MCAT Prep Course: Yes or No?

About a week after I had taken the MCAT in August 2005 I wrote a review of the Kaplan Preparatory course that I had taken. That review can be found here. Almost a year and a half later, my opinion of the prep courses is unchanged. But I decided to write some more about preparing for the MCAT because this is one of the most pressing concerns for Pre-med students.

One thing about any of these courses is that they are all pretty expensive. When I took the course, the going rate was about $1400 — and this is in addition to any AMCAS or secondary application fees. So the decision on whether or not to take the course weighs heavily on those applying to medical school. In this post I won’t discuss study methods. I assume Premed students preparing to take the MCAT will have a pretty decent G.P.A. and some study skills. So I will just restrict this post to discussing prep courses.

The first thing to remember when thinking about taking one of these courses is that it is a REVIEW course taught by people who most likely are not as qualified as the professors who taught you the material in the first place. When I took the course, Kaplan’s requirement to teach a subject was that one had to score at least an 11 on that section in an MCAT. So don’t expect to go into the class to learn the material in-depth. It should be a review of things you have already covered in Biology, Physics, G. Chem, and O. Chem classes; so study the material well while in those classes.

The second thing that one should do is assess his or her ability to get motivated to study. The MCAT covers four science subjects: Biology, Physics, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. One useful thing about these courses is that they force you to cover a certain amount of material for each class. It keeps students moving along. For some, this structured approach can be very useful. If you find yourself as one who needs the structure of a class to get you studying, then take it if possible. Others may be able to self-study and keep a healthy pace without the structure provided by a class and these peope may be better off saving their money instead of enrolling in a review course. Plenty of students who take the MCAT without going through a prep course and score very well. And while it can be difficult, this assessment is crucial.

The third thing to consider is practice exams. Practice MCAT exams are extremely important for preparing for the real deal. I think the real value of a prep course is in putting the students through a full-length MCAT under “real-life” conditions. For an exam as important as the MCAT, one does not want to go in not knowing what to expect. Taking practice exams under simulated conditions will helps in pacing. The worst thing that can happen is to have the proctor call time before finishing a section. These practice exams are also important because they build stamina. It is a long test. Sitting for 8 hours gets tiring on the neck. Believe it or not, you build neck muscles in these practice exams! However, I hear the MCAT is going electronic and will be taken on a computer and will be shorter. But you still should be able to sit through a whole thing without fidgeting and as they say: practice makes perfect.

Alright, so you’ve read to here. Should you take an MCAT prep course or not? This is a question each individual must answer on his or her own. A prep course offers structure and an environment in which a simulated MCAT can be administered. But this can also be done without a course. So if you feel you can go it alone, then by all means do so and save the money! If not, then take the plunge, go to class, practice the MCAT and get as much as you can out of it.



Well here’s the update: I am no longer attending classes. Why not? Have I decided that I can learn better on my own than by listening to a lecture? Nope. Do I hate the teachers and profs? Nope. Do I have trouble getting along with the person sitting next to me in class? Nope. I am no longer attending classes because I have requested a leave of absence.

Last quarter was a challenge. I never got my “head into the game.” I could not get focused and struggled with motivating myself to study. It just was not working out. And so, two days ago I turned in my signed request for a leave of absence until this coming August when I will be joining the new incoming class.

I think it’ll work out fine. I now know what needs to be done. Well, I guess I now know how not to study.

In the meantime, I’m considering brushing up on some espanol to keep me occupied. It will give me an opportunity to re-energize and recharge for August.


T-Minus 2 Weeks and Counting

Alright, well it has been over a month since I last wrote in. It was really good to have the 3 days off for Thanksgiving break. Although after the break, I was not ready to go back to school. Now I’m just looking forward to Christmas break.

But to get to Christmas Break, I have to get through another test week. Stress levels are up now. During our last set of exams, the class didn’t do so well on the Physical Diagnosis (Cardiac) exam. We need a 68% to pass the class. Class average for the exam was 66%. Yeah, there weren’t very many happy people after that week.

Fortunately, the professors decided that its more important for us the learn the material. They said that they will take all the questions from the first test and put about 5 in each of our tests from now until the end of the year. At years’ end, we will be able to replace the score from our first test by adding up the points from the cardiac questions that were scattered throughout the year.

Since the last set of exams we have also started Auscultation Lab. Its pretty cool. We sit in this amphitheater and each student is given a pair of “stethophones.” The top part is just like a stethoscope but there is not diaphram attached to it. Instead, there is a box that holds the battery, volume control, and IR receiver. The instructor then can play any heart sounds they want and we all hear the same thing. Next quarter we get to use the simulation lab with the dummy where we can listen to all the heart sounds, measure JVP, BP, and other vitals. Oh what fun $250,000 can buy you these days.


