There are several standardized exams, usually referred to as admissions tests, that are used in evaluating applicants to professional programs in the medical profession:
- MCAT for allopathic medical school and osteopathic medical school
- OAT for optometry school
- DAT for dental school
- GRE for graduate and other professional schools
The relative importance of your scores on these standardized exams to your chances of being admitted may vary depending on the program, but are almost always one of the top three criteria used to evaluate applicants. Accordingly, it is vital that you take them seriously and spend appropriate time and energy preparing for them.
Some general ways to prepare for the exams, regardless of which one you choose to take, are listed below and described in Dr. Thurlow's PowerPoint presentation given every fall as part of the First Wednesday Speaker Series. The MCAT is typically used as a model because it is so widely used and has been so thoroughly studied. It is important to note that the MCAT will be substantially revised in 2015.
- Learn as much as you can about the exam. Detailed information and practice exams are usually available on line at the administering organization's website (see links above). There may also be guidebooks available at most bookstores. Study guides and practice exams are on reserve in the Science Library.
- Study material covered on the exams by reviewing courses you have taken, studying guidebooks, or taking preparatory courses offered by private companies (e.g., Kaplan and Princeton Review for the MCAT).
- Take practice exams under realistic, timed conditions. Most such exams are now offered in computer-based format so this is the best format for you to use when practicing.
- Review the results of your practice exam to identify areas in which you need improvement and spend more time reviewing material in these areas. Repeat.
- Review the results of your practice exam to identify tactical errors you may have made and begin to develop strategies for answering each type of question (e.g., some answers to questions based on a given passage may appear to be true, but if they are outside the scope of the passage, they are unlikely to be correct). Repeat.
- Some exams or sections thereof are difficult to study for because they test reading comprehension or writing skills. Nevertheless, taking practice exams will help you to know what to expect, to develop successful strategies, and to identify the types of reading or writing exercises you should practice.
- Start preparing for the exams well in advance; a year is none too soon - but pace yourself! You must find a balance between preparing thoroughly and burning yourself out by studying too much. The MCAT is given several times throughout the year (MCAT 2013 Registration Deadlines and Score Release Schedule), and you must take them no later than the calendar year before you hope to matriculate in medical school (although some schools may consider January scores for that calendar year).
- Take the exam as often as you have to in order to obtain reasonable scores. For example, if you do well on the MCAT (i.e., at least a score of 10, out of a possible 15, on each of the three sections) on your first try, then you can focus your attention on completing the application process. If you need to improve your scores, you can retake the exam (up to three times in any one year). Taking the exam multiple times is usually a good idea because most medical schools look at either your best or your most recent scores. Make every effort to ensure that your scores improve each time you take the exam.
- Take time just before the exam to relax, get a good night's sleep, and eat a good nutritious breakfast. Scope out the exam site before the day of the exam so that you can arrive early without adding the stress of having to hurry.
- While taking the exam, keep your cool. Follow the strategies you developed, perhaps including some of the following:
- If you can narrow the choice of answers to two possibilities, choose one and move on.
- If you cannot eliminate any obviously wrong answers, but have an inkling as to what the answer might be, return to it later (but keep track of your first impression for all such questions - scrap paper is provided). If you have time at the end to think more about the question, then choose your best answer at that time. If you do not have time at the end to work more on the question, fill in the space corresponding to your first impression.
- If you have no idea as to what the answer might be, keep track of the question (on scrap paper) and come back at the end to enter a guess.
- Do all non-passage-based questions first so that you at least have a chance to answer the questions you know; then move on to the passages.
- On passage-based questions, you may want to take a quick peek at the questions, then read the passage and either highlight key parts or write quick notes on scrap paper.
- Pay close attention to the question that is asked and choose the answer that best answers the question. More than one answer may be true, but not answer the question.
- Manage your time. Do not spend too much time on any one question or section. Leave time near the end of the exam to return to questions you did not answer. If a fresh look at the question allows you to narrow the possible answers, then choose one. Otherwise, choose your first impression or choose a letter and answer all unanswered questions with that letter.
