Interview: Kaplan’s Executive Director of Pre-Medical Programs (1 of 2)

It’s not the first time Words on the Word has covered science and medicine (Organic Chemistry, anyone?). I have my wife to thank for the additional focus of the blog.

She’s taking an MCAT prep course through Kaplan Test Prep. You’ll hear more from her later about the course itself. I had the privilege not long ago of interviewing Eric Chiu, Kaplan’s Executive Director of Pre-Medical Programs.

Below is the first half of the interview. The second half will go into more detail as to the specific MCAT offerings available through Kaplan.



What level of importance does the MCAT have in the medical school admissions process?

If has a great deal of importance. However, the med school admissions process is holistic. Schools are looking to profile students to find the best candidates: not just ones who are well-qualified to enter their programs, but students who are going to be successful academically in their programs, as well as in residency and on the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination).

One reason why MCAT scores and GPA are important is that those two quantitative factors best predict performance in med school and board exams.

Eric Chiu, Executive Director of Pre-Medical Programs at Kaplan
Eric Chiu, Executive Director of Pre-Medical Programs at Kaplan

Last summer Kaplan administered a survey of 78 med school admissions offices, both MD and osteopathic programs. 40% of them named the MCAT as the largest application killer–the largest percentage of any response to that question. About 80% of them supported changes to the new test. And 68% thought the changes would better prepare students for med school.

The new test just launched–April 17–18. This is first application cycle where schools will be looking at both new and old MCAT scores. The reality is that this will be an interesting year in terms of admissions and how med schools look at new scores in particular.

The scoring field is completely different–there is new content knowledge, but also a different set of test skills. And there’s no conversion table from old to new scores. They are entirely different tests.

Schools will not have the same type of longitudinal mapping of new MCAT scores to school performance (i.e., USMLE scores, performance in third year of med school) for a few more years.

But there is a lot of confidence that the new test–and the preceding research that informed building it–takes into account an understanding of what skills would set students up for success. There’s been a concerted effort to make sure the new exam is an even better predictor of academic performance in med school. And it addresses more holistic things like behavioral sciences, which helps take into account issues of patient care and the movement for health care reform.


How much, on average, do the most successful test takers prepare? How many hours per week (and for how many months) do they study for the MCAT in a targeted way?

About 300 to 350 hours, all told, go into preparation. For students who are able to pace their prep and especially for Kaplan students in our course, we encourage them to start two to four months out from test date. Kaplan has courses scheduled that allow students to spread their preparation out for 10–14 or even 16 weeks.

We encourage students to begin studying even before their course begins. As soon as a student enrolls in a Kaplan MCAT course, they’ll get their books and online access, so they can start prepping months before their first scheduled class session. Therefore, we also encourage students to consider enrolling in their Kaplan course a month or two before the class sessions begin. Students can access courses in the online center and through the MCAT Channel. We recommend that they start attending live instruction via the MCAT Channel, especially for content review, even before they begin their course in earnest.


The books that come with the prep course (image via Kaplan)
The books that come with the prep course (image via Kaplan)


What makes Kaplan unique when compared to other MCAT prep courses?

We’re really excited about it, with the new exam and opportunity for reinvention. Unlike a lot of other companies, we did not think only of adding a few extra hours of content for the new course. We really used the test change as an opportunity to rethink and reinvent our entire approach to MCAT prep.

Our course is fundamentally based on two principles:

1. Not every student needs the same content review in their MCAT prep. All students need strategy and skills development for the exam, so in that sense we put our students through a similar path. But there’s a wide gap and wide range in terms of what students bring to MCAT preparation. Recognizing that, we allow students to find their most direct path to preparedness for the MCAT, rather than offering a one-size-fits-all approach. Our course offers the most content review available (via the MCAT Channel) on a schedule that makes sense for our students. They can invest time in the content areas that need the most help.

2. The course is designed to allow students to work as efficiently and flexibly as possible. Pre-med students are exceptionally busy. They are very active, have great aspiration, are hard workers, and can focus on lots of things at once. But they are still strung out on all the things they have to do to be better prepared for the application process and to build themselves into the types of people who will be great doctors some day. They are working at balancing school, life, work, research, volunteerism, clinical experience, and MCAT preparation.

Very few students can commit to MCAT preparation full-time. We allow our students to flexibly fit our course into their schedule.

And we’re the only company that offers the MCAT Channel. It makes available live instruction, six days a week: Monday through Thursday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, as well as weekday summer afternoons. Students can log in to the channel if they need more help. This allows students to pinpoint where they need content review. We place our most expert (10 best, top-rated by others) instructors here. The MCAT Channel allows students to get questions answered in real time.

The Live Online courses also have additional instructors in the room, offering public chat answers and one-on-one interaction. This is really about designing flexible instruction to allow students to choose the right avenues for them, and then to fit it into their schedule as flexibly as possible.

Sessions are also available as recordings. This is all above and beyond the regularly scheduled course times. We make sure students get all the strategy they need for the 12 in-class sessions.

Kaplan has also built up a library of over 100 science review videos. These are short, concept-specific videos (7–15 minutes each), with the production value and expertise that Kaplan can bring. There is even interactivity with the videos–instructors actually pause several times during the video to do a concept check, which prompts students to interact with the material.


In the next part of the interview: which Kaplan course to consider, how Kaplan has adapted to the new MCAT, and strategies for studying.



Here’s Mr Chiu’s bio from Kaplan:

Eric Chiu is the executive director of pre-medical programs for Kaplan Test Prep, managing the company’s MCAT business, including marketing, program development, and delivery. A veteran Kaplan instructor, Eric has over a decade of experience teaching MCAT, LSAT, GRE, and GMAT preparatory courses and has presented to tens of thousands of students on topics related to test preparation and the admissions process. Eric has also overseen the development of Kaplan’s MCAT 2015 program, a revolutionary new approach to MCAT preparation, including the launch of a comprehensive Science Review video library and live, elective programming via the MCAT Channel. Eric holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Thanks to Mr. Chiu for the interview! And many thanks to Kaplan for giving us access to the Live Online MCAT Prep course for the purposes of offering an unbiased review. More to follow.

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