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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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How to study for the MCAT (and do well) – Part 1


On the first class of my MCAT prep course, the course instructor wrote on the board:

“The MCAT exists to _________ me.”

He then asked us to fill in the blank. There was silence at first, and then one student bravely said “to screw me”. Funny chaos ensued for a few minutes as others piped in “to kill me”, “to ruin me”, and so forth.

The instructor stopped our laughter by shouting “Wrong!”, and then said, “The MCAT exists to help you.” He explained that since it was May, we only had one summer before med school applications were due. Extracurricular activities and good reference letters often require long-term commitments, so there’s not much you can do in these last few months. The school year is over, so is any chance of changing your GPA. The only thing left that you can use to improve your application at this point is the MCAT.

This post is the first of two personal heart-to-hearts on how to prepare for the MCAT. I admit that the downfall of this article is the fact that it is derived from the experience of a sample size of just one. I managed a 37R with this advice though, so I hope it helps!

Psyching yourself

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When should I take the MCAT?

Last month, a science counselor at my university asked me whether I felt that taking the MCAT after 1st year would be beneficial for some students. For those of you who don’t know, I decided to take the MCAT last summer after my 1st year of undergrad biology. I knew I wanted to do a NSERC summer research placement after 2nd year, but also felt that I did not have the discipline or work ethic to successfully study for the MCAT at the same time. And I also knew I wanted to apply to medicine starting in the fall of my 3rd year. So I gave the MCAT a shot that summer after 1st year, and fortunately ended up with a decently balanced 34 T.

So would I recommend taking the MCAT after 1st year?

The short answer is yes and no, and to be frank, the best time to take the MCAT varies from student to student. In my opinion, taking 1st year physics, chemistry and biology, as well as 2nd year organic chemistry, help tremendously in making studying for the MCAT easier. The MCAT has become a critical thinking test more so than ever, and so any other courses on top of that are just gravy, in my opinion. So assuming no other summer distractions (i.e. no research or other jobs), I honestly believe that taking the MCAT after 2nd year is probably optimal for most science undergrads (in fact, most Canadian premed students do this already anyways). Not only will you have experience with all the essential science knowledge already, but in terms of test-taking skills, you would obviously do better the older you are. Taking your MCAT after 3rd year is also an option, but I think doing so after 2nd year is slightly better since the science courses will be a bit fresher in your mind.

What if I want to do both summer research and the MCAT?

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