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the problem with the new MCATs - old pre-med perspective

Discussion in 'MCAT: Medical College Admissions Test' started by tluedeke, Jul 30, 2015.

  1. tluedeke

    2+ Year Member

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    I realize this is going to be something between a glass of whine and carping, but I'm not going to be merciful on you college kids who just finished two years of pre-med classes, and decide to provide me feedback. If you're an old fart, then fire at will, Commander.

    I'm 47, and due to various life changes (death and illness in my family, becoming an organ donor), I very late in life decided to change careers from engineering into medicine. I've had a nearly 20 year, very successful career as a nuclear engineer. Two years ago, when I decided to take the plunge, I went hard-core. While simultaneously juggling a full time engineering job, I took physiology, biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. Even though I had not taken classes in nearly 20 years, I fought hard, worked incredibly long hours, and kept up a ~3.9 GPA. I took the MCATs in January, 2015 as a "dry run" (I'd only had one quarter of organic chemistry and no reactions or mechanisms, so I knew the ceiling was low), and voided the results. For the last year or more, I've routinely worked 40+ hours per week studying around my job.

    I'm now through all those classes, and am preparing for the new MCATs. I bought the TPR preparation set, and was horrified to find a ~350 page book on psychology and sociology, nearly all of which seemed to be extremely dense information. I have not taken psychology since 1987, and never taken sociology. In heading out to the web, everything seems to indicate that (1) the section is extremely difficult, and (2) it seems to focus excessively on memorization of rather pointless stuff like the background of flawed 19th century schools of thought). On the latter topic, it reminds me of what would happen if the physics section all of a sudden decided to pose questions on the names of scientists who proposed the phlogiston theory. But to get back to my point, there is *no* way I can absorb that mountain of material in a few weeks, and review the other material as well (especially the dense biochemistry material, and the physics I've not taken in 20+ years).

    While I understand to some extent what the MCAT people are trying to accomplish (making physicians more sensitive to the perspectives and backgrounds of patients), I think this method of trying to attain that goal is incredibly flawed. The medical schools have all stated that they value the perspectives that non-traditionals and career changers bring to the table, one of which is to understand the hurt of others. However, this new exam will serve to prevent exactly those types (e.g. art majors, late in life career changers) from being able to enter medical school. They've basically forced a nearly 1/3rd increase in the number of classes required to prepare for the MCATs, and have included classes that many have never taken, or not taken in a very long time. In my own example, I've now spent two years in my very late 40s trying to prepare for medical school, only to see them change the rules at the last minute, and make it nearly impossible for me to do so.

    I'm so far in despair I'm about ready to simply hang it up. I'm too old to take another year of classes (during which time the organic, inorganic, and biochemistry preparation will decay) just to prepare for psych/socio. I've worked so incredibly hard, and now all of a sudden 1/3rd of the test is stuff I have no idea about, and I don't have the time to learn from scratch. I'm not personally inclined to whine, but I'm having a really hard time feeling that this is fair. The test seems myopically focused on the 20-22 year old kids who just finished all of those pre-requisites as premeds. In another sense, they seem to be expecting somebody to have a medical degree to enter medical school, rather than having potential.

    Any advice? Should I just take my beating on that stupid section and make sure I nail the physical science, biology/biochemistry, and verbal sections? Hang it up? Accept lower scores in the other three sections and try to prepare for it? What are the medical school admissions committee doing with the scores of this section?
     
  2. BerkReviewTeach

    BerkReviewTeach Company Rep & Bad Singer
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    Everyone is in the same boat. It's not very hydrodynamic and questionably buoyant, but you're all in it together. You don't need to be great at psychology and sociology; you need to be better than the average premed. After all of the stuff you've done to get to this point, would you really hang it up like that?

    And who is saying the new section is hard? From most accounts I've heard (and a few I've read), it sounds like the new section is actually pretty straight forward. You need some terminology, some common sense, and exposure to some classical experiments. No matter how flawed you may think the new section is, and you won't get much of an argument from me, it's predictable.

    We've had a good number of students in our course this past spring and early summer that have been out of school for a while and others who have not taken any sociology or psychology classes, and they have done quite well. Surprisingly well in fact, so it can be done. Blow off steam about it, but once you're done, it's time to put the nose back to the grindstone.

    Best of luck!
     
