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A Bad Case of MCAT Syndrome

By Joshua M. Sharfstein

SPRING'S here, and you know what that means.

Time for thousands of pre-medical students across the country to repress their natural physical urges and study for the grueling 8-hour MCAT (Medical Community's Attempt at Torture) exam to be held Saturday. This year, I am one of those pre-meds, and after several hours of preparation--consisting primarily of staring at poster-size blowups of sexually transmitted diseases--I am ready to sublimate.

And sublimate. And sublimate. The MCAT--which tests biology, chemistry, physics, reading and math skills--is the Moby Dick of graduate entrance exams. After taking the test, many pre-meds have to be be rushed to local emergency units and reassured that real doctors do not have to diagram electrical circuits. (Other pre-meds go on to take the LSATs and GREs before breaking to go to the bathroom, as part of the Irongrubber Triathalon. The winner never has to get a job.)

As for me, I view taking the MCATs like I view giving birth. I am equally unprepared for both events, but at least I'm not due on April 28.

OKAY, enough whining. It's time to blame someone.

I blame my parents. They gave me the Fisher-Price Junior Radiologist kit for my fourth birthday. During third grade, they withheld my dessert until I abandoned my ambition to be an astronaut. Lately, they have forwarded articles to my dorm about lawyers who kill themselves.

I blame Harvard. Had the pre-med courses been a little bit more difficult, I would have dropped the sequence and wound up a VES major. Right now, I would be preparing for a career in chicken-bone sculpture. My only concern would be decreasing the number of aesthetic dissonances in my life.

I blame the Association of American Medical Colleges. This group of sadists writes an 8-hour exam which they admit does not determine whether you will be a good doctor. Years of statistical evaluations have proven conclusively only one thing: that the MCAT transforms mild-mannered, happy-go-lucky students like myself into foaming, crazed pre-meds.

I blame the author of a Complete Preparation for the MCAT who suggests a 36 week preparation period for the exam. This guy probably prepares several hours to go to the bathroom.

I blame everyone who looks at me, smirks, and says, "You? You want to go to medical school?"

So what if I tend to faint at the sight of blood? So what if I refuse to play frisbee because my mom once knew someone who lost an eye in a freak frisbee accident? People with low pain thresholds happen to make very careful doctors.

I blame myself. I'm sure that if I tried hard enough, I could find deep inside me some interest in a career in management consulting. Or maybe investment banking. I stay up at night pondering the eternal question: why can't I just go to law school like everyone else?

ENOUGH blaming. It's time for more whining.

What really bugs me about this MCAT thing is the absolute lack of sympathy I have received from roommates, friends and complete strangers.

My roommates act as if the MCAT were just another Core paper or Biology hourly. They tell me to put the test in perspective. After all, the MCAT is no different from any other comprehensive eight-hour exam that will determine my personal happiness and career status for the next 50 years.

After my prolonged studyfests, when all I want is someone to pour me some hot chocolate and disassemble my organic chemistry molecules, my friends treat me like a returning Vietnam veteran. It's as if they actually have problems of their own.

Worst of all, I am ignored by people I don't even know. Sure, they stop and pick up my books when I trip in the middle of the Yard, and one even stopped me and offered to give me directions to the pre-frosh barbecue. But I feel precious few vibes of genuine sympathy.

These people don't seem to understand that I need to spend every waking minute of my life studying for this exam. I don't have time to make my bed, comb my hair or write coherent and entertaining columns for The Crimson.

And I certainly don't have time to find a date for the Leverett formal.

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