There are specific graduate programs which require additional standardized testing beyond an undergraduate degree. Students pursuing medical school must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and those pursuing law school must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
But what is it really like to study for and take these examinations?
The exams are a full day event as the MCAT is a seven and a half hour exam consisting of four science-based sections, while the day of the LSAT is approximately four to five hours long consisting of three sections that test critical thinking.
Nicole Lam, a fourth year medical sciences student, found the examination classroom with 20 other students intimidating.
“I remember brief moments of panic when a question came up about a topic I wasn’t as familiar with, but also moments of certainty when a straightforward question came up. Outside of that, I don’t remember a lot other than trying to stay focused. It also helped to remember the amount of preparation I took before,” said Lam.
Thorough preparation for standardized testing is key as Next Step Test Prep recommends studying for two to four months in advance for the exams.
Additionally, studying for these exams is very costly. According to the Princeton Review, the MCAT’s initial fee is $318. The LSAT costs $175, not including textbooks, supplementary classes or tutoring.
However, it seems that the prices were not overly shocking to students preparing for these examinations since the beginning of their undergraduate careers.
Manpreet Kaur, a fourth year medical sciences and biology major, claimed the fees of prep sessions and extra tutoring were surprising as they were not particularly useful.
“I paid nearly $4000 for a prep session that I did not find very helpful,” said Kaur. “Moreover, practice mock exams cost me around $1000 because I used so many. My private tutors also cost me over $1000.”
Fourth year honors specialization political science student Meaghan Irons found the prep classes extremely helpful in studying for the Logical and Analytical Reasoning section of the exam, where applicants must use mental strategies to determine the answer.
“Yes, I took the classes…the courses provided you with a lot of tricks for understanding the question types and playing the LSAT game,” Irons said. “However, you really had to keep up with the program and homework or else the classes wouldn’t be that beneficial.”
According to both Irons and Kaur, enjoyable independent study for approximately two to three hours a day was the key to success.
“I enjoyed my routine in the summer. I incorporated break days and reviewed my practice exams for hours at Starbucks,” said Kaur. “I love Starbucks! This made the whole experience more bearable.”
But what about students taking the exam during the school year?
Irons does not recommend taking the LSAT during the school year as she found balancing school work and exam studying difficult.
“I found that some weeks I would spend too much time on school and not enough on the LSAT and then the next week vice versa,” said Irons. “Scheduling made it more like a class so I would not waste that time with other things.”
LSAT scores are sent to applicants approximately three weeks after the exam, while MCAT scores take 30-35 days.
So how do students feel after completing the exam?
Irons, Kaur and Lam all felt a sense of relief when leaving the examination room, but waiting for test scores was equally stressful.
“It hit me that I was done a gruelling seven hour exam and that I would not find out how I did for a month. I was also very relieved of [the] torture,” said Kaur.
Regarding advice for future MCAT applicants, Lam suggests taking the exam as seriously as your school grades.
“I think it’s really important to consider the MCAT as part of the entire medical admission process and not just a standalone test,” said Lam. “Most people who write the MCAT place a lot of significance on it because it’s one of the biggest criteria that med schools consider. Unless there are people who write the MCAT for fun, which would be weird, but I guess it’s a free country.”
Irons’ advice for future LSAT applicants is concerning the exam’s offered dates.
“The February test is a closed test, meaning that all you get back is your final score. I wouldn’t recommend taking it in February if this is your first test,” said Irons.
Applicants are able to retake the LSAT and MCAT exams in order to improve their scores.
The next MCAT date is March 24th, while the LSAT will be offered on June 11th.
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