Menu Icon Search
Close Search

Interview Advice: Grades?! Part 1

Created July 28, 2010 by Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA

Originally published 11 January 2007

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition…” Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

If you are concerned about your grades (GPA, MCAT, etc.), you are not alone. As an advisor and interviewer, it’s one of the most common issues I encounter. Nobody thinks they have perfect scores. It’s the equivalent of looking in the mirror and being a little displeased with that sag or roll. We all wish something was different. Applicants view their grades the same way. The good news is that changing your scores doesn’t involve a nip or tuck.

The topic of grades is a big one. There are several key concepts that need to be addressed and are paramount to your success. It’s too large and important to adequately cover in one column. That is why the next two articles will be dedicated to this subject.

Making the cut on paper

When I was an EMT applying to medical school, I had an ER doctor tell me that, “You have to make the cut on paper.” He was absolutely correct. He went on to say that you need to demonstrate your mental ability by means of a good GPA or MCAT score. Some might argue that due to increasing competition, you need to have high marks in both areas.

The concept to grasp is that there is a minimum cognitive ability that you must possess to be a physician. In other words, a doctor’s brain literally needs to be able to crunch data at some baseline level. When you think about it, this concept is in line with the general societal view we hold of physicians. Namely, we see physicians as intelligent people.

The way in which most admissions committees determine an applicant’s “brain power” is via their GPA and MCAT scores. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Research indicates a student’s GPA and MCAT scores correlate highly with academic success in the first two years of medical school.
  • Together these scores provide a reasonably objective and fair way to compare applicants.

Is this a perfect system? No way! But it is the present reality. The key to success is in demonstrating to the admissions committee that you are smart enough to be a good doctor. I can’t stress this enough. At the end of the session, your interviewer needs to be sure that you have the cognitive ability to get through the academic rigors of medical school and a demanding career as a physician.

The rub in all of this comes when there is a mismatch between an applicant’s abilities and their scores. Many applicants truly are smart enough to be good physicians but are unable to demonstrate their mental ability via these narrow measures. Conversely, there are plenty of people who can perform well on standardized tests and have great GPA’s but would make horrible physicians. In either case the applicant loses. And when you think about it, in the end, so does the patient. I think of grades as a balance between two extremes: the applicant’s true mental capabilities and the ability to prove or demonstrate such abilities.

Here’s a story that might help explain one end of the spectrum. There were two women in my organic chemistry class who were very bright. Both were interested in going to graduate level healthcare programs. Accordingly, they needed high marks in the class. Unfortunately, they weren’t as happy with their grades as they wanted to be. So on the last day of class they walked into the final wearing shirts that said, “I’m not my organic chemistry grade.” No truer words were ever written.

The other end of the spectrum is this: to be a safe and competent physician, you need to have a certain level of cognitive ability. For good or bad, this is primarily measured via your GPA and MCAT scores.

In between these two extremes is where you want to be. You’ll be most competitive there and likely most happy.

Although a sobering message, it is not meant to be discouraging. There is hope! Now you know that you need to demonstrate your cognitive ability to the admissions committee. You know what they’re looking for and can focus your attention on these key areas.

Please look for part 2 in the next column. We will cover how to maximize the scores you do have and how best to demonstrate your cognitive ability to the admissions committee.

Please email your questions about the medical school interview to [email protected].

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

short coat logo 2015 with title
  • Against Logic There Is No Armor Like Ignorance

  • Posted October 21, 2016 by Short Coat Podcast
  • WHO researchers in Uganda are keen to teach schoolchildren there how to spot dubious health claims. This leads Dave to ask Levi Endelman, John Pienta, and newcomers Alice Ye and Adam Erwood whether their generation was taught the principles of logic and scientific thought in a way more effective than his own generation was taught, while Alice questions...VIEW >
IOTW-SDN small
  • Figure 1 Case of the Week: Did a hot tub make this child sick?

  • Posted October 21, 2016 by Figure 1
  • An 11-year-old female presents with a pruritic rash, a fever, and fatigue after returning from a family vacation two days earlier. Her mother mentions she spent the last days of their holiday in the hotel hot tub. On examination, a papular, erythematous rash is seen on the skin that was covered by her bathing suit....VIEW >
Chronicles of a Med Student
  • It’s Real: The Sophomore Slump

  • Posted October 17, 2016 by Adelle
  • I strolled into second year, fresh off the plane from my South American adventures and ready to hit the ground running, expecting another experience like first year. It would be smooth sailing as long as I stuck to my schedule and my friends. I was good to go. Little did I know, the “second year...VIEW >
short coat logo 2015 with title
  • Recess Rehash: Here’s Lemons In Your Eyes

  • Posted October 14, 2016 by Short Coat Podcast
  • [Since Dave and the Writing and Humanities Program was putting on an art-and-medicine conference last week, we’re posting this rerun.  Enjoy!] Dave helps Mark Moubarek, Amy Young, Rob Humble, and Corbin Weaver to practice their clinical skills by  answering random people’s “health” questions from the saddest place on the Internet. But first we discuss the AMA’s policy...VIEW >
IOTW-SDN small
  • Figure 1 Case of the Week: An Extreme Presentation

  • Posted October 14, 2016 by Figure 1
  • A 43-year-old male presents with a three-month history of tender, non-painful, erythematous plaques under his arm and on his chest. His lipid profile reveals elevated triglycerides and total cholesterol. Do you recognize this extreme presentation? Related...VIEW >

// Forums //