The Importance of Analyzing Your Activities Before The Medical School Interview
“Monica” was a strong medical school applicant, with a great GPA and a strong MCAT score. She had also been involved in a number of interesting and long-term volunteer experiences and extracurricular activities.
However, when I asked her to tell me her strengths, her answer was....distinctly underwhelming.
“I’m a hard worker and a team player, and I really bring my best to everything that I work on.” End of answer.
Those are great qualities, definitely. But....that response is almost instantly forgettable.
Why? Because that’s what most applicants say. Without the evidence to back up what you’re saying, this type of response doesn’t help you stand out in any way.
Using Evidence in the Form of Your Unique Experiences Will Strengthen Your Interview Responses
Providing strong "evidence" to back up your statements is what helps you stand out during your interview.
Where does that evidence come from? It comes from your experiences, which encompasses your work, research, volunteer, extracurricular, and personal experiences.
These are the experiences that make you unique, and these are the experiences that absolutely need to be included in your medical school interview response.
How do you locate this “evidence”? It all starts by doing an activity analysis.
This type of analysis will definitely help you respond to the question “what are your strengths?”
Beyond this question, many of the common questions during the interview relate back to your particular experiences. These experiences serve to highlight your strengths, interests, and goals.
In fact, this type of reflection and analysis will also help you answer questions such as “why did you apply to our medical school?”, “what is your greatest achievement?” and more.
For an example of exactly how evidence makes for a stronger response, please see our post on answering the question “why did you apply to our medical school?”
The Strongest Response to These Questions Are Based on Your Unique Experiences
The strongest responses to medical school interview questions are really based upon your unique experiences.
In fact, one of the key rules of any medical school interview is that the strongest responses are those that could only have been given by YOU.
One of the ways to ensure a strong, unique, personal response is by highlighting your activities, your interests, and your goals. It's important to spend sufficient time looking over all of the activities that you've participated in and all that you’ve accomplished.
Start Brainstorming About Every Activity
I call this an activity analysis. It's a deep dive looking at your different activities, and then reflecting on how these relate to your strengths, your interests, and your goals. I recommend that you actually sit down with pen and paper and start brainstorming.
We have an activity analysis worksheet that you can download to use as a starting point.
Take time to reflect on your experiences and think about what these say about your strengths, interests, and goals
Step 1: Make a List of Your Activities
Start by listing all of your activities. When I say “activity”, I mean this to encompass just about everything that you've participated in.
This can include:
Medical work experience
Non-medical work experience
Leadership in different organizations
Step 2: Explain How Each of These Activities was Meaningful To You
For each activity, write down what that activity meant to you. One framework that I recommend is that you think about what this meant to you before, during, and after the activity.
Some of the questions could be:
What did you learn? Before and after the activity
What was your motivation for pursuing this activity?
What characteristics did you display? In what ways?
Did you demonstrate leadership or teamwork?
What challenges did you encounter? And how did you overcome those challenges?
What personal skills did you develop?
In what way did you grow?
What impact did this activity have on you?
What impact did you have on the particular activity or organization?
How does this activity relate to your future in medicine?
Why Should You Spend Time Reflecting on Your Activities?
One of the reasons this is so important is that it really helps provide insight into your own strengths and goals. These form the core of your responses to some of the common interview questions.
Reflecting on your activities can provide important insights and can strengthen your responses to common interview questions
Reflecting on Your Activities Can Help Strengthen Your Responses to These Common Medical School Interview Questions
This exercise can help you prepare responses to multiple questions, such as:
Tell me about yourself
Tell me about your greatest achievement
What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Or your greatest weaknesses?
Why do you want to be a doctor?
Why did you choose to apply to our medical school?
The Importance of an Activity Analysis in Responding to Behavioral Interview Questions
This activity analysis is also incredibly important for when you're asked behavioral interview questions.
Behavioral interview questions are being used more often in medical school interviews.
Proponents of the behavioral interview believe that past behavior is a predictor of future behavior. Therefore, these questions focus on your behavior in past situations.
Your interviewer might ask questions such as:
Tell me about a time when you were disappointed in your performance.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a classmate who wasn't doing their part.
Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.
Tell me about a time when you had to build a relationship with someone you didn't like.
Tell me how you handle conflict.
There are many more potential behavioral interview questions, but you get the idea. Your activity analysis helps highlight specific examples or stories that you can use to prepare for these questions.
If you'd like to download our worksheet, here's that link. We wish you all the best as you continue preparing for your interview!
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the best-selling book The Medical School Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, and served as Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Medical School Interview and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.