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Get Organized and Build Confidence for the MCAT

Get Organized and Build Confidence for the MCAT

Published on March 7, 2014 in Studying

The MCAT is dramatically difficult because it demands competence across three performance areas: Knowledge, Critical Thinking, and Test Day Execution. Your successful completion of the MCAT portion of your medical school application depends on your ability to address each of these aspects.

With multiple offerings of the MCAT in a single year, it may feel reassuring that you can retake the exam if you do not achieve the desired score on your first attempt. However, perhaps this feeling of reassurance belies a crack in your MCAT prep strategy. Are you confident that you will do well?

Your aim should not be to take the pressure off with the idea that you will be able to retake the exam if necessary. Your preparation for the MCAT, that is preparing to perform your absolute best on your scheduled test day, should include the confidence that you will perform in the face of pressure.

Approach your MCAT prep with the mindset that this is the only time you will take this exam. One day, one time, and done. In sporting parlance, leave it all on the field. If you are not ready to take on the MCAT with singular determination, you are frankly not ready to take the MCAT.

This is not to say that you will not be nervous on test day or that you should be fearless. A little fear is aligned with your respect for the path you are embarking on in medicine. The objective is that you acknowledge the difficulty, the nervousness, and your fears and confidently proceed to perform under pressure. You can do it, and what is better, you can prepare for it.

The best way to build confidence is to repeatedly demonstrate to yourself that you can do well on the MCAT. And to do that, you need to dive into the study process. That process is a series of three steps:

(1) reviewing the science concepts and principles and cognitive skills defined as tested on the MCAT by AAMC
(2) diagnosing your weaknesses across knowledge gaps, critical thinking, and execution
(3) addressing those performance issues

Start by getting organized. Select the materials you will use as resources for your content review and practice. Presentation style and degree of detail across various MCAT prep materials only matter as far as they make sense to you. If specific, in-depth description of concepts helps you learn, go with those materials. If another prep book or practice question series provides uses a more top-level approach but gets you to a place of understanding, go with that one.

Schedule a review of content areas interspersed with practice questions and passages. Learn from your performance by incorporating further review of weak areas. Keep a forward momentum by mixing subjects and returning again to weaker areas of understanding after having spent some time away. Be sure not to shy away from unfamiliar topics; studying heavily for the topics you already understand and feel good about will only hinder your growth.

(You may or may not want to take a full-length practice test towards the beginning of your prep. Some find it as a great kick start and benchmark for progress. Others wish they had waited to take the practice test after a portion of content review so that they can perform a more useful analysis of their current performance state at a later time. Pro tip: If you are waiting to take practice tests, don't wait too long. The value is on reviewing and improving in between, not hoarding until the end when you will feel more crunched for time and have less opportunity to strategically and meaningfully adapt your review to your practice test performance.)

Keep track of what you have gone over and your comfort level with the material. You should begin to feel stronger in a greater portion of topics and be narrowing your weaknesses.

Visualizing results with a graph of your practice test scores can support your efforts to maintain progress and build confidence. Be sure to annotate your MCAT full-length practice tests with notes on your performance for each section and for the full-length practice test as a whole.

Share your best practices! What tools and strategies are you using to stay on track and build confidence for your MCAT?

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