Book Reviews

Book by Deborah L. Finkel
Review by:  Anne Kaiser
College of Arts and Sciences
American University, Washington, D.C

“I want to be a doctor.”  As an academic counselor for intended biology majors, these are often the first words I hear from many of my first year students.  One of the steps in getting into a medical school is taking the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and after reading The Official Guide to The MCAT Exam, I now feel I can better advise students on how their undergraduate courses can better prepare them for this dreaded exam which is one of the selection factors used by medical school admissions officers.

A quick search at shows that there are 210 listings for “MCAT guides” but this one was written by the staff at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the people who write and score the exam.  This is the official guide.  The book is divided into two parts and includes an addendum.  As the introduction says, it is a “resource to the more than 60,000 examinees who will take the exam this year” (p. 3).   It is directed at those future test takers.  The first part includes some basic information which is also useful to the professionals advising these students.

The first section titled, “Key Questions about the MCAT Exam” includes many charts and grids giving statistics that can be used when advising students.  One chart (p. 34) shows the mean MCAT scores for applicants by undergraduate major.  Humanities majors scored higher overall than the biological sciences majors which can be helpful for a discussion with a student on choosing a major.  Another chart (p. 39) which shows the likelihood of admission based on the combination of MCAT score and undergraduate grade point average can be used to burst the bubble for a poor performing student who still clings to the idea of going to medical school.  

A former Associate Dean for Admissions, Henry Sondheimer, M.D. includes a more detailed discussion on how admissions committees use the numerical data and how other selection factors are considered.  He writes, “Most schools use the MCAT and GPA as one part of a multifaceted, holistic review of each applicant” (p. 42) He also mentions the importance of the interview.     

While the second section provides information on the test itself including sample questions, this is still useful to academic advisors.  Only half the exam covers information from science classes, the other half includes verbal reasoning and a writing sample.  Information about this content is useful for advising any science major who tries to avoid humanities courses.

The addendum encourages future test takers to use the health professions advisor available at their institution and has an extensive list of useful resources only available through the AAMC.

An experienced health professions advisor would find very little new information in this guide.  For others who do advising for science majors as well as other disciplines, this book provides a nice overview to the MCAT and the medical school application process.  Having this extra knowledge can enhance interactions with students thinking about going on to study medicine. The book would also be a useful addition to a resource library for advising centers.

The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam (2009 Edition), (2009) Book by Deborah L. Finkel (Ed.). Review by Anne Kaiser. Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges, 400 pp., $30.00, ISBN # 978-1-57754-081-6
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