Prehealth

DaVinci's Man

Standardized Exams

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

Some programs accept either a specialized exam (e.g., PCAT for pharmacy) or the GRE.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
    Admission Exams
    Are Your MCAT Scores Competitive?
    Berkeley Review
    Columbia Review
    CLEaRS (Computerized Learning, Evaluation and Review System) for MCAT
    Crack the DAT
    Cutts Graduate Reviews GRE Tutorial
    Cutts Graduate Reviews MCAT Tutorial
    DAT Flashcard Secrets
    DAT Newsletter
    DAT-Prep.com
    DAT Preparation
    Dr. Flowers MCAT Prep
    Educational Testing Service (ETS)
    Examkrackers
    Free GRE Practice Tests
    Free MCAT Practice Tests
    Getting Ready for the MCAT Exam
    GRE Flashcard Secrets
    GRE Online Course
    GRE Test Prep
    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
    Khan Academy MCAT Prep
    Majon Test Prep Center
    MCAT AudioLearn
    MCAT Book Reviews
    MCAT Essentials (pdf)
    MCAT Flashcard Secrets
    MCAT Online Course
    MCAT Practice Online
    MCAT Practice Tests
    MCAT-Prep.com
    MCATPrep.net
    MCAT Preparation
    MCAT Registration
    The MCAT Store
    MCAT Test Scores
    MCAT2015 for Students
    MyGRETutor.com
    Next Step Test Prep GRE Tutoring Program
    Next Step Test Prep MCAT Tutoring Program
    Nova Press Test Prep Center
    Nursing Entrance Exam Online Course
    OAT Books Test Prep
    OAT Flashcard Secrets
    OAT Online Course
    The OAT Professor
    Official Guide to the MCAT Exam
    The Official MCAT Self-Assessment Package Bundles
    ThePCAT.com
    PCAT Flashcard Secrets
    PCAT Online Course
    PCAT Prep Info
    Peterson's GRE Test Info
    Peterson's MCAT Test Info
    Preparing for the DAT
    Preparing for the MCAT
    Preparing for the MCAT Exam
    Princeton Review Free MCAT Events
    The Recipe for MCAT Success
    Sherwood Test Prep GRE Course
    Study Guide Zone GRE Test
    Study Guide Zone MCAT Test
    Study Guide Zone OAT Test
    Study Guide Zone PCAT Test
    TestClub.net MCAT Information and Practice Tests
    TestMasters GRE Prep Courses
    Test Preparation Comparison Charts
    TestPrepPractice.net
    Test Study Guides Best GRE Books
    Test Study Guides Best MCAT Books
    Think Education Free MCAT Study Material
    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
    Update on the Dental Admission Test (DAT)
    Varsity Tutors GRE Tutoring
    Varsity Tutors MCAT Tutoring
    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
    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
    Academic Medicine
    Aetna InteliHealth Health News
    Alegent Health: Health News Highlights
    Biomedical Beat
    Boston Globe Health News
    BrainFacts.org
    Bulletin of the World Health Organization
    CBS News Health News
    Chicago Sun-Times Health News
    CNN.com Health
    Detroit News Health News
    Digital Library for Students of Medicine
    Discover Magazine
    Discovery Health
    The Doctor Will See You Now Bioethics Articles
    Doctor's Guide - Medical News
    eLife Journal Articles
    Environmental Health News
    EurekAlert! Medicine and Health News
    Free Medical Journals
    Globalhealthfacts.org
    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
    The Lancet
    Los Angeles Times Health News
    Medical Education Online: An Electronic Journal
    Medical/Health Sciences Libraries on the Web
    Medical News Today
    MedicineNet.com
    Medline Plus News
    Medscape
    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
    Nature
    Nature Medicine
    NBC Health News
    New England Journal of Medicine
    The New Physician
    Newsday.com Health/Science News
    News-Medical.Net
    Newsweek Health
    Newswise Medical News
    New York Times Health News
    New York Times Science News
    NPR Health News
    NPR Science News
    Philly.com Health & Science News
    Physician's Weekly
    Portsmouth Herald Health News
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    Public Library of Science Medicine
    PubMed
    Questia Online Library Science and Technology
    Review of Optometry Online
    The Sacramento Bee Health/Medical News
    SciCentral Health Sciences News
    Science
    Science Daily Health and Medicine News
    Science News Online
    Science Now
    Scientific American Health News
    The Scientist
    Seattle Times Health News
    Time Health News
    Time Science News
    TuftScope Journal
    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
    Washington Post Health & Science News