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  3. tluedeke

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    >> Everyone is in the same boat.

    As my post noted, this is not true. Pre-meds who've just gone through a standard curriculum will have had psych and socio recently. This gives them a huge advantage over non-trads and career changers, who very likely have not taken it recently (or perhaps at all). The fact that 1/4th of the test is on this material means that the stakes are extremely high, and not preparing for this section will have disastrous consequences.



    >> And who is saying the new section is hard? From most accounts I've heard (and a few I've read), it sounds like the new section is actually pretty straight forward. You need some terminology, some common sense, and exposure to some classical experiments.

    Many, many people who've taken the new MCAT, most of which those who've probably had psych or socio. A common report seems to be that there is a huge emphasis on "Name Theories", even to the point of comparing "Bob's theory against Jane's theory" (even worse, many are discounted historical theories, like Freud). This indicates to me that it isn't as simple as understanding basics of human behavior - it will be a memorization strategy that takes a lot of time.



    >> We've had a good number of students in our course this past spring and early summer that have been out of school for a while and others who have not taken any sociology or psychology classes, and they have done quite well. Surprisingly well in fact, so it can be done.

    I fear you are referring to those who've taken a prep course (like your Berkeley) or significantly self-studied, something I don't have the luxury of time to do. To be honest, that psych/socio material is a complete joke compared to stuff like the intricacies of metabolic cycles or genetics, and if I did have time for it, I wouldn't have much trouble with it. The issue is that I've not seen it in 25 years, and whatever I knew is gone.

    I am just going to take the test while the rest of the material (biochem, biology, organic chem) is strong and fresh, and take my beating on that section. If it causes me to be rejected, I'll have to take some time and reconsider whether to remediate that area, retake the test and reapply, or rethink whether I want at all to enter a field that rejects atypical candidates on issues like this

    I am very frustrated and more than a little irate, because I feel like I'm chasing the equivalent of moving goalposts.
     
  4. Moose A Moose

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    Yes, these standardized exams are geared toward recent college graduates. You've got to accept it and move on- that's just how life is going to be, and deep down you know it. The hard is what makes it good, if it was easy everybody would do it.

    Keep digging. It's another hurdle, but you can make this one as well. I get it: you're frustrated and venting. Get it out of your system and press on... And don't ever say you can't do it, that'll mess up your whole zen on cracking the MCAT.
     
  5. Cotterpin

    Cotterpin Gluconeogenesis Evangelion
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    Ok, I am a nontrad in my early thirties and I disagree. They're not moving the goalposts or suddenly changing the rules. The new MCAT was announced years ago. When I decided to turn my life upside-down and go back to school to become a doctor, I researched everything. I saw that the MCAT was changing, realized I would have to take the new test, and I planned my coursework accordingly. I took psychology and sociology. These are the things you are responsible for if you want to make a commitment as serious as becoming a physician.

    My advice to you is to push your test date back to September and spend that extra time memorizing all this psych/soc stuff. I recommend making yourself a set of Anki flashcards. You can still keep the science material fresh with practice problems and flashcards. You will probably have to push your application back to next year, but that is better than doing poorly on the MCAT. This is a test that you really only want to take one time and you shouldn't take it until you are absolutely ready.
     
  6. jd989898

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    We are all disadvantaged in some way at some point in our life. Imagine being born with a debilitating bone condition or mental ******ation. The fact that you can actually overcome this disadvantage with hard work makes it especially insignificant.
     
  7. NonTrad16

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    I'm nearer 30 than 20, and just took the exam in June (new psych/soc on it). My thoughts:
    -When I was annoyed about Biochem (did a postbac for organic I/II, but couldn't enroll in biochem without both organic classes) I enrolled in an independent study with the professor. Basically, I sat and read/took notes on ~500 pages of biochem, using supplemental questions from the professor. Helped a lot.
    -When I was annoyed about psych/soc, the vast pit of bio knowledge I failed to remember, etc I enrolled in a review course. This was expensive and very time consuming, but kept me on task much better than I could have alone with work, classes, and volunteering.
    -When I took the test, I realized that the people on SDN are not typical (thankfully), and the premeds setting the curve also have deficits; a blind confidence allows them to take the exam thinking 'it'll work out' or 'I can take it again...' or 'I can stay with my parents and build my app for another year if I don't get in'... etc. I did not have this opportunity, and I do not think you do either.

