MP 37 : How Do I Know if I am Ready to Take the MCAT

Session 37

This week, we're breaking from our normal pattern of going through MCAT questions as Bryan and I talk about how to determine if you are really ready to take the MCAT.

First, check out the The Premed Years Podcast Session 29 where I interviewed Renee, a 54-year-old medical student who had to reapply to medical school and had to take the MCAT five times.

Let's go back and dive right in!

[01:10] Am I Ready to take the MCAT?

Bryan's typical response to this question is to first start with abstracting out all of the fraught emotions that come behind that question.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how many MCATs you should take. In fact, I mentioned and asked how many MCATs do I need to take so I know I'm ready. Hence, we're doing this episode to specifically talk about this topic.

The student will typically reframe the question as “I don't feel ready.” Now, if you live in the land of feelings, you will never feel ready. Bryan has been doing this for 16 years and every time he would take the MCAT, he doesn't feel ready to take it again.

[02:18] Number of Practice Tests

Most students have taken five to ten full-length exams so they have plenty of data to look back at. If you haven't done that and only took one test, then you're not ready. End of discussion.

Now, let's look back at how many full-length exams you've taken. The algorithm is really simple. Look back at your best section scores, not your best overall scores. Look at each individual section and ask yourself what's the best you've ever done in chemical and physical foundations, or the best you've ever done in CARS, or in Bio and in Psychology. Do not look at what you wish you would get or what is your target score.

What is the real actual number that you have actually achieved and that you know you're personally capable of when you're performing with your game face on or you’re at your best in each of the individual sections?

Add up all those numbers then ask yourself, what's your best day ever? Realistically look at your best scores which you're personally capable of so far. Then add them all up to get a number.

[03:40] Best-Day-Ever Score

When you get your best-day-ever-score is not how you feel about that. Take feelings out of the equation. The question is about behavior. What is you best day ever score based on real, actual past achievement? And if you got that score, would you apply to medical school or would you just take the MCAT again and not even bother applying? So it's a binary question about, what would you do?

If your answer to the question is, “Yes, I've got my best-day-ever-score and I'll go ahead and apply to med school,” then you're ready. If your MCAT is sometime in the next one to two or two to three weeks, then you are right on track and have realistically achieved scores that would get you a score that would allow you to apply to medical school. Then go ahead and take the test.

If your answer to the question is, “Even if I had my best day ever, I wouldn't even bother applying. I would just sign up for the MCAT again and continue studying,” then don't take the MCAT because your best day ever is not even good enough to get you to a place where you're applying to med school. So why bother taking it at all? Push back a month so you can continue studying.

“Best day ever” doesn't only refer to a single time that you scored the highest aggregate score, but your best section scores. If you've got all of your best section scores all at once in a single day and since then you've taken a couple of tests more and have seen a downward trend, you're still ready to go to take the test because that best day ever is a real thing that happened and you were capable of it. If you've got that 510 once, then you're capable of getting a 510 again. If you've had some bad luck after that, then you've got to shake that off, learn the lessons to be learned from the practice test and then just go in there and knock it out of the park again on the real exam.

[06:02] Scheduling Your Test

One of the mistakes students make is not scheduling their test until they're ready. Bryan recommends you schedule the test as soon as you start prepping. Once you’ve personally committed you're going to take the MCAT, your very next step is to pick a date and trying to see when do you have a good three to prep for it. Then go three months out and put your money where your mouth is. Pay the $300 and register for the exam. Otherwise, you will keep on finding excuses to push it back and it will never happen. Scheduling the test puts your head on the chopping block so you have a deadline to keep in mind now. The impostor syndrome may try to creep in where you feel you're not ready and you can't do it or you're not smart enough but that impostor syndrome will always be there all through your journey. So schedule the test. Seeing the test date looming at you, that will get your button gear and get the work done.

