Discover 3 MCAT Myths, Truths Test-Takers Should Know

Avoid memorizing small details and take frequent practice exams while preparing for the MCAT.

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MCAT test-takers should work to fully understand introductory concepts and get comfortable answering questions about unfamiliar material.
MCAT test-takers should work to fully understand introductory concepts and get comfortable answering questions about unfamiliar material.

The MCAT is one of the most important exams you can take as a prospective medical student, yet it remains poorly understood, with many myths perpetuated about different aspects of the test. Understand the facts behind some common myths and learn some truths about the MCAT to better prepare for this critical step toward medical school.

Myth 1: You must memorize all of your premed material. Though a foundation of chemistry, biology and physics is needed to succeed on this exam, the majority of MCAT questions assess your reasoning and communication abilities.

Rather than having you regurgitate material you've already learned, this test requires you to read passages, comprehend information and apply it in different ways. There's not much benefit in memorizing small details.

Instead, students should work to fully understand introductory-level concepts and get comfortable answering questions about unfamiliar material. Don't worry about remembering formulas – access to relevant equations will be provided on test day.

[Discover three inexpensive ways to study for the MCAT.]

Myth 2: Studying is unimportant if you've excelled in your premed course work. This point ties into the first myth. Since the exam tests you on more than just the content of your premed curriculum, your success in these courses does not equate to success on the MCAT.

Regardless of your grades, you'll have to put in a significant amount of time and effort to prepare for this exam. Students should plan to spend approximately 20 hours per week for three to four months. And it's still important to do well in your premed courses to maintain a commendable GPA and to have a good, basic foundation of knowledge for the test.

Myth 3: Only take the test once, at all costs. Ideally, you should aim to score in your desired range on your first attempt. However, circumstances can arise that may hinder your performance on test day. These include anxiety, personal issues during your preparation period or trouble balancing school and test prep.

Don't be afraid to retake the test if you are certain you can do better. A good indicator of future improvement is a history of practice exam scores that were consistently four or more points higher than your actual score. If this is the case, consider retaking the test after a period of focused preparation, particularly on your weaker areas.

[See this list of the 10 most expensive private medical schools.]

Truth 1: The MCAT is a major factor in your medical school application. No matter what anyone tells you, your MCAT score is one of the most important factors considered by admissions committees when reviewing your application. It is the only objective, standardized measure that committee members have to compare applications.

For many schools, your application may be automatically rejected if your score doesn't meet a certain threshold. A low score could keep your application from getting full consideration, regardless of your GPA, extracurricular activities, research or letters of recommendation.

Truth 2: A great nontraditional way to prepare for the MCAT is by reading. Given that much of the exam involves reading passages, it seems intuitive that reading would help you prepare. However, premed students often read only science-related textbooks.

Take some time to read different forms of literature such as the news, novels and studies from medical journals. This will build your comfort level with different types of writing and help you practice for the MCAT without explicitly studying for it.

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Truth 3: The best way to prepare for the MCAT is to practice. No matter how much material you review, the most valuable MCAT preparation tools you have are practice questions and exams. Completing these in a timed setting will give you a true feel for the material and develop your reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Use practice questions as a guide to identify your weaknesses and focus your review process. Be sure to understand why you answered certain questions incorrectly, as this is another form of review.

As you begin your MCAT preparation, seek out advice from multiple sources – including credible websites, advisers, professors and peers – and use the tips and tricks that work best for you. With enough time, effort and dedication, you too can overcome this hurdle to medical school and pave your path to a medical degree.

Anubodh "Sunny" Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and is a medical student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.