Friday, July 3, 2009

Taking the MCAT

Now, bear in mind that having signed a non-disclosure agreement, I can only really tell you things that you might have already been able to garner from reading the materials provided on the registration websites; however, I'm still going to try to add a personal perspective to it.

The MCAT is a tough exam. Really. Tough. It isn't exactly impossible to study for, mind you. Just not exactly easy, either. It requires a lot of recall of a lot of material, some of which, especially in the case of college seniors, may be three to four-year-old information. And even then, it isn't until one actually takes the MCAT that one figures out what one should have been studying.

What confuses me about the content of a test like this is that while one of the stated goal of the exam is to test students on those things that medical schools and physicians think it important for incoming students to know, the other goal is apparently to test a student's ability to problem solve in a scientific context; that is, the exam gives a passage and then presents questions that a student should be able to figure out from the passage in the context of basic background knowledge. The score on a test like that shouldn't improve as a result of preparation classes, per se. And the verbal section! As someone who has scored quite well on verbal sections on past standardized tests, let me just say that I'm not entirely sure what it is about this verbal section that makes it so different, except perhaps for its ambiguity. But there is a big point made that sometimes it comes down to which answer is more right of multiple right answers, which may be why there are no penalties for guessing. But apparently some people do extremely well at picking the more right ones, and I may just be griping.

Taking the exam was a breeze, though. The testing center staff was kind, courteous, expedient, helpful, and willing to risk smiling at grumpy students. I'm pretty sure that without them, I'd have been much more nervous, stressed out, and unhappy. But as it was, every break meant having a pleasant, generic conversation that allowed me to sort of reset between each section. And it made me feel so at ease after very short breaks that I never felt it necessary or wise to use the full alotted ten minutes.

Anyway. It's done. Now on to... well, I dunno about better things, but other things anyway! My next goal? Finding some kind of job in healthcare for the next year. Oh boy!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The MCAT Really Drains You

If any of you reading this know me, then you may or may not know, depending on whether or not we've been in any communication (don't worry, most people aren't even sure I still exist), that I'm taking the MCAT in about 48 hours. I hadn't actually stopped to think about just how soon the exam was until the very moment I typed that, and now I'm a little panicked.

Presumably, I shouldn't be panicking because I've been spending all of this time studying for it instead of actually writing anything on here or calling friends, family, strangers, etc. But a point that I'd love to make about this exam is that what it states about its own content versus the content upon which students are tested is not always in line. First, a general statement is made that particularly specific information is not what the MCAT is designed to test. And generally speaking, this is true. But every once in a while, a question is thrown at the test-taker with two answers that are equally plausible; the only thing that makes the right answer correct is that it has been shown to happen experimentally. While this is well and good if the test taker had studied the specific experiment, or even done it anytime recently, it's expecting a specificity of knowledge that seems beyond the realm of testing one's general breadth of science knowledge.

And don't even get me started on the verbal section! I was a political science major. I took writing courses, philosophy courses, English courses, foreign language courses, history courses... I covered the gamut of social sciences and humanities as an undergraduate. I used to rock verbal sections. Now? It doesn't seem to matter how well I do on the other two multiple choice sections of the exam, the verbal section invariably scales itself down so that my overall score doesn't change, even if my science scores go up.

To be fair, I'm basing all of this on official practice exams. But they're supposed to be official, and potentially a decent indicator of performance on the actual exam. That said, I continuously receive the same score, so maybe there's some truth to it.

But I won't even begin to know how I feel about the comparative difficulty until Thursday. And I won't know how they feel about my comparative aptitude for another month after that.

I am drained. And maybe part of what the exam is testing for is the ability of test takers to face the fact that they're drained and to rally onwards. So goes my plan, anyway.