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Students prep for MCATs at Kaplan

Jen Rowling | Monday, February 14, 2005

Notre Dame students have been studying for the April 16 Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) by spending long hours in the library and taking off-campus test preparation courses.The Stanley Kaplan course, offered at the South Bend Kaplan Center, is a popular preparation choice for many pre-med students. This course gives students the chance to take five full-length practice exams before they sit for the actual exam.Junior Michael Zintsmaster started taking a three-hour class once a week in the fall. “It seems like just about everybody who takes the MCAT takes the class,” he said.Casey Reising, also a junior, began the Kaplan course in October and will continue attending the class every Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. until the examination.For students who did not begin last semester, Kaplan offers another course, which started Jan. 13 and will end a week prior to the actual examination. This is an intensive course that meets three days a week for three hours per session. In addition to taking the Kaplan classes, many pre-med students sacrifice spring break trips for last minute studying. Reising, a Notre Dame cheerleader, will stay on campus to study for the MCAT before leaving on Tuesday to cheer at the men’s basketball Big East Tournament in New York City.”I think it is a growing trend,” Reising said. “Many students who took it last year stayed here the entire break to study, and many students I have spoken to this year who are taking it have the same plan.”Junior pre-med student John Piposar said he is one of the students who plans to forgo traveling and stay in Alumni Hall over spring break.”I know a few other kids who are staying along with me,” Piposar said. “But I also know some kids who are still going on spring break or else they are going home to study. Generally, I’d say it’s pretty mixed.”The MCAT is divided into four sections. The first section is a 100-minute physical science section that tests physics and general chemistry knowledge. An 80-minute verbal reasoning section follows. The next section contains writing samples and requires the test-taker to complete two essays in 60 minutes. The final section, biological science, lasts 100 minutes and tests biology and organic chemistry skills. The three science sections of the MCAT have a scoring range of one to 15. The writing sample is rated alphabetically from ‘J’ to ‘T,’ with ‘J’ being the lowest score and ‘T’ being the highest score.The highest possible score on the exam is 45, with the national average being 24.Medical school applicants have a national acceptance rate of 47 percent. But Piposar said an exam brochure given to him by the University accounted Notre Dame students having a 79-percent acceptance rate over the past four years.During the 2003-04 school year, Notre Dame students applying to medical schools with a 3.5 to 4.0 GPA had a 97 percent acceptance rate. Those with a 3.25 to 3.49 GPA had a 64 percent acceptance rate for the same period.The average MCAT score for acceptance at a top medical school is 32, Piposar said. Such medical schools include Harvard University, Washington University in St. Louis, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and University of Pennsylvania.Piposar said medical schools focus heavily on an applicant’s MCAT scores. “It’s one of the only ways med schools can compare prospective students from different schools,” he said. “Initially, most med schools look at your GPA and MCAT score to get a general idea of the caliber of student applying.”After comparing MCAT scores, medical school admissions advisors look at personal statements, job experience and volunteering.Reising said she feels admissions advisors may ignore deficiencies in these areas if a candidate’s test score is exceptionally high.”Although it is taken into consideration with many other aspects, including GPA and extracurricular activities, lack of excellence in these other areas has a tendency to be ‘overlooked’ in lieu of a high MCAT score,” she said.