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How the MCAT Can Make You a Better Physician

Studying for the MCAT can feel like it’s taking forever, especially when the only thing we can think about is getting the score of our dreams and being done with the MCAT. Something that can help you get through this, and maybe even enjoy it, is to consider how the MCAT can actually help you in the long term as a future medical student and future physician. So, here are some benefits to studying for the MCAT and mastering the content and skills required to do well on the exam.

Close Reading

When patients come to you with a problem, as a physician, you have to not only decipher what their chief concerns are but also connect with them and understand their perspectives. One way that medical schools are starting to train physicians to do this is through what’s called close reading. In close-reading exercises, medical students and faculty read and analyze passages to understand why the details and the text are significant. They focus on not just the main points but also the construction of the author’s arguments and why it is important for that author. Sound familiar? These are the high-level strategies that you have to implement on CARS.

Being able to develop these skills on your own gives you the benefits that close reading training provides med students and doctors. It will allow you to increase your attention to detail. Then, when your patient tells you important information that they may not even realize is important, you can pick up on it and incorporate it into your diagnosis. Close reading can also help you understand your patient’s perspective and build empathy, one of the most important skills you need as a physician. Being more empathetic can help you build a committed partnership with your patients and both improve their outcomes and overall experience in your care.

These skills are nuanced and take time to practice. If you can master even some of them before you get into med school, you would be way ahead of the game and well on your way to becoming the best physician you can be.

In CARS, the MCAT expects you to understand the main point of the author’s argument, their opinions, and how they constructed their arguments. Understanding these things can help in two ways. It can (1) help improve your scores on the MCAT and, therefore, your chances of getting into medical school and (2) improve patient-facing skills before even entering hospitals. So regardless of whether you find art, history, or philosophy interesting enough to stay engaged in a CARS passage about it, you can feel good knowing that, by reading that passage well, you are helping yourself become a better future doctor.

Learning Science (and the Science of Learning)

In medical school, one of the hardest things is getting used to learning 10 times more material in a given time than during undergrad. Many med students get stressed, overwhelmed, and even burnt out when adjusting to this overload of information. But, to a certain extent, they have all experienced this type of overload before.

Studying for the MCAT requires mastering about seven college courses’ worth of material. That’s a lot for one test! Though the volume of material needed for the MCAT is not close to that needed for the USMLE exams that med students take, there is a common skill to learn: knowing what you actually need to know and knowing how you learn best.

The MCAT is a readiness assessment for medical school, not only because of the content but because of the skills required to do well. You have to be able to digest large amounts of information and understand how much of it needs to be thoroughly understood, memorized, or ignored. Leveraging that information to effectively answer questions is also essential. The ability to integrate that knowledge with scientific articles and answer questions by, at the very least, knowing what the answer can’t be, is critical.

Outside of study skills, there are some parts of MCAT content that you still need to know for med school. From things as basic as amino acids to concepts as complex as the cardiac cycle, there is a lot of content between the preclinical curriculum of med schools and the MCAT.

Even if you don’t need to explicitly know something for med school, understanding the fundamentals taught in biochemistry, physics (yes, I said physics!), and chemistry classes can help you learn why things work the way they do. Understanding fluids can help you understand the mechanisms of the cardiac cycle, and understanding Gibbs free energy and entropy can help you understand metabolic pathways. Just like children need to learn letters before they write essays, you need to know basic science before you can understand advanced medicine.

Scientific Reasoning

The science sections of the MCAT make you use snippets of scientific articles to answer questions. Many passages describe experiments and provide figures of the results. Then, you need to answer questions about the experiment. Some just ask about the interpretation of the results, but some also require integration of outside knowledge. These questions are not unlike questions you need to ask yourself when you read scientific articles as a physician and use them to conduct research and understand medical changes that may be necessary to your practice. It is crucial that, as doctors, we don’t just read what people write in articles and take it at face value. We need to deeply think about what they’re saying and make our own judgments rooted in science and logic.

Not all experiments are conducted well, and we need to be able to identify potential flaws that can confound data and reduce the validity and reliability of the results. This is true if you want to conduct your own research in your career and if you want to decide whether a publication is worth considering when making changes to your own work. It also maintains the integrity of the scientific community — by being able to recognize when there are problems within the design of a study, we can fix them and ensure we’re producing the most accurate results we can.

Being able to do this early can put you ahead of the game yet again compared to your colleagues in med school and residency. Research skills are valuable in the medical community, so having proficiency in experimental design, statistical analysis, etc., can help solidify the research positions you want and help busy doctors finish their publications.


Keep these things in your mind so you can keep up with your studies and actually be excited to learn. And if you want free resources to study for the MCAT (that make it more fun), check out our free practice test with analytics, customizable study planner, and 1,600+ flashcards.

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