[07:50] Final Thoughts

Now you know when you're ready to take the MCAT. Ultimately, you need to take the MCAT early enough in the application cycle so your application is not late. However, you also need to be prepared for it. I've had several discussions with students and we've pushed back their application year because they're not ready to take the MCAT. So don't rush your application just because you need to take the MCAT by this certain time. Again, take the MCAT when you're ready.

Next, we're going to talk about Organic Chemistry!

Links:

MedEdMedia Network

Next Step Test Prep (Get access to their full-length exams and live office hours five days a week by using the code MCATPOD)

The Premed Years Podcast Session 29

The MCAT Podcast Session 34: How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should I Take?

Transcript

Introduction

Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com. Check out our latest Premed Years Podcast where we interview a 54-year old medical student who is a re-applicant, or was a re-applicant to medical school, and had to take the MCAT five times. Go check it out, www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/229.

This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 37.

A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles as a premed, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a medical student.

Alright today we're breaking from our normal pattern of going through questions on the MCAT, and talking about how to know if you're really ready to take the MCAT. Let's go ahead and dive right in.

Alright Bryan, back with another MCAT Podcast. This time we're not going to dive into questions- MCAT questions, we're going to dive into a general question that we hear a lot of, ‘Am I ready to take the MCAT?' What's your typical response to a student when they ask you that question?

Feeling Ready for the MCAT

Bryan Schnedeker: So you know, I always like to first start with abstracting out all of the fraught emotions that come behind that question. Because Ryan, you and I were talking maybe I think three or four weeks ago about how many MCATs you should take, and one of the things you even mentioned during that conversation a few weeks back was, ‘How many do I need to take so I know that I'm ready?' which got me thinking about this topic and I figured we could talk about it this week. And so first, the student typically will frame the question like this, ‘I don't feel ready.' They'll talk about their feelings and I want to say, ‘Look if we live in the land of feelings, you'll never feel ready.'

Dr. Ryan Gray: Never ever.

Looking at the Numbers

Bryan Schnedeker: Right? Never. I've been doing this for sixteen years and every time I take the MCAT I don't feel ready to take it again. So I say, ‘Let's look at numbers, and specifically let's look at your practice tests.' And just like we had talked about a few weeks back, most students have taken something like five to ten full length exams, so they have plenty of data to look back at. Now if you haven't done that, if you're like, ‘Oh I only ever took one test,' then I can already tell you you're not ready and full stop, end of discussion. So let's say we look back at your past five, six, seven, however many full lengths you've taken. The algorithm is really, really simple. I tell you to look back at your best section scores, not your best overall scores, but look at each individual section and ask yourself, ‘What's the best I've ever done in chemical and physical foundations? What's the best I've ever done in CARS? What's the best I've ever done in bio and in psych?' And not, ‘What do I wish I could get?' Or not, ‘What is my target score?' ‘What is a real actual number that I have actually achieved? What do I know I'm personally capable of when I'm performing with my game face on? When I'm performing at my best in each of the individual sections?' Then it's real simple. Add up all those numbers. Ask yourself the question, ‘What's my best day ever?' And again, not in some Disney movie, Pollyanna fantasy land idea, but rather realistically, ‘What are the best scores I'm personally capable of so far?' and add them all up and get a number. And now the question when you get your best day ever score is not, ‘How would I feel about that,' again because we've got to take feelings out of the question- out of the equation. The question is about behavior. So I say to the student, ‘What is your best day ever score based on real, actual past achievement, and if you got that score, would you apply to med school or would you just take the MCAT again and not even bother applying?' So it's a real simple binary question, again about what you would do. Not how you'd feel about it, but what you would do. And if your answer is, ‘Yes if I got my best day ever score, I would go ahead and apply to med school,' then the answer is, ‘Okay then you're ready. If your MCAT is sometime in the next one to two weeks, or two to three weeks, then you are on track, you have realistically achieved scores that would get you a score that would allow you to apply to med school, so go ahead and take the test.' If your answer to the question is, ‘Well even if I had my best day ever, I wouldn't even bother applying. I would just sign up for the MCAT again, and continue studying,' then that's your answer. Don't even- don't take the MCAT because even your best day ever is not good enough to get you to a place where you're applying to med school, so why bother taking it at all? You should push back a month and continue studying.

