Establish the trajectory of your MCAT prep with a thorough analysis of your first MCAT Diagnostic Test.
Studying for the MCAT is a marathon, a long haul where an accumulation of smaller actions brings about your success on test day. Some students claim they can study for only a few weeks prior to test day and achieve a high score. Whether that assertion is true or not, let that student find out for herself. This guide to analyzing your MCAT diagnostic test and planning a path to success on the MCAT is not for that student. It's for you.
Part I: Taking a MCAT Diagnostic Test
The two primary aims for taking a diagnostic at the beginning of your MCAT prep are (1) to establish a baseline performance to compare your progress to and (2) to get a taste of what you are in for. It is important to not become too discouraged by the results of a very difficult diagnostic. At this point you have not done the prep that will make all the difference for your actual MCAT exam. An analysis of your MCAT diagnostic test performance is where growth happens, and you will be applying this process throughout your prep to maintain forward progress all the way up to test day.
The first decision you have to make is whether to do any form of review prior to your first diagnostic. If you are in the midst of coursework or recently finished a semester with classes related to topics covered on the MCAT, you may feel more at a point where you just want to know where you stand. Also, there is a lot of content on the MCAT, which is the reason preparing for it takes such a substantial amount of time. You obviously won't be able to review everything, and you do not know which topics specifically will show up on your diagnostic, so don't stress yourself over prepping before a diagnostic exam.
Reviewing some key information can help you see better where you stand in MCAT performance. An example of this type of information is the formulas you will need to use for Newtonian mechanics problems in the Physical Sciences section. You already know if you have a formula memorized or not, but what is more useful is knowing whether you can correctly and efficiently apply your knowledge to a MCAT passage or stand-alone questions.
As with all of your full-length practice tests, you will want to simulate testing conditions as much as possible. You could include not only accurate timing and breaks but also the amount of sleep you get the night before, what you eat, and what you do to get into test mode the hour and minutes before you begin.
Part II: Reviewing your MCAT Diagnostic Test Results
The first information you will have available to you will be the overall scores for each section and your raw scores by question. You also have your own reflections on how the exam went.
Try to record your feelings about taking the diagnostic soon after you finish it. What did you do naturally? What did you try out? Was there a new strategy you attempted? How did you feel during each of the sections? Did you feel strength or weaknesses in any areas? Was there a time you felt in the zone? Was there a time that you got distracted or tired? There are any number of questions to ask yourself about your experience.
Make comparisons between how you felt the diagnostic went and how you actually did. What are the major subject areas you immediately know you will need to focus your studying on?
Part III: Digging deep into an analysis of your MCAT Diagnostic Test
Next comes a deeper analysis of your MCAT diagnostic performance. Like a physical exam in a doctor's office, you will go over individual questions and answers and diagnose any issues you find along the way.
Looking closer at what it means to make a diagnosis, the goal is to identify the nature of the problem (incorrect answers) by examination of the signs and symptoms (what was right about the correct answer, what was wrong about the incorrect answers, and your feelings for why you reached the answer you marked).
Examining the Signs and Symptoms of your MCAT practice test
The signs are more objective in nature. Was your marked answer correct, why or why not? This analysis allows you to begin to understand what questions you are getting right and wrong in terms of content being tested or the type of test question. Here are some aspects to consider:
- knowledge being tested
- passage-based or stand alone
- requires integration of new information
- experimental or hypothetical analysis
- question phrased as a negative/not
- question was earlier/later in the section or passage
The symptoms are unique to you and how you felt with each question. Look at both correct and incorrect answers and reflect on your experience with each. Some notes you make may include:
- confidence that your answer was correct
- intended answer or guessed
- familiarity with the content being tested
- feeling comfortable with the test type
- question order and any notes on how you felt during the test
- degree of understanding of why incorrect answers are indeed wrong
Part IV: Planning you prep based on your MCAT Diagnostic Test Analysis
At this point, you should be getting an idea for where you need improvement. Look at your notes for incorrect answers. What patterns can you identify? Are there content areas that stand out as where you performed better or no so well? Were there any surprises in your performance?
Based on your correct and incorrect answers, write a list of strengths and weaknesses for all of the content areas addressed on your diagnostic. Also, identify how much you will need to work on factors like critical thinking, speed, and stamina.
If you plan on doing a full content review, you may wish to set up your schedule with special study sessions dedicated for reviewing weaknesses so you can immediately address these topics and maintain your forward progress. For example:
Day 1: Review book Ch. 1
Day 2: Review book Ch. 2
Day 3: Special Review of Weakness 1
Day 4: Review book Ch. 3
Day 5: Review book Ch. 4
Day 6: Special Review of Weakness 2
Day 7: Review book Ch. 5
Day 8: Review book Ch. 6
Day 9: Special Review of Weakness 3
Day 10: Review book Ch. 7
Day 11: Review book Ch. 8
Day 12: Special Review of Weakness 1
Day 13: Review book Ch. 9
Day 14: Review book Ch. 10
Day 15: Special Review of Weakness 2
Day 16: Review book Ch. 11
Day 17: Review book Ch. 12
Day 18: Special Review of Weakness 3
Day 19: Review book Ch. 13
Day 20: Review book Ch. 14
Best of luck with your MCAT prep! Share your best practices for analyzing the results of your MCAT diagnostic test or any full-length practice test!
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