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How to Prepare for MCAT Writing Sample

Why We Test Writing Skills
Physicians must be able to communicate effectively with patients, colleagues, the public and in some cases, to contribute cogently and persuasively to deliberations about health care policy. However, physicians are often characterized by the public and portrayed by the press as technicians, rather than compassionate, humane health care providers. They are often criticized for a limited ability to care for and communicate with people. Patients want physicians to communicate with them as active participants in the delivery of health care.
Medical school deans and faculty have reported that communication and writing skills are often deficient among medical students and have emphasized the importance of analytical and communication skills for physician candidates. The deans and faculty have asked that an assessment of written communication skills be added to the information available about medical school applicants. The inclusion of a writing sample on the MCAT, by requiring candidates to develop and present ideas in a cohesive manner, offers medical school admission committees evidence of their applicants' writing and analytical skills.
What Does this Section Assess?
The MCAT Writing Sample provides unique information unavailable from other sections of the examination. The MCAT Writing Sample consists of two 30-minute essays. The Writing Sample is designed to assess skill in the following areas:
  1. Developing a central idea
  2. Synthesizing concepts and ideas
  3. Presenting ideas cohesively and logically
  4. Writing clearly, following accepted practices of grammar, syntax, and punctuation, consistent with timed, first-draft composition
How to Prepare for the Writing Sample
The best preparation for the Writing Sample is coursework in composition, which will acquaint you with the components of a well-written, well-organized essay. You will also benefit from humanities and social science courses that have strong reading and writing requirements. In addition, you should engage in activities to prepare on your own.
Use the information below as a basis for understanding what you are expected to do. In the writing sample exercise, you are expected to compose a short, reasoned discussion based on a statement of opinion, philosophy, or policy.
The Writing Sample section calls for a combination of expository writing (writing directed at giving information) and argumentative writing (writing to establish a point of view or to persuade). Basic composition courses may include discussions of these major forms of discourse. Handbooks used in composition courses can be of considerable value in reviewing for this portion of the MCAT exam. Texts on rhetoric, advanced expository writing, argument, or logic can also be useful.
Once you understand the tasks required by the Writing Sample, you should practice writing essays of this type. You should generate or find a statement of opinion, philosophy, or policy to stimulate your writing. You can readily find examples in daily newspapers (e.g., "State funding of intercollegiate athletics is an inappropriate use of tax payers' money," or "Term limits for politicians are unfair to committed public servants"). Your task has three parts; explain, develop an apparent exception, and resolve the contradiction.
To score well on the Writing Sample, you should develop a central idea for your response and express your ideas in an organized, coherent prose. Your essay should not consist of terse or blunt responses to the three tasks. Instead, it should be an integrated response to the topic that contains fully developed, logically constructed paragraphs.
The better essays thoroughly explore the meaning and implications of the given statement. Complex terms appearing in the statement are defined. Generalizations are supported with illustrative examples. Word choice and sentence construction accurately convey the intended meaning. And, as noted earlier, the three writing tasks are addressed.
Although Writing Sample assignments do not require that you state whether or not you agree with the statement (or its opposition), you may include your opinion as part of your response if you wish. Essays are not scored on the basis of what position the writer takes, but on how effectively that position is articulated and supported. If you choose to take a position disagreeing with either the statement or its opposition, your response should demonstrate that you have considered the complexity of the issue including the opposing point of view.
Keep the time limit in mind as you write and try to bring your essay to a conclusion. Remember that the quality of the response is more important than its length.
In the beginning, you should write your practice essays without imposing a time limit. After you become comfortable with the tasks, you should practice with the 30-minute time limit you will be given on test day. You might consider using the 30 minutes as follows: five minutes for thinking about and planning what you will write; 20 minutes for writing; and five minutes given to reading and editing.
Since there is no answer key for the Writing Sample to let you know how you are doing, you should ask yourself some of the following questions:
  • Does the essay have a clear direction that is established early and that leads logically to a clearly defined conclusion?
  • Does the essay have three separate parts corresponding to the three tasks or does it hold together as a whole?
  • Are the parts linked?
  • Does the paper have a consistent point of view?
  • Are generalizations supported?
  • Have the standard rules of grammar, syntax, and punctuation been observed?
  • Are the sentences and paragraphs typical of a high school writer, or do they reflect the vocabulary and complexity of thinking expected of a collegiate writer?