How to Prepare for Medical School as a Pre-Med, Part 1

As you navigate your college years, you’ve certainly heard a lot about what you should be doing to set yourself up for success in medical school. No matter who you talk to, one thing is probably clear: you must have a thorough game plan if you want to get into a reputable medical program.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) explains that medical school is usually composed of two parts: basic science training for the first two years, and hands-on experience via patient interaction and clerkships for the latter years.

Grading often varies by the medical school, and each school has its own mission, curriculum and format. The AAMC provides additional information about admissions requirements for medical schools across the United States and Canada here.

Up-to-date and reliable medical school preparation advice is abundant. However, with all the work you’re doing as a pre-med student, you might not have the time to figure out how to get ready for medical school.

Therefore, we’ve compiled an exhaustive list of resources and advice that is designed to ensure that you are adequately prepared for medical school.
 

Getting the Grades You Need

Doing well in your college classes helps you achieve two things: you become a competitive applicant for many medical schools, and you gain the foundational knowledge and work ethic that is essential both in medical school and later on in your medical career.

Make sure to check with each individual school about the classes that they require. Generally, medical school requires courses in Chemistry, Biology, Physics (all with lab components), and English. Other requirements may include classes in biochemistry, statistics, calculus and the social sciences.

Make sure to pay special attention during the lab components of your classes. Lab work is going to become a staple of your experience in med school (and sometimes beyond that), so make sure you understand how to run and review experiments.

You should also learn how to analyze graphs in your math-based classes, and master the art of good writing in your English and/or writing courses. Both of these are skills you will use down the road.

You should always take a variety of classes, but ensure that your course load throughout college is sufficiently rigorous. Doing well in challenging classes is better than getting high grades in easier classes.

Around 25% of students accepted to medical school have majors outside of the biological, physical and social sciences, so do not take courses that you are not interested in with the purpose of distinguishing yourself in the eyes of admissions officers.
 

Preparing for the MCAT

The MCAT, or the Medical College Admissions Test, tests your knowledge of the concepts that you’re learning in class. Keep in mind that the MCAT changed in April 2015 to focus on “how well [students] use what they know”.

The ‘new’ MCAT not only asks questions with regards to Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Verbal Reasoning, but also requires students to use these basic concepts to solve problems relating to Biochemistry, Psychology and Sociology.

What you should take away from the revisions made to the MCAT is that, now more than ever, medical schools are looking for students who are well-rounded and diverse.

Pretty much all med schools in the USA, as well as some in Canada, require MCAT scores as part of their applications. If you have not taken the test already, you will sit for it during your third or fourth year of college. It’s offered 25 times each year from January through September, and is one of two technical measures (the other one being your GPA) that medical schools consider as part of your application.

The most important way to prepare for this pivotal exam is by simply answering practice questions. Your classes might not have covered all the scientific information that the MCAT tests you on, so make sure to get a feel for those sections through practice exams and sample questions.

Fortunately, there is also a variety of paid and free preparation materials to help you as you prepare to take the test. Many test prep companies, including Kaplan and the Princeton Review, offer detailed review books so you can work at your own pace.

The AAMC also has resources on its website dedicated to helping students practice and study for the MCAT.

Not a whole lot of data has been released so far in terms of average scores on the revised MCAT, but you can get an idea of a good score range by looking at the averages for the ‘old’ version, which had a score of around 30 at the 85th percentile.

The MCAT has a potential score range between anywhere from 472 and 528, and some released data shows that the 85th percentile would be between 511 and 512 for an overall score.

Data regarding average scores on the revised MCAT (which has a potential overall score range from 472 to 528) shows that the 85th percentile would be between 511 and 512.

You can always retake the test if you are not happy with your first exam, but remember that medical schools will see all of your scores. Therefore, make sure that you feel confident that you will improve on your score if you do decide to take it again.