This interview came from a Leah4sci subscriber who took the MCAT in April 2015. The interview below strictly represents the student’s personal experience and opinion and should be taken as such.
Real MCAT vs Official AAMC Sample/Practice Test
Have you taken the AAMC sample test?
How do you feel the AAMC Sampel Test compared to the real MCAT?
I found the AAMC practice MCAT to be very similar to the actual MCAT I took, especially when it came to content representation. At least in my experience, the content that appeared several times on the practice exam also appeared on the actual exam. The types of questions and the style of the content on the practice exam was a good representation of the actual exam.
What about the exam do you feel was most and least helpful?
As I mentioned before, I think the practice MCAT published by the AAMC is a really good representation of the focus and style of the actual MCAT. The downside to this, of course, is that there is only one AAMC practice test for the new MCAT.
Have you worked through the AAMC bundle packets?
* Note about other test preparation companies: Even when studying for the older MCAT exam, I never used very many non-AAMC test company materials, and I could never reasonably afford the MCAT classes that some of the larger testing companies offer. A major part of the motivation behind this decision was financial, so this may or may not be as big a of problem for others. When it came to studying for the new MCAT, I still stuck with the AAMC practice test even though there was only one. The fact that a testing company feels it can publish ‘authoritative’ testing material for a test that has yet to be administered seemed fishy to me. All that being said, this doesn’t mean that the material from these testing companies is wrong or unhelpful. It simply means that I can’t recommend for or against any MCAT preparation material produced by a company that’s not the AAMC.
Comparing the Old and New MCAT
Have you taken the old MCAT prior to taking this one? How many times?
How do you feel the new exam compared to the old?
If you’ve taken the old MCAT, everything will ‘feel’ familiar. The setup of the new MCAT is the same (passage-based questions plus standalone questions), so you won’t have to ‘learn a new test’ when it comes to appearance and familiarity. The balance and focus on subtopics has definitely shifted, though. The breakdown offered in the AAMC’s What’s on the MCAT2015 seemed accurate, but the practice MCAT is probably the best way to really get a feel for the focus of each section. My overall impression is the MCAT is testing for a solid understanding of the concepts and cross-disciplinary application.
Does it have the same “feel” as the old MCAT questions? (So, is reviewing old MCAT exams worth it?)
The ‘feel’ of the new MCAT is the same as the old MCAT in that it looks the same, it has passage-based questions, and it has standalone questions. The questions and passages in the science sections tend to be more medically-relevant now. There are probably more charts, graphs, and data tables than there were before. As always, there is more information than you’ll need in the passages, and determining what is important to answering the questions is half the battle.
MCAT Exam Questions
How in-depth were the sciences? Did you feel you need an overview or did you require knowledge of minute details?
You need a really, really solid overall understanding of all of the sciences because most of the passages will require you to apply your understanding to an unfamiliar topic. This, to me, was one of the most time-consuming parts of the test–reading and understanding the passage, determining what basic science topic the passage was drawing from, and then bringing together that knowledge with the passage information. The better you are at synthesizing information among the different sciences, the better off you’ll be with the passage-based questions. The standalone questions are always a sort of luck of the draw. Either you have the information in your head, or you don’t. These questions also tended to ask you to apply a certain concept to a specific situation. The Psychology/Sociology standalone questions were more likely to be discrete, like matching terms with definitions.
Were the passages comprised of mostly text, graphs, charts?
Interpreting graphs and research data is a major part of the passages. Almost every passage had at least one chart; several passages had two or more. These tables, charts and graphs are very similar to what you would see in the ‘Results’ section of peer-reviewed journal articles. Unlike the old MCAT, the new MCAT definitely asks questions on research design, testing methods, hypothesizing about and predicting results, and cross-species applications. This occurs in the Biological and Physical Sciences section and, to a lesser extent, in the Psychology section. There aren’t necessarily a lot of these questions, but they will be on there. People who have performed or assisted with research and/or have taken some kind of undergrad research course will have an advantage when it comes to these charts and graphs.
Was there a lot of math? If so was it detailed or simple?
