It’s one of the most common questions I hear from premeds about the MCAT – which courses do I NEED to take before I take the MCAT? Today, we break it down!
Over the next several weeks here on The MCAT podcast we’ll be doing MCAT 101 and of all the basics that any student needs to know before jumping into the MCAT.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:23] Ali’s Background
Ali first took the MCAT in 2004 back when it was still paper and pencil. His journey took him through a lot of steps like studying for that test.
He started with the mistakes most students start, focusing too much on content and didn’t get the score improvements he wanted. Once he switched to practicing, everything started to click. And then it dawned on him that the MCAT is a very coachable test.
Most students walk into it thinking it’s one thing and two months into their prep, they figured out it’s something else. For a lot of students, where it’s two weeks away from the test, it’s already too late once they figured out how to do it.
As a tutor, Ali is passionate about helping students from day one so they don’t fall into the traps he fell into.'You can't figure out the MCAT in a book. You can only figure it out the MCAT practicing MCAT questions.'Click To Tweet
[04:52] Understanding the Timeline
First off, doing well on the MCAT is about doing practice questions. And you need some foundational knowledge of science.
But just to give you an idea of the normal school timeline, if you want to apply in the summer of your junior year, just before your senior year, you have to have your MCAT ready by May of your junior year.
A lot of students take the test either in May or January of junior year. But they’ve also seen students who are even taking it too early in their sophomore year. A lot of them are very successful with it.
A lot of them also have to push it multiple times because they don’t have all of the courses and prerequisites.
But they’ve seen that it’s becoming more and more like less of a negative thing to take a few gap years off. That being said, the average student takes it in their junior year.
There are also a lot of students who are doing things one at a time. They’re delaying the MCAT until after they graduate so that they’re not piling on courses plus MCAT prep plus application. They want to focus on just their courses before they even proceed to do their MCAT prep, and then eventually to the application.'There's no right or wrong. It's what can you do in the time and what stresses can you tolerate as you're going through this?'Click To Tweet
[07:19] Taking the MCAT in Sophomore Year vs. Senior Year
The main complication is when you have not taken all of the prerequisite classes. A lot of sophomores have not taken Physics 2 or Organic Chemistry 2 before taking the MCAT. You can overcome that but not everyone can overcome it in the timeline that they have. Then there’s a kind of a subtle complication under it as well.
If you’re taking the MCAT in your senior year, you have more expertise with the topics. Because not only you’ve taken your prerequisite classes, but you’ve taken enough advanced classes to see the material more than once. And so, you understand it at a deeper level and going into the MCAT, you’ve seen it multiple times. And just that is enough for you to retain it.
Besides, you have to take the prereqs anyway to apply to medical school. You’re not only taking the prereqs to take the MCAT. These are requirements to apply to medical schools. So if you’re taking them anyway, it might be best to take the MCAT after you’ve taken these classes from a logistics point of view.
And so, if you’re just going to prepare for the MCAT using only review books out there, then you’ve not been introduced to any of these topics. You’re starting from zero and it’s going to be an uphill battle.
[09:48] What Classes Do You Need to Do Well on the MCAT?
Ali’s advice is to take all of them including the two physics classes, two gen chem classes, your organic chemistry classes, your bio, biochem, psych, and sociology.
If you could skip one and still do well on the MCAT, Ali says he had seen a lot of students who had been successful with MCAT skipping Physics. But these usually tend to be students who took physics in high school and have AP credits in physics. And it’s the same thing with gen chem or some of the basic bio.
If you’ve never been exposed to the topic before, a topic you can study on your own would be something like sociology. If you have the basics of psychology/sociology, it might be easier for you to do it on your own. It’s not to say that it’s a less important topic.'Sociology is one of the biggest bang for your buck on the entire MCAT with the amount of studying you need to do and the number of points you get on the other end.'Click To Tweet
[10:52] “The Hidden Curriculum”
There are students out there who say you should take cell bio, or genetics, or anatomy and physiology because those are on the MCAT as well. And Ali says, it’s true they’re on the MCAT as well.
And so, a lot of students are confused about what bio classes specifically to take and what type of biology is tested on the MCAT.
Biology is the number one topic on the MCAT. Ali says it depends on what you classify as biology. Because the number one topic on the bio/biochem section, for example, is foundational concept one. This is 55% of your bio/biochem section. And actually, it overlaps with some of the chem/phys section too. So you can get points there too.
The biggest chunk of questions would be in molecular biology. And this is where from school to school, it is different. In some schools, you learn molecular biology in your biochemistry class. And in some schools, you learn molecular biology, like transcription, translation, and biotechnology, you learn it in your Intro to Biology class.'If there's a 'hidden' class you want to take, and if your school offers a molecular biology class, go take that because that's the biggest chunk of points on the entire MCAT.'Click To Tweet
Ali recommends looking into this syllabus of your classes. Some of the test prep books classify molecular biology under different books. For Blueprint, molecular biology is under biology the same way AAMC classifies it. But if you have the Kaplan books, for example, molecular biology and biotechnology in your biochemistry book. So you might be under some false impression that biology is more important. But if you have the Kaplan books, biochemistry is more important.
[13:24] The Easiest Classes or Courses to Skip
Ali says easiest depends on the student and what classes you do well. And a good rule of thumb is if you’ve done well with the first one, you might be able to skip the second one.
For most students Ali works with, they find that learning biology on their own is easier. So they tend to prioritize taking physics, organic chemistry, and gen chem and leaving biology or psych/soc to take on their own.
[15:11] Recommended Prereqs for the Nontrads
Ali says that if you’re proactive, just get your test prep books. Skim over them, take a practice exam and see where you stand on the topics. And if you find yourself remembering most of your physics, but struggling with organic chemistry, then maybe repeat organic chemistry.
There are a lot of free resources online that if you don’t have to go back to school, then go use these resources online.'The classes that require a lot of problem-solving are the classes where you will benefit most from being in a class setting.'Click To Tweet
For the intro to biochemistry class, you need to know your amino acids. You can learn this on your own and you don’t need an actual class for this. But for something like physics or general chemistry and organic chemistry, you will probably benefit more from school.
[17:54] Using MCAT Prep Books While Taking Classes
Ali says not to let it distract you from your classes because your number one job is to get an A and get a high GPA in your classes in your freshman and sophomore years.
But it’s a great idea if you want to apply to medical school going into your freshman year of college. Try to see there are any parallels between the MCAT and the classes you’re taking.
There are some benefits to it like problem-solving and knowing the question styles on the exam. It’s also a very common strategy in medical school students going through first aid (the common prep book for Step 1) while they’re going through their courses to see what information they should be really honing in on.
Again, it’s a great strategy, but you still need to do well in your class so don’t let the MCAT prep get in the way of that.'The effort you put in in your into your undergraduate classes is is extremely important in making your life easier when it comes to studying for the MCAT.'Click To Tweet
[20:44] Message to Freshmen
Students who are super organized bleed into the MCAT. They’re very organized with their classes and they’re very organized for the MCAT. They keep a schedule and they know what to do every day.
And if you don’t have the good learning skills for your undergraduate classes, you cram for every class, instead of studying on a weekly basis. This is going to haunt you in your junior year when you’re studying for your MCAT.“Be sure to build good study skills today because you cannot build them two months before your MCAT.”Click To Tweet