plsfoldthx

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For current medical students and beyond, which test did you find more approachable? The MCAT or the USMLE (or COMLEX)?

thanks
 

Ischemic

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Lol, I kinda find it amusing that you posted this in the premed forum. Granted there're med students running around here but probably not the right place asking for it.

That said, although I haven't taken the STEP 1 yet, I feel it should be more relevant than the MCAT. Physics? Ochem? Gen Chem? Snail mating rituals? What!??! **** the MCAT.
 

BBender716

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Post-MCAT, if you do decent, you can still "be anything you want to be". Get into med school and do well on Step 1.

Post-USMLE, unless you blow it out of the water, this is the time when the choices for people, who up until this point have had everything in front of them, now start to experience increasingly limited options. Much of your future career is rides on this test.

USMLE is, I can imagine, way more stressful than the MCAT in addition to what armybound said.
 

Narmerguy

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Lol, I kinda find it amusing that you posted this in the premed forum. Granted there're med students running around here but probably not the right place asking for it.

That said, although I haven't taken the STEP 1 yet, I feel it should be more relevant than the MCAT. Physics? Ochem? Gen Chem? Snail mating rituals? What!??! **** the MCAT.
Lol, the med students that do make it here are often new ones that haven't gotten to the STEP 1 phase yet. This is the wrong place for this.
 

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When you're studying for the MCAT, you're going up against everyone who thinks they have a shot at getting into medical school- while it's hard to distinguish yourself, most people taking the test aren't going to go to medical school. This makes it somewhat less stressful in my mind- if you don't do as well as you like, you either re-take the test or move onto a different career.

When you're studying for Step 1 (as I'm currently doing), you know that everyone else taking the test has been through roughly the same material as you and that they're all smart enough and dedicated enough to get through their first two years of medical school (not counting the FMGs who are also taking the test and trying to kill it for a shot at getting into US residencies). Additionally, you're most likely deeply in debt and trying to either get into a particular field or keep your options open.

Which sounds more fun to study for?

Now, when it comes to material, I'd largely agree that Step 1 has more interesting and relevant material to study, but you still have subjects that are fairly widely disliked (biochem and embryo for starters).
 

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I thought Step 1 was better, in the sense that it was material that was all covered in the 2 years before it. For the MCAT, I used AP credit for 2 of the courses, so I had to go back and re-learn a bunch, and learn some from scratch as well.

Step 1 was a no-fun month of crazy-ass studying, but, at least I knew what I had to do and attacked it every day. Did much better than the MCAT.

Oh and Step 2 is easier so don't even worry about that yet :)
 

MilkmanAl

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Volume of material alone makes the MCAT a ton easier. You can also retake the MCAT if you're not happy with your grade, which makes the STEP that much more stressful.
Seconded. I've already studied far more for Step 1 than I did for the MCAT, and I still have 2 months of dedicated 10-hours-per-day studying to go. There's no comparison.

Pre-Allo is most certainly the correct forum for this question, by the way.
 

thesauce

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For current medical students and beyond, which test did you find more approachable? The MCAT or the USMLE (or COMLEX)?

thanks
My feeling about these exams is this:

MCAT: given some minimal level of knowledge, test-taking ability predominates
Step 1: given some minimal test-taking ability, your knowledge predominates

There is no possible way to know everything for step 1. You'll be broadsided with questions that you never would've thought could show up. You simply have to cover as much material as possible and hope it's enough. But at least you don't have to weed through the question stem to find out what they're asking.
 

Geekchick921

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My feeling about these exams is this:

MCAT: given some minimal level of knowledge, test-taking ability predominates
Step 1: given some minimal test-taking ability, your knowledge predominates

There is no possible way to know everything for step 1. You'll be broadsided with questions that you never would've thought could show up. You simply have to cover as much material as possible and hope it's enough. But at least you don't have to weed through the question stem to find out what they're asking.
I was looking at sample Step 1 questions out of morbid curiosity and they were very straight-forward. Obviously I had no idea what the answer was to about 95% of them, but they weren't the kind of tricksy questions you see on the MCAT. That much is nice.
 

searun

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I found Step 1 to be much more difficult than the MCAT. The sheer volume of material that must be mastered makes Step 1 daunting. I began preparing for Step 1 during the second semester of my second year of med school.