Pine Springs Ranch Retreat

This past weekend we just had our Pine Springs Ranch Retreat. Every year, Loma Linda University School of Medicine invites all their students on a weekend retreat to Pine Springs Ranch. The Pine Springs Ranch tradition began in the 1970s and in the 1990s an endowment fund was created with the hopes of ensuring that future retreats would have the necessary funds. The event is free of charge to the students and a guest if they decide to bring one.

All of the first year guys were assigned to cabins. All married couples as well as the rest of the students got to stay in the lodge.

The retreat began on Friday and concluded on Sunday. However, most students left Saturday night after the ever-popular talent show featuring the medical students.

I think the weekend was a great experience. It was nice to get to know more of our classmates in a setting other than the classroom or anatomy lab. It was also a chance to meet the other classes and talk to them as well.


Test Week

Last week was test week for the Freshman class here at Loma Linda University. On Monday we had Gross Anatomy; Tuesday we had Cell Structure & Function; Wednesday was Medical Biochemistry and Medical Physiology; Thursday was Neuroscience and Evidence Based Medicine. And Thursday afternoon we had our Anatomy Lab Practicum as well as our Histology Lab practicum.

All of the exams, except for the two lab practicums were scantron exams. It was nice because we got most of the results emailed to us within two days.

So how’d I do? Well let’s just say that I learned a great deal about what not to do when preparing for exams. From the time we got to campus, people were congratulating us for making into medical school and then telling us not to stress out too much. The problem with me was tha I was not stressing out enough! They also told us that we could not study like we did in undergrad. I should’ve listened.

At this point, all I can do is learn from my mistakes and make sure to avoid them for the next round of exams that are coming up in about 4 weeks. I’ve re-organized my day so that it will hopefully aid in more efficient study. Hopefully that will be enough.


Cosmic Log : Are men smarter?

Cosmic Log : Are men smarter?

Here’s some commentary on the recently released study about male and female IQs. The study compared thousands of SAT scores and to come up with their conclusion. I’m not taking a position on this — not because I don’t want to offend anyone, but because I don’t have the time right now to write up my position right now. Well and I haven’t had a chance to read the published results.

In our Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) class our instructor was telling us how important it is to read and understand the methods section. And that I don’t think I will do…

Anyways, it’s an interesting read. Have fun.


Fuzzy Lines

The school year “began” on August 7. The first two weeks, however, were not spent in the lecture hall. Instead, we had two weeks of wards experience. Most people were assigned to a third or fourth year student and we followed them on their two-week rotation.

I was assigned to a fourth year student who happened to be doing a rotation through MICU/CCU. During the first week, our attending was a cardiologist and so the majority of our patients were on the CCU service; although there were times when we did venture out of the CCU.

On one of the mornings I came in and sat as the fourth year student I was assigned to wrote his notes. We were sitting at the nurses’ station in the CCU. A nurse came and stood beside me. She looked like she was getting something at the printer. But then, another nurse called her for help and off she ran to a patient’s room. Then the blue light above the doorway of that room began flashing and an alarm went off.

Chaos ensued. Nurses, medical students, and residents ran to do the room. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I follow? Should I stand at the nurses’ station? Could I go watch? I ended standing near the doorway so as to peer in at what was unfolding.

The team grabbed the crash cart. Someone got the defibrilator ready. A loud voice yelled, “Clear!”

Nothing happened. They tried again. Still, nothing happened. They yelled for another machine. Someone rushed one over from down the hallway…

A couple other first-year students gathered with me outside the room. Someone yelled to page surgery because the patient was a surgery patient. Soon a surgical resident arrived and asked us (the first year students) who the resident was inside. He just looked inside and started working on his pager…

As we stood outside watching we saw a medical student (3rd or 4th year) get on the bed and begin chest compressions. He would trade off with another person every few minutes. I am not too sure what happened about using the defibrilator….

A nurse walks into the room and tells the team that the family has asked that they stop. The patient was coding for over 15 minutes. I heard the resident call the time of death…

I had always thought of the line between life and death as a solid line. One was either dead or alive, right (and please don’t bring up Schrödinger’s cat)? There is no in between. But for over a quarter of an hour, I watched as a patient lay on a bed with no change in condition. There was no breathing throughout that time, nor was there a heartbeat. But only when they declared the time of death was the patient “dead.” If you ask me, that’s a pretty fuzzy line…