Author Archive | Michael W.

Image by Amy, Flickr

Image by Amy, Flickr

To keep up with the rapidly advancing field of medicine, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is receiving a major content overhaul in 2015. With so many changes, here’s what you need to know about the new MCAT.

The Basics

The MCAT remains a computerized exam with strictly multiple choice questions. However, the new MCAT will be significantly longer than the older version; the new test runs approximately seven and a half hours compared to the five and half hour length of the old exam. Optional ten minute breaks are offered after each section of the exam and a thirty minute lunch break is available at the midway point.

The cost to take the MCAT is also increasing $25 USD to the new standard fee of $300 USD. There will be financial aid available though, as those who qualify for the MCAT’s Fee Assistance Program will only be charged $115 USD to register. Furthermore, the MCAT will not be administered as often as it was in previous years. In 2015, the MCAT will only be administered 14 times beginning in April and ending in September. This does not mean there will be fewer seats available to take the exam. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is expanding their network so as to offer the same number of seats, but with fewer dates. Note that the last chance to take the old MCAT is in January 2015, as registration for the new MCAT opens in the next month.

The Test

The new MCAT aims to test students’ skills in four different areas: knowledge of scientific concepts and principles, scientific reasoning and problem solving, reasoning about the design and execution of research, and data-based and statistical reasoning. It does this across four sections.

The first section students will encounter is called the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems. Students will have 95 minutes to deal with 59 questions that cover areas such as the governing principles of chemical interaction and reaction, plus the physical principles that are used to understand the processes of living organisms.

Next up is section two: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. It runs 90 minutes and contains 53 questions. This is the non-science section of the MCAT, as it challenges students’ ability to comprehend and critically analyze texts related to the humanities and social sciences.

The last two sections on the MCAT are both 95 minutes and consist of 59 questions each. The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section tests the concepts of biomolecules and their contribution to cell structure and function, the assemblies of molecules, cells and organs, as well as the structure and functions of the main organ systems.

Finally, the all new Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour section looks at the psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors that influence human behavior and the well-being of individuals.


The old scoring scales for the MCAT are being done away with. The 2015 MCAT will use a totally new scoring scale that is designed to emphasize scores in the middle of the scale instead of the top one-third. This is because research conducted by the AAMC has shown that students who score in the middle of scale and are admitted to medical school typically find success.

Thus, each section will now be scored on a scale from 118 to 132 with a middle point of 125. The scale for a student’s total score is the sum of each section scale, hence a range from 472 to 528 with a center point of 500. Compared to the old MCAT, the new version will provide a more precise estimation of students’ skills due to the increased number of questions they will face. Institutions will now be able to compare the individual strengths and weaknesses of their applicants more accurately.


What’s on the 2015 MCAT?

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Image by TMAB2003, Flickr

Image by TMAB2003, Flickr

The LSAT has been one of the major hurdles to all law school applicants since its inception in 1948. Each year over one hundred thousand students test their skills against the latest exam the Law School Admission Council has created. So what exactly is the LSAT?

The Basics

To begin with, the Law School Admission Test is a standardized and now computerized exam that is administered strictly in English. The LSAT tests an applicant’s reasoning, analytical and critical thinking skills. Therefore, the exam does not require any specialized knowledge in the field of law or any other field for that matter. All questions are accessible to the level of the general public. The LSAT is administered four times per year in the months of February, June, September, and December. Note that a student may not take the LSAT more than three times in any two year period. Compared to other graduate program entrance exams, LSAT registration costs a reasonable $165 in Canada and $170 in the United States. There can be other fees, such as those associated with changing the date or location of your exam once it has been booked. Lastly, the LSAT runs around four hours in length, which includes one ten to fifteen minute break.

The Test

The format of the LSAT is broken into six sections that take thirty-five minutes each. Presented in no particular order, the LSAT’s first five sections use the format of multiple choice questions and these sections can be one of three types: Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Analytical Reasoning (or Logic Games). There are always two Logical Reasoning sections, one Reading Comprehension section, and one Analytical Reasoning section. The leftover section can be any one of the three types.