After second year ended, I studied about 12 hours per day, 7 days per week for 5 consecutive weeks.

I never get test anxiety - I am always relaxed - but Step 1 was the exception. I started having trouble sleeping about 2 weeks before the exam and only got about 3 hours of sleep the night before the exam.

Fortunately, I got a high score - but preparing for and taking that test was a bitch.

The MCAT was cake by comparison.
 

Geekchick921

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Yeah, that aspect is pretty cool, but it definitely underscores the importance of knowing the material.
I don't disagree with you on that point at all. It just is a nice thing, considering the copious amount of information you need to study, that they don't try to trip you up like the MCAT does.

Also a plus for the USMLE, you are only being tested on stuff you've learned in the last two years. It's still a metric crapton more stuff than what's on the MCAT, but personally, it's been 6 years since I took general biololgy. Blech!
 

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Reasons why the USMLE (Step 1) is infinitely more stressful than the MCAT:

(1) Instead of competing against other college kids - some of whom may not be very serious about being pre-med - you're competing against other medical students, who are by their very nature super-competitive. And everyone knows how important Step 1 is, so everyone's taking it seriously.
(2) If you don't like your MCAT score you can study some more and retake the test. If you pass Step 1 you don't get another chance to take it.
(3) Don't do well on the MCAT, in addition to retaking it, you could also consider other grad schools. Don't do well on the USMLE, and you've just eliminated many of the more competitive residency fields as potential career choices. You just barely passed Step 1? Goodbye, radiology, derm, ophtho, ENT, urology, plastics, etc...
(4) There are a multitude of MCAT prep classes, as well as practice tests with decent correlation between "practice score" and "actual score." Not quite so for Step 1.
(5) You can devote as much or as little time as you want to taking the MCAT. Take all summer if need be. In med school, you may have 4-8 weeks to study for Step 1...otherwise, good luck trying to hit the books while you're a full-time med student.
(6) Someone above mentioned that the MCAT hits fairly esoteric topics such as obscure o-chem pathways and tedious physics concepts. True. But Step 1 covers basic knowledge and understanding of the ENTIRE HUMAN BODY. Every imaginable subject - embryology, biochem, pharmacology, pathology, histology - is covered.
(7) You could fit everything you need to learn for the MCAT into four decently-sized review books (one each for G Chem, o-chem, physics, bio). Have you seen how many review books are required for Step 1? (And no, merely reading First Aid isn't sufficient.)
 

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yeah i preferred step 1. step 1 requires a lot of knowledge and thinking objectively/ reasoning about various problems. the mcat required knowledge and some complex mental gymnastics and was more of a pain in my opinion. both are very long, though i hear the mcat is only like 5 hours now (used to be 8).
 

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I haven't taken the USMLE yet. I still have a year. I can tell you that there is a radical difference in studying for the two already though. Aside from being able to take the MCAT multiple times, the material is just different. While in undergrad, I never studied with the intention of it being on the MCAT. Now that I'm in medical school, I constantly feel I'm studying for two exams. I aim to understand things on a much higher level because I know I will need to know it for USMLE. There won't be the off chance it might pop up...I know it will. It is just to the extent I don't know.
 

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While I'm sure that USMLE is wayy harder and more stressful, I'm happy that there is no verbal section (my weakest) :D

So that alone, makes me happy.
 

MilkmanAl

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In my opinion, the verbal section was one of the many, many reasons the MCAT is nowhere near Step 1's level. I'll never understand why it's the section people do worst on.
 