    You say you cannot afford to wait another year, you don't have the 'luxury of time' for a prep course, etc. I would simply say that, compared to typical pre-meds, non-trads have less room to mess up and you should do whatever possible to get a good score (not whatever possible to get a score quickly). I took TPR course (online) because I hadn't seen the material in ages and was extremely rusty. Do not put yourself in a position where you've bombed one section and need to retake. If you've honestly busted your butt for a year and know the other material well, psych/soc should not be what brings you down. Yes it involves memorization (which is different from Bio/chem/physics because...?), yes it's new and there isn't much material for it, etc. Everyone has that feeling. Review the book. It's better to get a 127 bio and 125 psych than 128 bio and 124 psych...

    To be clear: the fact you've had a career before pre-med does not mean much. Your other experiences may make you view problems differently, or your maturity could allow you to readily understand the sacrifices that must be made on your journey, or you may be able to gain trust from patients better, etc but when you get into the classroom you're still working with 23 year olds. You will be taking orders from someone that could be your child, and that has to be ok. The age and experience gap isn't going to go away, but you'll likely have to come to terms that your 20+ year career in something else doesn't mean much (beyond an interesting anecdote) to peers and supervisors.
     
  8. Swagster

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    There are so many good and positive yet pragmatic points here. I was honestly losing faith in SDN, but the responses here show the great side of this community.

    OP: you can either spend time complaining about it or spend time doing something about it. With all the work you did to get a great GPA under challenging conditions, you can do this as well. I'm a ways removed from school too, but I see it as an advantage. There are different distractions now, and I think it's easier to study while having a 40 hour work week than studying during school. I think the test is basically the same old test with a new section and some extra biochemistry. You have the other stuff down, so focus on psychology and sociology and you'll be fine. I too have heard it's a pile of memorized facts and experiments, but not really that hard (especially after biology classes). You'll be fine.
     
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  9. ElectricNoogie

    ElectricNoogie MCAT enthusiast

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    As an engineering student who went into medicine, I agree with you that the new MCAT content requirements seems (to me) directly at odds with the AAMCs supposed mission to find more well rounded students for medical school. It is now more difficult to be a non-trad pre med and expect to graduate on time without taking classes year round (which would cost more $). Maybe they'll see an error in this action a few years from now, maybe they won't. However what is certain is that there isn't anything one can do about it.

    You've been out of school for a while but, to echo some of the sentiments above, after all you have invested, the additional memorization required for psych/soc really isn't asking much more compared to what you've already done. Yes its more, but it was foreshadowed and again, it is what it is. As a resident you will work 80+ hour weeks for what amounts to less than minimum wage. Does it suck? Sure, but this is the system you want to be a part of. If you want to eventually change it, become a part of it first. I can promise you you will never regret the extra effort you put in.

    I would say you don't necessarily need formal psych/soc coursework to do well on the new section. It would help, but it's not necessary. There are plenty of resources out there for Psych/Soc including the free Khan Academy materials, which is the only material ostensibly created with the AAMC's oversight and input. A month or so or solid work can bring you up to speed on the psych/soc needed for the exam. Like bio, orgo, physics, biochem, much of what is in a classroom course will never show up on the exam anyway.

    As far as just going in and taking the exam, expecting to bomb the last section, that is a bad idea. Even if you aced the other 3 sections, most schools would just not allow you through their initial screenings. Sure maybe some would poke around your file, see your application, back-story and understand why the discrepancy was there, but its still a con to your overall application. Why not take a student who didn't decide to ignore or brush off 1/4 of the material? Would you do the same in medical school?

    If you really feel unprepared, then push back to a later test date. Perhaps Fall 2015 or early 2016. You can do this though.

    Good luck!
     
  10. carpediem22

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    Recent grad here -- I have never taken a psych or soc course, took an MCAT prep course, and got a 130 on the psych/soc part of the new MCAT. I don't think taking formal coursework would prepare you any more either, from what I've heard. The MCAT psych/soc is very specific to the MCAT, and it's all straight up memorization. Pretty easy to do in a few weeks or less if you are concentrating on it full-time and have the other subjects down pat. Formal courses may or may not cover what you need to know.

