The following information relates to the MCAT Writing Sample, which was last administered in September of 2012. The first MCAT administered without the Writing portion was in January, 2013.
Shakespeare, you’re not. That doesn’t mean you can’t write! In fact, you’re going to need to on the Writing Sample section of the MCAT. Before you freak out, I have exceptional news for you. I’m going to break down the MCAT Writing Sample Section in detail and explain how you can get a better score. If you need more basic MCAT information, MCAT 101 is the place to go.
MCAT Writing Basics
In this 60-minute MCAT section, which comes directly after a ten-minute break, you’ll be given two separate expository prompts. (An expository essay is one in which you simply explain something.) The prompts will surprisingly not be about medicine. Nor, will they deal with highly charged issues like religion or race. Politics, however, is fair game. Here’s what they will look like:
Breakdown of an MCAT Writing Prompt
For each of the two essays you’ll have to write, you’ll be given a writing prompt and three writing tasks you need to complete with that prompt. The prompt will look something like this:
Sample Prompt: A person's first priority in life should be financial security.
You’ll have to perform these three tasks:
- Task 1: Explain the Prompt: Explain what you think the above statement means. The wording of this first task is always the same for every single prompt. Here, you’ll need to interpret the meaning of the prompt, and support your viewpoint with concrete examples, statistics, facts, and anecdotes.
- Task 2: Explain the Opposite: Next, you’ll be asked to support the opposite of the prompt – the antithesis – with just as many concrete examples as you used in the first task. For the sample prompt above, the “explain the opposite” task would be this: Describe a specific situation in which a person's first priority in life might not be financial security.
- Task 3: Bring New Meaning: The last task will ask you to resolve the two sides into a bigger picture. Here’s what the third task would be for the sample prompt: Discuss what you think determines whether or not a person's first priority in life should be financial security. It asks you to bring both sides together and up the ante – bring a higher meaning into the picture.
Here’s another sample:
The personal privacy of citizens should be protected from government intrusion.
Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks. (Task 1) Explain what you think the above statement means. (Task 2) Describe a specific situation in which government might justifiably intrude upon a citizen's personal privacy. (Task 3) Discuss what you think determines when government has a right to intrude upon citizens' privacy and when it does not have a right to intrude.
MCAT Writing Sample Scores
Different, qualified readers will grade your first and second essays based on a 6-point scale, with 6 being the highest score you can achieve. Then, the two numerical scores for each essay are combined into a letter score ranging from J (lowest) to T (highest) for some obscure reason.
In order to get the MCAT Writing score you’d like, you’ll need to follow this protocol when you’ve received your tasks and the clock has started ticking:
- Outline: Plan what you’re going to say before you say it. Sure, you only have 30 minutes to complete each essay, but if you spend five of those thirty minutes planning, you’ll score higher and write faster than if you didn’t plan ahead. You don’t need a three-point outline. Simply scratch out a few examples and ideas for each of the three tasks before you proceed.
- Stay Organized: You don’t have to answer the tasks in order, but you’ll certainly score higher if you do. Why? Because logically, they progress from one idea to the next. So stay with that pattern, and you’ll have an easier time transitioning and won’t be tempted to skip around as much. Once you’re on a topic, stay on it.
- Edit Afterward: While following your outline, get all your ideas out of your head and onto the paper as you write. Don’t be tempted to read and reread your sentences a zillion times, searching for the right word. If you have time at the end, go back and replace clumsiness, edit spelling, and correct grammar. The readers can’t grade a task that hasn’t been written and you’ll lose more points by skipping a task than you will by misspelling a word.
MCAT Writing Practice
Practice makes perfect, right? No one will let you operate by yourself on their grandmother until you’ve practiced on cadavers, and then under the tutelage of a skilled surgeon. Although writing isn’t necessarily life and death, it does require practice to get it right. So try out some of these sample prompts provided by the AAMC, practice your essays, and get the score you really want!