Archive | July, 2010

If I ran a medical school, this is how I would do admissions

There is a ton of diversity across Canada (let alone the world) when it comes to medical school admissions processes. The following is what I would do if I ran a medical school. If there are any medical school admissions committees seeking advice, you know how to reach me ;).

GPA / MCAT

I’ve said before that if I were forced to only use one item for selecting candidates, it would be GPA. So there’s no way I could leave it out if I got a chance to re-design the entire process. GPA is useful because it shows a candidate’s academic ability over a fairly long period. Due to the nature of GPA calculations, you need to be consistent to score well. You need to be able to work hard for several years. Qualities like intelligence, work ethic, organizational skills, etc. are highly suggested from a good GPA, and you need those skills to be a good medical student, first and foremost. If you don’t have the ability to learn well and study hard, you won’t be able to acquire the knowledge you need to be a competent doctor. GPA is one of the only ways for students to prove that.

Of course, one of the problems with GPA is that everyone takes different courses from different programs in different institutions. This is where the MCAT comes in, to standardized the process a bit. The MCAT allows us to compare certain abilities of students from many different programs and backgrounds. The drawback to the MCAT is that it only represents a single event, which students study a few months for – which does not tell us much about the student’s ability to be a learner for a much longer period of time. In addition, the material tested on the MCAT and its relevance to medicine are debatable, and it is problematic in the sense that it is organized by someone else and limits the medical school’s ability to control what type of skills should be tested.

As such, I think using both GPA and the MCAT is important. However, I disagree with the strict cutoff method that some medical schools use. It doesn’t make sense to me for someone scoring 14/14/8/T with a 4.0 GPA to not have an interview, while someone with a 10/10/9/Q and 3.7 GPA to be guaranteed one.

I think it makes much more sense to use an algorithm that combines the GPA and MCAT into a single score, and then rank applicants that way for the interview.

Scrap Personal Essays and Autobiographical Sketches

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McMaster CASPer Resources and Thoughts


Want to practice before doing the real McMaster CASPer?

Dr. Joshua Liu and other Canadian doctors have created MockCasper:

  • 6 different full length practice simulations
  • Feedback on your answers from actual medical students
  • A comprehensive CASPer guide loaded with tips for success

Start practicing now


Disclaimer: We are in no way affiliated with McMaster Medical School nor with anyone involved with the development or implementation of CASPer (Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal characteristics). All information in this article is publicly available through a simple Google search. Furthermore, this article provides links to all of those resources, and we encourage you to read them for yourself. The purpose of this article is to simply consolidate publicly available information on an interesting and innovative medical school admissions tool and promote discussion.

Why CASPer?

The assessment of non-cognitive skills is a crucial component of any medical school admissions process, and is usually done through the evaluation of personal essays, autobiographical submissions, and interviews. However, interviews are resource intensive (need interviewers, rooms, etc.) and cannot be done for all applicants. In addition, while all applicants can write personal essays/autobiographical submissions, it is hard to know how much of application is the writing of the applicant or that of outside help.

In recent years, McMaster has performed studies (see here and here) analyzing the effectiveness of its five question Autobiogaphical Submission (ABS) pre-interview tool. These studies have shown the ABS to be limited in both reliability and ability to predict future candidate performance. As a result, they developed a “Computer-based Multiple Sample Evaluation of Noncognitive Skills (CMSENS), which eventually became CASPer. More information about the CMSENS and the original research article can be found here.

CASPer Basics

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How I got a T on the MCAT Writing Sample

When I took the Princeton Review Prep Course three years ago, I got a N on my first diagnostic exam writing sample (i.e. from my full length online practice exams). After that, I got T’s on all of my subsequent diagnostic exam writing samples. I went on to get a T on my actual MCAT.

You don’t need to be a great writer to get a T on the MCAT writing sample – in fact, you can be a great writer and not score high on the writing sample. Rather, what you need is a combination of things: be a competent writer, have enough knowledge to come up with good examples, and be able to think critically about those examples and how they relate to the overall theme of the prompt. The MCAT writing sample section can be solved with a systematic approach, and in this article, I hope to impart some specific strategies to help you do just that. While I won’t tell you how to attack the writing sample section from scratch, I think there are a lot of tid bits in this article that will help you significantly improve your score from where it currently is.

Before we begin, it is probably a good idea to review the writing sample section overall. I will go ahead and quote what the AAMC has to say about the writing sample:

Each Writing Sample item consists of a topic statement (printed boldly) followed by instructions for three writing tasks. Your first task is to explain or interpret the topic statement. Because the first two sentences of the instructions are the same for all items, they are stated once here rather than beneath each item. These instructions are: Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks. Explain what you think the above statement means.

The instructions for the second and third writing tasks vary from item to item and are printed immediately beneath each topic statement. When using this list for practice, you should be sure to follow the instructions for all three tasks in writing your essay.

So the first task is clearly to explain the statement/prompt. In general, the second and third tasks are some variant of providing a counter example to the prompt, and then designing a “rule” (or guideline) to explain when the statement is true and when it is not.

Now that we’re all on the same page, here are some specific things I did that I think helped in me getting a T.

Find an Example to Both Support AND Oppose the Prompt

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Examples of Marked MCAT Essays

In case you weren’t familiar with the MCAT Writing Sample, here’s a quick rundown. You are required to write two essays, with 30 minutes each, and you are given a score from 1 – 6 on each. The possible total score of the two combined then makes 2 – 12, which is converted to a letter. 12 = T, 11 = S, … and so on. What is a solid score? I would say that a “R” or higher (total score of 10) is solid and competitive.

That being said, here are some examples of writing sample essays that were scored by my MCAT prep course instructor. Essays with scores of 3 – 6 are included. I hope that it’s a good resource, allowing you to gauge what level of writing is required for a good score. Comments (in italics) from my instructor are also included.

A 3/6 – Bare Pass

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The 2+1 Rule: the Importance of Diversity in Reference Letters

Today I got an email from a reader asking me for some advice on which referees he should ask to write his three letters for medical school admissions. If you haven’t read my first article on reference letters, I urge you to do so before reading this one. If you’re too lazy, the cliff notes of that article are that you should pick referees who know you very well and who you know genuinely want to support you in your quest to become a doctor. Simply put, unless your referee has known you for a long time, he will have nothing of substance to say about you. And unless your referee really wants you to become a doctor, then he has no reason to producing something with substance.

Of course, the question that remains is: “but what if my three strongest references are too similar”?

Why Diversity is Good

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Best Birthday Surprise Ever

*Please turn up your volume

Thanks a bunch to Shelly, Jess, and Roy for the awesome surprise.

And an extra special thanks to Shelly for organizing and producing the video! =)

Oh and I’m sorry for ruining the ending guys…