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Reasons why the USMLE (Step 1) is infinitely more stressful than the MCAT:

(1) Instead of competing against other college kids - some of whom may not be very serious about being pre-med - you're competing against other medical students, who are by their very nature super-competitive. And everyone knows how important Step 1 is, so everyone's taking it seriously.
(2) If you don't like your MCAT score you can study some more and retake the test. If you pass Step 1 you don't get another chance to take it.
(3) Don't do well on the MCAT, in addition to retaking it, you could also consider other grad schools. Don't do well on the USMLE, and you've just eliminated many of the more competitive residency fields as potential career choices. You just barely passed Step 1? Goodbye, radiology, derm, ophtho, ENT, urology, plastics, etc...
(4) There are a multitude of MCAT prep classes, as well as practice tests with decent correlation between "practice score" and "actual score." Not quite so for Step 1.
(5) You can devote as much or as little time as you want to taking the MCAT. Take all summer if need be. In med school, you may have 4-8 weeks to study for Step 1...otherwise, good luck trying to hit the books while you're a full-time med student.
(6) Someone above mentioned that the MCAT hits fairly esoteric topics such as obscure o-chem pathways and tedious physics concepts. True. But Step 1 covers basic knowledge and understanding of the ENTIRE HUMAN BODY. Every imaginable subject - embryology, biochem, pharmacology, pathology, histology - is covered.
(7) You could fit everything you need to learn for the MCAT into four decently-sized review books (one each for G Chem, o-chem, physics, bio). Have you seen how many review books are required for Step 1? (And no, merely reading First Aid isn't sufficient.)
Reason why the MCAT is infinitely more stressful than the USMLE (Step 1) :

(1) When you take Step 1, you're already in medical school.
 

alibai3ah

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In my opinion, the verbal section was one of the many, many reasons the MCAT is nowhere near Step 1's level. I'll never understand why it's the section people do worst on.
It's very language-dependent. Therefore people who don't speak english as their first language are generally at a disadvantage. With the other sections, not so much.
 

Drrrrrr. Celty

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It's very language-dependent. Therefore people who don't speak english as their first language are generally at a disadvantage. With the other sections, not so much.
It's also because a lot of applicants are children of immigrants. I don't have statistics but almost all the pre-meds I know are children of immigrants. But yah, the unfortunate reality is that people who don't speak English as there first language or people who's parent's speak primarily a different language at home or broken English get screwed over badly.
I still think that the verbal section should be limited to just a essay or 3.
 

drizzt3117

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I don't think the mcat is a test that you need to study a lot for, so step is obv a lot more stressful. I think the ?s are set up so either you know the answer, or you don't, which is nice in some ways.
 

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although i havn't taken step 2, i think mcats is worth for 2 resons

1. because of the nature of the MCATs, just insane studying doesn't guarantee anything,but step 1 seems to be more in your control, just study a lot more.
2. do poorly on the mcats=end of dream of being a doctor. do poorly on step1= still a doctor.
 

searun

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although i havn't taken step 2, i think mcats is worth for 2 resons

1. because of the nature of the MCATs, just insane studying doesn't guarantee anything,but step 1 seems to be more in your control, just study a lot more.
2. do poorly on the mcats=end of dream of being a doctor. do poorly on step1= still a doctor.
Trust me, if you are aiming for a competitive residency, Step 1 is much more intense. The competition is much tougher for Step 1 than the applicant pool that takes the MCAT - everyone who takes Step 1 is a med student, not an aspiring med student. And there are no do overs with Step 1 unless you fail the test.

My goal is a very competitive residency, and I did not want to see that door close because of Step 1, so the pressure was intense and the amount of preparation required was much greater, no comparison really.

I suppose that if I wanted to go into peds or family practice, I would have been more relaxed and much less concerned about doors closing and options vanishing...so to some extent personal aspirations have to be factored into the equation.
 

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I would think there's a lot lot more information for Step 1, which would mean a lot more studying and stress. And I think one chance to take the test or go home makes it a lot more stressful.
 

