Strategies for the Successful MCAT Writing Sample


(The following has been derived from <>. See this site for further information.)

Exam Criteria:

Students will be asked to write two essays, allotting thirty minutes to each. Scoring will be based on the student’s ability to:

  1. Develop a central idea
  2. Synthesize concepts and ideas
  3. Present ideas cohesively and logically
  4. Write clearly and follow accepted practices of grammar, syntax, and punctuation as are appropriate for a timed, first-draft composition.


Content of Writing Sample Items:

Each writing sample item requires writers to respond to a specific topic. However, a writer does not need prior knowledge of these topics to complete this section successfully. Topics do not pertain to the content of specific fields of study (such as biology, chemistry, or physics; to the medical school application process or reasons for the choice of medicine as a career; to social and cultural issues not in the general experience of college students; or to religious or other emotionally charged issues). Instead, topics are selected from areas of general interest such as business, politics, history, art, education, or ethics. Sample topics may be found at <>.



Essays are scored by a group of trained readers, many of whom are experienced writing teachers. Each essay is read and evaluated by two readers based on the following criteria

[Scale of 1 (poor) -- 6 (excellent)]:

6. These papers show clarity, depth, and complexity of thought. The treatment of the writing assignment is focused and coherent. Major ideas are substantially developed. A facility with language is evident.

5. These essays show clarity of thought, with some depth or complexity. The treatment of the rhetorical assignment is generally focused and coherent. Major ideas are well developed. A strong control of language is evident.

4. These essays show clarity of thought and may show evidence of depth or complexity. The treatment of the writing assignment is coherent, with some focus. Major ideas are adequately developed. An adequate control of language is evident.

3-2 These essays may show some problems with clarity or complexity of thought.

3. The treatment of the writing assignment may show problems with integration or coherence. Major ideas may be underdeveloped. There may be numerous errors in mechanics, usage, or sentence structure.

2. These essays may demonstrate a lack of understanding of the writing assignment. There may be serious problems with organization. Ideas may not be developed. Or, there may be so many errors in mechanics, usage, or sentence structure that the writer’s ideas are difficult to follow.


The combined numerical score from both essays is then translated into an alphabetical score

[J--T]. For further information on the essay scoring process, see: <>.

(See attached sample essay and scoring rationale.)


Essay Exam Strategies:

  • Take a few minutes to BRAINSTORM and briefly OUTLINE your answer. This will help you produce a carefully constructed essay quickly and efficiently. (For suggested organization see attached: The MCAT Writing Sample: Approaching the Essay)

  • Skip lines in case you need to go back and add a few words or sentences.

  • Use an ink pen that erases so that you can easily correct mistakes. Students are required to use a black ink pen for the exam.
  • Wear a watch. Managing your time carefully will enable you to take a few minutes at the end of the exam to read over what you have written and make any quick changes.

  • Use sentence constructions and words that you feel confident about. Although you are allowed a few minor mistakes, you should not risk making an unnecessary error by writing sentences that are out of the ordinary for you. By the same token, if you aren’t sure of word usage or spelling, pick one you are sure of.

  • Use transitional words, phrases, and sentences. These signals help readers see the connections between your ideas and lend coherence to the overall thesis of your essay.
  • Be sure to develop your ideas fully and clearly. Follow all assertions with sentences that clearly communicate your line of reasoning and evidence. "In most cases [. . .] you can represent your reasoning most effectively by making clear to readers that you have analyzed information and ideas critically by presenting your ideas and those of other people in balanced, thoughtful ways" (Anson & Schwegler, Longman Handbook 162).


Sample Essay & Scoring Rationale: <>

Topic / Consider this statement:

An understanding of the past is necessary for solving the problems of the present.



