May 18 2007
There are answers, but there is no one best answer. I will give you my opinion and I emphasize OPINION.
Some factors to consider are “What makes my chances best of getting into medical school?”, “What do I really want to do after medical school?”, “What do I really like?”, and “Do I want to spend 5 or more years getting through medical school?”
What makes my chances best of getting into medical
school? Based on the studies I have seen, students with degrees in engineering or physics have the highest percentage acceptance rates into medical schools. But, statistics may be deceiving as the numbers are smaller from these disciplines and possibly only the best students move on to consider medical school. This may also be responsible for the fact that humanities and some social science majors have higher percentage acceptance rates than biology majors. This is old data, from the 90’s, and I am uncertain if these rates have changed.
What do I really want to do after medical school? For most premedicals, if you “just” want to be good practicing physician, and nothing more, you should select biology as your major. If you have plans of academics or research or administration or politics, etc, you may as well select majors along those lines. Remember, you do not have to have a biology or science major to do well on the MCAT and get into medical school.
What do I really like? If you just love music, or history or art, then do it. Remember you don’t have to be a science major to get into medical school or do well on the MCAT. But, if you are a nonscience major, you had better make a point of doing well on the science portions of the MCAT…they will be looking!
Do I want to spend 5 or more years getting through medical
school? Or, this may be framed as what major do I need to
compete with my peers in medical school? Medical school is grueling, especially the first two years. Courses like biochemistry and physiology and others are stumbling blocks for many students. This is why my number one recommendation is to be a biology major. To compete and to be ready to most effectively learn the massive amount of information you will be taught in medical school, it is very important to come in with some foundation. That foundation is found in biology. Most of your classmates will be biology majors and have taken physiology, anatomy, cell biology, genetics, microbiology and other advanced course to satisfy the major. If they are smart, like you, they will have also taken a solid biochemistry course. The reason you take advanced biology courses in college IS NOT to do well on the MCAT, the reason is to ease your transition into medical school during those difficult first two years. It will make a difference. It will help you compete and maintain your sanity. It will help you finish in four years.
There are a number of programs available which will predict your next MCAT attempt based on your prior attempt and the statistical evaluations of thousands of other students who have retaken the MCAT. Are these predictions accurate and will any attempt to retake the test just be a folly on your part?
Typically these programs and even the AAMC itself only predict minor changes in your score if you retake the test. I think all of these are way off the truth if…
The fundamental question to ask yourself about this test is whether or not it is truly a test of basic intelligence or not. Why is this question critical? If the MCAT is a test of basic intelligence, and you are granted with a given amount of this based on your birth and opportunities to this point in your life, then there is no changing it and no use in retaking the test-other than achieving the minor statistical variation predicted by these programs. The fact is there is NO such thing as a basic intelligence factor (designated as “g” by IQ test hereditarians). Since there is no such entity, there is no test that can measure it. Least of all, these high-stakes standardized tests DO NOT measure your intelligence. So, just discard this as a factor.
Then what do they measure? I believe they measure your level of achievement and ability to take tests of these types. This means you CAN do something about your results on these tests.
What you should do the first time is do an appropriate and thorough preparation because there is no doubt in my mind that this will result in optimal scores for you. If you have taken the test and not performed up to your expectations, I feel you can have a significant improvement in scores if any of the following were present and IF you correct them during your next attempt: 1) college courses that may have been inadequate in content or taken long ago, 2) college courses that did NOT emphasize higher order thinking skills (ie, more than just simple recall), 3) no preparation for the MCAT, 4) preparation for the MCAT that focused on content only and not higher order thinking skills, 5) preparation that did not FULLY use the AAMC practice tests, 6) preparation for the MCAT that was less than 3 months in duration, or 7) preparation for the MCAT that was secondary or tertiary to other concerns (work, courses, family activities or crises, etc).
Another factor to consider is that if you did use one of the commercial test prep programs, be careful about using a clone of it for next attempt. What you need to do is search out prep programs that have a different approach. You definitely want a prep program that combines DIRECTED and LIMITED content review, instruction in test-taking skills, opportunity to practice higher-order thinking skills and will allow continual feedback and monitoring. Always take advantage of the AAMC practice tests (aamc.org). Also, you must prepare seriously, in depth and with minimal distractions.
Students who do this will improve by more than the few points predicted by these programs. YOU WILL HAVE VINDICATION.