Pass/Fail Grades, What Do Med Schools Think?

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ADG 160: Pass/Fail Grades, What Do Med Schools Think?

Session 160

This student is worried that their P/F grades will impact them getting into medical school, will it? Let’s Ask Dr. Gray!

Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

The episodes in this podcast are recordings of our Facebook Live that we do at 3 pm Eastern on most weekdays. Check out our Facebook page and like the page to be notified. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media. If you have any questions, call me at 617-410-6747.

[00:22] Question of the Day

Q: “I graduated with a neuroscience degree. But in undergrad, I didn’t put all my effort into my academics. I did have an upward trend when I started getting serious during my junior and senior years. 

I enrolled myself in a master’s program linked with a medical school. But my master’s program started when COVID hit. So everything went online. And I just wasn’t prepared for the rigor of the graduate-level program, especially with everything being taught online. 

It was way different than how I studied in undergrad. And those techniques didn’t correlate over. Essentially, they gave us an option to do pass or fail for my art courses. And with the grad school grading, anything below a B was below a 3.0. So I ended up taking a lot of passes for last year. 

This is my second year, and retaking the classes that I took P/F. And so I was wondering how medical schools would look at that on my application?”

A: At the end of the day, hopefully, you get a good grade in it. And the grade maybe a little bit more diminished in terms of how it’s looked at. Because it’s your second time through the material.

Not that you took it pass/fail to begin with because lots of people took pass/fail during COVID. But since you’re relying on grades to show an upward trend to show academic ability, it’s going to be a little bit diminished. And that’s because it’s your second time through the material. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

[04:08] Would a High MCAT Offset a Low GPA?

Q: “I’m aiming for 515 or above? Would a high MCAT offset or balance it out?”

A: Your MCAT and GPA are independent variables. They’re two separate things. Medical schools will look at it as your GPA is not great and that your MCAT is great. But whether one offsets the other, we don’t know.

At the end of the day, medical schools want to know if you’re academically capable of doing well in medical school. Doing well means passing in four years getting through medical school, passing your boards the first time you take them, getting through medical school in four years.

'The question that medical schools are asking themselves first and foremost, is are you academically capable of doing well in our medical school?'Click To Tweet

There are two variables on the application that potentially lead to that: your GPA and your MCAT score. But it’s not just the GPA, but the trends and everything else. Again, they’re two separate variables, but a higher MCAT score always helps, period.

[05:37] Clinical Experiences Don’t Offset Bad Grades

Q: Can my activities help showcase my abilities, even though my grades don’t?

A: Medical schools are not accepting students based on clinical abilities. Medical schools teach you that stuff. Residency teaches you that stuff. This is very common for students to try to sell those clinical skills. But the skills don’t matter.

'Medical schools don't care how compassionate or empathetic you are if they don't think you're academically capable of passing medical school.'Click To Tweet

Medical schools have to filter our students based on stats and other metrics and there are a couple of reasons for that. They have to have a bare minimum academic record that they accept, based on their historical data.

Not only is that a financial burden for the students but that’s also doing a disservice if medical schools accept them. But it’s also a black eye for schools during the accreditation process.

Clinical experiences are great and they help tell your story about why you want to be a physician. But again, they don’t offset bad grades. You have to prove your academic capability. You don’t have to prove clinical capability.

[09:15] How COVID Affected the App Cycle

Q: Do you think COVID has affected the application cycle? Or how is the application cycle being affected?

A: We had lots of people who applied last year in the first year of COVID. In 2020, we saw record numbers of students applying because students were rushing their applications trying to take advantage of not needing an MCAT score.

And so, what we saw was students with not good applications, trying to take advantage of the situation and find a shortcut. But they didn’t get into medical school so now they’re applying again.

We’ll see over the course of the next few years because we always see increases in applicants after economic downturns. People always go back to education as a way to fill the time and to improve their status in society.

[11:36] Her MCAT Prep

When asked about her MCAT prep, our student says she’s been preparing for it and has been hitting a 501-502. She thinks she has run through content enough and doing practice exams.

Practice, practice, practice. Blueprint full-length exams are considered the gold standard third-party tests.


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