Dr. Samir Desai
The MMI Medical School Interview: 3 Common Mistakes
Updated: May 17, 2022
Michelle is an enthusiastic, hard-working medical school reapplicant who I met not too long ago. She had contacted me because, unfortunately, she had recently found out that she didn’t get into medical school.
Although she had applied widely, she had only received a single medical school interview. This school utilized the multiple mini interview format, also known as the MMI. At the end of her interview day Michelle just wasn’t sure of how she’d done. The whole experience was new to her and very challenging.
When she found out that she hadn’t been accepted to this school, she scheduled a meeting with the Director of Admissions. She wanted to find out how she could improve her application. He looked over her application and found no significant concerns.
So what was the problem? Why hadn't Michelle been accepted to the school?
The director informed her that it was likely her interview performance. Unfortunately, school policy prevented the director from sharing any details about her performance.
The MMI for Medical School Admissions: Background
For years, medical schools have used the traditional interview in the admissions process. By traditional I mean a one-on-one interview during which interviewers ask such questions as, 'Tell me about yourself', 'Why do you want to be a doctor?' and 'Where do you see yourself in 15 years?'
Although the traditional interview is still the most widely used format, schools have recognized some of their drawbacks. A major drawback is that the interview process is known to be highly subjective. In addition, students typically only meet with 2, or maybe 3, interviewers during the course of their entire interview day.
In response, McMasters University developed the multiple mini interview format. Introduced in 2002, it has been rapidly adopted across the United States, and is in use at a number of schools across the country.
The MMI, as the name suggests, consists of an interview circuit comprised of a series of smaller interviews.
In this post, we describe the MMI in more detail, and discuss some of the most common MMI pitfalls. If you'd prefer to listen, this is our podcast episode on the topic.
MMI Format: A Series of Interview Stations
One of the major advantages of the MMI is that applicants are able to interact with 5-10 different interviewers. The other major advantage is that since applicants rotate through a series of standardized interviews, each applicant can be graded using an objective set of criteria. Although this doesn’t completely eliminate the subjective nature of interviews, it helps to mitigate it. Importantly, it also limits the effects of a single “tough” or biased interviewer.
The MMI format varies from school to school, but typically consists of the following:
1. There are 5-10 interview stations total.
2. At each interview station, the interviewee encounters a different scenario or “prompt.”
3. The interviewee is given 2 minutes to process the scenario.
4. He or she is then called in to address the prompt with the interviewer.
5. After 5 to 8 minutes, the interview ends, and the applicant moves to the next station.
MMI Interview Questions:
What types of questions, cases, or scenarios should you expect?
There are several different types of questions, cases, or scenarios used. These are unique to each medical school, and applicants have to sign an agreement not to disclose the particular cases used at each MMI. Many medical schools publish MMI sample questions on their websites, and it’s very useful to review these.
The main types of prompts are questions, role-playing scenarios, and tasks. Questions may include discussion questions or traditional interview questions.
1. Discussion prompts: applicants are presented with an issue or ethical situation and are then asked to discuss these with the interviewer.
2. Traditional interview questions: over the course of the 5-8 minutes, students are asked to respond to traditional questions such as “why did you apply to our medical school?” and “why do you want to become a physician?”
3. Role-playing scenarios: applicants are asked to interact with an actor and are then assessed for their ability to show that they have the qualities expected of a future physician.
4. Tasks: classically involves a teamwork task, in which two applicants are asked to complete a task together.
Common Mistakes During the MMI
Michelle reached out to me after she finished reading my book, "The Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty". She had reached out hoping that I could identify what had led to her poor interview performance.
In my mock interview with Michelle, I put her through a variety of these types of scenarios in order to understand what might have happened. Michelle had all the qualities that made for an outstanding physician, and we wanted to make sure that she could convey those qualities and deliver a powerful interview performance when she applied again.