Additional standardized exam information and preparation links:
About the GRE
CLEaRS (Computerized Learning, Evaluation and Review System) for MCAT
Cutts Graduate Reviews GRE Tutorial
Cutts Graduate Reviews MCAT Tutorial
DAT Flashcard Secrets
Dr. Flowers MCAT Prep
Educational Testing Service (ETS)
Getting Ready for the MCAT Exam
GRE Flashcard Secrets
GRE Online Course
Health Professions Admission Tests
How Do I Prepare for the MCAT Exam?
Kaplan DAT Preparation
Kaplan MCAT Test Prep Free Events (enter zip code in "Free Events" box)
Kaplan OAT Preparation
Majon Test Prep Center
MCAT Essentials (pdf)
MCAT Flashcard Secrets
MCAT Online Course
MCAT Practice Online
MCAT Practice Tests
The MCAT Store
MCAT2015 for Students
MCAT Writing Sample Items
Nova Press Test Prep Center
Nursing Entrance Exam Online Course
OAT Flashcard Secrets
OAT Online Course
The OAT Professor
The Official MCAT Self-Assessment Package Bundles
PCAT Flashcard Secrets
PCAT Online Course
PCAT Prep Info
Peterson's GRE Test Info
Peterson's MCAT Test Info
Preparing for the MCAT
Princeton Review Free MCAT Events
The Recipe for MCAT Success
Study Guide Zone GRE Test
Study Guide Zone MCAT Test
Study Guide Zone OAT Test
Study Guide Zone PCAT Test
Test Preparation Comparison Charts
3 Inexpensive Ways to Study for the MCAT
TopScore Pro for the DAT Sample Tests and Study Guides
TopScore Pro for the OAT Sample Tests and Study Guides
TopScore Pro for the PCAT Sample Tests and Study Guides
What's It Like to Take the MCAT Exam?
The WikiPremed MCAT Course
Suggested Health Professions Reading Lists:
Medical Reads Recommended by Union College Leadership in Medicine Book Review Club
NAAHP Bibliography of Medicine
SUNY University at Buffalo Prehealth Advising Recommended Reading List
Xavier College of Arts and Sciences Pre-Professional Health Advising Suggested Reading List
Links to improve reading skills:
ABC News Health News
Aetna InteliHealth Health News
Alegent Health: Health News Highlights
American Medical News
Boston Globe Health News
Bulletin of the World Health Organization
CBS News Health News
Chicago Sun-Times Health News
Dental Journals, Newsletters, Publications and Information Sources Online
Detroit News Health News
Digital Library for Students of Medicine
The Doctor Will See You Now Bioethics Articles
Doctor's Guide - Medical News
Environmental Health News
EurekAlert! Medicine and Health News
Free Medical Journals
Harvard World Health News
HeadlineSpot.com Health News Links
Health Affairs: The Policy Journal of the Health Sphere
Health and Medicine Websites
Health News Digest.com
Houston Chronicle Health News
The Internet Public Library Health and Medical Sciences Section
U. of Iowa Health Library Index
Johns Hopkins Public Health News Center
Journal of the American Medical Association
Journal of the American Osteopathic Association
Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association
Journal Watch: Medical Journals and Research Articles
KaiserNetwork.org: Health Policy As It Happens
Los Angeles Times Health News
Mayo Clinic Health Information
Medical Education Online: An Electronic Journal
Medical/Health Sciences Libraries on the Web
Medical News Today
Medline Plus News
Miami Herald Health News
Modern Healthcare Online
National Academy for State Health Policy
National Health Policy Forum
National Institutes of Health (NIH) News
National Library of Medicine
NBC Health News
New England Journal of Medicine
The New Physician
Newsday.com Health/Science News
Newswise Medical News
New York Times Health News
New York Times Science News
NPR Health News
NPR Science News
Philly.com Health & Science News
Portsmouth Herald Health News
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Public Library of Science Medicine
Questia Online Library Science and Technology
Review of Optometry Online
The Sacramento Bee Health/Medical News
SciCentral Health Sciences News
Science Daily Health and Medicine News
Science News Online
Scientific American Health News
Seattle Times Health News
Time Health News
Time Science News
U.S. Global Health Policy
U.S. Health Policy Gateway
U.S. News and World Report Health News
Virtual Mentor: American Medical Association Journal of Ethics
The Wall Street Journal Health News