The interview does not have to be a daunting step in your journey to getting into medical school or to getting that desired job. With the appropriate preparation, you can face it with confidence and boldness, knowing that you have worked hard and have the ability to succeed!
The medical school interview has evolved in recent years from the more traditional one person interview to an amalgamated set of interviews known as the multiple-mini-interview (MMI). This involves a series of about 10 interview stations, 10 minutes each in length with different interviewers. The format of each interview can consist of traditional interview questions, role-play (acting), logic/calculation questions, writing, team-work (collaboration) and more. You can read more about the history and format of the MMI.
The main purpose of this post is to give you some tips to prepare for the MMI and how to handle yourself on the big interview day. Many of these tips apply to other interview formats:
Practice, practice, practice: This is the most important way to prepare and you can start months in advance before you even receive an interview invite. I started with just one question a day (there are plenty of sample questions online). Once I received an interview invitation, I ramped up my practice to about 2-3 questions per day. I also recorded myself to evaluate my body language, tone of voice and to obtain feedback from others. Practicing in front of the mirror, on Skype, or in person with people from different backgrounds will also get you used to formulating your thoughts quickly even when faced with unfamiliar material. Constructive criticism from those you practice with is vital for improving your line of thinking and delivery. Practice under timed conditions so that you get used to speaking under pressure and learn how to stick within the time limits. A solid foundation of interview preparation will give you more confidence on the big day.
Image courtesy of grafhamwalbancke.com
Be yourself: I realized the importance of this particularly with role-play questions. Although there is some level of acting required, it is important to react to the situation the way you normally would, in keeping with your personality, and not pretend to be something you are not. It will be very obvious if you are not being authentic.
Be confident: I went into my interview knowing I had prepared and worked hard. I was in a positive frame of mind, confident that there was no room to doubt my abilities. Enter the room with a smile and give a firm handshake. Recognize how hard you have worked and how far you have come in obtaining an interview. Keep that momentum going!
Be clear and concise: In my view, less-is-more when it comes to an interview. Meandering and rambling speech will make it difficult to bring your points across. Try to keep your response relatively short and to the point (about 2-3 minutes in total and then allow time for follow-up questions).
Check your body language and attire: This may seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by the things we do with our hands, face and body when we are talking. During one of my practice sessions, I realized that I tap my feet repeatedly, sometimes roll my eyes and clench my hands. Evaluate your body language and make adjustments if anything seems inappropriate or distracting. Remember to maintain eye-contact with your interviewer or role-play partner and maintain good posture. Ensure that you are dressed appropriately.
Answer the question: You will have about 2 minutes to read and absorb each question on the MMI. Make sure you have noted the salient points of the question, that you answer what is being asked and do not go off on a tangent. Only interject personal experiences if it is relevant to the question.
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Listen attentively: It can be tempting to want to talk non-stop during the interview particularly on the MMI where you only have a few minutes to make an impression on each interviewer. However, being a good listener is also an important skill. You can demonstrate this during role-play scenarios by pausing at appropriate moments to allow the other person to speak and by asking questions to stimulate conversation.
Explain your thought process: For logic questions, explain your line of thinking as you go along rather than waiting to find the solution in your mind before presenting it. Even if you run out of time or do not arrive at the correct answer, you will have at least demonstrated how you think and tackle problems.
Be engaged: Even if you are unsure of how to answer a question, be enthusiastic and engaged with your interviewer. Your passion will come across in your tone of voice and body language. In role-play scenarios, imagine that this is a real situation and throw yourself into the role.
Have fun and don’t dwell: At the end of each interview station, don’t dwell on how you could have done it better but forget about it and move on to the next station with a clear, fresh mind. One station has no bearing on the next station. (Personally, I felt that I fumbled two stations but felt fairly confident about the rest). I have to say that the MMI was the most fun and challenging interview I have ever done. It really stretched me! Try to remember that although the interview is an important part of getting into medical school, you can also relax and enjoy the day through the different scenarios and the people you will meet. I made some great friends and was very inspired by the people I met on interview day.
Whether it is for school or a desired job, many of the above tips will be applicable in different contexts. I hope these tips help you feel more prepared and confident for your interview day. You can do it! If you have further questions, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to help.
Sundays are usually a whirlwind of madness in our house as we try to get the kids out of the house in time for church. My husband and I teach classes before the service starts and on mornings like today when music practice is thrown into the mix, it is one busy morning. I love it!
Ready for some praise and worship
The morning started off early with worship practice. Depending on the Sunday, I play piano with different musicians which offers a nice variety of styles and songs. Today, I found the songs particularly reverent and despite a challenging practice on Thursday night as we tried to mesh together as a team, it worked out beautifully this morning.
