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Apr 09 2007

Genesis of the “Harvard Manual”

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Author: Dr. James L Flowers
Category: My Evolution of MCAT Prep Thoughts

I had now completed my third year of medical school and was beginning my fourth year, it was 1976. I definitely wanted to complete my medical education in four years and get back to Milwaukee…don’t ask me to explain that. OK, I will…its called family. During this time, I had already completed the requirements for a MPH (Masters’ of Public Health) from the Harvard School of Public Health, and had participated in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology. This had allowed me to experience courses and classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well. But, now I had three years of solid MCAT preparation and the creation of a set of materials for that preparation. I would not be around for the summer of 1977 to teach the new group of the Harvard Health Careers Summer Program (HCSP) the MCAT prep…I just felt that all of this effort COULD NOT be lost.

Also, I knew I would have to move my family, which now included four children, my wife and my mother who came out to help us, back to Milwaukee. I had already decided to do my residency there. So, I would need money and that meant I would need work. So, I went to Dr. Wallace and made a proposal and a plea. I would write a manual that would collect and summarize what I had been doing over the last three years that I could leave behind for others to use and teach MCAT Prep.

Dr. Wallace liked the idea. He negotiated with his director, Dr. Crooks, to secure $5000.00 to pay me to write the book. I would retain rights to it, but Harvard and Dr. Wallace would also be able to use it at will for their programs. We did this in the summer of 1976. So, now I had to complete my senior year of electives at Harvard Medical School and write a MCAT prep book. I was glad to have the opportunity.

Dr. James L Flowers Photo

Keeping the Promise to Dr. Wallace and Dr. Pouissant

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Author: Dr. James L Flowers
Category: My Evolution of MCAT Prep Thoughts

That summer of 1974 I began teaching the pre-medical students in the Harvard Health Careers Summer Program (HCSP) how to think about the MCAT. This was the third version of the MCAT that had begun in 1928 as the Moss Test. It was changed in 1946 and 1962 (I believe). This was the version I had taken. It was graded like the SAT. There were several components including Science, Quantitative (Math), Verbal and General Information. Medical schools, at that time, were primarily concerned with the Science and Math subtests. Since I had scored in the 99th percentiles in Science and Math, these topics were what I was going to focus on in the classes.

Prior to the summer program, I compiled an outline and some basic materials for the students. I really had no clear scheme to follow. There still were very poor commercial materials available. So, I started to create a syllabus which I thought was appropriate. Additionally, we had no actual prior tests to model. All I could do is remember what was on the MCAT I had taken a few years previously. Unlike now, there were no passages in either the Science, Math or Verbal. All questions were stand-alone or non-passage questions. This made the test a little easier.

That first year, we were placed in a basement classroom in one of the older buildings in Harvard Yard…talk about starting from the ground-floor, or below it. Yet, how could I complain? After all, it was Harvard’s basement. There, I had my first group of students to prepare for the MCAT. I would lecture and go over questions for them. I really cannot remember all of the details. But, I remember the students were very appreciative and must have been satisfied with the course. This had to be the case. I was asked back each year as students had reported back to Dr. Wallace regarding my performance. And even Dr. Wallace started to like me after a couple of years.

Over the years, for whatever reason, my reputation grew as a good or even great preparer of students for the MCAT…I always figured this was because no-one else had wanted to take on the task…no competition. I then taught the summer MCAT prep every summer during my medical school career. By my third year in medical school, I had accumulated a great deal of material and had impressed Dr. Wallace that my promises of teaching the course were not just a desperate mischaracterization, also known as a “lie”, to get a job.