Our poster this week is questioning whether or not he should apply this cycle with low grades and not a lot of extracurriculars. He is getting very nervous about applying and getting some cold feet.
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[01:05] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:
“I’m two years out of college with the hopes that I would have applied to medical last cycle (2016) to start in 2017. However, when the time came to send out my primary, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. With a very low cumulative GPA of 3.05 and a science GPA of 3.25, a 502 MCAT and very, very few extracurriculars, I decided to wait a year and better my application.
A year has come and gone and yet I still feel hesitant to apply. I have been working a job as an Emergency Room technician, volunteering in a hospital, and again preparing to take the MCAT. Even if I get an outstanding score on the MCAT, I feel that it will not be enough to get in. What is your advice? Do I apply anyways? Or do I spend another year in limbo and get a Master’s or postbac while gaining more ECs (extracurriculars)?”
[02:10] Your Numbers Are Just a Portion of Your Application
This student is nervous about spending the money to apply to medical school without getting in. It’s a legitimate concern, especially given the GPAs for this student which aren’t great. Then a 502 MCAT with that MCAT isn’t great. However, as I’ve mentioned in the past, the MCAT and GPA are just a portion of your application. So you can’t only go on that.
[03:00] Clinical Experience & Extracurriculars
Episode 171 of The Premed Years Podcast, I had a discussion with a former Dean of Admissions at UC Irvine where she talked about a lack of clinical experience being one of the big reasons to not get into medical school.
This poster obviously recognizes the fact that they lack some extracurriculars and got a job as an emergency room technician. Does this mean you’re interacting with patients? If that’s what you’re doing then great. Taking the MCAT again is also great and you have to do well.
[03:45] Taking Postbac Classes
What I would have liked to see over the past year is you taking postbac classes. It doesn’t have to be a formal postbac but doing ore classes to bring up your GPA from a 3.05 and get a cumulative up to 3.2 or 3.3 and your science GPA up higher around to 3.5. This would be fantastic and it would make an admissions committee think twice about that application.
I had a great discussion with the Dean of Admissions at the University of Central Florida where we talked about nontraditional students who have done poorly in the past. He discussed how he looks at applications. He looks at the last 20 hours of science coursework and if you’ve done well in those last 20 hours, his assumption is you’ll be fine in medical school.
The poster did not give any trends on their grades. They may have an amazing upward trend but their cumulative GPA and science GPA are still lower. A lot more information would be helpful here but if you were able to take the MCAT and get a great score, apply. The only worst thing that could happen is them telling you no.
Assume that your GPA is going to hold you back so start taking some classes and do that now. And get ready to apply again. The safer bet that a lot of students don’t like to be classified as a reapplicant is usually an unfounded fear. Being a reapplicant doesn’t hurt you. But on the safe side, you can continue working as an EMT in the hospital, take classes, and improve your GPA. Take the MCAT, do well on it and apply next year.
[05:55] Final Thoughts
There are so many variables that go into a good medical school application that can get overwhelming. What happened to this student is a common thing where you get shy about pulling a trigger and then you don’t apply because you feel you’re not good enough. Then a year goes by and you really didn’t do much to adjust that so you’re still not good enough and this becomes a cascading problem of never being good enough. So take those next steps. Figure out where you need to go and pull the trigger. Take some classes. Do whatever you need to do to improve that MCAT score and hopefully, you will put together successful application. Obviously, personal statement, extracurriculars, secondary essays, and interview prep all go into a great medical school application.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Would you be interested in a free copy of my book, ‘The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview’? Then you should text the word ‘PREORDER’ to 44222, and I’ll show you how you can enter to win a free copy by June 4, 2017, and learn how you can preorder the book if you so choose, and get up to $100- or close to $100 in some giveaways that I’m giving to people that are preordering the book.
This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 42.
A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Blueprint MCAT (formerly 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, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help get you the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a medical student.
Welcome to The MCAT Podcast. As I mentioned in the beginning of the episode, if you text the word ‘PREORDER’ to 44222 I’ll show you how you can enter to win a copy, one of fifty that I’m giving away, of my new book ‘The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.’ It’s being released in paperback on June 6, 2017. The contest, the giveaway ends on June 4, 2017.
