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How the MCAT can apply to your medical career

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 time of your life, and maybe even enjoy it, is to consider how the MCAT can actually help you in the long term as future medical students and future physicians. 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 

As physicians, it will be expected that whenever a patient comes to you with a problem you can not only decipher what their chief concerns are but also connect with them and truly understand what their perspective may be. One way that medical schools are starting to train physicians to do this is through something known as 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 MCAT students are expected to implement. 

Regardless of whether the medical school you attend includes such training, being able to develop these skills on your own will give you the benefits that close reading training provides medical students and physicians. That is, it will allow you to increase your attention to detail. So when your patient tells you important information that they may not even realize is important, you can pick up on it and incorporate that 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 to have 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 require time to practice. If you can master even some of them before you get into medical 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 us to understand both the main point of the author’s argument, but also their opinions and how they constructed their arguments. Doing these things, therefore, can help us in two ways. It can (1) help us improve our scores on the MCAT and chances of getting into medical school and (2) improve our patient-facing skills before we even enter hospitals. So regardless of whether you find art, history, or philosophy deeply interesting enough to stay engaged in a CARS passage about it, you can feel fulfillment and excitement in knowing that, by reading that passage well, you are helping yourself become a better physician. 

Learning Science (and the Science of Learning)

In medical school, the hardest thing is getting used to learning 10x more material within a given time period than you had to during undergrad. Many med students get stressed, overwhelmed, and even burnt out when they struggle with 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 you to master about 7 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 that you can learn for the MCAT to make studying during med school a lot easier: 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 you need to know before you jump in but because of the skills required to do well on the test. You need to be able to digest large amounts of information and understand how much of it needs to be thoroughly understood, memorized, or ignored. You also need to be able to leverage that information to effectively answer questions that are not inherently testing that material alone. You need to be able to integrate that knowledge with scientific articles and answer questions by, at the very least, knowing what cannot be the answer. Studying for the MCAT inherently involves you strengthening these skills and consequently strengthening your ability to do well in med school. So whenever you don’t have the motivation to open up your MCAT books, tell yourself that you’re strengthening your skills as a med student and reducing the amount of stress and information overload you feel in the long run. 

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 as taught in biochemistry, physics (yes I said physics!), and chemistry classes can be incredibly helpful in learning 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 how children need to learn letters before they write essays, you need to know basic science before you can understand advanced medicine. 

Scientific Reasoning

All of the science sections of the MCAT require you to use snippets of scientific articles to answer questions. A lot of these passages describe experiments and provide figures of the results. Then you need to answer questions about the experiment–some just asking 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 physicians and use them to conduct research and understand medical changes that may be necessary to your practice. It is crucial that, as physicians, we do not 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 that are sound and 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 also if you want to decide whether a publication is worth considering when making changes to your own work. It also allows us to maintain 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 are 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 medical school and in residency. Research skills are highly valued in the medical community, so having proficiency in experimental design, statistical analysis, etc. can help you solidify research positions you want and help very busy doctors finish their publications. 

Conclusion 

Regardless of what motivates you to study the MCAT, whether it be the score itself or the long-term benefits and skills, be sure to keep those things in your mind as often as you can. That way you can keep up with your studies and actually be excited to learn.