There’s one common medical school interview question that doesn’t get nearly enough attention from prep materials: “Tell me about a good book you’ve read recently.” Answering this question well takes a little bit of thoughtful preparation, but if you’re ready for it, you’ll get to show off not just how well-read you are, but also how inquisitive, thoughtful, and well-rounded of a medical student you’ll be. Here’s how to nail this question in an interview.
First, the obvious: read.
The only way to make this question work to your advantage is to actually have read some high-quality material leading up to your interview. Try to make a habit of reading at least fifteen minutes a day during interview season. This small commitment will make sure you always have fresh material at the front of your mind. Exactly what you read is up to you, but here are some guidelines:
- Choose something that genuinely interests you. Preparing for this question should be fun! Pick something that will expand your horizons, draw you deeper into an existing interest, or challenge your views on something. But don’t pick a book just because you think it will impress your interviewer—it’ll be a lot easier to talk about if it’s something that is meaningful to you.
- Pick something that not everybody in the medical field has read. You are more likely to have a memorable conversation with your interviewer if you are able to introduce them to something new. While Atul Gawande and Paul Farmer write great books, it’s hard to stand out if you talk about the same book as every other applicant.
- Choose a work you could explain to someone who isn’t familiar with it. Nonfiction can be a great choice, but don’t choose something so technical that you would struggle to explain it to an interviewer who isn’t familiar with the topic. Remember, your goal is to sell the book so well that your interviewer goes home and reads it.
Reflect on what you’ve read.
Interviewers want to know that you are capable of thinking critically about the things you read. Make sure you are able to go beyond delivering a book report by adding your own thoughts. Here are a few reflection questions to help you prepare:
- How do the themes of this book relate to my own experiences or the experiences of medical professionals or patients?
- What ethical dilemmas are presented in this book? What is my opinion on them?
- In what ways do I agree with the author? In what ways do I disagree?
- Does this book teach any lessons that I would want others to learn?
Put together an elevator pitch.
Succinctly describing a good book can be challenging. Doing so under the pressure of an interview can be even more so. To make answering this question easy, you should come up with a plan for describing your book ahead of time. Decide what the most important facts about the book are, and then figure out how to incorporate your reflections on the book. You don’t need to write a script, but you should have an outline in your head.
With this preparation, you should be excited any time an interviewer asks you about something you’ve read. Some of the best conversations with interviewers come from thoughtful, passionate answers to this question. Enjoy reading something new, and good luck!