Common Questions About AUC Classes

Lecture Hall 4

First semester flew by really fast for me. It somehow didn’t really hit me that I am now actually considered an “upperclassmen,” until I met many first-semester students here these past few days. Coming back, I am suddenly being asked for advice and to answer questions people may have. It’s quite a change in mentality for me, but I love it. Here, I’ve compiled a list of common question I have ran across these past few days about classes and exams.

By the way, I’m very surprised at how many people know about my blog and recognize my face when I walk by. For all those who are reading, thank you so much! You are the ones who give me so much encouragement for doing what I enjoy. For all those that I have met, it’s really awesome meeting you! I’m really looking forward to this semester!

Do they curve exams?

Generally, no. But very often the professors will throw out some questions that caused confusion. The only exam that is officially curved in first semester is the Anatomy Shelf, which is a nationally standardized test taken by all students in U.S. medical schools (on-shore and off-shore). Because of this, the scores are curved depending on the national averages. On top of that, it is curved again to fit with AUC averages, to be used as our final exam score for Anatomy class. Sometimes you hear about curves from other classes, but they are rare, and it is not a good idea to take exams assuming there will be curves.

What is a Block exam?

A block is a unit of time that lasts 3 to 4 weeks. A block exam is when you take all your exams from all your classes from that block in one day. Blocks 1 and 2 last for 3 weeks each. Blocks 3 and 4 last for 4 weeks each. Histology lasts for three blocks, while MCB and Anatomy lasts for four blocks each.

How many exams are there?

There are 3 block exams for histology, and 4 block exams plus cumulative finals for MCB and Anatomy. There are no quizzes, papers, or any other graded assignments for first semester.

What is the passing score?

You need a 69.5 or above to pass. You need 89.5 or above to honor a course.

What are the tests like?

All questions are multiple choice.

Each of the histology block exams will have 40 written questions and 10 lab questions (“identify the picture”). They give you 50 minutes to finish the 40 written questions. The histology lab questions are usually done when you take the anatomy lab practical in the afternoon. There is no final exam.

Each of the anatomy block exams will be 40 clinical and 40 lab practical questions. The clinical questions for anatomy are in a USMLE-like format (where they write a paragraph describing a case, and ask a question about it). They give you 50 minutes to answer the 40 clinical questions. On the lab practical, there are usually around 30 questions asking you to identify tagged structures on the cadavers, and 10 questions asking you to identify structures on bones, radiographs, and transverse sections on VH Dissector images. You get a minute on each question. The final exam is the Anatomy Shelf Exam, and it has 125 questions.

Each MCB block exam is worth differently. The first and second MCB exams are worth 15% of your course grade and are 40 questions each. You get 50 minutes. The second and third MCB exams are worth 20%, and are 50 questions each. You get an hour. The final is worth 30% of the course grade and is 60 questions. The questions are all pretty straightforward. Know the details, but don’t forget the big picture as well.

What are test questions like?

The test questions at AUC are written by our professors to emulate USMLE-style questions. The questions are passages that present a case, and are often tertiary-level questions, meaning they’ll never ask you a direct question like “What is the side effect of olanzapine?” Instead, they’ll word it in a more complex way like “A 30 year old man was brought into your clinic by his wife saying that he hasn’t been himself lately. For the past 6 months he has been babbling about aliens communicating to him through the TV and says he hears voices of the dead speaking to him, telling him to hurt himself. You prescribe him a medication. What side effect is he most likely to experience?” So not only would you have to know that he has schizophrenia from the passage, but you’ll also have to know that he is prescribed olanzapine (or some other type of antipsychotic), and that the most prominent side effect is weight gain.

How are the tests taken?

When I started at AUC, we took our exams on scantron. But starting January 2011, AUC implemented computer-based testing for all block exams. You’ll be assigned a lecture hall and seat number to take the exam. The lecture hall will be equipped with laptop computers and mouses to take your exam.

The shelf and comp exams will be done via web-based testing on the computer, meaning your exam performance immediately gets sent directly to the NMBE people in the states to be graded against the national average.

When do you get your test scores back?

For most classes, your scores will be posted on ANGEL within a few hours after taking the exam. For the Physiology/Neuroscience department, you’ll get your test results back usually within 2 days. Usually the next day or sometime during the same week, your professor will hold an exam review session in which you’ll get a paper printout of your exam scores and your answer choices. They’ll go over the exam with the class and address any concerns or questions you may have. You may request to see your exam anytime within two weeks of taking the exam.

