How to Improve Your MCAT Score and Reach Your Target Score
One of the most asked questions about tackling the MCAT is how to improve your score and reach your target score. Whether you are in the middle of studying and are not achieving the desired progress or just received a suboptimal score and are considering retaking the exam for a boost, there are several strategies you should be employing to maximize your prep and achieve steady progress. Keep reading to see what you can do to improve your MCAT score and reach your target score.
Set a Realistic MCAT Target Score
We have already discussed choosing an MCAT target score in a previous blog post but will provide a shorter version here for those that aren’t interested in jumping around. You will need to account for various factors in setting a realistic but ambitious score. How much time do you have to study? Are you studying full-time, or alongside other responsibilities such as school or work? How strong is your foundation from your pre-med courses, especially key classes like biochemistry? Consider taking a full-length practice exam at the very beginning of your study period. In addition to showing what the exam is like and helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses, it will provide a baseline score that will indicate approximately how high to aim. For example, if your baseline score is far below 500 and you’ve only dedicated a few weeks to study, it may not be wise to aim for a 99th percentile score. This might risk inducing frustration if you don’t make the expected progress. It’s also wise to familiarize yourself with the MCAT scoring system, to have a better understanding of your progress, and where you should be placing your efforts.
Evaluate Your MCAT Study Schedule
First and most importantly, make sure you are feeling rested—both prior to starting your study period as well as throughout. If you are feeling burned out and not able to focus, taking a few days completely off from studying can be beneficial. Whatever time you lose during those few days you will more than make up for returning with drastically improved focus and efficiency. One productive task you can take on during a break is to reevaluate your study schedule. Ask yourself important questions, especially the difficult ones. Do you need more time to achieve your MCAT target score? In some cases, this may require pushing your exam, which is not a decision to take lightly but may be better than risking a low score that will prompt a need to retake the exam. Alternatively, you may simply need to spend more hours per day studying (as long as you are not sacrificing your sleep in doing so). Speaking of which, are you studying too much? If you are studying 12 hours a day and not sleeping, eating, or exercising properly as a result, you may be over-doing it. In these situations reducing your studying hours each day can improve focus, efficiency, and mental health.
Take Full-Length Practice Exams & Track Your Progress in Reaching Your MCAT Target Score
The first rule of taking full-length practice exams is to space them out properly. Taking several back-to-back or too often (e.g., several times per week) accomplishes little while wasting valuable resources and taking time away from content review. On the other hand, taking too few will make you susceptible to surprises on exam day in terms of format and mental stamina. The right number/frequency of exams will vary according to the total duration of your study period, but a good rule of thumb is one per week. If you are studying for six months, you may want to start off with less frequent exams and taper up as you get closer to exam day. On the other hand, if you are studying intensely for a month, you could aim for two per week. Taking consistent practice exams will provide regular feedback and insight into your progress. If you are making steady progress that is slower than desired, you may just need more time to achieve the score you want. If, however, you are failing to make any significant progress then you should critically evaluate your approach and consider making significant changes. Consulting an EMP tutor can also help by receiving a professional assessment of your approach. It is easy to get caught in the mire of studying and ample information available from a variety of low-quality resources. Sometimes a personalized and objective analysis from an external source is all you need to identify deficiencies in your study/test-taking approach and come up with achievable solutions. Last but not least, make sure that you take each and every practice exam very seriously. Try your best to simulate exam day conditions by waking up at the same time, setting up your workspace in the same location, and taking breaks at the same intervals as you would on exam day.
Assess Your Approach to Studying
Ensuring a good schedule is only one part of the equation; you must also maintain a good study approach. Start by asking questions, as before. Are you striking the right balance between content review, memorization/rehearsal, and practice questions? Do you gravitate towards studying topics you are most comfortable with, versus your weakest areas? Have you identified what your weakest topics are, and do you keep track of your progress accordingly? Are you neglecting certain areas, whether because they are less interesting or because you have a strong background in them? Although some students have difficulty focusing on their weak points because it’s uncomfortable, others do the opposite and largely ignore their stronger areas. A common pattern is to not study the topic that you majored in; but studying English in college doesn’t automatically mean CARS will be your strongest section without sufficient preparation.
Hone Your Test-Taking Strategies
The final step to improving your score, after you’ve mastered content and accumulated the necessary knowledge, is to ensure you are answering questions with the right approach. The MCAT is a challenging exam not only because of the breadth and depth of concepts and knowledge it tests, but also because of the high levels of critical thinking and mental stamina it requires. Honing several key strategies to answering individual questions, and to maintaining your focus throughout the exam, will make sure your preparation translates into results. First work on global strategies for answering questions: (1) Read passages carefully, as small details often provide distinguishing clues; (2) Avoid overthinking or questioning your thought process too much, as research shows that the more you second-guess and change your answer the more likely you are to answer incorrectly; and (3) Rely heavily on the process of elimination (POE). Learning how to identify incorrect answers is almost as important as identifying the correct answer. Incorrect answer choices will nearly always vary in how wrong or “bad” they are. If you can identify these distractors early, there will be fewer options to consider and therefore less information to keep in your head at a given moment. In some cases, though, the correct answer will jump out at you immediately; for these questions a complete POE approach may be unnecessary. Finally, pay close attention to your time utilization. If you consistently finish with extra time but are scoring lower than desired, remind yourself that you have more time at your disposable to either rush less or go back and review flagged questions more thoroughly. Alternatively, running out of time may indicate that you are either spending too much time on difficult questions (taking time away from easier questions) or over-thinking questions in general.
Scoring unexpectedly low on the MCAT, or improving less quickly than you’d like, can be very frustrating. Regardless of where you are at right now, you can make adjustments to optimize your prep and consequently increase your score. Whether you need to focus on taking care of yourself more, switch up your routine, or consult with a professional for advice, this article has specific recommendations that you can use to get the most out of your studying and crush the MCAT!