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How to Handle Inconsistent Practice Test Scores

How to Handle Inconsistent Practice Test Scores

Published on October 29, 2014

MCAT prep is all about progress, so it can be frustrating to see your practice test performance go up and down.

Find the Issue

Taking practice tests serves three purposes for your MCAT prep. The most obvious strategic application is that you gain experience for test day. After a few scheduled practice tests you will know what it's like to sit for the exam including its format, length, and different question types. Second, practice tests give you feedback for how well prepared you are at present and can help you identify weak areas of your prep.

The third aspect of taking practice tests is probably the most overlooked yet still the most important in terms of your level of preparation for test day. This crucial piece is that practice testing helps you learn. Coupled to the hours of time you spend reviewing material by reading or listening, the act of practice testing challenges you to think, recall, synthesize, and directly face your current understanding. So, when facing inconsistent practice test scores, embrace the reality that it was indeed "practice" and a key part of your learning.

Instead of feeling anxious or uncertain about "where you stand," look for ways to turn score inconsistencies into valuable learning:

Look for what was significant about low vs high scoring days

Was there a particular issue on a day of a low score such as fatigue or ability to focus? Did you feel particularly good on days when you got higher scores? Look for clues as to what daily habits (sleep, stress, caffeine intake) affect your performance. You'll want to optimize these for test day.

Address low vs high scoring content

Was there a substantial difference in what was tested from one test to another? Perhaps you were more/less familiar with the topics covered in a couple passages on a single test in a way that impacted the outcome. Variation in test content can happen, so take notes of what topics you should be focusing more on.

Taking Action

You can immediately and significantly improve the potency of your practice test taking by simply doubling back and reviewing each practice test as you take it. By being attentive to why you chose both correct and incorrect answers, you can catch problematic approaches to passages and questions that may be leading you to miss questions on material you know or only luckily mark a correct answer choice when you do not truly understand. In addition, you are solidifying that knowledge in the context of how it may be applied.

Keep track of your perceived and performed strengths and weaknesses. Do you see improvement on a topical level over time and across practices tests?

What this means for test day

Practice test scores can go up and down. What matters is how you perform on test day. Use your practice tests to your advantage by taking lessons from each experience — be it test-taking skills or identifying strengths and weakness — and use what you learn to adjust your prep both in terms of content review and daily habits.

Look to each practice test, regardless of its score, as an opportunity to reflect on your progress and make adjustments. Understanding how you got to a low (or high!) practice test score may help ease the uncertainty of inconsistent performance. Then you can apply that understanding and get back to work!

photo credit: xmascarol via photopin cc

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