Mcat Essay Question Pool

What are admissions officers looking for?

While expectations, missions, policies, and requirements are unique to each medical school, many schools look for students who demonstrate an ability to handle challenging coursework and have the personal attributes needed to work with people. It’s important for applicants to show that they’ve done well in upper-level science courses, and “doing well on the MCAT® exam shows that you can handle medical school coursework,” says Irene Tise, admissions officer in the Office of Medical Student Admissions at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Lori Nicolaysen, assistant dean of admissions at Weill Cornell Medical College, adds that they “seek students who have also demonstrated exceptional personal initiative. Such initiative may take the form of leadership, creativity, research, community service, motivation, or other life experiences.”

Mickey Foxwell, M.D., associate dean for admissions at University of Maryland School of Medicine says, “Each applicant needs to be as sure as possible that this is what they want to do with their life. That motivation can be demonstrated through academic achievement and also through exposure to clinical medicine and community service. Does the applicant know what it’s like to take care of someone? Does the applicant have an idea about the advantages and disadvantages of a career in medicine?”

Schools also look for evidence that an applicant has demonstrated good judgment, compassion, and selflessness— qualities every physician should embody. Applicants can show evidence through their involvement in extracurricular activities, letters of evaluation, and their personal statement.

What happens when my application is received?

Each medical school has its own nuanced process for reviewing applications. For example, “Weill Cornell invites all applicants to complete the secondary application,” Ms. Nicolaysen shares. “Once the file is complete (including secondary application, letters of evaluation, and MCAT scores), the application is moved to screening. A number of experienced admissions committee members serve as screeners. Although Weill Cornell has fourth-year medical students on the admissions committee, the students do not screen applications.”

Dr. Raquel D. Arias, associate dean of admissions at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, explains, “In order to give every candidate a fair review of their personal qualities and accomplishments, a single screener evaluates all candidates with a particular MCAT score at our school. This controls for the inevitable influence that this important test has on the process. An admissions officer reads every application submitted to the school.” (There is no automated filter.)

At Wake Forest School of Medicine, Ms. Tise explains, “Because of the large number of applications we receive, we use a formula that separates and groups applicants based on their AMCAS® primary application. The groups are: 1) Proceed and send a secondary application, (2) Hold for MCAT score or other extenuating circumstances and notify candidates, and (3) Risk, based on academics.

Those candidates in the “risk” category are reviewed individually by the associate dean and an executive committee of five faculty and admissions committee members. From there, a decision is made to either proceed with the application process or reject the application.” Typically, after secondary applications are submitted, the associate dean and a committee review the applications and place candidates into interview pools. Because of the large number of applicants, only a small percentage is asked to interview.

How do reviewers decide whom to interview?

Medical schools consider each applicant’s academic proficiency, whether they are likely to thrive in the culture of the institution, and if their experiences, attributes, and goals are in line with the school’s mission and goals. Inevitably, medical schools receive many more qualified applicants than they can interview and matriculate. The decision to interview one student over another can be very difficult to say the least.

“It is incredibly challenging because there are so many admirable candidates,” Ms. Nicolaysen explains. “Ultimately, the committee screeners attempt to identify the best qualified applicants from diverse academic and personal backgrounds whom we deem most likely to build a dynamic learning environment at Weill Cornell and to become leaders in medicine.”

Dr. Foxwell adds, “At University of Maryland, outstanding grades and MCAT scores do not guarantee that an applicant will be invited to interview. Just as important are extracurricular activities and life experiences, essays and personal comments in AMCAS, and letters of recommendation.”

Dr. Arias says, “The path to becoming a physician is unique to each applicant; therefore, we do not mandate any particular course of study. We have no preference for a particular major (or minor). Evidence of the personal attributes of integrity, adaptability, language skills, collaboration, and a commitment to service are evaluated with an eye toward the development of physician scientists. We infer the desired applicant qualities from both the content of the application and the care with which it is delivered. Every aspect of the application is important. Applicants who speak in their own voice, without “spin,” is especially valued.”