Do they give out practice exams before the tests?


The week before every block exam, the Anatomy TAs set up a mock anatomy lab practical exam of 85 questions, covering material from lab as well as anatomy and histology lectures. They’re usually a lot more difficult than the actual lab practical exams, but that’s what gets you ready. The questions are written by the anatomy TAs who know what kinds of questions are commonly tested.

For MCB tutoring, our tutor would ask students to submit sample questions that they’d make up (along with multiple choice answers of course). He’d then compile them into a practice exam. It was very helpful both creating the questions and solving them.

Last semester, the professors collaborated in giving us two mock exams on the computer. We were all assigned a designated room to take it in, and were required to bring our laptops (or borrow one from the school). The mock test is 25 questions long, covering material from all of our classes, including lab, and timed for 30 minutes. The questions are pretty much similar to what you’d find on the real exams.

One of our histology professors created a practice exam for us before the Block exam.

One of our MCB professors created some awesome questions that really taught us how to think like a geneticist. He then had a help session after class to go through them. Whenever a professor offers an opportunity like this, please take it! After all, these are questions with key concepts he feels are most important, and likely to put on the real deal.

Will the exams ask things not covered in class?

No, the exam questions will all come from material in the power point slides. Use the books only as reference for further clarification or more details.

The only exam I felt that the lecture material and the exam did not correlate was Embryology (Anatomy Block 3). But then again we had a new visiting professor whose lectures did not cover the level of detail the school found acceptable, and the school created the exam. I hope first semester students will have a better embryo professor this semester. Other than this, I felt all the other exams were very fair.


What is the policy on failing?

Please try not to fail. If you are serious about your education and take an active approach to medical school rather than a passive approach, there should be no reason why you should fail. But if you do there are some policies:

Unlike Ross University, if you fail a class, you do not need to retake all the classes of the entire semester. You only need to retake the class you failed. This, however, will still put you a semester behind schedule. You must not fail over 17 credits, and you must finish your Basic Sciences curriculum within 7 semesters. If you feel you are going to fail a course, talk to the course director or professor before the second exam and discuss whether withdrawing from the class is the best option or if you have a good chance to pass. All withdrawals and failures in courses will show up on your MPSE letter (your “grade report” that is sent to residency directors).

Can I take the summer off?

Generally, no, unless you have some kind of medical excuse. If you take any semester off for whatever reason, be prepared to answer some harsh questions about “gaps in your education” during residency interviews. The classes were designed to be taken in sequence back to back, and most everyone stick with the plan. That way, you will always stay with your class and your friends, and the material will always be fresh in your mind by the time you take the Steps. Remember you must also finish all your Basic Sciences classwork within a maximum of 7 semesters.

What are some advice you can give a first semester?

Med school is definitely doable. Please take whatever opinions you hear with a grain of salt, even if it’s from an upper semester student like me ;). Make your own judgments. Just keep up with the material every day, follow a schedule, and you’ll do fine. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t do as well as you like – second chances abound. Stay positive, and encourage your colleagues to be positive as well.

How did you get used to living in St. Maarten?

I actually heard some great advice from a fellow AUC student today who is starting his first semester. He basically said that if you can get through basically the first two weeks in a new place, then you can get through the first two years. So accept the fact that you will have culture shock, and realize that you always have the option to leave within these two weeks. No biggie. After all, no one is forcing anybody to be here. But try your best to get through these first two weeks. You’ll soon make a lot of friends who are going the exact same experiences as you, and you’ll find connection and a place where you fit in.

As for me, the answer is simple and one that characterizes our nature as human beings… Given some time, I just got used to it ;).

Any tips on studying?

We’ve all been studying for most of our educational lives, through middle school, through high school, and definitely through college. So we all definitely know how to study. Med school classes may have a lot more material to learn, but it is not that different from what you’ve probably experienced from undergraduate science classes. If you already have a study habit that works well for you, I wouldn’t change. It’s too much of a hassle. Why bother?

While I don’t have much of an opinion on how you should learn, since everyone is a differently type of learner, I do have tips on things I found helpful for first semester. Click HERE for more details.

How much do you study? Someone told me they study 8 hours a day.

Everyone is different. To me, 8 hours every day is a lot for first semester, but some people might need this much! Others don’t. I personally would briefly skim through the material for the next class beforehand, just to get my mind in the mood. Then after class, I’d study the same amount of time I’d put into classes (so about 3.5 hours). Then, I’d go to the tutoring sessions as a review (1 hour). I highly recommend going to all the tutoring sessions. Again, how long you study depends on the person.

