Admissions Tests

General Information

Since an application to health professions schools will require that you take an admissions test, you should know the following:

  • The tests required are: MCAT for medical school, DAT for dental school, VCAT or GRE for veterinary school.
  • Rarely, if ever, will a set of very good standardized test scores substitute for a seriously weak GPA, but they can document academic potential for a student whose GPA is borderline and whose grades have improved over time.
  • You should plan on taking the MCAT/DAT/VCAT only once and only after seriously preparing for the test. You should not plan on taking it once for practice and then preparing for it (as you may have done the SAT). Many medical schools will take your best set of scores if you take it more than once. If your original preparation was inadequate, and you believe that you can raise your scores, it may be to your advantage to repeat the exam after intensifying your studying.
  • The MCAT is offered January through September. You should plan to take the MCAT no later than June/July (and preferably earlier) of the year preceding the year in which you plan to enter medical school, e.g., if you intend to enter medical school in 2017, you should take the MCAT no later than June/July 2016.
  • The GRE and DAT are now computerized and self-scheduled.
  • Admission tests are based on college-level work in the areas of Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. For the MCAT, you should complete 1 year of Introductory Chemistry, 1 year of Organic Chemistry, a semester of Biochemistry, 1 year of Introductory Physics, and 1 year of Biology (to include Molecular Biology and Genetics and Evolution). We strongly recommend a course in Physiology as well. Note that these match the minimum course admission requirements for most medical and dental schools. For the new MCAT (MCAT 2015), a course in Statistics is strongly advised, as are introductory courses in Psychology and Sociology. There is no Calculus on any of the tests, but there are sections to evaluate an applicant’s reading and quantitative ability on all of the standardized exams.

Taking the Test Early

Students who have entered Duke with AP credit for some Pre-Med prerequisites (Inorganic Chemistry, Calculus, Introductory Physics) and/or have completed the required course work for the MCAT by the beginning of their junior year may ask if it is possible to take the MCAT early, in August or September preceding the junior year. This may be a practical choice for students spending their junior year abroad (or electing a semester abroad in the spring of the junior year), or for individuals who prefer to prepare over the summer rather than to study for the MCAT during the spring semester. However, experience shows that it is not likely to be in your best interest to rush through the basic science requirements in order to take the MCAT prior to the spring of your junior year, or to take it with the bare minimum of course work in Biology. Rather, the experience and knowledge gained in further upper level science courses may improve your performance on the exam.

Test Preparation

Your preparation methods for these standardized tests may be one or more of the following. Also see the information supplied by the Association of American Medical Colleges:

  • Study your textbooks and notes from the relevant courses. You may wish to use an outline such as the one printed in the MCAT Student Manual to help you structure your review and a commercial book of practice exams to familiarize yourself with the question format.
  • Purchase a set of review materials and practice examinations. Set up a schedule for weekly review and practice exams, and stick with it.
  • Enroll in a commercial coaching course such as Kaplan, Princeton Review or Exam Krackers. If you elect this method of preparation, be sure to attend all classes, but don’t stop there. Visit the Test Center as often as possible to work on practice tests and review the correct answers. Fees for commercial courses can run >$1500 with some reduction available to those students already receiving financial aid from the University.

Many students have inquired whether the HPA endorses any particular method of test preparation. We do not. Students know their own study habits and level of motivation better than any advisor. Through self-discipline, a commercial guide and other self-help materials there is an opportunity for tremendous cost savings. But if you are convinced that you will be better prepared if you take a commercial course, then you may want to consider taking one.