MilkmanAl

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because of the nature of the MCATs, just insane studying doesn't guarantee anything,but step 1 seems to be more in your control, just study a lot more.
And what time would you be planning to "just study a lot more" with? You have the post-class time you're given, and that's it, unless you're like me and just totally ignoring class in favor of board prep.

do poorly on the mcats=end of dream of being a doctor. do poorly on step1= still a doctor.
Uh...no. Doing poorly on the MCAT means you take it again ad nauseam until you get it right enough to get in somewhere. Let's face it; if, after several attempts, your MCAT score still prevents you from getting into one of the less selective DO schools, you probably don't have the critical thinking skills or wherewithal under pressure necessary to tackle a career in medicine. It sucks for you that your "dream" went away, but it likely does not suck for your potential colleagues and patients. On the other hand, doing poorly but passing Step 1 may limit your specialty choices severely. Doing poorly (i.e., failing) 3 times means you've just gone through all the stress of being a pre-med, applying to med school, and the first 2 years of med school and have absolutely nothing to show for it and never will.
 
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I've taken both tests. There is really no comparison. The MCAT is like a 10k run (granted by no means easy to "win") while the STEP1 is like an Iron-Man Triathalon (that's a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26 mile marathon that has a 17 hour time limit). I think I spent 45 days straight studying from 7:30 am to 9:30pm. I don't think I'll ever be as knowledgeable as I was the week I took the step.

As for the argument regarding the MCAT having less competition due to the larger pool of idiots who'll never make it in, you're forgetting about all the foreign medical grads taking the STEP1 who don't speak English well enough to hold a 2 minute conversation, let alone excel on a test.
 

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As for the argument regarding the MCAT having less competition due to the larger pool of idiots who'll never make it in, you're forgetting about all the foreign medical grads taking the STEP1 who don't speak English well enough to hold a 2 minute conversation, let alone excel on a test.
hmmm.

I still think it is a good point.

Obviously the group taking STEP1 is more competitive than the MCAT group.

You had to pass over a hurdle to be in the latter group while anyone can sign up for the MCAT.

Like the difference between college basketball and professional players. Higher selectivity = tougher competition.

It is a reasonable idea.
 

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Obviously the group taking STEP1 is more competitive than the MCAT group.
Agreed

You had to pass over a hurdle to be in the latter group while anyone can sign up for the MCAT.
Any foreign medical graduate with an MD can take the USMLE STEP I regardless of their proficiency in english. I assure you they significantly relax the curve. Many of them have the english reading comprehension skills of an 8th grader.
 

thesauce

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I've taken both tests. There is really no comparison. The MCAT is like a 10k run (granted by no means easy to "win") while the STEP1 is like an Iron-Man Triathalon (that's a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26 mile marathon that has a 17 hour time limit). I think I spent 45 days straight studying from 7:30 am to 9:30pm. I don't think I'll ever be as knowledgeable as I was the week I took the step.

As for the argument regarding the MCAT having less competition due to the larger pool of idiots who'll never make it in, you're forgetting about all the foreign medical grads taking the STEP1 who don't speak English well enough to hold a 2 minute conversation, let alone excel on a test.
Is that all? It's a miracle you passed with such little effort...;)
 

johncalvin

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It's very language-dependent. Therefore people who don't speak english as their first language are generally at a disadvantage. With the other sections, not so much.
It's also because a lot of applicants are children of immigrants. I don't have statistics but almost all the pre-meds I know are children of immigrants. But yah, the unfortunate reality is that people who don't speak English as there first language or people who's parent's speak primarily a different language at home or broken English get screwed over badly.
I still think that the verbal section should be limited to just a essay or 3.
I am an immigrant to the U.S. (got citizenship 1 year ago). And I got a 13 on the VR. Verbal is all about comprehension--you should be able to understand English if you're eligible to a U.S. medical school...i.e., if you have your green card or citizenship, you've been here long enough...

