Shhh! Don’t Tell Anyone You Need A Structured Course to Prepare for the MCAT

by Dr. James L Flowers

June 17, 2007

I often hear students say, “The reason I want a structured MCAT prep course is that I need the discipline.” All I can say is “Shhh! Don’t let anybody know.”

We often make utterances that may be true but don’t always give full thought to the implications…I know, I am very proficient at this technique. For a pre-medical student to tell me they need discipline is like a major league baseball pitcher telling me they need to learn how to throw a fastball. There’s a problem.

It may well be true that a structured course, usually meaning a classroom course with set lectures and testing, etc is the way for some students to prepare for the MCAT. But, by your expressing this to anyone, you are also telling them you cannot create that structure for yourself…you need outside imposed discipline. Are you then going to write in your medical school admission’s essay, “I needed ________ prep course because I did not have the discipline to prepare myself.” Of course not.

Medicine is certainly disciplined and requires discipline but a lot of your learning and education will not be by forced external discipline but by how you discipline yourself. Interviewers and medical school faculty want you to be able to discipline yourself for the lifelong learning you will need to remain a competent physician. This lifelong learning will not be a classroom with structured lectures telling you what you need to know…whether you need it or not.

This is one of the major reasons there is such a difference between some student’s performance in the pre-clinical, usually first two years, and the clinical, the last two years. Whereas the first two years are generally classroom with imposed structure, the final two years are not. You have to impose your own discipline in multiple dimensions to be successful in your clinical years. If you have not practiced this or made yourself discipline yourself, you will have difficulty during the clinical years.

So, certainly, you don’t want anyone to know that you’re taking a structured classroom MCAT prep course because you need the discipline. There are a few courses out there that allow you to create the discipline for your own course. This might be the type of practice you need, and you can proudly state in your essay, I really wouldn’t, that you created your own MCAT prep through your own discipline.

Just food for thought.


What is the best college major for the MCAT?

by Dr. James L Flowers

June 12, 2007

It may be surprising to some, but the answer is NONE…there is NO one best college major for the MCAT. There are best course types for the MCAT, though.

I have had innumerable encounters like the following over the years. A student has just taken the MCAT and felt he/she got toasted because there was something on the MCAT they feel they had not taken. One year the MCAT may have one or more difficult passages on microbiology. The student comes back stressed out about the difficulty of the test because they had NOT taken an advanced course in microbiology. They become convinced that if they had taken an advanced course in microbiology, they would now be in medical school. Nonsense.

Each year, there will be variable emphasis of topics on the MCAT. This will occur for several reasons and will be even more striking now given the shorter version of the Computer Based Test (CBT). Whereas in the past on paper, there may have been 10-11 passages in the sciences, now there may be only seven or so. Now each of these passages will loom larger in terms of importance. Remember each science subtest is testing two distinct subjects, Biology/Organic Chemistry and Physics/General Chemistry. So, even fewer topics will appear for each subject. Now a passage on lasers in space will loom large and may cause the unwary to think they need more and advanced physics. This will be a horrendous mistake.

The AAMC people have accurately and honestly told you what is needed for the MCAT…one year of biology (mainly zoology), one year of physics (non-calculus), one year of general chemistry and one year of organic chemistry…all introductory courses and all with laboratory. That is it. That is ALL that you need to do well on the MCAT. Advanced courses are NOT needed…period.

This means you can select any major you want…any major. As long as you take these basic courses, you can be adequately prepared for the MCAT. What you need to know and do is take the correct type of basic course and adjunctive courses.

You need to take the courses, or the section of the courses where the teacher or teaching assistant emphasizes Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). This is one time you really need the HOTS. HOTS include the skills of analysis, evaluation, comparison and inference…not just memory and recall of facts. In other words, you want courses where the instructor makes you think about the information, makes you massage the information and tests you in the same manner. This is the type of course, science or nonscience, which will best prepare you for the MCAT.

So, does this mean there is no best major for pre-meds? I didn’t say that. I said there is no one best major in terms of preparation for the MCAT.