I’ve been browsing the search terms people use to find my blog, and I decided to answer some common questions that seem to come up through people’s search or stuff people ask me a lot. This will be a quick rapid fire Q & A, this time I’ll focus on the MCAT. Though bear in mind the scoring system and the subjects will be changed on the new MCAT, in general the test represents the same idea i.e. part of your application to enter medical school:
1. [Is there a difference] between the AAMC practice tests vs the real MCAT?
Yes and no, but mostly no. The AAMC practice tests are representative of what you should expect on the MCAT. If you’ve taken enough practice AAMC tests you’ve probably noticed there’s some relative variability in perceived difficulty — some tests you’ll think are easy, some you’ll think are less so. In general, the core material doesn’t change much, instead it’s how they ask you that may stump you on a particular test. For myself, while self studying my practice scores varied in the last month from 32-36 and I was averaging about a 33 on practice exams (my first practice score was about a 22). But, I ended up with a 30P on the real exam which I suppose isn’t that bad considering how bad my personal life was on test week (family issues) and the night before the exam was. The key to these practice tests is to establish a range, and know that you may either score within that range or about 2-points below it. Why 2-points? Well, that’s within the confidence interval stated by the AAMC, if you score a 29 then a 27 or a 31 were in your range in theory. I can’t promise you that every school is open to the AAMC interpretation of scores, but that’s actually why the new MCAT is coming out with a new scale to further enforce this point and make it easier to interpret. This may also be why applicants who underperformed on their MCAT with a 28 or so are surprised to find that the bulk of their interview (if invited) isn’t spent on defending their MCAT score, this is probably especially true if everything else in the applicants file suggests they could have done better.
The biggest difference however will be in how anxious you feel about the exam, or at least it was that way for me. The good news it’s a good feeling to think that with each question you attempt the closer you potentially are to not seeing the MCAT ever again (hopefully).
2. Is it bad to take a MCAT practice test twice?
There are two skills you pick up while studying for the MCAT:
– 2.1. Getting better at the content on the MCAT
– 2.2 Getting better at taking the MCAT
You’ll definitely get the most value the first time you take the test to see how well you know the content. However, reviewing your past exams is part of the process of getting better at taking the MCAT. The first pass through the test is the easiest, you just take the test and do your best. But, reviewing the exam is a skill all in itself. For that part you want to ask yourself the following questions:
A. Why did I get this question wrong, or why am I getting these types of questions wrong? — separate the material into: 1) I had no idea how to even approach it, 2) I sort of knew it, and 3) I should of gotten it but misread etc. The last one, 3, is the easiest to fix as you just need to start annotating things better to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The first part, 1, is probably the most time consuming as you’d likely need to do a targeted content review on that subject (or that subject’s foundation). The middle one, 2, is the trickiest because it’s easy to fall into false comfort of classifying things as “I sort of knew it” and not dedicated enough time to these issues. In other words, you either know it (3) or you didn’t (1,2).
B. If I got this question right, was there another way to arrive to the same answer? — knowing alternative ways to answer a question is not only good conceptually, it may save you on the next exam. For example, if you’re given the answer choice of:
a. 9.21 E-23
b. 4.21 E-26
c 9.21 E-18
d. 4.21 E-34
You might have arrived to the right answer, let’s say it’s C, by crunching the numbers. But, likely in these types of math problems you could have arrived to the same answer by just evaluating the powers without doing any of the math that made the 9.21 part. This is because as long as you do the powers correctly, the max you can be off without fully evaluating the problem is by a factor of 10 (i.e. you’ll either come up with E-17 or E-19). So, sure, if you had answers within a factor of 10 you’d then need to do more math, but in this case you likely wouldn’t and it ends up being a very quick calculation.
C. Make a plan of how to NOT miss these types of problems again, though except for discrete questions never expect to see the duplicate permutation of the same question again.
3. Are there miracles on the MCAT?
Probably not, in fact you should expect just the opposite. This is why you need to practice and attempt to overshoot during practice because on the real test, for various reasons, it may not go so well. One person I interviewed with told me on their test day there was obnoxious construction going on across the street, another talked of an equally annoying fellow test taker, mine had a character that apparently was into keyboard S&M. Though, I do know a person who felt the test they received was everything they happened to be strong at, and she did better than any of her practice exams. However, realistically don’t expect a match made in heaven for your exam.
The biggest mistake you can make on the MCAT is expecting a miracle, you’ll probably score somewhere around your practice scores — maybe you’ll do a little better, maybe you’ll do a little worse. The practice tests aren’t trying to scare you into studying, if you find the practice AAMC impossibly difficult then there are no miracles to be had on test day.