During our mock interview, I identified three major mistakes that Michelle was making. These are common. Luckily, once identified, they can be avoided with practice.
MMI Mistake #1: Answers That Are Too Long
This is a significant problem. For example, at the NYU School of Medicine you’re given just five minutes to engage in conversation with the interviewer. If you speak for 4 minutes 45 seconds, you’re not leaving enough time for the interviewer to ask follow-up questions.
Follow-up questions are important. If your original answer was lacking in some way, the follow-up question may allow you to convey what was missing.
Solution: Learn The Format at This Particular School and Practice
If Michelle knew in advance how long each station would be, she would be able to adjust her preparation. For example, if she knew that the medical school would give her five minutes for each prompt, she would be able to practice so that her typical response would last about three minutes. That would leave her with several minutes to answer any follow-up questions.
Some medical schools are very transparent about their MMI process. For example, at the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine at Washington State University, the school states that you will have seven stations lasting five minutes each.
What do you do if that information is not available?
You may wish to contact the admissions office and ask. Some will provide this information, and others will tell you that they're not allowed to give that information out in advance of the interview day.
If they’re not able to tell you, some students have looked at discussion forums where students often post about their MMI experiences. A major word of caution on this approach: many interviewees will be relating their experiences from past years. However, schools can, and do, change their MMI structures. Always keep that in mind.
MMI Mistake #2: Not Preparing for Traditional Interview Questions
During our session, I asked Michell if she had been asked any traditional questions during the MMI. As it turns out, she had. In fact, this isn’t unusual in a MMI interview.
There may be one or two stations that are devoted to traditional questions. These include such questions as 'Why do you want to be a doctor?' and 'Why are you interested in our school?'. Michelle was not expecting this, and she felt that her answer for the traditional question could have been much stronger.
Solution: Prepare for the Traditional Questions
Be prepared for the traditional questions, even in the setting of an MMI. We have a number of resources available to help you as you prepare for these.
Free Resources to Help You Answer the Traditional Interview Questions
This is a list of 350 common medical school interview questions, which in essence are variations of 30 main questions.
If you’d like to see our own expert recommendations on how to answer some of these questions, please see this list of our responses to some common questions.
This is our before-and-after video response to one of the common questions, ‘Tell me about your research.’
MMI Mistake #3: Obsessing Over Your Previous Answers
As we continued to discuss last year's MMI experience, Michelle revealed something very important to me. She told me that she sometimes obsessed over what she thought were poor answers and she carried this with her to her other stations.
This is a particularly common mistake.
This is an important mistake, because if you can’t stop obsessing over your performance at the last station, you’re at risk for a subpar performance at the next station. And that’s when it can become a problem for your chances of admission.
Solution: Understand that You are Not the Best Judge of your Own Performance
While you might think that your answer was lacking in some way, it doesn't mean that your interviewer feels the same. I hear this time and time again. “I thought I bombed my MMI, and I just found out that I got in!” The bottom line is that we are often not the best judge of our own performance.
Even if it wasn’t your strongest performance, remember that it’s just a single station. That’s one of the major strengths of the MMI. Even if you don’t perform well with a single interviewer, it doesn’t mean that you’re out.
In fact, if you start asking, you’ll find many applicants who performed poorly at one or two stations and were still accepted to their dream medical school.
Although this is of course easier said than done, it’s important to train your mind to leave the past behind. Don't let your performance at one station affect your performance at another.
An Improved MMI Performance and Medical School Admission
These were three key issues that prevented Michelle from delivering a powerful interview performance. With this knowledge and continued practice, Michelle made adjustments to her interview strategy.
I'm happy to tell you that Michelle's efforts paid off and she is now a medical student. We definitely need more physicians like Michelle, and I’m excited that she’ll be joining the medical profession.
For more on how to prepare for the MMI, please see our blog post How to prepare for the MMI: 9 expert strategies
For 50 example MMI questions and answers, please see our best-selling book The MMI: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty.
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 Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.