Please don’t study for 8 hours straight. Take a break. Eat something. Go to sleep when you’re tired! Remember it’s all about the quality of study, not quantity. If you have a good night’s rest, exercise, and food, you’ll have the physical and mental energy to study more efficiently and effectively.

How much sleep did you get last semester?

I averaged around 6-7 hours of sleep per day. I don’t think it’s enough. So, one of my goals this semester is to sleep more. I have determined that the less you sleep, the more time it’d take you to study (since you’d be drowsy and unable to concentrate). The more you sleep, the less time it’d take you to study (since you’d be able to concentrate better and work more efficiently). My roommate from last year consistently slept at least 9 or 10 hours a day (he always went to sleep by 10pm to get ready for the class at 8am the next morning). That was his secret to honoring all his classes.

How much did you party?

Actually, I’m not that much of a party kind of guy. I’m pretty nerdy. I actually find group studying a socially-satisfying event. But if you ask how much time I had for stress-relieving leisurely activities, I’d say that there’s always time you can set aside for some fun. If this helps you become a better student, do it! The great thing about time is that for the most part you have control over it. I definitely put aside time every day to do what I love doing. My blog is the evidence for this!

22 comments to Common Questions About AUC Classes

  • ricky collins,MD

    dear benji, i was in the 11th graduating class 1985. we were in montserrat the whole time, st. marten sounds like a dream world compared to montserrat. we had good teachers and the facilites were adequate but you all have so much more there now. i am an FP for 20+ years and do not regret my time at AUC and feel that my education was good. Med school was fun but you will not truly learn medicine until residency. you will find most of your basic sciences arent worth much on the floors, just for passing the boards. you will not remember most of it past 6months. i was looking at some of the practice exams and i dont remember any of that stuff. enjoyed reading your blog. ricky collins

  • Anita Daniels

    Hey Benji,

    Can you please tell me if there is any effect of class size to the education? For instance, does it make a difference if your class size is less or more, e.g. if u start in the summer vs fall or Jan vs fall? Also, does the semester you start in affect when you match?

    Thanks in Advance!

    • Benji

      Hi Anita,

      In smaller classes, students are more willing to speak up and ask questions. Also, the professor will have less students to handle and therefore more likely to be available during office hours.

      Assuming all students who start in the same year match in the same year, students who start in January tend to have a lot of waiting time before they match, whereas someone who starts in September tend to have a tighter schedule between starting and matching, often times still having elective rotations to complete even after matching. The general consensus is that May is the most ideal starting semester because it gives you enough leeway to take some time off to study for your Step II as well as finishing more rotations before matching. Not to mention, May is also usually the smallest class.

      Good luck!

  • Lan

    I’m not sure what day the Sept 2012 class starts this year but I’m debating if I should apply for Sept 2012, which gives me about <2 months. I would much rather get a jump start of my education RIGHT NOW (the sooner the better) but I feel a bit rushed. I applied for the Jan start but My advisor contacted me and said there are still seats in Sept class and asked if I wanted to switch my application for that start date (I haven't gotten an interview or anything yet. I just submitted my application and it is under review right now). I'm 100% sure I want to attend AUC if I get accepted but I'm just afraid I'm not prepared to start so soon and having to rush to get housing, finances together (how long does it take for them to reimburse you a check from my loans?), say my goodbyes, etc, etc. Mentally, I'm ready to start med school tomorrow if I could. But with my job, family, friends, an apartment lease that doesn't end until April 2013 (which I don't mind paying the termination fee), I'm not sure I should just pick up and leave for the Sept start date. Again, I'm just so excited to get this journey started! Your thoughts?

    • Benji

      Hey Lan,
      I’ve definitely heard of people who got accepted only 2 months before the semester started and they were able to start fine. It seems you are very enthusiastic about starting, and although it is true it seems a bit rushed, I think 2 months is enough time to get everything done, and the school understands this and will guide you along the way. As for finances, the paperwork only takes a few weeks, so I think more than likely you’ll be able to get your reimbursement in time to use it. You could contact financial aid for more info. As for housing, the dorms are most likely filled by now, but there is always off-campus housing within walking distance available. The AUC Housing department also has a list of off-campus housing that you can search through. It seems like you’re excited to start (and I would be too), so I’d go for it. Best of luck!

