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Author Topic: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".  (Read 790 times)

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Offline AcinonyxTopic starter

MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« on: November 25, 2010, 08:49:09 AM »
Okay, here's the drift.

[You may skip this following part and get to the bottom where I printed my question in bold.]

I'm smart (according to various sources). I really want a PhD.

I'm not getting it.

My boss designs the projects for his PhD students so out-of-this-world-utopic that nobody out of the six PhD students under his wing even has a chance for a good PhD. Rather, one already had to leave because of "publish or perish" things - no publish, no funding. I've had a great academic career until here: The country partially paid for my study expenses because I was considered DA SMARTZ, and except for a minor glitch, I have top scores from 1st grade to my undergraduate degree, and  spent half a year going to school in the USA.

If I stay here, for all my smart brains, it may just be the stupidest thing I've ever done. It's a terribly arrogant thing to say, but I think I'm too good for this: When I get out of here, all that counts will be my PhD and my non-existent publications - screw the school records; I'll have an unspectacular PhD and no scientific record. Since my boss doesn't bother to introduce us to anyone in the field and seems to have a talent for pissing the relevant people off on top of that, I think I should be too smart for this. I think I should quit my job.

So, all things considered, as good as a German PhD is regarded internationally, what I want to do is enroll in a real PhD program where I can meet people, maybe be part of a teaching staff and get some results out of my work and hopefully better supervision. I have no problem working hard, studying hard and my brains will likely allow me some sort of success.

The schools I am looking into have, of course requirements. One of the schools I casually consider would require the MCAT. Looking into the tests it's a lot of what I have been educated in during my college career as a biologist anyway, but of course that is a while ago and the MCAT, in some parts, seems a bit more in-depth than what I know already. Especially the tough questions will be hard to crack (though I am not too worried about the English).

I need MCAT preparation books. I need to study (and I am actually looking forward to studying again), but one look at amazon tells me that it's not that easy: Apparently the Princeton Reviews is infested with typos and mistakes and Kaplan and the others are not as good. The elite MCAT book from Princeton Reviews seems to have been categorized by a reviewer as "too much, it won't help you for the actual test".

But this is a community full of adults, maybe some in medical professions, maybe some who took the MCAT. What's your experience and what material can you recommend?

Maybe I should add that I am very scared of taking this step, but many colleagues with more experience (they already have PhD) have let me know in some way or another that if they were me, they'd get out of here while they still can. For three of the other PhD students, this opportunity is gone and I'll be the next.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2010, 08:55:43 AM by Acinonyx »

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2010, 09:06:04 AM »
 I did take the MCAT once.  At the time I was considering medical school and wanted to get a glimpse of what I was up against.  My experience was that of someone unprepared for the content of the test.  Much of the material I hadn’t taken a course on yet in college, but I had expected that since I wasn’t done yet.  Not to promote fear but the test is certainly not one that a person can walk into blindly and perform well. 

That said, it wasn’t that hard overall.  Looking back now I know that I could do much better on the test.  So with a biology degree under your belt, you should be well prepared knowledge wise.  Much of your problem may come from the wording of the test.  Many of these questions are application questions and knowing the style of question is very important.  I would recommend picking up the Kaplan and Princeton review books.  Those are two highly reputable companies when it comes to test taking.  Then just learn the questions, the test taking methodology behind the MCAT and go from there.  Don't expect the answers to be from the questions though.  Focus on the methods and style.  More than likely alot of the reviewers bought the books think this would give them all the secrets.  They would have been very disappointed.

Outside of that, keep in mind the time of the test.  When I took the test there was eight hours set aside for a pencil and paper test.  Now, I believe, the test is computerized.  The test is still four hours long though so bring a snack.  Make sure you are well rested, hydrated and relaxed for the test.  While I know a lot of sources same the same for EVERY test, these tips are more important for the MCAT.  Endurance, mental and physical, is important.