Alright so this episode is an interesting one. If you’ve ever had issues memorizing information for the MCAT, specifically science stuff, we’re going to dive into that with Bryan.
Alright Bryan, so let’s say I’ve been studying for the MCAT now for three months, and I still can’t remember all of the amino acids, I still can’t remember all these mnemonics that I find online. What are your secrets to help me finally remember science?
Tip #1 – Engage Using Different Modalities
Bryan Schnedeker: You know that’s a good question. I think there’s a real big irony there that we spend so much time studying psychology, including memory, and often forget to apply it to ourselves, right? We have to know how memory works for the MCAT, but we’ve also got to remember that’s how we remember our own stuff. And the big mistake that comes- Ryan you mentioned, ‘I get these mnemonics online,’ or whatever, is that students make the mistake of trying to remember their MCAT science the way they would study for their midterm for their immunology class, which is just kind of brute force repetition, or somebody in the class gave them a mnemonic, and so they just cram all that into their head, spew it back out the next day, and promptly forget all of it, and that’s not going to fly for the MCAT, right? You have to remember all of it all at once on test day. And so how you do that is use the basic principles of good memorization for the MCAT itself. And so I had four things that I wanted to kind of walk us through. They’re really simple points, but incredible important. Right? So number one is engage with the material using different modalities or approaches. A lot of people tend to get really hung up on the visual; they like diagrams, they like tables, they like flashcards. MCAT books are certainly filled with images, so everybody gets completely hung up on the visual. And not all of us are visual learners, so try to come up with something auditory, mnemonics that rhyme or have a rhythm to them. Try to engage with it kinesthetically. You know imagine the lever arm in your hand, and you’re kind of torqueing it by twisting your arm, or remember the right hand rule, or things like that. If you can engage the kinesthetic, engage the auditory in addition to the visual, you’re much more likely to remember things.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I have a story for that.
Bryan Schnedeker: Sure.
Dr. Ryan Gray: When I was in med school, my wife, a student with me, Allison, she would write song lyrics to learn things. And she would sing them, and that’s how she would study for more in-depth things. For the little stuff she wouldn’t do that, but for the more in-depth things she would write a song and sing it.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely, because I mean that’s a classic auditory learner way to approach things. I mean I still to this day, the only reason I could name every nation in the world, and every state and its capital, is because of the cartoon- the show Animaniacs when I was a little kid had a song for here’s every state and capital, and here’s all the nations in the world, and that was a great little auditory system for remembering those things.
Dr. Ryan Gray: And just to dumb it down- not dumb it down, but to give you a basic example, we sing our ABC’s.
Tip #2 – Don’t Memorize Isolated Facts
Bryan Schnedeker: There you go, exactly. Yup. Okay so engaging different modalities; auditory, visual, kinesthetic. Next number two, don’t try to memorize isolated facts. Put those facts in context, make connections between the facts. The human brain is terrible at remembering a random isolated fact. Like Ryan, quick what’s the capital of North Dakota?
Dr. Ryan Gray: Bismarck.
Bryan Schnedeker: Oh very good, okay so you knew that. See for most people they’d have no idea, right? They were in fifth grade, and their teacher made them memorize all the state capitals, and then they promptly forgot because those facts had no context, no meaning for them, whereas if you have connections, suddenly you’re better at remembering that. And it really gets to the idea that we are phenomenally good as a species, phenomenally good story tellers. And so if you can tell a story about the relevant science, you’re much more likely to remember it. So an example- and then what you do is you repeat it through a process called elaborative rehearsal; you rehearse it over and over again and elaborate each step along the way. The example I often use is electrochemical cells because everyone hates electrochemistry. It’s just like a universal law of MCAT students, nobody likes galvanic and electrolytic cells. So I say- okay look, just start at one point. The classic mnemonic RED CAT, reduction takes place at the cathode. So you start with that fact. RED CAT, reduction takes place at the cathode. RED CAT, reduction takes place at the cathode. Then elaborate. Because a reduction reaction has to be paired with an oxidation reaction, then oxidation takes place at the anode. So RED CAT, reduction takes place at the cathode, reduction and oxidation are paired, so oxidation takes place at the anode. Then add another fact. Okay reduction is the gain of electrons. So electrons have to be flowing to the cathode. RED CAT, reduction takes place at the cathode because reduction is paired with oxidation, oxidation takes place at the anode, and because reduction requires electrons, electrons flow to the cathode. And so on, and so on, and so forth until you’ve built out a whole little five to ten minute lecture on electrochemistry for yourself. And now it’s not just a single isolated fact, it’s a little story that you’re telling about how a galvanic cell is built, and now you’re much more likely to remember it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So I think you’re onto something here, and this is going to be the next Broadway hit.