  • Cassie

    Hi Benji,

    Your blog is so wonderful and helpful in easing my anxiety about starting my medical journey at AUC in January! Just wondering if class exams are on a set schedule for each semester? I am the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding next fall, and she’s trying to have a Sept/Oct wedding and I am wondering if there would be a definite weekend I would be able to fly home to Atlanta. Also, does AUC honor American holidays such as Thanksgiving? Thanks so much in advance!


    • Benji

      Hi Cassie,
      Yes, class exams are on a set schedule every semester. Here is the official academic schedule for each semester on AUC’s website:

      You can calculate the exam dates as so:

      First block exam is on the Monday/Tuesday 3 weeks after the first day of classes. Second block exam is on the Monday/Tuesday three weeks after that. Third block exam is Monday/Tuesday four weeks after the second block exam, and the fourth block exam is on the Monday/Tuesday four weeks after the third block exam. Final exam is a week after the fourth block exams.

      Unfortunately, we do not get off for American holidays like Thanksgiving, and we continue to have classes during those days (although the school does hold a nice Thanksgiving luncheon afterwards where the faculty serve the students and vice versa). However, this doesn’t prevent people from taking a long weekend off. AUC has an 80% attendance policy, so as long as you attend above 80% of the days for each class, you are fine.

      Best of luck Cassie and glad to see a fellow Georgian here! I’m from Macon. 🙂

  • Jane

    Hi Benji,
    I know it’s been a while since you’ve been at AUC but I just wanted to get some advice on what to do if one fails a course. I was in the September class and I failed Physiology I. Now I am wondering if I should even continue since I feel like this will ruin all my chances for a medical career. Have you known students who have failed a course and went on to graduate and do well on the USMLE? Any advice is highly appreciated.

    • Benji

      Hi Jane,
      I know many people who have failed a course and went on to do well on the USMLE, graduate, and match! Don’t give up! Hang in there! When it comes time for residency, there are so many factors that programs consider, like your board scores, letters of recommendations, clinical grades, and extracurriculars. You’re still early in the game so there will be many more opportunities for you to show that you’ve improved and to shine.
      All the best 🙂

  • Vanessa

    Hi Benji,
    I’m interested in going to AUC and applying to a few other caribbean schools starting January 2015. How far in advance do you advise I apply? Would applying in May (once i’m finished my graduate degree) be sufficient time?


    • Benji

      If you haven’t heard back from US schools by May, you could apply to Caribbean schools in May and still make it for September class. It would not be too late. Of course, the earlier the better.

  • Sneha

    Hi Benji,

    I plan on applying for the Fall 2014 class at AUC. If you don’t mind me asking, how many students started the first semester with you and how many finished the fifth semester? I understand that you can take upto 7 semester to finish the basic sciences.
    Thank you and good luck applying for residency!


    • Benji

      Hi Sneha,
      We started off with 199 and ended with around 170. Some students dropped, others got held behind, and others were added to our class by being held behind from the class above. While most students finished basic science in five semesters, there were a good amount who finished in six, and a few in seven.

  • Sumit Puri

    I had asked this question a while back. Cranial nerves music program; what did you use? Thanks Sumit Puri

  • Dee

    I was wondering if you could elaborate on how the anatomy course is run. I know there is lab everyday except Friday. Does the lab involve dissection everyday or images or a combination? Does the lab require multiple hours to prep for? Also, does the lecture talk about general topics then you have to go home and figure out the details by yourself? Are the lecture notes pretty detailed?

  • Drake

    I know it’s been a while since you’ve been at AUC but I just wanted to get some advice on what to do if one fails a course. I failed Physiology I and was wondering if you knew how the sequence of courses changes? I know Physiology II follows I. If it is just one class why would you be a semester behind?

    • Benji

      Hi Drake,
      Sorry to hear that you failed Physiology 1. You will be a semester behind because you will repeat Physiology I your third semester, pushing physiology II to your fourth semester, which pushes Pharm I/Behavioral I to fifth semester, and Pharm II/Behavioral II to sixth semester. All of these classes take place during the same time slot so it would not be possible to take Physiology II and Pharm I at the same time, hence you’ll have to take them on separate sequential semesters. There’s only so many time slots in a day to take these classes. Hope the second time will be better for you. Best of luck.

  • Rabia

    Hi Benji,

    The academic schedule states when each semester begins but not the actual date of the first day of classes. I was accepted to start this upcoming semester, however the semester start date is also the date of my sister’s wedding. Will I have any problems if I don’t make it until the following day which is when the welcome orientation takes place? Thanks.

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