Tag Archives: Medical College Admission Test

Standardize Me

I didn’t post at all last weekend, even though I really wanted to do so. There are a few good reasons why. Besides unsuccessfully fighting off a cold and studying for three exams this week, I am also incredibly lazy and didn’t have the time or motivation to sit down and write the post that has been on my mind for several weeks. It’s only fitting that I find this motivation shortly before my pathology final, most likely using a blog post as another reason to avoid studying  for this test. As one classmate posted on Facebook so accurately: “I find that I Netflix better with study going on in the background”.

I don’t even have to study all that hard for this exam. Because of our grading system (pass/fail) and the assignments and tests I have already completed give me all but six points I need to pass the class. To put in another way, I need to get just 6/100 questions correct to pass this class. I could do that in my sleep. Don’t worry, I will study hard and do fine. (Edit: I actually did pretty well on it).

Our Pathology overlords are doing us a bit of a favor, they tell us. All of their exam questions are “board style”, similar to the format we can expect when we take Step 1 next year. This means that we take the exams on our computers through secure browsers, and that some of the multiple choice questions have options a-h instead of a-e.

Our questions are slightly harder than this, by the way.

Another way we are being prepared for Step 1 is that we are doing everything way faster than previous classes have ever done anything. As I write this in the first week of March, we have already completed all of the Year 1 curriculum. Next week we will begin Year 2 curriculum. The benefits to us include more time to study for Step 1, and more time in rotations before having to make important residency decisions. This all seems like a good idea to me, but we are the guinea pigs in this little experiment, so only time (and our board scores) will tell how it worked out.

This got me thinking about all of the standardization we are receiving. The main goal of the first two years of medical education is to perform well on Step 1. My understanding is that this test makes sure new medical students have an appropriate amount of basic medical knowledge before entering the wards and practicing on real patients. This actually works out very well for me, as I have a long history of crushing standardized tests (including NBME pathology most recently).

Recently my brother-in-law graduated from the police academy. Police officers have a very important and challenging job not unlike a doctor. They have a huge body of knowledge to learn, including the geography of their city, procedures of their department, legality issues, physical ability to drive, arrest, restrain, and I know many cops that have a highly developed “sixth sense” that gets them out of dangerous situations. Even my limited EMS experience has shown me the value of this sixth sense, but I doubt it could be taught.

Now if the police academy worked like medical school, they would spend 2 years in a classroom watching powerpoint presentations on street layouts, with the dangerous areas highlighted. They would take multiple choice exams on how to handle interactions with dangerous suspects, maybe watch videos on driving skills. Thankfully, my brother’s academy didn’t work like this at all. He rode with cops, listened to their advice, and saw firsthand dangerous areas of town. He went to an abandoned runway and spent an afternoon learning defensive driving techniques.

Medical school isn’t taught like that, and I’m not even sure it should be. All I know is that medical school has been taught the same way for a very long time, which is why it is so standardized. There is a well defined process to becoming a doctor, steeped in tradition and learning. If improving the quality of medical education came at the cost of leaving behind those traditions, would anyone attempt it? Will there be a series of huge sweeping changes in the coming years, or will innovation come in small steps, creeping along over the years?

I’ll have to think more about this, but it’s something that will be on my mind as I work my way through medical school.

This post is now very late, but thank you for reading!


How to Not Get Into Medical School

Since I have an exam tomorrow, it is natural to assume that I am doing lots of things that are not studying. We were given the entire day off to prepare for this exam, and I have managed maybe 4-5 hours of actual studying today. The rest I spent distracted for no reason, or helping my wife with stuff around the house. Now I’m writing, soon to go for a run, and maybe at some point study again.

I do want to touch on a topic that I think many people wonder, especially pre-meds that stumble onto this blog in the future. Also, I get asked this all the time by friends I made during undergrad that have been doing their AMCAS over the last summer. As an undergrad, I wanted to know how to get into medical school, and I wanted it straight from the source: the medical students. I figured that because they got in, they must have it figured out.

Then I got accepted into medical school and realized the truth. While there are some real lessons to be more successful, medical school admissions can be a pretty arbitrary process. It’s actually more of a crap shoot than you would like to think. I gave myself less than a 1% chance of getting in to my current school, yet here I am. My state school, where I considered myself very competitive (higher than average stats, etc) didn’t even put me on their waitlist. Why? No clue.

