In this week’s IG Q&A, I’m joined by Dorothy from Blueprint MCAT. We discuss application timing, MCAT prep strategies, coursework, and so much more.
For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:06] The MCAT Minute
You can only take the MCAT for a total of seven times in your life, three in a year, and four over the course of two years. Hopefully, you will need to take the MCAT only once. If you need help with your MCAT prep, check out Blueprint MCAT and sign up for a free account. They have a brand new Spaced Repetition platform built to maximize your knowledge and get the score you need on the MCAT.
[05:40] Dorothy’s #1 MCAT Tip for Students
Dorothy recommends that you have a study plan. Take even a couple of days to just sit down and figure out what resources you’re going to use. Think about how you’re going to do so, what timeline you have, and what other extracurriculars you’re going to be doing during that time.'If you don't have a plan, it just feels really nebulous and overwhelming.'Click To Tweet
Think through your resources and what you can afford. Dorothy highly recommends using AAMC materials regardless of whether you end up with a test prep company or not, and then go from there.
[12:52] Number of Schools to Apply To
Q: How many schools should I apply to?
A: The average for AMCAS is 17 schools. Just because you applied to 40 schools isn’t necessarily to your advantage because then you have to write those secondaries and get those in in a certain amount of time.'Think carefully about what you're looking for in a school.'Click To Tweet
Curate your school list to represent your research interests, clinical interests, and service interests. Whatever it is that you’re looking for in a school, look for those schools that actually share those things and have those things for you.
[14:58] MCAT Study Timeline
Q: I will complete my overall bachelor this spring 2022. How do I calculate when to take my MCAT? Because I want to apply in the fall of the following year and start medical school in 2023. How do I factor that into studying for the MCAT with all the other resources like Blueprint?
A: First of all, check out Mappd, a resource that helps students create a custom timeline of their medical school application. Ideally, you would have taken the MCAT by January to March being the latest of 2022. So that you can get your score back before you submit your applications.
This gives you some flexibility, if you need to figure out whether or not you need to retake the MCAT.
If you are taking more prereqs within this next year, maybe wait till that January to March test date to actually take your exam. And so, instead of having to self-study a ton for the MCAT, it’d be nice for it to align better with what you’re actually doing in your courses for school. Again, start mapping out a study plan soon.
Give yourself three to four months to study, especially since you will be in school while you’re studying for the MCAT. Then aim for maybe a February or March test date, depending on what your availability looks like.
Finally, give yourself, if possible, a full week to study before taking their exam. Because it’s hard to switch gears if you’re doing full-time work or full-time school and then also study for the MCAT at the same time. So if you have school breaks that line up nicely with certain test dates, that could be really advantageous. That way, you can use that final week to fine tune anything that needs to be fine tuned before test day.
[18:40] How to Build Stamina for the MCAT
Q: How do you prepare yourself to sit for seven hours on the MCAT?
A: This is why you need to do a lot of full-length exams. You need to get a lot of practice. Get used to having a high-focus high-intensity rhythm for certain periods of time. Start out with sitting for 30 minutes, and slowly build up from there. It’s definitely not something that you can just do when you choose to.
[21:45] Tips for Writing Secondaries
Q: What are your tips for secondary writing? How late do you think you start to get uncomfortable in terms of secondary submissions?
A: You want to be sending something that you’re really proud of and you want to share with medical schools. Do not go more than four weeks until you submit your secondaries. Aim to submit within a month, but as close to two weeks as possible.
Dorothy recommends creating a mind map so you have a clearer idea on what you want to convey to each medical school. Then try and tailor that to the prompt and try to fit in those anecdotes.
For example, have a list of what you want them to know about yourself and think of anecdotes that can help portray that. Anecdotes are especially powerful, Dorothy says, because it’s a way for them to actually remember you for your unique experiences and who you are specifically.
Personally, I think students overthink secondaries when all you need to do is answer the question. I don’t get super fancy with stories.“Anecdotes are great but make sure you're answering the question first and foremost. Then support that answer if you have space or time or want to with an anecdote.”Click To Tweet
If you follow my advice for personal statements and extracurricular descriptions, secondaries are completely the opposite from those. You don’t need to get super fancy with stories and stuff like that.
[26:17] Should You Focus on Clinical Experience?
Q: How many shadowing hours or clinical experience do I need?
A: Put together a full application that paints this picture of who you are while including some clinical experience. Hopefully, you’ve proven to yourself that you want to be a doctor by putting yourself around patients. And you’re getting some shadowing experience to prove to yourself that you understand what that life of the doctor looks like.'It's not about your total MCAT score. It's not about your total number of hours. It's not about your GPA. It's about everything.'Click To Tweet
Put yourself in potentially some research situations, although it’s one of the most overrated parts of an application from a premed perspective. Have a good enough MCAT and good enough GPA that medical schools will look at your application. And then everything else gets there.
