This Saturday evening, a number of anxious juniors will come out of hiding. After they have completed the daunting MCAT, months of preparation will suddenly be behind them.
Over the past several months — for some students, since the beginning of the semester and for others, since the beginning of the academic year — many juniors have been preparing, academically and psychologically, for the eight-hour Medical College Admission Test. Demanding several hours of studying a week, the test has forced students to sacrifice aspects of their social and extracurricular lives.
Jennifer C. Lee ’05, who took the MCAT last summer, has now been watching many of her friends deal with last-minute stress and preparations.
“‘I can have my life back after Saturday,’ is the general attitude,” Lee said.
Most Yale students said that they prepared for the test by taking a Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions course. Students differed in their evaluations of the courses, but most agreed that the course was at least valuable in that it forced a studying schedule on them and made them prepare for the test incrementally over time.
“It’s not that the Kaplan course is that enlightening,” Dylan Davey ’05 said. “But it puts you on a schedule to study. If you can rely on yourself to set aside two or three hours a week to study, you don’t have to do it. But if you won’t, a prep course is really valuable.”
The MCAT tests a lot of basic material covered in introductory science classes in biology, physics and chemistry. There is also a writing section.
“It’s definitely really stressful,” Lee said. “You never feel like you studied enough because there’s just so much information. There’s a lot of pure studying you need to do for it. The amount of material they can potentially draw from is so much.”
Furthermore, some students said preparation for the MCATs takes up enough of their time that it has actually changed their schedules. Students in Kaplan classes took practice tests Sunday mornings, had homework over the week and took practice tests on their own.
“Preparing takes a lot of time,” Marya Getchell ’05 said. “Having to go to sleep early and then waking up at 7 in the morning and taking an eight-hour test kills half the weekend and then the rest of it is spent doing other schoolwork.”
Getchell also said one of her friends who is on the tennis team decided not to take the MCATs this go-round simply because it would be difficult to prepare for the MCATs and remain committed to her extracurricular activities at the same time.
Adam Licurse ’05 agreed. He suggested that students who are considering taking the MCATs next year think about taking a lighter course load second semester.
“You’ve kind of got to live the life of an old man for a semester,” he said.
Most students taking the test this Saturday said that, at this point, they are more concerned with the physical aspects of taking an eight-hour test than with the academic challenges.
“Studying for the MCAT is like training for a marathon,” Lee said.
“The MCAT is all day; there’s a fatigue factor. If you have a bad day, you won’t do well,” Davey said. “[The test is] hours longer than the SAT.”
Some students mentioned the methods Kaplan suggests to help test-takers maintain their concentration.
“They tell you that when you feel like you’re getting bogged down with too many outside thoughts, you should focus on a green dot,” Getchell said. “They tell you to put your thoughts into a box, and then put the box away.”