And so if you are looking for tips on getting in (and I know you are), I would like to refer you to anywhere else except this blog. I actually have far more experience being rejected by schools than accepted by them, so that will be my focus for this post. If you do these things, you will make yourself a much easier rejection.

1. Tank the MCAT.

I almost don’t want to start here, but I think I should. I’m not saying it’s fair, and I’m not saying I like it, but medicine is very performance based. Medical schools care a lot about the way you will perform on bigger and harder tests, and the best way for them to judge that is your score on your most recent test. There may or may not be a minimum score at your dream school, but my admissions directly told our class (quite honestly, I thought) that they make a HUGE first cut based solely off of MCAT scores. He acknowledged that there were likely great applicants in that category, but due to time constraints they had to draw a line somewhere. If you are currently pre-med, I’m sorry. This only adds to the stress associated with the test, and I get that. I want to encourage you that it isn’t that bad. Just don’t screw it up 🙂

2- Do anything really stupid.

This should go without saying, but it happens fairly often and is really important. Do not cheat (or even worse, get caught cheating). If at all possible, do not withdraw from a class during undergrad. If possible, stay at the same school for four years. DO NOT GET CONVICTED WITH A FELONY. If you make it to the interview part of applications, your chances are much improved. At this point, they are mostly looking for red flags, and part of that search is a standard background check. Even misdemeanors can be red flags. Your goal is not to be perfect, just to give them less things to worry about when considering your application. They will notice things like withdrawals, and ask you about them, so either stick it out or have a good reason for it. This dovetails nicely with my next point

3- Fail A Class

It is nice to have a good GPA, but that’s about it. What’s the difference between a 3.7 and a 3.85 if the students went to two different schools, took different classes, and had different professors? Who knows? Who cares? GPA is dumb, and most applicants will have pretty solid GPA’s. A surprising number will have 3.9+. You don’t need a 4.0 to get in to a medical school, but if you fail a class (or a few) you will make life much harder. In undergrad, especially, there are so many ways to improve your score. Seek help from the professor, classmates, tutors, etc. Ask for extra credit, or ways to improve your score. Don’t bother your professor and beg for extra points if you get a B in Organic Chemistry, but make sure you work hard enough that you never find yourself begging for a C.

4 – Expect Too Much

I will tie this in to a talk our deans gave us on the first week. They told us that on the first exam, half of our scores would fall below the median (that’s just math). For most of those who scored less than the median, it would be the first time that has happened to us EVER. So by the same token, do not enter the application process convinced of your own superior abilities. Nothing will make you feel more inferior than meeting a genius in your class. I’m talking guys like William Hwang, absolutely legendary (think very hard before reading his bio). If you are considering medical school, you have probably been one of the smartest people in your class since forever. Realize that your class will be, on average, just as smart as you (or in my case, much smarter). Even if your uncle happens to be a Dean at __________ School of Medicine, just understand how many insanely talented people are lining up to pay them 40k per year to go to school.

5- Be Boring

So you’re a biology/chemistry/biochemistry major from __________ University? You volunteered at some clinics and hospitals, did some research in undergrad, and shadowed a neurosurgeon/heart surgeon/ER doc? You’ve also got a minor or two, some fun hobbies, and were involved in six different charities during college? EMT? On academic scholarships? Get in line! Ok, so I’m joking a little bit, but that is a stereotypical mold for medical students. Why? Personally, I think it’s a self fulfilling cycle. Medical schools accept those students because a majority of good applicants fit that mold, so the next cycle of good applicants also fits that mold, so medical schools accept more of the same kind……..repeating over and over again. Otherwise, I have no idea. The point of this is to try to do something interesting, so that you stand out a little bit more. I don’t mean doing another thousand hours of volunteer work, I just mean whatever it is that makes you unique is what you need to capitalize on. Make sure they understand that you also started a business, wrote a book, lived in another country for a few years, etc. I’m the only Ironman triathlete in my class. I don’t know if that helped my application, but I bet it didn’t hurt.

