August 5, 2020

5 Strategies to Crush the AAMC VITA

The Savvy Premed

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

According to the AAMC’s FAQ, the Video Interview Tool for Admissions (VITA) opens this week on August 6th, 2020.

Are you ready?

Even though the VITA will technically run until April of next year, you’ll need to be ready to act when you receive your invite on HireVue.

The AAMC recommends you complete the VITA within two weeks of getting the invite, and some medical schools might even impose their own deadlines.  

You might still be working on your secondary essays, but you can’t let that be an excuse to avoid VITA preparation. Make sure to catch up by reading our comprehensive VITA guide if you’re feeling behind the curve. We’ve also homed in on appearance, technology, and performance tips in separate, more specialized articles. 

We’ve also created a FREE Practice VITA to help you prepare with an accurate simulation, and we’ve critiqued a sample response to show you how you might be evaluated by medical schools. 

You might be wondering if there are any strategies that can give you an edge and help you crush the VITA. The AAMC has some tips on its main VITA webpage, as well as a more in-depth applicant preparation guide

It’s smart to review the AAMC’s VITA guide, and we’ve shared some similar advice in our own materials, but in this post, we want to offer you some additional strategies that you might not be able to find elsewhere: 

5 Strategies to Crush the AAMC VITA

Strategy #1 - Avoid “Throat Clearing” Sentences in Your VITA Responses

We see this all the time in applicants’ secondaries. For a prompt about their most meaningful volunteer experience, they will waste their precious words/characters by repeating the prompt verbatim at the beginning of their response:

“My most meaningful volunteer experience was when I…”

It’s somewhat understandable, since years of formal education have trained us to carefully follow directions and give hyper-focus to the wording of assignments. In other cases, it might be attractive to take up space when you don’t have that much to say.

But these “throat clearing” sentences are boring and unnecessary in essays, and the same goes for interview responses. Medical schools know what their secondaries are asking, and they’ll have access to the VITA prompts when evaluating your responses. 

Even if you’re not worried about running out of time in your response, avoid these sentences because they will set a dull, generic impression for the rest of your answer.  

Strategy #2 - Don’t Use All 3 Minutes of Time in Your VITA Responses

This strategy is also comparable to secondary essays. When most pre-meds are given 500 words to answer a question, they’ll do their damnedest to use every last word. Even a 475-word response will make them feel uneasy. 

The misconception is that long answers will impress the medical schools or show them how much you care. But that’s misguided. Usually, when applicants feel obligated to fill up space, their answers just become fluffier and more redundant.

The same concept applies to your VITA responses. In fact, fluffing and rambling could be even more detrimental in an interview than an essay. Sure, you get 3 minutes, but that’s a maximum, not a requirement. 

Sure, there’s such a thing as “too short” (i.e. 30-60 seconds), but 90 seconds or 2 minutes will definitely be sufficient. Focus on quality, not quantity. 

If you use all 3 minutes, that’s fine, but don’t make the duration of your responses a huge focal point. Just focus on answering the question well.  

Strategy #3 - Appearance DEFINITELY Matters for Your VITA Responses 

According to the AAMC’s application preparation guide, medical schools “will be instructed to ignore the background in which you complete the interview and focus on the content of a response.”

The AAMC wants to be egalitarian, especially during the constraints of the pandemic, so they’re publicly saying that your appearance, technology, and backdrop won’t be held against you during the VITA.

We’re not buying this. Sure, maybe your living situation is so crazy that your quietest option is using your smartphone inside your car. But is that REALLY how you want to present yourself? Is that REALLY the first impression you want to make?

Of course, we’d like to think that the privileges of a quiet environment, quality technology, and high-speed internet connection shouldn’t be the difference between someone getting into medical school and getting rejected. However, it’s going to be very difficult for medical schools to ignore these facets completely during their evaluation of your VITA.

Think about all the times you’ve given up on watching a video online because it’s grainy, filmed in portrait mode, or has poor sound quality. Appearance is a HUGE factor for the VITA, and it might even be worth investing some money into better technology and a faster internet connection to ensure things look and sound crisp.   

Strategy #4 - Avoid In-person Mock Interviews for Your VITA Prep

The AAMC’s application preparation guide recommends practicing through mock interviews with peers or advisors. Strangely, they even seem okay with doing them in-person during a pandemic.

There’s a big problem with this approach: you WON’T HAVE AN AUDIENCE during the real VITA. So, doing mock interviews with others, whether online or in-person, isn’t going to accurately simulate the actual VITA experience.

During the real VITA, you won’t have a person on the other side of the screen or camera to give you any encouragement or non-verbal cues. So when you’re practicing, you should get acclimated to the sensation of being alone and speaking to the dead air.

Sure, you could instruct your mock interviewers to remain stoic, but the closer you can get to simulating the real experience while preparing, the better off you’ll be.

Our advice is to record your practice responses, watch them yourself to self-assess, and share them with others to gather feedback. You should be evaluated in the same way your real responses will be evaluated. 

Strategy #5 - Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over in Your VITA Responses

It’s an embarrassing thought - stumbling through your first few sentences, abandoning ship, and starting from scratch. It almost seems like a faux pas. 

But it’s actually not as bad as it sounds. And it could be a more effective strategy than trying to power through your fumbling, which could snowball and compound into a completely incoherent response.

Think about all those times that you or someone you know has said something weird or incorrect and then doubled down instead of backing up and rescinding the comment. That usually looks pretty bad, right? Don’t stubbornly commit to your response if it’s truly derailing or getting out of control. 

If you feel like you’ve botched your opening, don’t be afraid to start over. No need to apologize or announce that you’d like a redo. Simply pausing to collect yourself and take a breath should be enough indication that you’re amending your answer.  

So there you have it: 5 counterintuitive VITA strategies that you probably won’t hear anywhere else. We hope they’ll be useful in giving you an advantage and crushing your VITA responses! 

Have any questions about the VITA and other medical school virtual interviews? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

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