When studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), most students tend to focus on studying through content review and reading preparation books. However, an essential method for preparing for this exam is taking numerous practice tests to prepare for the format as well as the arduous length of the exam. A critical portion of this practice is to effectively review exams in order to assess strengths and weaknesses in both content and testing strategies. Below we will discuss tips to optimizing your practice exams and strategies for reviewing them.
Track exams on a spreadsheet
Just as an athlete tracks their progress in training, a student should track their progress on practice MCAT exams. This tracking can be as simple as recording the composite and section scores in an excel sheet or it can be more complex. Students may record scores and progress by breaking down their performance in various content areas, timing, and other factors. It is truly up to the student as to how they mark their progress. However, most students tend to benefit from tracking more factors and analyzing their progress in terms of timing and content areas. Recording progress also prevents students from accidentally retaking the same test. It also allows them to notice overall trends in exams from different companies and in their performance over time. Overall, this process gives students a definitive way to measure progress and decide if they are meeting their goals.
Review content weaknesses by section
After completing a practice exam and recording scores, students typically benefit most from looking an analysis of scoring in different content areas. Most test preparation companies will include this feature in their practice exams. A detailed review of percentage correct in content areas gives students an idea of what areas within each section they are struggling with. Ideally students should make note of these areas and target them for review in the weeks prior to their next practice exam in order to see if poor scoring is due to content weakness or a strategy issue. Content weakness is typically resolved through additional studying, whereas strategy can be developed from encountering the topic through additional practice problems and passages.
Review the test question by question
While it is tempting to review only questions that were marked as incorrect, a great deal of learning can occur through reviewing an entire MCAT test. Some answers to questions may have been guesses or correctly answered but with the wrong application of concept knowledge. This can cause incorrect answers on similar questions later if not identified and corrected. Furthermore, reviewing correct answers reinforces material and serves as a quick review over a large amount of content. Reviewing every question on a practice exam is essential to large improvements to scores and scoring in the higher percentile ranges of the MCAT.
In addition to reviewing the exam, students should be making notes on content to review. Whether they are notes inserted directly into their review books, personal written notes, or a separate Microsoft word document, they should be easily accessible for review. These notes should be reviewed within a week of taking the practice exam to reinforce the concepts they struggled with. In addition, these can serve as last minute study resources prior to their official test date. This allows students to recall topics they continually struggled with and gives them one last chance to review them prior to their exam.
Evaluate your performanceFinally, students should develop a method of self-evaluation on performance. Some students choose to rate their performance prior to seeing their score report and compare that with their scores after. This allows students to develop a standard on how they perform on test day. Some students prefer to assess their performance only after reviewing the test in its entirety so that they can decide whether their score is a matter of content weakness, timing, or strategy. Be wary of the second method, as students tend to be more generous in hindsight. It is easy to blame a low score on timing or changed answers. Students should make sure to hold themselves accountable and be honest with themselves in how they are performing on their practice exams. This practice is a good way to subjectively measure progress and assess preparedness for the exam.
A final word of advice on practice exams…Practice exams are a great resource to prepare students for test day. Make sure as you approach test day, you do not overwhelm or exhaust yourself with too many practice exams. The week prior to your exam should be a rest week where you review notes and old exams but do not take any new tests. This rest is vital to refreshing your brain prior to the exam. Make sure you take time to rest so that you perform well on your test!
About the Author
Jordan Salley is one of MyGuru's most accomplished MCAT tutors. Click here to learn more!