6 – Be a Tool

Doing all of the above will get you rejected from medical school fairly quickly. This last one has more to do with the school than with you. Your MCAT, Step 1, and other stats don’t tell too much about how good of a doctor you will be one day. Schools want to turn out good doctors, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes them look better, therefore making them more money. Our Dean told us (at the interview day) that they try to detect traits that can’t be measured, but that will someday make us good doctors. Translation = they try to sift out all the jerks and narcissists as best as they can. Don’t be that guy. I can tell you already that they missed a few, based solely off of a few students that crashed an otherwise productive study session I was having with some friends today. Plus, everyone has a story to share about some terrible doctor they’ve met before, right?

I hope that helped! In all seriousness, feel free to ask questions (or add your own advice) so that over time, somebody, somewhere, will somehow find this useful.

Now what else can I do before I study?

Thanks for reading!


One week down. Arguably, this may have been the easiest week of medical school we will yet experience, but I am starting to get a feel for the routine I will need to establish. I have been waking up a few hours before lecture and having breakfast while reviewing material for lecture that day. I then head to class and attend all of the lecture and small group sessions (this is around 6-8hrs a day). After that I have time to go home and get a quick run in before I grab dinner and spend perhaps another hour reviewing what we went over. That gives me plenty of time in the evening to relax and unwind a bit. This will likely change when exams and quizzes come around, but I seem to be getting through the material with pretty recall so far. In two weeks my wife will finally move in and start her new job, forcing me to do things like “clean” and “shower”. Lame. (just kidding, I actually do most of the cleaning because I have a thing about cleaning)

I went to a panel earlier this week. The AMA sponsored several fourth years with high board scores and strong residency applications to come and give us some advice on Step 1, study habits, and other things that they learned during their four years of medical school. The most common theme in their advice was to enjoy the first few years of medical school, make friends, and study enough to pass. There is no need to study for Step 1, try to shadow, or do anything extra, according to the fourth years. Just pass your classes and set yourself up to do well in the coming years.

That’s kind of hard to hear, especially since we are all eager-beaver first year students. Every single student attended training to volunteer at our campus free clinic that offers healthcare for uninsured in the area. Several people in our class are working on getting research spots in labs. Why? Probably because most people in our class are pretty smart.

That’s a generalization, don’t get me wrong. There are several people I have already noticed seem to be a few fries short of a happy meal, but most of the class seems to be generally intelligent. I can tell this by the attitude in the class. In every class I have ever been in that was considered “hard” (organic chemistry, anatomy, even general chemistry for some people), every lecture was followed with something like “How are we supposed to learn all of this? We covered so much material today! There’s no way I am going to learn this!” Even after flying through a lot of Cell Biology in this first section, I have’t heard a single person mention feeling overwhelmed or even the least bit daunted by the volume yet. There is this feeling of grim optimism/determination to get through the material and do well. I like it. It’s contagious.

So there are lots of people that are really good at a huge variety of things. Last week during venipuncture practice I discovered that a new friend of mine has years and years of phlebotomy experience and could probably draw blood from me blindfolded. I managed to get my sticks done in one shot (beginner’s luck) but I felt like a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time. I got the job done. I was also told repeatedly that I have great friends, and my partner got envious looks from the girl next to me, who had spend quite a while searching desperately for a vein in her partners arm.

I also went to a lecture given by a neurosurgeon at our associated hospital who is a total stud (I go to these lectures for the free food, by the way. I’m not a gunner or anything). What I thought would be a Q+A session for the gunners looking for neurosurgery residency spots ended up being a video demonstration of this guy doing cranial bypasses, stitching vessels together under a microscope with thread so thin that the naked eye can’t even see it.

The AMA panel featured people who had scored “240+” on their Step 1, and I happen to know of a certain first year who sits behind me that scored north of 42 on his/her MCAT. Yikes.

So all of these smart people are currently studying hard for our first exam type thing this Friday, and I’m writing online while waiting for my car to get a new set of tires (and it’s taking forever). Then I realized that I do have some advantages going for me, if I think very hard. I certainly have an advantage in physical endurance. I’m the only triathlete in the class (unless someone is living at home and watching lectures online), and I have stood out at the first few softball/frisbee/football games, so I’ve got that going for me. I also probably drink the most sweet tea of anyone in the class. That’s about it.

Sweet, my car is ready. Thanks for reading.