On the other hand, my writing wasn't that great (got an "O")...so YMMV.
 
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So I think it is obvious that Step 1 requires more studying and has much more info; however, this whole debate depends on what kind of test YOU are better at taking. If you are better at reading very quickly while comprehending and answering questions that are meant to trip you up, then the mcat is easier. If you are better at straight-forward memorization (even though it's a lot of material) with some application for questions, then the Step 1 will be easier. Although I have only taken the mcat and not the Step 1 yet, I don't think it's as clear-cut as...you have to study more for Step 1 and it has much more info to cover, therefore it's harder. For me, I hated how the mcat tries to trick you and the long passages, thus it was harder for me. Not to say that Step 1 will be easy for me, but I know it will be easier for me than the mcat because memorizing info (no matter how much) and applying it is a strength of mine. Just my two cents.
 

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Because the MCAT is my life right now and the USMLE is not, and because the MCAT has caused me to basically shut out every part of my life that is not the MCAT (and food... oh and sleep)...

I would say the MCAT sucks more.

And I dont have to worry about the USMLE for another 3+ years. Although I have a feeling the USMLE will have to come with the sacrifice of sleep... hmmmm


I'll probably change my mind when the time comes... I'll let you know.
 

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I am studying for the Step I now! It is brutal, but manageable. I like it much better than the MCAT for the following reasons:

1. If I don't do that well, I still get to practice medicine.

2. Everything I am studying I need to know and want to know.

3. It tests what I know and have learned in class, more like a college test on steroids.

4. I feel more in control because it does not have the quirks of a "standardized test" like the MCAT or SAT.

Ugh, check back with me later!!!
 

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I am studying for the Step I now! It is brutal, but manageable. I like it much better than the MCAT for the following reasons:

1. If I don't do that well, I still get to practice medicine.


2. Everything I am studying I need to know and want to know.

3. It tests what I know and have learned in class, more like a college test on steroids.

4. I feel more in control because it does not have the quirks of a "standardized test" like the MCAT or SAT.

Ugh, check back with me later!!!
Unfortunately, this is not a guarantee anymore. This year, the match resulted in more unmatched US seniors than unfilled PGY1 spots. Summary: US seniors without a training position.
 

slowbutsteady

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Unfortunately, this is not a guarantee anymore. This year, the match resulted in more unmatched US seniors than unfilled PGY1 spots. Summary: US seniors without a training position.
I said if I don't do THAT well. Believe me, I fully understand that I need to do "well."
 

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I neither liked or dislikied either of these tests. They were hoops and I jumped through them. My feelings didn't enter into the equation.
 

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For current medical students and beyond, which test did you find more approachable? The MCAT or the USMLE (or COMLEX)?
The USMLE (especially Step 1) has the potential to be a lot more overwhelming for most people, not only for all the reasons that BuzzMe suggested, but because the stakes are just higher. If you take the MCAT and don't do well enough, you have invested relatively little time, money, and effort into the process of becoming a physician compared with if you have a hard time passing or excelling on the USMLE. Most allo students do manage to pass the steps on the first try, but for those who don't, they may be out 2-4 years of their lives and have accumulated six figures worth of loans with no easy way of paying them back. (Many states limit the number of attempts you can make to pass the USMLE steps.) As others have already mentioned, even passing Step 1 on the first try but with a low score may seriously limit your ability to get a residency in the specialty you want.

As for which test is "easier" versus "harder," they're both challenging tests, but for different reasons. I wouldn't say that either of them is inherently more or less challenging, any more than I would say that earning an MD has been more or less challenging than earning a PhD. You probably won't be surprised to hear that doing well on both tests, and earning both degrees, requires effort.

My advice, OP, is that you take things one step (pun not originally intended) at a time. There will always be challenging tests ahead of you if you have a career in medicine, because that's how our professional certification system is set up. But none of these tests is impossible, and as you probably already know, there is a pretty strong correlation between studying and improving your test scores. :)