I remember clearly, and this is only one example, of a student who did poorly on a MCAT which had questions about bacteria on it. Fretting, he wanted to take a course in microbiology and buy microbiology texts for his next MCAT attempt. When I finally got a chance to see the test he had taken, it was clear that only basic but solid understanding of the subject was needed. And the knowledge required was consistent with the requirements published by AAMC This was the level of information found in a good introductory biology book or course on bacteria.What is difficult for many students to accept and believe is that the MCAT actually requires a relatively limited number of concepts to be successful. Since the version introduced in about 1977, AAMC has provided students with a listing of what will appear on the test in terms of science and math content. Analyses done by myself of the real MCATs demonstrate this list is very accurate and representative of what a student can expect on the MCAT. Equally important, it has shown me there are more concepts on that list than will appear on any one MCAT, and some concepts appear more frequently than others.
Furthermore, my analyses and working with thousands of students have demonstrated one of the most significant problems is depth of understanding of critical subjects and not simply the number of concepts known by students.My suggestions for approaching the subjects and math for the MCAT are:
1. Read the AAMC MCAT Student Manual which describes the requirements for the MCAT. You can find this at http://www.aamc.org.
2. If you have a prep course, or can go to a truly knowledgeable adviser or teacher regarding MCAT concepts (realize you may have a great adviser or teacher who is not aware of these specifics), they should be able to advise you as to the key concepts you should know based on the Student Manual.
3. Then use your textbooks only to supplement the basic preparation of these limited concepts.
4. DO NOT try to read the textbook from cover to cover. This will result in a great deal of wasted effort and time. And, this results in one of the laments I often hear, “But, I studied hard for the test.” Yes, you did, but you studied excess information. A lot of interesting and intellectually stimulating information is certainly found in college textbooks. If your goal is to do great on the MCAT, I would forego these pleasures, concentrate on the limited number of topics for the MCAT, and return to these other enlightening and fulfilling moments when you are sitting in front of your fireplace with your MD or DO degree firmly on your wall.
5. For Biology: This is the subject where you want to use the textbook most extensively. But, even for biology, there is a lot of information in a text which does not appear on the MCAT.
6. For General Chemistry: The MCAT covers a large number of general chemistry concepts. But, you need to be very careful in concentrating on those found on the MCAT which are still relatively limited.
7. For Organic Chemistry: The MCAT has even fewer organic chemistry concepts than for general chemistry. Absolutely, you should not try to go through an organic chemistry textbook in detail. Be very very selective in the concepts you choose to review.
8. For Physics: This is the same as organic chemistry and DON’T try to review a calculus based physics book for the MCAT. The number of physics concepts are likewise limited but you have to know them well.
9. For Math: This is barely 8th grade math. Do not worry about calculus, advanced algebra, geometry or other than the most basic trigonometry.A good MCAT prep course will not try to overwhelm you with everything. It should first determine the most important concepts for the MCAT, then should assess which of these you know and which you need to spend more time on. This is what you should do for yourself if you don’t choose to go with a prep course.
For the new computerized MCAT, it is even more critical to understand the key concepts in good depth. The reason is obvious, there are fewer questions and each one counts more. So, understanding this is even more critical now.There is no need for paranoia when you understand the reality and have a good plan and follow it.