Bryan Schnedeker: The RED CAT?
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah the RED CAT.
Bryan Schnedeker: Get that guy that did ‘Hamilton’ and tell him to do electrochemistry.
Dr. Ryan Gray: There you go.
Tip #3 – Make it Personal
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah. And really, point number three ties into point number two. So point number two was make connections, make it a story, and number three is make it personal. Right? We’re- again the idea that our brains are built to tell stories, our brains are also built to store information that has emotional content that relates to people we know. Right? When you think about kind of where we devote time, and effort, and energy, number one is other people. We’re very kind of a very tribal animal. And so if you can connect abstract MCAT science to other people, then you’re much more likely to remember it. And we specifically like mnemonics, right? So instead of just a kind of abstract mnemonic OIL RIG, speaking of reduction and oxidation, if you can make a mnemonic that relates to your best friend or your family member, or kind of plays on those personal connections, you’re much more likely to remember it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: When you’re talking here make it personal, one thing I didn’t hear you say, which I think we’ve talked about previously, is personally creating those flashcards, and personally trying to come up with your own mnemonics instead of taking stuff that’s already created.
Bryan Schnedeker: Right, exactly. Right you’re not going to find a mnemonic online that plays upon some personal foible of your Aunt Sara, right? You have to know like, “Oh she’s really needy and grabby, so I’m going to remember electronegativity by grabbing electrons like Aunt Sara,” or whatever, right? So yeah absolutely craft it yourself so it’s based on your own family and your own story.
Dr. Ryan Gray: But with the flashcard as well, the majority of the learning with flashcards is actually creating them.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah you know, and you can go on Anki and get all these premade decks and stuff, and certainly there are plenty out there, and that’s a convenience if you’re like unbelievably strapped for time, but you’re really short-circuiting the value of making them for sure.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. Alright.
Tip #4 – Master the Basics
Bryan Schnedeker: And then the final one, there were four big points, right? So number one is engage different modalities. Number two, focus on the connections between the facts, so ‘because’ is one of the most important words in memorizing MCAT science. Number three, make it personal. And finally number four, master the basics rather than kind of halfway on everything. There’s this intimidation factor with how much is on the MCAT, that stack of MCAT books is enormous, and the list of all the content areas is enormous, and literally just an outline is 125 pages long in the AAMC’s official science outline. It’s actually 128 pages long. So you can get so intimidated by the sheer volume of stuff you have to know that the temptation is to just quickly cover everything, and frankly you’d be better off focusing on the 20% to 30% maybe at most 40% of real foundational stuff, and making sure you have it mastered it backwards, forwards, upside down, and sideways than you would be trying to halfway everything.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Master of- what is it? Jack of all trades, master of none?
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah so that jack of all trades, master of bad MCAT score. Whereas if you were like- if you’ve absolutely mastered the basics you can reason your way through much of the MCAT.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Jack of all trades, not going to get into med school.
Bryan Schnedeker: Right, exactly.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright well that sounds like some things I need to work on then to finally learn for the MCAT.
Alright there you have it, another great episode (hopefully) of The MCAT Podcast, helping you memorize science facts. Very interesting and a very needed skill for the MCAT. So hopefully that was helpful for you. I think it was.
Don’t forget, text the word ‘PREORDER’ to 44222, I’ll show you how you can enter to win one of fifty copies of ‘The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview,’ and also show you how you can preorder the book and get almost $100 worth of giveaways.
Have a great week, we’ll see you next time here at The MCAT Podcast.