew they couldn't do it. That's committment for ya.

11:12 AM  
Blogger gabbiana said...

My least favorite thing about the MCAT was the rule against *anything* on the table besides pencils and the exam. What about my coffee? What do you *mean,* leave it at the front of the room? I NEED THIS COFFEE! All of my practice MCATs turned into the same experiment: "How much caffeine can I drink immediately prior to the exam such that I stay awake, but also will make it to the next break without crying from bladder pain?" That right there was the most important part of test prep.

11:21 AM  
Blogger OMDG said...

Alas, I suppose the fact that I studied for the damn thing makes me a giant dork. But at least I got into med school somewhere (which maybe, if I listened to your blog, I would not be so happy about right now).

What I had a hard time with for the MCAT was weaning myself OFF of coffee in the month prior so that I wouldn't have to pee during the physical sciences section. I think between making you wait in line to show your id for 60 minutes, then waiting while they read you instructions for 60 minutes, taking the damn section for 100 minutes, and then waiting for the to collect the test booklet for 30 minutes -- all without being permitted a bathroom break -- I'm surprised that no one peed him/herself.

Our proctor was a total ass until one guy had a seizure in the middle of the first booklet collection. Then he loosened up a bit.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

believe it or not, i feel asleep during my first MCAT. I came across a confusing verbal passage and just konked out. Needless to say, I voided that exam and retook it.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Suchie said...

My roommate is taking it on Sat. I'll be sure to pass on your advice. Now about getting shitfaced. I won't be old enough to get booze from the nearest liquor store when I take the test next April...what should I do?

7:57 PM  
Blogger Etoiline said...

I'm one of the crazy ones taking it this weekend (two days! Eek!) but luckily, I have a coworker's birthday party to go to later in the afternoon, so it looks like I'll be able to follow some of your advice. Now if I could only remember the damn physics equations...

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since everyone else is mentioning that they're taking the MCAT, I figure I might as well too. It's now less than 24 hours away, and I am nervous but (I hope) ready. After six practice exams and no social life for the past few months, I am ready for this thing to be over. And of course I can't wait to get completely wasted afterwards. After I consume the amount of alcohol I'm planning on, I won't even be able to remember the damn thing. And that's how I like it.

8:56 AM  
Blogger The Angry Frenchie said...

I'm taking this stupid test this saturday. I can't wake to be done with this damn thing. I took one of those Kaplan courses (I swear Kaplan and the AAMC are in bed together), and it was discouraging because their tests really did force you to know the most random facts. Then some ppl took some AAMC practice exams, and they claimed that it was way easier than the prep-course's exams, and their scores shot up from a 24 average on Kaplan to a 31 average on AAMC.

My biggest problem is living without my Amp energy drink on my desk. I've come to rely on that drink to get me through the torture that is the Physical Sciences section. (I don't really give a damn if student A's experiment was an Adiabatic expansion!) Of course, there always needs to be a balance between caffeine intake and time before the bathroom break, because, as we all know, caffeine inhibits vasopressin from binding to the distal convoluted tubule, and facilitating Na+ reabsorption, which = increased urine output!!! See: I'm so pissed that this test has essentially turned me into a nerd!

I've had a post-MCAT party planned for at least 2 weeks now. Today I'm running to the store to take mine time picking out some of my favorite liquor. So, needless to say, I am going to be getting wasted off of Grey Goose and jello shots tomorrow night.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Krupo said...

Funny to hear the exam presiders (proctors) are such jerks; I used to work as one a few times and apparently people remembered me with positive memories years later. Go figure.

A similar presider must've been working at one of our pre-final exams recently. My friend was almost done and really needed a smoke break. So he asked for permission and they actually let him wander outside and have his cancer-stick(!)

I should avoid making you all feel terribly jealous by mentioning that we're allowed to put food on our tables *and* go to the washroom during our exams.

As for Mikella, there are many ways around liquor laws. If you're smart enough to write the exam...

8:43 PM  
Blogger The Angry Frenchie said...

I'm taking the MCAT in an hour... hopefully all will go well.

This really is way too stressful...

7:06 AM  
Blogger betty said...

omg that Suri comment was way too funny. I can't believe I haven't stumbled on your site until now!

Oh don't we all wish we had made better decisions in life than to pursue medical school...

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ride on...I like the 40s idea. Me and my bud decided to have 2 Js and 2 shotglasses laid out back at the place for immediately when we finished. Catch ya up at LA next year man.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, God, don't remind me about this horrid test.

Speaking of proctors, ours let a cell phone go off for a good 90 seconds before they decided which bag it was in, held it up, and asked who it belonged to (nobody answered, of course).

They also let some folks go to the washroom.

I was pissed.

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice story, but the part about the MCAT "being the least important part of your application" is utter bullshit and you know it. I don't know a single person who got 30+ and didn't get into an American Medical School. Not one. I know plenty of people who volunteered at a hospital for 10 years, had a 4.0 GPA, was published etc. who couldn't get in anywhere. Its the only truly standardized measure with which to judge people from different schools etc. That being said, I think its absolutely ridiculous that it means so much(I must admit that the MCAT was the only reason I got into medical school, the only time I saw the inside of a hospital before my third year of med school was when I was born and when I broke my arm in third grade)
Those are the facts, the MCAT IS the single best predictor as to whether or not a candidate will get into medical school. It doesn't make any sense, it certainly isn't any kind of a predictor of whether or not someone will be a good doctor, if anything its the reason 1/3 my class have a personality that could best be described as a cross between Kevin Federline and Stephen Hawking.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note: above, add "had a 25" before the part about had a 4.0 etc.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know a single person who got 30+ and didn't get into an American Medical School. Not one.

I scored all 13's and 12's a decade ago and got rejected everywhere (0 for 25 in interviews). More often than not, I felt my interviewers had a negative impression from me having too high of a score. Left me depressed throughout my entire 20's (being pre-med had left me no real-world job skills). Oh well, off to b-school and a 2 year party now!

2:20 PM  
Blogger priya said...

took 6 of us at a bar to convince the bartender that 4:30 pm on mcat day was not too early for fishbowls.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I got a tip for ya, anonymous. It wasn't your high MCAT scores that put them off.
High MCAT scores good. Good grades better. Interesting person even better. Experience in medicine best.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

referring to an above poster: I got two 14's and a 13 on the MCAT. I also got flat out rejected from just about every medical institution in the country, not even brought in for an interview. I finally got a few interviews, and got accepted to all of them. I don't know what they're smoking at these schools, but the MCAT's really don't matter. For example,I personally know two medical students who got a 16 and 15. These are total scores (all three sections added together!). It means NOTHING!

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Anonymous DamnMCATtoHell said...

Gabbiana..youre right. My biggest problem is not if I can figure out the answers to the test.

..its whether I should practice my 'inner bladder strength' or just eff it all and aim to whiz on the asshole proctors as they walk by

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