    While I agree that adding more coursework to the pre-med load is not the best idea, I don't think the new MCAT necessarily does that. You can very easily just study what you need to know for the MCAT psych/soc portion. It's not like organic chemistry where if you try to self-teach you are likely to fail.

    I think the biggest change to the new MCAT is the way the questions are framed. They require more scientific reasoning using published literature, akin to what a doctor needs to do on a daily basis.

    Bottom line, we are truly all in the same boat, and I don't think non-trads or art majors are any worse for the wear than any other pre-med. Good luck to you!
     
  11. tluedeke

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    Well, I have to express my deep appreciation generally for the feedback (a bit less so for those who've taken psych/socio test prep or formal classes, then complained at me for not doing so on top of the mountain of other material I've had to master on top of an engineering job that routinely takes 50-60 hours per week). That said, I really appreciate the generally positive feedback, especially given my (blatantly apparent) frustration given the situation of chasing the "just FYI, you need two more classes now" MCAT 2015.

    Being so late in the application cycle (I moved to take a new engineering job starting in July 2015, and it took all of my time for ~2 months), I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't starting accepting the fact that I might need to push it forward a year (despite my desperate fear that the clock is ticking out on the profession that I'm so drawn to). I still plan on taking the MCAT within a month, but my ability/time to learn psych/socio is limited, and it isn't worth losing the physical and biological sciences over (especially with respect to biochemistry - a topic I was strong in, but is such an enormous part of the MCAT 2015 I'd be an idiot not to spend significant time reviewing). I will have some time to take a whack at psych/socio, but I'm not going to let it affect me disproportionately outside of the 25% (particularly given that I've heard more than a few times that the medical schools have not completely bought in to that section).

    I'm old enough and have enough life experience at 47 to realize that empaths and giving personalities are natured and/or nutured, and don't arise because some ivory tower committee decided that taking a sociology or psychology class creates one....
     
  12. tturchi51

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    [​IMG]
     
  13. carpediem22

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    Seriously if you still have a month, just read The Princeton Review's psych/soc book. It will hit most of the terms you need to know. I read it in a week.
     
  14. NonTrad16

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    The effort required to do well on the MCAT and medical school may be selfish at times (similar to standard employment). I worked ~45-50 hours alongside organic class/lab, volunteering and superficial studying for the MCAT. After 4 months of displeasure and a realization I would not finish everything in time, I went to part-time so I could take two courses (organic class/lab + Independent study), volunteer, shadow, and TPR course. I spent countless hours, a bit of savings, and lost a sizable sum of income by going PT, enrolling in the review course, etc. But, as far as I was concerned, it's what needed to be done if I wanted my application to have a real chance. Saying you MUST commit 50-60 hours to your job AND prep for the MCAT is your call; med schools could give you some leeway, but realistically, you need a great score regardless of your other responsibilities. It's on you to prove to them that you're a good candidate, and saying "I had other stuff to do, but I won't when I enroll at your school!" is an argument they probably won't like. It's not about pushing away diverse applicants, it's about screening applicants by a tested metric they've used for years.

    The first part seems more realistic. You can do (FT work)+(MCAT Study), but the timeline may have been too short if you wanted a successful cycle. That said, you CAN get screened out for a poor score. So PLEASE invest time in Psych, since the fact that schools may not buy into it yet does not mean they will allow any score through -- it's easy to set the bar at 125 (50%) and still have enough applicants to fill your seats. A bad section will sink your MCAT, simply put. Look in the retakes thread... there are handfuls of people who slipped up on a section and have to retake otherwise great scores.

    I'm a past physics major, engineering MS, then employment and for the sections I divided my attention/time approximately P/C (30%), CARS (10%), Bio (55%), Psych (5%). My scores were 129, 129, 127, 128... So the section I spent the most time (Bio) I got the worst score, because nearly everyone is a bio major... BUT I spent a small portion of time going through the psych book (while still studying other topics) and managed a decent score, because most people were unfamiliar with the topic. Listen to Kahn videos, skim the book (noting main psych theories/founders) and use common sense and you can do well enough in the section. But please, do not allow yourself to think "it's just one section".

    Good luck!
     