It is important to note that one of these five sections is not scored. This is because it is an experimental section that the developers of the test use to try out new questions. Unfortunately, students are not told which section will go unscored.

Both Logical Reasoning sections consist of approximately 25 questions, each of which has been based on a very short argumentative text, such as a letter to the editor. Common topics for these questions include economics, business, health, and the environment.

In the Reading Comprehension section, students will face approximately 25-28 questions based on four different prompts. Three of these prompts will be single short passages (~450 words) and one will be a Comparative Reading prompt which presents two short passages (~450 words combined) that are related. Topics for this section are often drawn from the natural and social sciences, as well as the humanities.

In the last type of section, Analytical Reasoning, students are faced with four sets of five to seven questions. These questions are based on four brief texts (~120 words) that describe a scenario and certain rules that apply to it.

The sixth and final section of the LSAT is a Writing Exercise. Students are presented with a prompt in which someone is making a decision between two choices of action. Each choice is governed by two criteria and students must write a concise essay arguing in favour of one choice or the other. This section of the LSAT is also not scored, but it is still evaluated by law schools as a sample of a student’s writing ability.


LSAT scores are equalized onto a scale that ranges from 120 to 180 and uses single-digit intervals. The average LSAT score is 150, with 58 questions being answered correctly. It should be mentioned that all questions are weighted equally and that there are no deductions for incorrect answers.

So what score should you be aiming for? In Canada, average LSAT scores for applicants range from the low 160s to the high 160s, while in the United States average scores for the country’s best law programs are in the high 160s to the low 170s.

Ultimately, the LSAT is just another way for law schools to judge the academic merit of applicants and predict their success in the first year of law school.

Other Sources

Video – About the LSAT

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Image by Ian Lamont, Flickr

Image by Ian Lamont, Flickr

Since 1954, graduate business programs around the world have been using the GMAT to guide their hand in the admissions process. From its humble beginnings, this standardized exam is now in use by over 5,400 programs and taken by more than 200,000 persons annually. So what exactly is the GMAT?

The Basics

The GMAT, short for Graduate Management Admission Test, does not require advanced English vocabulary or a knowledge of math beyond the grade 10 level in order to complete it. It is only delivered in English, and since 1997, it is only administered on computers. The exam runs approximately four hours in length, which includes two optional eight minute breaks. The GMAT may be the most expensive part of your graduate program application, as registering for it costs US $250. If you wish you to improve your score and retake the exam (another $250), you must wait a minimum of 31 days before you can write the GMAT again. You may only write the exam a maximum of five times within any given twelve month period.

The Test

The GMAT requires no prior education in either business or management. Instead, the GMAT is designed to test the higher-order reasoning abilities that students will need to be successful in a Master of Business Administration program.

The exam is divided into four sections:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment
    In it, students are allotted 30 minutes to analyze a given argument in the form of a short essay.

  3. Integrated Reasoning
    In June of 2012, this new second section was introduced, which challenges students’ ability to analyze data and draw reasoned conclusions. 30 minutes are allotted to students to answer 12 questions. There are four types of questions in the Integrated Reasoning section. The first question type, Multi-Source Reasoning, is more of a writing comprehension and analysis exercise, while the other three question types — Two-Part Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Table Analysis — are geared toward numerical analysis.

  5. Quantitative
    This is the math section. The allotted time is boosted to 75 minutes, a period in which students will be presented with a maximum of 37 questions. The questions come in two different types: Problem Solving, and Data Sufficiency. Problem Solving questions are straight-forward quantitative questions, but Data Sufficiency questions are a little more complicated. They present a problem and two pieces of data, and the student must figure out whether neither, one, or both pieces of the given data are sufficient to solve the question. You do not actually need to find the answer to the question.

  7. Verbal
    This section comprises of a maximum of 41 questions, to be completed in 75 minutes. There are three question types: Sentence Correction, to test your knowledge of English grammar and your ability to communicate ideas effectively, and Reading Comprehension and Critical Thinking, which present you with questions based on a short written passage.


