Maximizing the benefits of MCAT practice exams

AAMC MCAT test prep
By Salman

Preparing for the MCAT can be a daunting task. One of the most effective tools at your disposal are the AAMC full length practice exams. The AAMC offers 2 free exams (one scored, one not) and 4 paid ones. AAMC practice exams not only provide you the opportunity to assess your knowledge and skills, but also help you familiarize yourself with the format and timing of the actual exam. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how to make the most of your MCAT practice exams, ensuring that you are well-prepared for test day.

Simulate the Exam

To truly benefit from practice exams, it is crucial to simulate the actual exam conditions. Remember, the MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Find a quiet and distraction-free space where you can fully focus for the duration of the exam. Treat it as if you were sitting for the actual test, putting away your phone and any other potential distractions. By creating a realistic test-taking environment, you can better replicate the conditions you will face on exam day. This helps build up your stamina and trains your mind to perform optimally for the extended duration of the exam. If you notice a decline in performance towards the end of sections of the exam, consider effective ways to recharge and refresh, such as briefly pausing and taking deep breaths or having snacks for energy during your breaks.

Timing: A Key Factor in Success 

Develop strategies to ensure you utilize your time effectively. Begin by setting time goals for each section based on the official MCAT time limits, such as spending an average of 80 seconds per exam question. Practice pacing techniques during your practice exams to ensure you can complete each section within the allocated time. Additionally, learn to flag questions that may require further review. Being mindful of time and allocating it wisely will help you navigate the exam more efficiently. Take advantage of any extra time you may have at the end of sections to relax or review. If you consistently struggle with time constraints in a particular section, it could indicate a knowledge deficit or an ineffective exam technique.

Identify Weak Sections

Every test-taker has their own strengths and weaknesses. It is important to identify your weak sections early on in your preparation. Analyze your performance on previous practice exams and reflect on which sections posed the most challenges. CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) and Psych/Soc (Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior) are commonly found to be particularly difficult for students. Once you have identified your weak areas, allocate more study time to those sections, and seek additional resources, such as tutoring, for targeted improvement.

Focus on Relevant Topics

The MCAT covers a wide range of topics, and it is essential to focus your studies on the most relevant ones. Taking multiple AAMC exams will provide insight into what is high yield and what is less important. Furthermore, multiple exams will also highlight subtopics that require more work. Use this knowledge to guide the rest of your studying, optimize your preparation, and increase your chances of success.

Analyze Mistakes

When reviewing your practice exams, pay close attention to the questions you answered incorrectly. Identify whether your mistakes are due to a knowledge deficit or a technique deficit. If it is a knowledge deficit, revisit the relevant content and reinforce your understanding through targeted studying. If it is a technique deficit, focus on improving your question comprehension, critical thinking, and test-taking skills. Analyzing your mistakes will help you identify patterns and address areas of weakness more effectively.

 Track Progress Week-to-Week

To gauge your improvement over time, it's essential to track your progress consistently. Establish a dedicated study schedule and allocate time for regular practice exams. I would recommend taking a diagnostic exam at the very beginning and then at least 1 every week. Make sure you are making consistent progress weekly and that in your final practice exam you are at or near your target score. Keep a record of your progress to identify trends and patterns, which can inform adjustments to your study plan. Regular self-evaluation will help you stay motivated and ensure you are making steady progress toward your MCAT goals.

Salman is an MD Candidate at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He previously attended UNC Chapel Hill, majoring in Biology and graduating with highest distinction and Phi Beta Kappa honors.

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