  15. Dr. Trenb

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    Whether the AAMC reason to change the MCAT is flawed, unfair or both, it can't be changed, at least for the meantime.
    So let's cut to the chase, DO NOT take the exam yet. Since you're old enough to know better than going to take an exam you're not 100% ready for, I suggest to delay exam until January or anytime next year before June. I agree with @BerkReviewTeach, you have gone too far to back off of this. You already know 3/4 of the material. Plus, it's getting late to apply for this cycle, might as well wait for the next round and apply as soon as it opens.
    As for keeping the material fresh in your mind, that should not be an excuse to nuke all the work you've done. Practice daily/weekly and you should be fine.
    Goodluck!
     
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  16. tluedeke

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    Thanks, all! I am going to breeze through the TPR psych/socio book, and I've downloaded some MCAT 2015 decks in Anki (although I usually *very* much prefer to make my own). Hopefully between those two, I can minimize the damage.
     
  17. Ad2b

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    @OP ... I am older than you. At your age, I had just finished up my biochem class (not required at that time), orgo, bio, and evolutionary theory.

    Then, I got a "B" in my very favorite class, from my very favorite professor and quit. I was supposed to be his TA the next year; disgusted with myself, my grade, my life, my prior life, my stupidity... I quit. Walked away. Left in disgust of myself. Went to the Galapagos to do field research and moved away. Far, far away.

    Funny thing though. Three years after that, I am sitting for the MCAT on 8/22. My gen chem is 6 years old; my gen chem II is about the same; bio, biochem, 3 years old. Psych and Soc?!?? lolol. um... let me think. eh. yeah. 1982.

    Like you, I work full time though my job is 100% unstable because of the industry I'm in. Juggling work, class, MCAT prep has been especially trying at times. To the point where on a few nights, I've simply had to put in big BOLD words: DON'T STOP. Not now. Probably not ever.

    On 8/22, I could bomb the MCAT. On 8/22, I could nail the sucker to a balloon and loft it to the sky. Or on 8/22, it could be anywhere in between.

    The point is you do NOT have to take the MCAT before you are ready. And to that end, I would not take it if you are not ready.

    You are 47. Pfft. A friend of mine just started allo at 54+. US. Someone else I know, started allo at 53. Are we the outliers? Oh hell yeah. There are not many 40+ year olds that have the stamina, brains, determination to stay the course. I doubted mine for a time. There are days where I have to do "something" to make myself feel alright about my choices to follow this path. To try. To keep going when it seems I'm just some dolt who had a dream.

    My suggestion:

    1) make note cards. lots of them. I wrote down every major psych/soc theorist and what it meant to the evolution of psychology and sociology
    2) watch Khan videos - a lot
    3) get one of the companies that offers prep... the books alone are insufficient.
    4) don't worry about what the AAMC or the med schools or the others are trying to do to make more empathetic and bedside manner appropriate physicians - just don't stop
    5) don't take the MCAT until you are ready...

    If you stop now, I suspect you will be my age - you young whippersnapper - when you decide to go back and give the MCAT hell. Don't wait, just work it.

    Like a physics problem in deformable body mechanics. :)

    Edited to add: another poster said it would be good to recognize that our careers don't mean diddly when we get to medical school because our peer group at that point is 23 year olds or nearly that for the most part. I agree.

    What I found about going to school with people my son's age is that they invigorated me when I needed a bump and I provided them a stable reasoning of someone like Yoda (though I am not green and hopefully, not that wrinkled) when they needed it.

    They also found that I could keep up with them and helped them find new ways of studying; and the reverse was also true. Our relationship was symbiotic and one I would never give up. One of the best things about being older is that we DO get to have fun again. Learning is fun!

    So, embrace that you may have to take another year and get biochem beneath you, and maybe psych soc. It's okay.
     
    #17 Ad2b, Aug 1, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
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  18. Bleu

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    I'm non traditional as well and I think you have it made. The physics and gen chem regardless of how long ago you took them won't be an issue for you. Your physic was heavy on the calculus. With your background the answers will most likely jump off the page. The sane for chem. nuclear engineering? You know your chem. When are you taking the test April?
     
  19. Bleu

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    You're awesome! Thanks for the words of wisdom. I was wait listed 3 times, gave up, had a family but couldn't stop thinking that I hadn't given it my all. Here I go one more time!
     
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  20. Ad2b

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    This is YOUR time. This is YOUR year. Go give it everything!! You can, and will, get 'er done
     

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