I didn’t feel like there was very much discrete math, and I didn’t feel like it was very difficult. I should preface that by saying that the Physical Science section has always been my most difficult section, so take my advice in this arena with a grain of salt.
Do you feel there was enough time to go through the questions?
I never feel like I have enough time in the Physical Sciences section. I used almost all of the time in the Biological Science section. I usually have at least 15 minutes left in the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, but this is far and away my best section. I had about ten minutes left over in the Psychology section.
Were the questions offered one at a time or did you see more than one question per screen?
Questions were shown one at a time. This annoys me greatly–I feel like it’s constricting–but I can’t legitimately say that I would do better on the MCAT if several questions were shown at once.
Was it easy to skip around and go back and forth between questions?
It’s the exact same setup as the old MCAT. You can review all of the questions (labeled unhelpfully as ‘Question 1,’ ‘Question 2,’ etc.), see which questions are unanswered, see which questions are marked and select individual questions from the Review screen.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – CARS
How many avg questions per passage?
It was about 5 questions per passage.
Did it seem similar to the old VR section?
It was similar in the sense that the topics varied and almost none of them were science- or medically-related. All the passages are of similar lengths to the passages on the old MCAT. If it matters, the passages seem to be more recently written (early 2000’s for some of them).
Were the passages dense or not dense or somewhere in between?
It really depended on the passage and on your background knowledge. If you’re not familiar with the topic, the passage is going to feel more dense to you because of the unfamiliarity. You don’t need any outside knowledge to solve the quetsions, but the passage will seem more understandable overall if you’re familiar with the topic. I should also mention that not all of the passages are well-written, and that can make the comprehension more difficult.
Were you able to finish all passages?
Did the questions seem more main idea or paragraph/detail specific or something else?
It was a healthy mix. If the questions were paragraph specific, the questions referenced the paragraph number. But you’ll also get questions about the overall idea and the strength of the author’s argument. You’ll also see questions asking you to apply the information in the passage. They will also ask you to make predictions based on the information and the author’s voice and arguments.
Science Sections – Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem…
How in-depth were the questions?
The test covers a lot of information and many of the questions are detailed. In other words, the test is mostly very broad with certain questions being relatively deep. Which questions or concepts will be deep is very hard to predict. I sometimes felt you could make a good guess based on the passage, but occasionally, deeper questions showed up as standalone questions, and this obviously requires that you have a good understanding of the concept without relying on information you might garner from a passage.
How much focus on equation/concept memorization was required?
In one sense, you’ll have to memorize concepts and equations, but you’ll have to do much more than that. If you don’t understand the concept or equation you’ve memorized, it will help you very little on the test. For example, it would be very beneficial for you to memorize the biological amino acids and their properties. If you cannot, however, readily apply this knowledge to new or unfamiliar information for passage-based questions, it won’t help you at all.
Did you see a lot of organic chemistry?
Yes. There was also strong biochemistry focus in both the Physical and Biological Sciences section.
How difficult are the sciences compared to the old MCAT?
They’re probably of a similar caliber, but the questions seem to more focused on a medical and biochemical applications. Each passage also seems to be pulling from more sciences. For example, on the old MCAT, a passage may have been more focused on a particular concept. A passage about optics focused on the optics equations, the relationships among the variables, and maybe some special situations. On the new MCAT, a passage that deals with blood flow will require you to synthesize information from the passage as well as from physics, biochemistry, cell biology and possibly even testing methods to answer all of the questions related to that passage.
Psychology and Sociology Section
Was it similar to CARS strategy, meaning more about reasoning than knowing the concepts?
It was balanced between the two, slightly favoring knowing the concepts. I was really hoping it would be more of a verbal reasoning strategy, and a verbal reasoning strategy will be 50% to 60% of getting the correct answer. But, the questions will require outside knowledge–especially of definitions–to some extent.
Having gone thru it, what would you tell a student how to study for this section?
Many people take general psychology early on in their undergrad career, so I would highly recommend going through the AAMC concepts and subtopics and, at the very least, going through definitions of all of the psychological concepts. Become familiar with psychological and social science methods of research design and testing. Be at least nominally familiar with theory of mind models and developmental psychology. If you need to focus on something, favor topics that have recently become popular in medicine like patient-physician relationships and the effect of sociological issues on health.