After practice was done, it was off to my class to prepare my sheets and props for the 4 to 5 year old kids. Despite the challenges of uncooperative or rowdy kids, teaching them is so refreshing. There is something about being around young children that just reminds me to have fun and appreciate the simple things.
After the class, I ran down to the sanctuary to play piano for the service as I tried to untangle my own two kids from around my knees. I found it very inspiring that the pastor’s message today was on worship and how we are not there to gain something for ourselves but simply to glorify God and thank him for his goodness. As the service came to an end and the voices of the congregation rose up in volume and blended for the last song, it was just so beautiful. I didn’t want it to end!
So despite the usual Sunday madness and the fact that we normally want to pass out on the couch after the service, it is always so worth it to be in the company of great people, lifting up our voices, hearing the laughter of kids and being surrounded by such a warm community!
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me for some tips to prepare for the MCAT. I would be happy to share the techniques I used and in particular what I learned from having sat it 3 times over a period of 10 years! I didn’t feel my scores on the first two attempts were competitive enough for medical school and hence my decision to take it a third time. The retakes are so far apart in time because of some unexpected life circumstances and our decision to start a family before medical school. I was very happy with my final scores from my 3rd attempt which are a definite improvement compared to the first two attempts.
Take 1, 2005: Score 27P
Study duration: Approximately 3 months during the summer (while working full time) after I graduated from university.
Resources: Examkrackers (EK) and Princeton Review (PR)
Strategy: Content review and practice questions from EK and PR.
Lessons learned: I focused too much on content review, memorization and not enough on understanding the concepts and practicing questions. I did not have very good test-taking skills and ended up running out of time on the exam, leaving several questions unanswered. I also had not practiced the writing section much.
Take 2, 2008: Score 28S
Study duration: Approximately 3 months while working full-time.
Resources: Examkrackers (EK) and Princeton Review (PR)
Strategy: Content review and practice questions from EK and PR, 2 full-length AAMC exams. I also did a writing sample question every lunch-time at work.
Lessons learned: My strategy had not really changed much from the first time around aside from the full-length exams and working on the writing sample. Although the writing section is now obsolete, my point in mentioning this is that regular practice improved my writing score from a P to an S (the highest you could get is a T).
Take 3, 2015: Score 512 (roughly translates to a 34-35 on the old MCAT grading system)
Study duration: Approximately 4 months of informal reading (it was something to do while breastfeeding and changing diapers around the clock!) and then 4 months of serious preparation while on maternity leave with baby number 2 (at least 15-20 hours per week during those last 4 months)
Resources: Khan Academy, Examkrackers (EK), 101 passages in MCAT Verbal reasoning, Examkrackers 1001 questions in MCAT series (Chemistry, Physics, Biology), AAMC online official guide (120 questions), AAMC question pack (720 questions), 2 AAMC full-length exams (old MCAT version), 1 AAMC full-length exam (new MCAT version),
Strategy: Since my score had not improved significantly the second time around, I knew I needed to revamp my entire approach to the MCAT. I first combed the internet for various tips on preparing for the MCAT and the general principle I found was understanding the fundamental concepts rather than rote memorization, and then…PRACTICE!PRACTICE! PRACTICE !
Take Home Lessons:
During my 4 months of concrete MCAT preparation, this was my approach:
I drafted a study schedule for the entire 4 months leading up to the exam. I think this step is key because although it can be difficult to know how long each chapter will take, you need some idea of what you are going to study when so that you do not run out of time at the end, especially since the latter months are crucial for practicing questions.
I spent the first two months studying. I would read a chapter for leisure as if I was reading a book and then re-read the same chapter and answer the questions at the end of the chapter to make sure I understood the principles. This was also the period when I prepared flash cards, formula sheets and other short notes. The material to study for the MCAT is voluminous so I wanted to narrow the concepts down to something I could leaf through fairly quickly during my final review.
During the first two months, I would also listen to Khan Academy videos while performing other tasks. It can be an efficient way to study if you have to commute, do house chores, breastfeed etc.
During the last two months, I mostly practiced questions and noted down any problem areas to be reviewed later. I also wrote down some of the questions I had gotten wrong so that I could attempt them again later. I also reviewed flashcards periodically to refresh my memory.
Key point when practicing questions: I would time myself strictly. Whatever set of questions I was doing, I had the goal of completing it in 1-2 minutes. If you calculate the number of questions on each section of the actual MCAT (53-59 questions) and the time you have to do it (90-95 minutes), you really only have 1-2 minutes to answer each question (some will take longer, some less).
The AAMC practice resources were critical to building my confidence because I became so familiar with the MCAT testing environment that I did not feel intimidated on exam day.
I hope this post has been helpful to any aspiring doctors planning to take the MCAT. There are many approaches to prepare for the MCAT. This is just what worked for me (the third time around, that is!). In a subsequent post, I will provide strategies for you to be at your best on exam day. Happy studying and good luck!