Other than that, not much help I can offer.  Good luck though!

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2010, 12:16:51 PM »
I took the MCAT several months back. The prep books I used turned out to be pretty useless (Kaplan and Princeton Review).

My impression is that MCAT prep courses suffer from a fundamental mis-comprehension. They seem to want you to cram a bunch of information. And the reason for this is that the MCAT is both very broad and subject specific. It is, in my opinion, probably too broad to reasonably assume you will be able to just memorize enough and regurgitate answers to their questions for a decent score.

So my advice: know your principles flawlessly.
Know the principles of mechanical and electrical physics, know the principles of both organic and inorganic chemistry. Know the principles of genetics. Etc. Just get a list of the topics they might use and make sure you solidly get the principles in those fields. Get rock solid on the math involved in these things. It seems that the only way to score well across the board is to get the principles of every field they test on down enough to derive the answers and be able to make the best choice on the fly.

The only thing I think you really have to (or even should) memorize is basic anatomy and physiology.

You should brush up on reading comprehension if you need (even a number of questions in physical and life sciences sections will be referencing a brief passage). And be quick and capable at doing math calculator-less. There are a couple of the old tests that have been publicly released, see if you can get your hands on one so you know what you are getting into.

Also the security around these testing centers is stupid. They are going to take like five pictures of you and take your fingerprints and basically everything short of giving you a pat down. Be ready for it and don't let it put you off your game.

Good luck!

Offline Muninn

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2010, 07:02:39 PM »
You know what, hon, I'll go ahead and talk to one of the ALTs here who I know is interested in going into medical school and see what she has to say.  I'll even see her tomorrow for a fundraiser dinner. :D

Offline AcinonyxTopic starter

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2010, 03:16:07 AM »
Thank you, everyone. Good to know how long that test takes (and lucky for me I have never had a problem with long periods of concentration). And heck, yes, thanks about telling me about the photo and security stuff - I'd have been so confused.

I am sorry for the belated response... I'm submerged in a pile of work right now. :( :( :(

One question to DarklingAlice - I thought the Princeton Review book gave you access to old tests... so if it's not useful for anything else, maybe it is at least useful for the access? Or am I misunderstanding something here.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2010, 09:25:24 AM »
One question to DarklingAlice - I thought the Princeton Review book gave you access to old tests... so if it's not useful for anything else, maybe it is at least useful for the access? Or am I misunderstanding something here.

It is possible that one of the more general books does. The Princeton review books that I used were their subject specific reviews (chem and phys specifically), so I never saw a full length old test in a PR book. That doesn't mean they don't have them though. However, I think that the AAMC keeps a really tight reign on their old tests and doesn't allow test prep companies to reprint them, so the questions you see in the books will most likely be question in the style of the MCAT, rather than actual past MCAT questions (which is not to say they aren't helpful!). However, the good news is that you can get one full length old test straight from the source for free (additional ones will cost you though):

Don't get me wrong: I am not saying to eschew prep books entirely, just that the nature of the MCAT means that they are not the magic bullet that they tend to claim to be, and might be less helpful than they have been for you on other standardized tests in the past.

As far as time goes: The test is computerized now. Which means that you can go through it as quickly as you can, or you can take up to the maximum time of ~5 hours. I finished mine in a little under 4 hours because I generally avoided taking any of the 10 minute breaks between sections. So, to each her own.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2010, 09:30:54 AM by DarklingAlice »

Offline AcinonyxTopic starter

Re: MCAT prep books - or "I need a new life".
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2010, 01:43:57 AM »
Thank you.

I'm generally good at test taking or concentrating for a long time. However, there are now different obstacles in my way so that I am not quite sure what is the best career decision for me right now. I certainly can't apply for schools to start next year, I have to apply for 2013, which seems like a long time. But a long time in which I could get a useful job and gather some money and prepare and apply. And not all schools demand the MCAT, so... hrrrrmm...

Making such life-changing decisions is tough.