At the end of the day, do what works best for you. It’s not about the quantitative aspect in terms of time but how much did you learn from the time that you spent doing that thing. Therefore, it’s important to be reflective in your application on how those experiences shaped your path to medicine.
[29:26] The 2-Week Rule of Thumb for Submitting Secondaries
Q: I applied already in June and I’m verified. I applied to one school and I have their secondaries now. They specified in their email that they recommend submitting it within the two weeks. But I’m studying for my MCAT so I haven’t been working on it too much. And two weeks would be in three days. So I’m wondering how much would the two-week thing apply if your MCAT is not in yet? Because my application won’t be complete anyway.
A: The whole two-week thing is just a general rule of thumb. There are schools that have deadlines, and you have to pay attention to those deadlines that the school gives you specifically.“The general two-week rule of thumb is just that. It's not a hard set in stone number that a school is going to automatically just ignore you.”Click To Tweet
Dorothy adds that the goal is a good quality secondary. So whatever you need to do in your timeline to make that work would be reasonable.
[32:02] Upward Trend But Low Overall GPA
Q: I graduated last year from college, and I did a postbac program this past year and got a 3.8 GPA. But my undergrad GPA was not that great. I had a really good upward trend, but it still wasn’t that great. So now, overall, including the postbac I’m at a 3.4 overall and 3.3 science. How is this looked at in terms of an upward trend but because my overall is still pretty low? I’m not too sure how to gauge that.
A: With a poor start to undergrad, your final numbers aren’t going to look super sexy. For a student like yourself, a nontraditional student who had to do a postbac, 3.8 postbac GPa is awesome.'It's not about that final number. It's about the story behind the number.'Click To Tweet
This student’s GPA for the last 60 credit hours is around 3.78, and medical schools see that. They get every single data point. The software they use to pull the information allows them to filter the numbers however they want to set it up.
Whether that’s the last 50 credit hours, 60 credit hours, or 30 credit hours, they filter and sort and do whatever they want with that data. It’s not just about 3.4 so don’t worry about your 3.4 because you’ve kicked butt on your last 60 credit hours and you’ve proven you’re academically capable of doing well in medical school.
[35:26] Missing Prereqs
Q: I’ve been looking at schools that don’t have strict class requirements, but need a good GPA.
A: This is a great question for MCAT prereqs. And we highly recommend taking biochem if you can, at least concurrently while you’re studying for the MCAT, if not as a prerequisite. A lot of med schools do require at least one semester of either psych or soc.
Make sure you’re looking at the prereqs required for each school that you’re really interested in and make sure you are hitting all of those.“You don't want a prereq to be the reason you can't apply to a certain school.”Click To Tweet
[43:36] Asking for Letters of Recommendation in the Future
Q: I’ve been scribing in the emergency department for five years now. And then throughout COVID when that whole thing hit, we’re seeing lots of cases rise in the emergency department as well. It’s affecting our scribing hours now because the physicians don’t want to put us at risk because we’re contracted with the hospital.
How soon is it acceptable to get your recommendations prior to applying to medical school? I’m not applying to medical school anytime soon. But I don’t want my recommendations from the physicians to be backdated in 2021 when I’m not even going to be applying until three or four years from now.
A: Give a heads up for those positions that you want to ask for. They don’t necessarily need to write one right now.
Set that expectation with your professor or physician. Tell them how much you’ve enjoyed working with them. And that you would love for them to write you a strong letter of recommendation when you apply to medical school. But since you’re not applying for a few years, you don’t need anything right now.
Then ask if you could keep in touch with them through email. That way, you could keep them updated with your progress and everything you’re doing. And so, when it comes time to apply, you could reach out and ask for that letter of recommendation.
[53:38] Biochem is High-Yield on the MCAT
Q: I still have time to take the MCAT. But because I haven’t taken biochem, I’m not able to take it until May of next year. Should I just study a lot and just take the MCAT and see where I stand? Or should I just wait?
A: You need to know your amino acids and things like inhibition and how enzyme kinetics works. You need to know the earlier topics in biochem. If you end up taking the MCAT as you’re studying biochem, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Maybe take it within the January-March range. That way, you’d get to see your score and reevaluate whether you need to retake it before you apply.
[55:30] Check Out Blueprint MCAT and Mappd
Check out Blueprint’s live online course. It’s a 16-week course where you’ll be hearing from two experts as well as do a lot of practice. It’s a great way to give yourself more accountability as you study and give yourself some more structure. And also, having that regular feedback through their classes is powerful.
Also, go check out Mappd, our technology platform where you track all of your courses, your full length exams, and real tests, all of your activities. You get to track all of your medical school stuff. Use the promo code: 30DAYSFREE
Mappd (Use the promo code: 30DAYSFREE)