January 25, 2020
Preparation is key if you want to succeed on the MCAT and some of the most important preparation is not found in any textbook. While you must know the testable content, you also need to be mentally prepared for sustained focus, timing pressure, and an unfamiliar testing environment. Here are 6 tips from a top scorer on how to train yourself for this big test.
Write Weekly Full-Length Practice Tests
People have a variety of excuses for not writing many, or any, practice MCATs. They cost money, take time, and many feel they haven’t studied enough content yet. It is important to realize a significant factor in your performance on the MCAT is being able to synthesize new information in prompts and apply it to questions very quickly. To practice doing this as well as to strengthen recall of textbook concepts, full-length practice tests must be incorporated into your MCAT training early and regularly. You will be putting far more money and time into re-writing the MCAT a second or third time than it takes to properly prepare for your first attempt.
Use Real Timing on Every Practice MCAT
Practicing with unlimited section timing, or pausing to take an unscheduled break develops counterproductive mental habits. The real MCAT is tightly timed and you must complete each section on time to maximize your score. You have a 0% chance of getting a question right if you run out of time to do it, so always practice with real timing, including breaks too. You may even want to write your practice tests at the same time of day as your scheduled exam.
Write in Unfamiliar Locations
Writing practice MCATs in your home on your own computer is fine for the first couple tests, but ultimately makes for poor “environmental” training. Your bedroom or apartment is not representative of the testing centre and your laptop is not very similar to a desktop computer. For your third practice exam, go to a quiet public computer lab at your university or local library (not a coffee shop). Put some ear plugs in if you plan to wear them for the real exam. You may like your home workstation better, but the point is to train yourself to perform in the most realistic surroundings.
Work up to Busier Locations
The real MCAT will be in a busy testing centre. For this reason, challenge yourself on your last couple practice tests to sit in a place in the library or computer lab that is still quiet but has more people walking by, perhaps by the entrance or near a window. If you can maintain focus in this setting, you will have no difficulty in your real testing centre.
While it’s tempting to refer to notes or research something mid-test, this is not permitted on the real MCAT. Not allowing yourself to cheat on practice exams stimulates better memory recall and exercises your ability to make educated guesses. Your scores will also be more accurate if you don’t cheat, which is important in tracking your progress and deciding if you should re-write the MCAT.
Thoroughly Review Practice Test Results
Many people do not get full value out of their practice MCATs because they don’t bother to review their answers and identify knowledge gaps. Every wrong or guessed question is a valuable learning opportunity.
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