Best Day Ever Section Scores

Dr. Ryan Gray: What if your best day ever was two tests ago, and since then you've scored five points lower?

Bryan Schnedeker: Well remember I'm not using best day ever to mean just a single time that you scored the highest aggregate score, I'm saying what were your best section scores? So if all you're saying is you got all of your best section scores all at once on a single day?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Bryan Schnedeker: Like you really knocked it out of the park one day, and then since then you've taken maybe a couple of tests and seen a downward trend?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Bryan Schnedeker: You're still ready to go take the test because that best day ever, again is a real thing that really happened, like you were capable of it. If you got that 510 once, then you're capable of getting a 510 again. And if you had some bad luck after that, then you've got to just shake it off, learn the lessons to be learned from the practice test, and then go in there and knock it out of the park again on the real exam.

When to Schedule the Exam

Dr. Ryan Gray: One of the things that I think a lot of students make the mistake of is they don't schedule their test until they are ready. What do you tell students as far as when to schedule the test?

Bryan Schnedeker: Oh as soon as you start prepping. Like once you've personally committed, ‘I'm going to take the MCAT,' literally your very next step is to pick a date, is to look at your calendar, say to yourself, ‘When do I have a good three months to prep for this thing,' or maybe you need four or five months, and then go three months out and put your money where your mouth is, pay the $300 and register for the exam. Because if you leave it as this kind of loosey goosey nebulous thing, ‘Oh I'll register once I've gotten started, once I feel ready, once I, once I, once I,' it'll never happen, right? You'll just keep finding excuses to push it back. So you've got to put your head on the chopping block and say, ‘Okay I've got a deadline now. Here it is. I was planning to take the MCAT and apply this cycle, so my pre-health advisor says I've got to take it in May, so I pays my money, and I take my chances, and I'm registering on May 5th' or whenever.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah I think imposter syndrome creeps in saying, ‘I'm not ready, I can't do it, I'm not smart enough,' but imposter syndrome will always be there all along your journey. I know going through medical school, and then starting internship, and then starting practice out in the real world, I thought I was a faker the whole time. So you have to definitely just schedule that test, and if you need to move it, obviously move it, but try to stick to it.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah nothing motivates like the headsman's axe, right? I mean if you see test day there looming at you, then that will get your butt in gear and get the work done.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, now you know when to take the MCAT, when you're ready to take the MCAT. Ultimately you need to take the MCAT early enough in the application cycle so that your application is not late, but you also need to be prepared for it. And I've had lots of discussions with students that I've talked to, and we've pushed back their application year because they're not ready to take the MCAT. So don't rush your application just because you think you need to take the MCAT by a certain time. Take the MCAT when you're ready, and then worry about applying.

I hope this was helpful for you. I'd love to see a rating and review in iTunes from you, that would help greatly. I don't know if it really helps, I just like to see the ratings and reviews, and I'll say hi and thank you for those as well here on the podcast. I hope you have a great week, come check us out next week as we talk about organic chemistry. So exciting! See you.

Hey are you still there? I also want you to go check out www.NextStepTestPrep.com. I've been digging into their online course, their MCAT course, and it's pretty awesome. It has so many hours of videos for you to watch that are just incredible. The layout is great, you have a little guy there- a little video box of the guy talking to you with the slides, and just great information. You have access to all ten of their full length exams, you have access to the AAMC material, you have access to office hours five days a week, and talking to several students that are going through this program right now through this course. A lot of times not a lot of students show up to office hours because everybody is on a different schedule, and so if office hours are planned and people don't come, then it could be one-on-one tutoring basically that you're getting as part of this. So check it out. I'm not promising one-on-one tutoring, but it could be one-on-one tutoring. Check it out and you can save some money by using the code MCATPOD, all capital letters, at www.NextStepTestPrep.com.

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