Beyond BYU: The MCAT and the Mission for Medical School

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    By Emiley Morgan

    If former trends persist, an average of 39,000 students nationwide will apply for medical school this year. Less than 50 percent of these national hopefuls will be granted admission into medical school.

    Students from BYU, however, enjoy a higher admission rate. Nearly 56 percent of BYU medical school applicants gain admission.

    Students on campus and across the nation are constructing college careers around the hope of getting into the medical schools of their choice. They are nursing their GPAs, adding to their extracurricular offerings and studying tirelessly for the Medical College Admissions Test.

    The MCAT is a “standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess the examinee’s problem solving, critical thinking, writing skills, and knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. Scores are reported in Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences,” according to the official MCAT Web site

    Brian Stagg, 23, a BYU student from Grand Junction, Colo., majoring in neuroscience, has been preparing for the MCAT for months by taking various practice tests, reading MCAT review books and taking the MCAT prep course offered through BYU Conferences and Workshops. In spite of all of this preparation, Stagg still has fears when it comes to the five-hour test.

    “I am concerned that I’ll choke because it’s a really big test,” Stagg said. “I’m scared that I’ll get there, pass out for five hours and fail the whole thing. And I’m scared there will be stuff I have no idea on.”

    Stagg said the MCAT is especially daunting when one considers the length of the test in reference to the great amount of information it covers. However, Stagg said he thinks his BYU professors have given him the help and information he will need when it comes time for him to take the test.

    “The thing that’s helped me most was taking classes that had really good professors,” Stagg said. “I think the professors helped me the most and made the biggest difference.”

    Steven Fleming, professor of organic chemistry at BYU, was one of the teachers Stagg mentioned. In addition to teaching his regular classes, Fleming teaches the organic chemistry portion of BYU’s MCAT preparation course. Fleming said preparation for the exam is absolutely imperative.

    “I don’t know anybody that would take it without being prepared, and there is no simple advice because they have already taken so much time to prepare,” Fleming said. “The student should look into the issues when they’re preparing. They should look into what subjects are going to be covered and look at when the exam is going to be offered.”

    Fleming said the MCAT accounts for 20-30 percent of the medical school admission evaluation and that the importance of the MCAT in regards to student success is why he takes the time to participate in the BYU preparation course.

    Fleming also said he looks for professors with similar priorities to teach the various sections of the prep course. The professors must ultimately be interested in doing what they can to help students get into medical school.

    “I make sure there are tests for the students to take, that they get registered, that the people teaching the topics are interested in seeing the students succeed and that they’re there for the students, not to make money or show off,” Fleming said.

    BYU offers the course to see students succeed, but John Best, assistant program administrator of conferences and workshops, said the course is a review of information students should already know.

    “I think the best preparation is that they’ve already learned the things they need to know to hopefully do well,” Best said. “They should already know the material. This is to help them generally review and help them find areas they are weak in. In the course we can’t teach everything they need to understand. We just help to bring it back and help them to work through the test quickly and know good test taking skills, as well as give them a review of the concepts.”

    Adam Keith Reynolds is a student adviser in the pre-professional advisement center and often helps students working to get into medical school.

    Reynolds said the MCAT is extremely important when it comes to applying to medical school. It is one of the two most important things admissions offices look at, Reynolds said. The other thing admissions offices will emphasize is grade point average.

    According to the Princeton Review’s medical school admission statistics, the GPA range for medical schools across the country is between 3.5 and 3.8.

    Although BYU has no medical school and students apply to schools across the country, Reynolds said there are four schools BYU students apply to most.

    “The top four would be the University of Utah, Ohio State University, St. Louis University School of Medicine and the Medical School of Wisconsin,” Reynolds said.

    Sharon Agriesti, program coordinator for Ohio State University’s College of Medicine admissions, said MCAT score and GPA are two of three things the college looks at first when considering a candidate for admission.

    “The three things that we look at are the MCAT, we interview very few people who score under 30 on the MCAT, a GPA of 3.50 and above and the third thing we look at is the applicant’s clinical background such as research, volunteering [and] those type of things,” Agriesti said. “All of that weighs heavy on getting an invitation to interview.”

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