Wars have probably had the most devastating effects on a country, socially as well as economically. For example, World War II, with the discovery of the atomic bomb, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Later in the twentieth century, the United States entered another war with Vietnam. Again, massive destruction of American soldiers and Vietnamese villages resulted from the war. However, besides destruction, other aspects of the war were extracted that helped foreign affairs and ways to deal with war. The United States learned that fighting a battle in a different country; with a different climate and fighting ground is difficult and needed to be understood before the war started.

This instance exemplifies that a good understanding of past experiences can help problems of the present. So, if the United States needs to go to war with another Asian country, in the future, more precautions will be used to solve the problem. Even with economic problems, nations can learn from their previous mistakes. The stock market crash of the early twentieth century devastated the nation financially. But, looking back, mistakes will never be made similar to the ones that caused the depression.

Several instances show that once past experiences are understood, future and present problems can be solved. However, all of these instances involve circumstances that have had a past existence. The stock market and war are two essential aspects of this country’s growth. What about problems of the present that have recently developed? These circumstances bring up a totally new problem that do not have a past. For instance, the pollution problem of the United States has been increasing exponentially in the last decade without having any devastating effects prior to this time. There also is the fear of using up natural resources such as oil and petroleum products. Both examples, pollution and scarcity of resources, are relatively new problems and have to be dealt with without having any past reference.

Although it would be nice to have an understanding of everything from the past, it is unlikely to assume that all existing problems that arise have been a problem before. So, for situations that are relatively permanent, the economy and wars, understanding the past is crucial to avoid making future mistakes and solving existing problems. But, it is obvious that solutions to new problems will be made from educated and calculated estimations of their effects without having any past experience to use as a reference. New and fresh problems will therefore be the most detrimental to the country since no similar experience has happened.


Score Explanation for Essay (Score = 4)


In this paper the writer offers several examples to demonstrate how an understanding of past problems (the Vietnam War, the stock market crash and the depression) may prepare us to deal with similar situations in the present. The writer contrasts these historical events with the related issues of pollution and management of scarce natural resources, such as oil, to show how certain "relatively new problems" must "be dealt with without having any past reference." The paper shows clarity of thought, and the writer provides adequate development of the major ideas. Although there are some lapses in sentence construction that create an occasional awkward phrase, the writer’s command of language is adequate.

The paper begins with an effective sentence that engages the reader’s interest. The primary focus of the paragraph is the Vietnam War, but the writer leads the reader to a discussion of that event by progressing chronologically and from the general to the specific, from World War II to Vietnam. The coherent pattern of sentences in this paragraph holds the reader’s attention, and the writer begins sentences with words or phrases that serve as linking devices ("For example," "Later," "Again," "However,").

The second paragraph provides additional elaboration on the Vietnam War and adds another specific example (the "economic problems" caused by the stock market crash). Once more, the writer prepares the reader for the new example through the use of a transitional phrase ("Even with economic problems") that also works to connect the two examples thematically. Throughout the paper, the writer exhibits control and indicates the paper’s organizational strategy by connecting related sentences and ideas. This provides the paper with focus and a sense of unity.

The writer moves smoothly to a consideration of problems that do not seem to have "any past reference." There is not much development of either issue (pollution or the depletion of natural resources), but they are mentioned specifically, and the writer uses them as counterpoints to the examples used earlier. The writer also uses this paragraph as a transition into a discussion of criteria related to solving problems based on past experience (the third writing task). The writer concludes that "solutions to new problems will be made from educated and calculated estimations of their effects without having any past experience to use as a reference." This logical conclusion seems consistent with the argument that has been constructed.

Although the writing is generally clear and a cogent argument is presented, there are some lapses that weaken the paper. For example, in the second paragraph, the writer notes that in a future war with an Asian country "more precautions will be used to solve the problem." Apparently, the writer is referring to a previous statement regarding the difficulty of fighting a ground war in a foreign country that has a different climate, but it is not clear what "precautions" are being suggested. Perhaps "precautions" is a poorly-chosen word. Additional clarification, though, would help the paper. Still, these instances are relatively minor in the paper, and the writing is mostly clear and specific.