There are many differences between high and low scorers on the MCAT. Many of these differences are difficult to address: reading background, experience with experimental design, and test taking abilities to name a few. However, there is one consistent, notable difference in strategy. I call this strategy mistake analysis.

Soccer makes for the perfect way to explain how mistake analysis works. I used to play soccer when I was younger, and distinctly remember how practice would go after a game. Win or lose, Coach Kirk would wheel out the old CRT TV set, pull out the tape of our game, and have us watch the whole thing. He’d then take us through, play by play, and he would comment on everything we did right and wrong. We would all take meticulous notes, and these comments would drive our practices. We grew stronger as a team by analyzing our mistakes and fixing them. This strategy took us all the way to winning the state championship.

Every MCAT student is going to make mistakes. It’s a reality of preparing for this beast of an exam. Some mistakes will be because of a knowledge lapse, some mistakes will be because of exhaustion, and some mistakes will be because of the misinterpretation of a figure. How you learn from those mistakes and deal with them is paramount to improving your score on the exam.

So, how do you go about doing this mistake analysis?

The first step is to trace your logic on how you got to answer before looking at the real answer. Be very specific on the thought process that led to your answer choice. The goal is to try to phrase it in a logical progression (e.g. Since the passage says ____ in figure 1, and I know ____ from my knowledge, the correct answer would be B).

Next, make sense of the answer key and the explanation. Many times the explanation by itself might not be enough to understand the logic of how you were supposed to get to the correct answer. It may require a bit of going back and forth between the answer key, the passage, and the question. The goal is to once again think about the logical progression as you did above.

Now, comes the most important part in the process of analyzing your mistakes: seeing how you went wrong. Compare your logic to the correct logic. How is it different? How is it similar? What went wrong? You should be extremely specific on how you look at the flaws in your logic. Try to avoid general ideas like, “I didn’t read the passage properly,” and be more specific like, “I missed the key point in figure 1 and didn’t see the adjective most in the question stem.” There may be multiple reasons for a mistake. If so, list all of them. You’re trying to be as critical as possible because this self-knowledge will inform how you get better.

The final step in mistake analysis is to come up with solutions for the problems you identified. You need something repeatable that you can think about and change. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." You need to find solutions that allow you to arrive at different results. Examples of solutions I’ve recommended for my students include highlighting specific parts of questions, noting relationships shown in figures, and taking a breath in between passages to slow down. A solution can be anything, and sometimes it takes a little trial and error to rectify the problem.

A few notes of advice. Mistake analysis will take a while and can be exhausting. It might take you 90 minutes to do an MCAT section and then two hours to do mistake analysis, and by the time you are finished, you may be ready for a nap. That is normal. Research shows the more effortful the learning, the more it will stick with you down the line. The process of mistake analysis is an essential tool as you work your way toward your dream MCAT score.

The road to medical school is long, and the MCAT is one of its most formidable challenges. You will be relieved to know that what you learned in your premedical courses is actually on the test. But studying for the MCAT is more about taking that knowledge stored way back there in the nooks and crannies of your mind, bringing it to the fore, and then learning to twist and stretch it in the ways the MCAT tests. In reality, studying for the MCAT is no more (or less) difficult than spending late hours on a physics problem set or an entire weekend on an organic chemistry lab report. Just like these other tasks, the MCAT requires endurance and follow-through, but it becomes significantly more manageable when you work with a Cambridge Coaching MCAT tutor to apply a structured, systematic, and strategic approach to your studying.

Anyone can study hard - but the real key to MCAT success is learning to study smart. So, while all forms of MCAT preparation require you to crunch a lot of material, we focus on helping you to make strategic choices about your areas of focus at every step of the game. Each Cambridge Coaching tutor is a highly-skilled manager of your personal study process. He or she will do more than just target your weaknesses - your tutor’s goal is to identify the sections where you have the greatest potential for improvement, and teach you to wring every last point from them by creating the roadmap for your studying, and helping you stick to it. Right from the start, your tutor will create a customized syllabus for you, and will then modify that syllabus as needed.

Taking the MCAT in 2020-21? Check out some other helpful blog posts below!:

How to study for the MCAT when you haven’t completed all your science coursework

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So, your MCAT's been canceled, now what?

Tags: MCAT