Each section of the GMAT receives an individual score:

  • The Analytical Writing Assessment section is scored on a scale of 0-6, using intervals of 0.5
  • Integrated Reasoning uses a 1-8 scale with intervals of 1
  • Both the Quantitative and Verbal sections are scored on a scale of 0-60, also with intervals of 1

Additionally, the GMAT awards the student a total score on a scale of 200-800, based solely on the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the exam. So technically, you could bomb the first two sections and still pull off a respectable score overall – but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Average GMAT scores for admission into Canadian graduate programs in 2013 ran the gamut from as low as 540 (Lakehead University) to as high as 674 (University of Toronto Rotman School of Management). Competition is even fiercer in the United States, as the average GMAT scores for elite business schools there regularly tops 720.

In short, the GMAT is a key piece of your application to graduate business programs, as your score demonstrates if you are up to the institution’s standards.


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Image by Tulane Public Relations, Flickr

Image by Tulane Public Relations, Flickr

Everyone wants to be a better student, and we’ve got five easy steps to make sure you’re doing your best!

Step 1: Go to class. This is the easy part, as most students do this regularly.

Step 2: This may sound a little crazy, but unless you absolutely need your laptop, leave it at home. Why? Because laptops are the gateway to distraction. The temptation to multi-task — also known as checking Facebook or Twitter, playing a game, or basically doing anything unrelated to the lecture at hand — is overwhelming, and at some point you will be sucked into doing it (I know from personal experience). A 2013 study published in the Computers & Education journal found that students who multi-task during lecture retain, on average, 11% less information than those students who are fully focused on the lecture. In other words, it can affect your mark by a whole letter grade! Additionally, not only does your laptop distract you, it can also be a distraction for students around you. The same study found that students seated near laptop users retained even less information from lectures than the laptop users themselves!

Step 3: Find a seat away from students with laptops and write out your notes with good old pen and paper. Doing this will keep you focused on what the professor is saying much more than typing on a computer screen.

Step 4: To go above and beyond, take those hastily scribbled notes and rewrite them neatly when you have spare time. Rewriting your notes should help preserve the information in your memory and it will be useful for future studying. Underline or highlight the most important points and keywords so that key concepts can be picked out quickly later on.

Step 5: Use your notes to study for an exam (obviously). However, simply reading them over won’t cut it. It is through writing and speaking that most people are best able to recall information. This is where cue cards come in. Cue cards are your friend – maybe your best friend. On one side of the card, write down questions that you have generated using your notes. Whether simple or complicated, create a question for anything you need to remember. On the other side of the card, write the answer. Next, ask yourself the questions and write out your answers on a different sheet of paper. Check if you were right (no cheating!). If not, do it again until you nail it. Rote memorization isn’t fun, but it will help you attain academic success. Doing this alone is helpful in improving your recall, but to mercilessly crush the exam you must speak the questions and answers from the cue cards out loud. This is what really improves your memorization of the material. Writing out answers is slow and your mind can get distracted, but by repeating the solutions to yourself out loud, you become able to recall the answer quickly and efficiently. Whichever technique you decide to use, studying is all about grinding out the material and the more time you put in, the better your results will be.

Image by The Leaf Project, Flickr

Image by The Leaf Project, Flickr

If you’re looking to expand your horizons, studying abroad can be a fun and safe way to travel, as well as a brilliant way to gain academic credit.


Studying abroad is so much more than classroom lectures. It smashes the walls of the classroom down so as to immerse you into a whole other culture. The host country becomes your classroom, as a new language, a new cuisine, and a new way of life are just a few of the things that confront you. In this new setting, studying abroad affords you the unique opportunity to travel with the mindset of a student, not a tourist. This is what is most valuable about the experience, as it truly encourages you to make the absolute most of your time abroad. Further, being immersed in a different culture opens you up to new perspectives. As the trite, yet truthful, saying goes: “travel broadens the mind” and certainly studying abroad will give you a more global outlook on life.