Additionally, some public medical schools also may consider an out-of-state applicant’s ties to the state or institution if non-state residents are not typically considered for matriculation. (For more information, check with individual medical school websites or consult the AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements.)

What are some common mistakes applicants make?

The same tips you might have received for undergraduate or job applications hold true for medical school applications. Always tell the truth and be sure to mention activities and volunteer, research, or work experiences that are most important, and if possible, occurred within the last few years. “Take your AMCAS essay questions seriously,” counsels Ms. Tise. “These essays are not creative writing exercises. You may start off with a descriptive experience, but, move quickly into how and why you want to become a physician and how this experience helped determine that. Also, proofread carefully. There are no excuses for punctuation and grammatical errors. We know you are applying to several schools, but be careful to include the correct name in secondary materials.

“Redundant information is a waste of space. Inconsistencies can call an applicant’s authenticity into question,” cautions Ms. Nicolaysen. “We advise not including high school activities or activities in which your participation was minimal. Also, try to avoid boasting or exaggerating.”

Dr. Foxwell advises that “Applicants must begin to think like professionals. If a photograph is requested in a secondary application, make it a good one, not one that may call your professionalism into question.”

What advice does the review committee have?

“Do your homework. Know what schools are looking for, and work closely with your advisor,” cautions Dr. Foxwell.

Your application needs to be complete and truthful. When it comes to your personal statement, Ms. Tise recommends, “There is no secret checklist or formula. Remember, you are the applicant, and we want to know why you think you are a good one.”

Furthermore, Ms. Nicolaysen advises applicants, “Before submitting your application, ask some trusted mentors, friends, or family members to give you feedback about your experiences and essays. You might ask them questions like, ‘How would you describe me based on what you read? Did my essay hold your attention? Was anything confusing? Did you notice any typos?’”

Most importantly, relax. Most applicants have one or two items that they wish they’d changed or perhaps a mistake they think they might have made. If you have further concerns or anxiety over the application process, check out the Aspiring Docs fact sheet on helpful tips for dealing with application anxiety.

Use these sample MCAT test questions as part of your MCAT prep to help you get ready for the actual test and see where to focus your study time

Planning to take the MCAT? Try these sample MCAT test questions to assess your preparation and see where to focus your study time. Answers are provided at the end of all the questions. For more comprehensive test preparation, check out Peterson's Master the GMAT.

You may also want to find out about how the MCAT is scored, or be interested in the computerized MCAT.

Verbal Reasoning

Read the following passage and answer the questions that follow.

There is no doubt that Americans today place a high priority on living a long and disease-free life. It is generally conceded that freedom from pain and debilitation ought to be looked upon as a natural right of all human beings. Achieving this goal is facilitated by the proper selection of health products and services.

Of all consumer goods and services, none is more essential to one's welfare than health care. There are several excellent consumer magazines distributed by product-testing agencies that may be helpful in choosing health care. Yet the array of products and medical facilities is huge, and the claims for the merits of each are confusing. Occasionally, we may visit a physician or dentist and receive specific care or advice, but few of us can afford professional counsel on all health matters.

Not only can we waste a great deal of money on ineffectual products and professionals, but our health, perhaps even our lives, may depend on getting proper treatment for disease and illness. There are times when self-treatment should not even be attempted. For example, some products — such as aspirin, laxatives, and antihistamines — are dangerous when used in excessive amounts, in the presence of certain physical disorders, or in combination with other medicines. In addition to the question of which products to select, there is always the question of whether any product should be selected without the consultation of a physician.

Obviously, people should not run to a physician for every little scrape, bruise, ache, or pain. If they did, our entire system of medical care would be swamped overnight and the doctors would be unable to take care of the more serious problems. How can we know then, which of the hundreds of different symptoms that can develop require the services of a physician? There are several circumstances under which a physician should always be consulted:

* Severe symptoms. Any type of attack in which the symptoms are severe or alarming — such as severe abdominal or chest pain, or bleeding — should obviously receive prompt medical attention.

