Much of the conversation around the medical school admissions process focuses on quantitative metrics: your GPA, your MCAT score, the number of volunteer and research hours you have under your belt. But, while these metrics are certainly the foundations of a strong application, there is another critical metric which is unfortunately seldom explicitly mentioned, and that is endurance.
The best metaphor for the medical school admissions process is a marathon. If you focus on the timing (quantitative metrics) of daily, shorter runs, you may lose sight of the true length of the race ahead of you. You could leave yourself open to a common pitfall: a strong start with a fast initial speed, but the inability to finish due to inadequate endurance.
Grind by design
The MCAT is a grueling, almost non-stop 6-hour exam for a reason—it replicates (and is correlated to) similarly grueling STEP exam conditions. STEP, in turn, is meant to test not only your knowledge, but your ability to persist in wielding that knowledge for hours on end as one would in a clinical setting.
Opening an MCAT book, it’s clear that discrete pieces of knowledge are not terribly complex. Chances are you had more difficult courses by the latter half of your undergraduate experience. It’s the cumulative weight of all these pieces of knowledge, and the task of sitting still for 6 hours, which pose the true challenges.
Likewise, interviews are lengthy and highly ideosyncratic in order to test not just your ability to answer a difficult prompt question well—they’re meant to test your social skills under duress for hours at a time.
Focusing on an MCAT score alone can easily lead you to focus on simply not getting individual questions wrong, as well as memorizing and practicing a small set of question types. While it is true that fewer mistakes will lead to a better score, you should try to reframe your objective to getting fewer questions wrong throughout the whole exam.
You can run a fantastic mile time for one mile at a time, 26 different times, but those miles could never translate into a full marathon. Likewise, mental stamina can be built up by practicing ever longer series of practice questions, with the final goal of practicing entire practice MCATs in one sitting (permitting the standard 15-minute breaks between sections). You will quickly find that doing 6 hours of practice questions non-stop is quite different from quizzing yourself with flashcards or doing a few questions at a time.
For interviews, you should similarly focus away from individual difficult prompts to practicing more realistic interview conditions, where you may be pressed on your answers. It is most helpful to find somebody who can mock interview you (such as one of our coaches), starting with a difficult prompt, but then following up and keeping the interview going for up to an hour.
Day of the race
None of this—whether it be the grim reality of the MCAT’s length, or the prospect of hour-long mock interviews—is meant to scare you off the path! These training methods provide realistic simulations of the length of the race ahead of you, and should give you confidence that you can do it, as many have before you!
Despite how time-consuming and tedious the above recommendations may sound, you will find rewards when they matter most: on the actual day of the exam and during your interviews. Resisting burnout can be the key to avoiding sliding scores over subsequent sections, and your more complex, longer interview practice will help you keep your cool under shifting interview conditions.
The training leading up to the race may itself feel like a marathon, but once you cross the finish line, you will never have to look back.
Cambridge Coaching has the most qualified team of medical school writing coaches available anywhere. Our team is composed of MD, MD-PhDs, and professional writers because we understand that the best coach is going to help you produce a dazzling AMCAS essay, as well as a suite of supplementary materials that provides a persuasive, integrated argument for why you belong in medical school.
The challenge of the medical school application process isn’t just due to the workload, either. It has to do with the sheer competitiveness of the system. You can’t take anything for granted; every aspect of your application has to be solid - your GPA, your MCAT, your recommendations, your interviews, your activities, and your personal statement. That’s why we go beyond the usual options and offer coaching that covers the entire application, not just your personal statement. While we are happy to work with clients on a single essay or drafts, we find that we achieve the best results with clients who work with us throughout their application process - from the MCAT through to the admissions deadlines.
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