Make Connections

One of the benefits of studying abroad is that it will bring you into contact with a wide variety of people that you would have never met otherwise. Whether it is new friends from class or from your host country, studying abroad gives you an opportunity to forge life-long bonds with rare individuals. It is the people that you will interact with that will make your experience unforgettable and this is really the major reason to study abroad. However, studying abroad also allows you to create contacts with professors that can come in handy down the road too. Whether you need a letter of recommendation for graduate school or a reference for your resume, the contacts you make studying abroad can be very useful in pursuing either an academic or professional career.

Develop Life Skills

For someone who still lives at home with their parents or someone who has limited travelling experience, studying abroad offers a crash course in valuable life skills. For instance, the amount of independence you experience forces you to become disciplined when it comes to following a schedule, lest you be left behind because you were late for the bus. This independence can also foster growth as a person. Whether it is mastering a foreign subway system or picking up some of the basics of the local language, studying abroad affords you an opportunity to navigate your own way. You slowly discover that you can successfully do things on your own or perhaps you find out that you are more adaptable than you previously thought. Studying abroad offers the chance to test your mettle and hopefully, grow as a person, plus, it doesn’t hurt your resume either.

Many students can be constrained by their finances from studying abroad, but most programs have bursaries and awards on offer. All you have to do is apply. Don’t let finances hold you back from an experience of a lifetime!

Image by nagzi, Flickr

Image by nagzi, Flickr

Returning to academia after an extended period can be a fairly difficult experience. For one, students do not get paid and that can mean doubling your workload. But whether you have been working or not, enrollment means a drastic change in schedule and a restructuring of your priorities. Yet, this is exactly what I decided to do a few years ago.

Let’s start at the beginning. I studied English in university for two and a half years before I had to drop out. It’s not that I was a poor student; my marks were decent. I dropped out primarily because of mental health issues. This was compounded by the fact that I had come to dislike my area of study as I progressed into upper year courses and the material became more and more focused.

While I dealt with my mental health issues, I found work through a temp agency doing unskilled labour jobs. I spent nearly four years working on and off at these types of jobs. It was very unfulfilling and that was part of my motivation for returning to school. I could not picture myself doing unskilled labour for the rest of my life. I wanted access to something more and a university degree would give me that. Yet, I did not really want to return to university. I feared the crippling debt I would have to incur in order to do so.

But in a choice between mundane work and debt, I chose the option that would enable a brighter future.

When I was healthy enough, I applied to my hometown university and fortunately I got in. University was my job now, and I took it very seriously. But if it was a job, it was one I lacked experience in. I had forgotten basically everything from my previous university experience. It is astounding how much one forgets in four years.

I didn’t remember how to take notes in class, let alone how to approach the first assignment I was faced with: a book review.

I made ample use of my professor’s office hours and the university’s writing centre just to get the basics down. Needless to say, I did not receive a great mark; however, it allowed me to take stock of the areas I needed to improve in. Apparently, I had forgotten the rules of grammar. It was re-learning this basic stuff that was the most difficult thing for me to do. It took many hours talking with professors and teaching assistants, combined with trial and error on my own part to sharpen my diminished skills.

That was the downside. There was considerable upside to returning after a long layoff. With my added years of life experience, my mindset had shifted considerably. I was no longer content to do just enough to get by. Instead, I wanted to put forth my best effort on every assignment. I was more driven to succeed because I was returning to school for a purpose, rather than attending university because it is simply what one does after high school. I wanted to be engaged in my studies rather than merely going through the motions.

This quickly began to show in my grades. I became more willing to seek assistance from my professors and from the university staff. I felt that these resources were there to help me after all and it turns out professors are generally nice people, especially if you are able to show that you have a genuine desire to learn.

I do not regret my decision to return to university for a minute. The monetary cost was high, but the education I have gained has equipped me with a variety of skills I did not have before and thus allowed me to expand my horizons beyond unskilled labour. I think the key to my success was that I took advantage of the resources and opportunities that my university provided. I urge every current student to do the same.

As a returning student, I know I had a lot of questions, so don’t be afraid to ask them. If you don’t know something, find someone who does and figure it out. It makes life at university so much easier. On a final note, depending on your situation, it might be best to ease your way back into school. You have the option to take one or two courses to begin. I took an 80 percent course load, and this helped me not to be overwhelmed by the experience.