Some schools–like my undergrad–don’t require students to take an actual sociology class. If this your case, just make sure you’re familiar with the sociology topics and subtopics mentioned in the AAMC’s What’s on the MCAT2015. When in doubt, go with the most politically correct answer.
Was the psych section very specific or general?
The standalone questions tended to be pretty specific, but nothing that you wouldn’t reasonably have learned in a general psychology course. The tough thing about psychology is that they like to name models after their originators, and some of the questions ask you to compare one person’s model with another. In other words, one question could describe a model, and you’ll be given four last names to choose from. In that case, there won’t be a lot of deriving from surrounding information. The passages obviously provide you with more information, but like the science passages, they’ll still require you to have some outside knowledge prior to reading them.
Did sections test specific science psych topics or a general overview? How in depth were the questions?
There were specific topics tested, and all of the topics were mentioned in the AAMC’s What’s on the MCAT2015. The biggest problem with psychology is going to be keeping your models and concepts straight. In this way, psychology lends itself a lot more to rote memorization than either of the two science sections.
Looking Back – Advice for Future MCAT Takers
What do you wish you could have done differently in preparation now that you’ve seen the exam?
I wish I could have spent more time studying for the psychology section. My interest in psychology is genuine and intrinsically motivated, but I wish I would’ve done some more directed study. When it comes down to it, there are far more similarities among psychological models than there are differences, and it can be confusing.
Overall, I wish I had had more time to prepare and to better understand the science topics that I was lacking in. Specifically, I would’ve spent more time on organic chemistry as it applies to biochemistry. Finally, the more familiar you are with topics and sub-topics, the more quickly you’ll be able to recall them. While there is often enough information to logically trace from Point A to Point D, there isn’t necessarily enough time to do that. It will be easier and faster if you remember what Point C is. Do not, however, fall into the trap of simply memorizing crazy amounts of information. Memorized information is rarely usable when you’re asked to apply it to an unfamiliar situation. Memorizing information will only save you time if you understand what you’ve memorized and can manipulate that knowledge.
What advice can you give to students who are about to sit the new MCAT?
Purchase and complete the AAMC practice test. When you complete it (and how often) is up to you. It’s a good way to determine the concepts in which you are weak. More importantly, however, you need to figure out how you’re going to manage your time during the test. This is a long test. There’s going to be a lot of reading. There’s one whole section that’s brand new. Even if you took the old version of the MCAT, you’ll need to deal with these newer aspects. One major issue that many people will probably overlook: The 30-minute lunch break. Consider how you perform after having eaten something larger than a snack. Some people (like me) don’t perform well intellectually after having eaten a full meal. Consider this very carefully. You’ll probably start feeling any sort of physiological effect from your food choices somewhere between the third and fourth section. This is definitely something you’ll want to test out, if you can, before sitting for the MCAT.
What would should someone spend more time doing to excel on the exam?
Focus on your weak topics and become comfortable with them. You have to understand these concepts, not just memorize them. Be honest with yourself, and with your education. Regardless of your GPA, really consider if you actually learned and understood these concepts in school. Those who did will have a far better time both during content review and on the test than those who went the rote memorization way.
Practice taking a test that will be from 6 to 7 hours long. This a different beast than the old MCAT because it’s longer, and it definitely feels longer. You’re going to have to schedule your practices. I wasn’t able to do the test very many times because I rarely have an uninterrupted span of time that’s more than 7 hours.You will probably end up taking the same official practice MCAT several times (unless you spring for some practice tests by other testing companies). It’s not the best way to prepare, but they haven’t left the early testers with too many choices.
Finally, seriously consider how you’ll handle the 30-minute break. If you’re going to eat, make sure you eat something that won’t make you feel off later on in the test. Remember, that you have two sections to complete after this 30-minute break. This is going to be different for everyone, so practice your breaks the way you plan to use them during the test.
I’d love to hear from. What do you think of this interview? Was it helpful? Are there any other questions you wish I asked? Let me know in the comments below