Get Into Med School

Help! I Failed the MCAT Twice

January 14, 2020

Dear Doctors,

I’m a parent of a daughter who CURRENTLY is a senior at a university in California studying biology/pre-med. I’m writing to you to ask for some help. She has taken the mcat twice and received 493. She is super smart has a gpa of 3.75 in school. She has the perfect application for what they are looking for, but the dreaded mcat score. Can you give me any insight on how to help her? She has tried an MCAT course and studying on her own but nothing seems to help. I’m so fearful she is giving up her dreams because of her scores and already getting rejection letters.

-Concerned Mom

Hi Concerned,

Thank you for reaching out. We are happy to welcome you  to the Med Like Me family. I’m sure you are very proud of all the hard work your daughter has put into her studies. She is obviously very hardworking and tenacious.

The good news is that medical schools are becoming increasingly holistic in their view of applicants. Schools are looking at applicant’s life experience, volunteer and work history, and research activities in addition to their test scores. After all, test scores do not determine how good a doctor a person will be.  Not even close.

That being said, taking and passing tests is a necessary evil of becoming a doctor. My first piece of advice would have been the MCAT prep course and review of study methods. It sounds like that’s already been done.

I wonder if the issue lies more in her mindset than in her study methods. Does she get anxious when she sits for exams? Does she doubt her ability to pass? Do she worry she isn’t smart enough, or not meant to be a doctor?

If so, these thoughts and beliefs may underlie her poor test performance.

That’s what happened to me when I started medical school. I had always been an excellent student, and had never failed a test in my life. All of a sudden, I failed my very first TWO exams in med school. I was in danger of academic probation, and I completely panicked. I felt like a failure and thought I wasn’t meant to be a doctor after all.

I ended up talking to a counselor at my med school about my fears, and ultimately, pursued individual talk therapy with a psychologist. That was a life-changing decision. The therapist helped me to see how my self-doubt and  anxiety was stopping me from performing my best on exams. I met with my therapist weekly and she helped me overcome my self doubt and believe in myself again.

It made all the difference. I NEVER failed any test again.

Did I all of a sudden get smarter or better at studying by talking to a therapist? No. I was always smart enough to pass those exams. But at some point I stopped believing in myself, and my performance suffered because of it.

Might your daughter benefit form talk to someone about her anxiety? If could be life changing for her if she does so.

Granted, I’m a psychiatrist, so I guess it’s predictable that I would advise you to consider finding a good talk therapist for your daughter. But honestly, I think the mental part of becoming a doctor is the most challenging. The mind has the power to shape reality. Addressing the mindset is the most important part of making change.

Wishing both of you well,

-Dr. Brandi

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