The MCAT® is a grueling and highly-competitive step in the journey to becoming a doctor. As you prepare to sit for your test, you can improve your chances for success by knowing some of the common mistakes students make regarding the MCAT and how to avoid them.
Not Giving Yourself Enough Time to Prepare
Students who wait until the last minute to begin studying for the MCAT set themselves up for a stress-filled and often unsuccessful testing experience. Don’t put off studying. Trying to cram in hours of test prep during the last days and weeks before your test is a mistake that can be easily avoided.
Solution: Build out a study plan that allows for at least six months of preparation. If you create an appropriate study plan and stick with it, you will have enough time to study and learn MCAT concepts at a reasonable pace. This will solidify your knowledge, increase your confidence, and have you ready for success on test day.
Note: The amount of time needed to study will vary for students depending on their goals and schedules. For example: If you are working a full-time or part-time job, you’ll need to factor this into your available study time. And remember, if you are aiming to get into a top university, you’ll certainly want to dedicate more time to studying.
Trying to Only Memorize Definitions of Concepts
The MCAT is not like multiple-choice exams you may have taken in high school or college. It doesn’t require you to walk into the exam with your mind full of memorized definitions. Instead, the exam is designed to test your critical thinking skills and how you apply said skills to the questions presented. You still may need to know the definition of a particular concept and will also encounter questions that are meant to evaluate your analytical ability.
Solution: Rather than spending your prep time only memorizing what you think could be on the test, use a study resource that will allow you to practice MCAT-style questions. Remember, the best way to practice for the exam is using exam-level questions. This is the only way in which you will be able to fully prepare for the MCAT and all the skills it tests.
Being Unprepared for the Grind
Including breaks, the MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes long; it may be the longest test you’ve taken to date. Needless to say, it is mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. If you haven’t prepared yourself for the length of the test, it’s possible that you’ll tire at some point during the exam and ultimately be unable to perform at your best.
Solution: In your study sessions leading up to the exam, test yourself with practice questions for longer intervals. Think of it like a runner preparing for a marathon — the closer he or she gets to the day of the race, the longer they run during practice. This way, on the day of the actual race, their bodies are prepared to run the entire marathon.
Failing to Familiarize Yourself With the Test
You wouldn’t take your driver’s license test without having an idea of what they’ll ask. You wouldn’t try out for an athletic team without knowing the skills necessary to make the team. So, why would you sit for the MCAT without having an idea of what the test is going to look like? But, unfortunately, many students make this mistake. Because of this oversight, they are profoundly unprepared on test day.
Solution: Take advantage of the blueprint provided by the AAMC. This will give you an idea of what the test will look like, what concepts will be tested, and what your testing experience will entail.
Losing Track of Time During the Test
The MCAT has a total of 230 multiple-choice questions that are broken down into four sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
You are allotted 6 hours and 15 minutes to answer these questions. The time will pass quicker than you think, and students who don’t pay careful attention to the clock often end up with unanswered questions because of the time restriction.
Solution: Take a few practice tests under actual testing conditions and assess your time management skills. On test day, pace yourself and keep a careful eye on the clock. Be intentional about not spending too much time on one particular question that has you stumped. You can always flag it, and then go back to answer it later.
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