* Prolonged symptoms. Any symptoms — such as cough, headache, constipation, or fatigue — that persist day after day should be checked by a physician, even though the symptoms are minor. Serious chronic disorders are often revealed through persistent minor symptoms.

* Repeated symptoms. Symptoms, even though minor, that recur time after time should be reported to a physician because, like prolonged symptoms, they may indicate a serious problem.

* Unusual symptoms. Any symptoms that seem to be unusual, such as unusual bleeding, mental changes, weight gain or loss, digestive changes, or fatigue, call for a visit to a physician.

* If in doubt, the safest action is to see a physician. If there is a serious problem, it can be corrected in its early stages; if there is no problem, then you have paid a very small price for your piece of mind.

1. The focus of this article is:

Athe importance of selecting quality health care

Bdetermining when and when not to see a physician

Cholding down the cost of health care

Dmaintaining consistency in quality of life

2. After a careful reading of this selection, one might infer that visiting a physician for every little sickness would:

Abankrupt many Americans

Bcause too much time to be spent away from work

Coverburden the health care profession

Dincrease health care insurance premiums

Physical Science

1. A hockey puck of mass 0.16 kg is slapped so that its velocity is 50 m/sec. It slides 40 meters across the ice before coming to rest. How much work is done by friction on the puck?

A+4 J

B–60 J

C–200 J

D–340 J

Biological Science

A variety of staining techniques are routinely used in the microbiology laboratory to identify bacteria. Some stains are simple stains while others are differential. Many of the basic dyes used bind to the bacterial cell due to its negatively charged surface. Other dyes may be repelled by the cell, and can be used to produce a negative stain. The choice of technique depends on the type of information needed. The information is routinely used to help identify microorganisms, and it also helps determine appropriate therapeutic treatment.

1. The most widely-used differential stain for bacteria is:

Athe capsule stain

Bthe Gram stain

Cthe endospore stain

Dthe flagella stain

2. All of the following are true statements about the brain EXCEPT:

AThe pons functions to link the cerebellum with the higher conscious centers

BThe limbic system alerts the cortex of incoming stimuli

CThe limbic system is associated with emotional responses

DThe nuclei of cranial nerves 5, 6, 7, and 8 are located in the pons

Writing Sample (sample only)

A popular fear of Americans is that our nation will be "one large, paved parking lot with border-to-border interstate highways connecting it."

Write an essay in which you perform the following tasks: explain what you think the statement means; describe specific situations in which there is evidence of a growing change in the countryside of this nation; discuss ways that the statement may not be necessarily true; provide evidence of what this means to today's society; conclude with a justification of the positive or negative implications.

MCAT® Answers

Verbal Reasoning

1. The correct answer is (B). The author attempts to point out the symptoms that require a visit to the doctor and alludes to those that can be personally treated. Choice (A) is incorrect; while selecting quality health care is very important, there is no effort on the part of the author to deal with this subject. Choice (C) is incorrect; the author alludes to the importance of holding down the cost of health care, but focuses on care for the proper reasons. Choice (D) is incorrect; there is no mention of maintaining consistency in quality of life.

2. The correct answer is (C). The author makes the statement that "If they did, our entire system of medical care would be swamped overnight and the doctors would be unable to take care of the more serious problems." Choice (A) is incorrect; while this may be true, it is not indicated in this article. Choices (B) and (D) are incorrect; although both are probably true, there is no evidence in this article to support either statement.

Physical Science

1. The correct answer is (C). The work-energy theorem relates the change in kinetic energy to the work done on the puck:

Since the force of gravity is vertical and the displacement of the puck is horizontal, the force of gravity does no work. Since the only horizontal force on the puck is the friction force, all of the work on the puck is done by friction:


Since friction always exerts a force opposite to the velocity, the work done by friction is expected to be negative, as calculated.

Biological Science

1. The correct answer is (B). The gram stain is used to identify Gram-positive vs. Gram-negative cells, based on the cell wall composition of the organism.

2. The correct answer is (B). The limbic system includes the limbic lobe as well as the associated subcortical nuclei. It is associated with emotional responses and the integration of olfactory information with visceral and somatic information.

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