Nontraditional Medical Student
Getting into Medical School: A Guide for Older Nontraditional Students



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There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and change. You can't avoid change, it's mandatory, progress however is optional. - Bill R. Good, Jr.

The MCAT Exam

The MCAT is the standard that medical schools use to rate one student against another. It is the most important test you will take in your medical career, and is second only to your grade point average in determining whether you will be a doctor or not. It is different from other standardized tests you may have taken, and will require a focused and sustained effort to prepare properly. Very few students pass this test without studying. Make it a priority to spend 20 to 40 hours a week for a solid 3 months to be competitive. You should extend your studying to at least 6 months if it has been a few years since you completed some of your medical school prerequisites. In addition, take several practice tests to build up your endurance and familiarize yourself with the conditions on test day. Your ability to work hard during these few months may be deciding factor on whether or not you'll be a physician. So make the most of this time.

If you feel it will help, you can retake basic science courses or enroll in one the MCAT preparation courses by Kaplan or the Princeton Review. Keep in mind that these programs are best at teaching you test-taking skills, or to keep you engaged if you're not a self-starter. However, you will still need to study just as much outside the classroom to prepare for the MCAT. That means that you'll spend 20 to 40 hours a week in your review class, in addition to the 20 to 40 hours a week you'll spend studying on your own..

It was 12 to 15 years since I took my premed courses, so I had a lot of catching up to do, which I worked on for 9 months (from August through April). What I did was to review General Biology on my own in August, take Genetics and Cell Biology courses in the Fall, review Organic Chemistry I over the Winter Break, and then audit Organic Chemistry II in the Spring. I also studied MCAT review material 20 to 40 hours a week from Christmas through April. I studied one subject each week, ending each week with several practice tests in that subject area. For example, I studied Biology the first week, General Chemistry the second week, then Organic Chemistry, then Physics, and then I started the rotation over again. I also practiced Verbal Reasoning passages a few times a week.

Following are the review books I used along with comments on how helpful they were. My rating for each book is A or B for a good primary review, C for a good secondary source, and D or below for books which were not that helpful. There are many other good sources of material out there. What follows is just a summary of what I found helpful.

Flowers and Silvers MCAT, The Princeton Review, 1997-1998 Edition (Rating: A).

Definitely, the most helpful review book I have found. It is very easy to read and focuses on the most pertinent topics. While other books have more technical content, Flowers and Silvers was the most relevant.
Flowers and Silvers Annotated Practice MCATs, The Princeton Review (Rating:A).
These practice tests were similar to those provided by AAMC in that they were most like the actual test. This book also came with complete explanations of each question, unlike AAMC.
MCAT Student Manual and Practice Tests (Rating: A).
Not very helpful as a study aid, because the tests do not come with detailed answers. However, they are probably the most realistic practice tests, since they came from the same people who developed the MCAT. You can order these directly from AAMC web site.
MCAT Comprehensive Review, Kaplan, 1998 Edition (Rating: B).
This is an excellent book with a complete and detailed overview of the required MCAT material. The material is more comprehensive than Flowers and Silvers, but maybe a bit harder to grasp if you have a lot of catching up to do.
MCAT Supercourse, ARCO, 3rd Edition (Rating: C).
I wouldn't recommend this as a primary review book, because a lot of the detail on important topics is missing. But I did find the book helpful in providing quick summary overviews of formulas and additional review questions.
The Easy Way Series, Barrons (Rating: C).

This series includes the following books: Biology The Easy Way, Anatomy and Physiology The Easy Way, Chemistry The Easy Way, Organic Chemistry The Easy Way, and Physics The Easy Way. These books are easy to follow, written at the high school to community college level, and come with tons of questions. For those who need a little extra help at first, these books might be a good place to start.

Schaum's Outlines, , McGraw-Hill (Rating: C).

These books are more for reviewing than for learning. They are a good secondary review with lots of questions. But they are hard to follow if it's been a while since you've studied this material. The series includes College Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physics for Pre-Med, Biology, and Allied Health Students.