The best way to study for the MCAT is to take as many practice tests as possible. Taking MCAT practice test after practice test was exactly how I was able to increase my score by 12 points in a little over a month. But taking a practice test is only half the battle. You need to know how to effectively review an MCAT practice test so that you improve your ability to take this exam.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about reviewing a practice MCAT exam.
Make Sure You Are Using the Best Practice Tests
The first step to effectively reviewing an MCAT practice test is making sure you are using the best practice tests possible. I wrote about the best practice MCAT tests on the market in my 1 month MCAT study plan.
Making sure you get your MCAT practice tests and stand-alone practice passages from the right place is essential. You don’t want to be wasting time practicing problems that are incorrect or not representative of the actual MCAT exam.
Luckily you won’t have to worry about running out of practice material because there is plenty out there. Here is a post with some of the best MCAT practice out there.
Our top MCAT practice test sources:
- AAMC: Always make the AAMC’s practice material a priority. They are the creators of the test after all. Any AAMC MCAT practice exam will be the closest representation of the real deal. You can buy their material here.
- NextStep: Nextstep is a close second to the official AAMC. You will need extra practice tests because the AAMC just doesn’t have enough material. Use Nextsteps’s full-length tests to get that extra practice. They’re questions and exams are very close to the actual MCAT in terms of difficulty and style. They also have great explanations. Start with a free test by going here.
- Kaplan, Princeton review, and Examkrackers: After NextStep, Kaplan, Princeton review, and Examkrackers are pretty much the same in quality. I wrote a long detailed post on these major third party MCAT providers.
Refer Back to MCAT Prep Books When Reviewing Tests
Now that you know which practice tests you should be using, make sure you buy a good quality MCAT prep book set to refer back to. This is important because you want to make sure you are referencing material that is specific to the MCAT and not a college textbook that will have more information than you need to know for the MCAT.
The Kaplan complete set is my recommendation. They go into a lot of detail without superfluous information. The Kaplan books are well written with plenty of mnemonics, charts, and clever ways to remember stuff. In my experience, Kaplan has been very good about being accurate with the information needed to know in order to do well on the MCAT.
Review Questions You Got Wrong AND Questions You Got Right
There are 230 questions on the MCAT. Reviewing a practice test this big can be a daunting task. It is tempting to just want to review the problems you got wrong, but I recommend that you refrain from limiting yourself like this.
It is important that you review questions you got right as well. Sometimes you get questions right because you guessed. In addition to this, there could be questions you answered correctly but don’t really know how you got to that answer.
Finally, you want to know which questions you are getting right to determine what your strengths are. If you are getting all the genetics questions right, you know this is a strength and you should focus on answering these kinds of passages first during the real deal.
How Exactly Should You Approach Reviewing a Problem?
Not every MCAT question is going to be the same, but in general, you want to start by figuring out where in the passage the information was coming from. Sometimes you will end up having to re-read the passage and this is time-consuming. However, it is important you figure out exactly what information from the passage you needed to answer the question. The MCAT test writers want you to be able to decipher complex scientific articles, so most of the time you will need key information from the passage to get to an answer.
Then, if you got the question wrong, you need to figure out why you got it wrong.
- Did you fail to find the information you needed in the passage? If this is the case, then make sure you find where that information was hidden.
- Did you not understand the premed concept that was being tested? If this is the case, refer back to your MCAT prep books to review that particular concept. Sometimes this will be a quick review. Other times you will end up having to re-read an entire chapter to make sure you are grasping the material. This is all part of the learning process, so make sure you are thorough!
- Did you miss a question because you failed to memorize something fundamental? There really isn’t much to purely “memorize” on the MCAT, but there is some stuff. Here is a post on the key things you should memorize for the MCAT.
Make Flashcards For Concepts You Have Difficulty With
As you do more and more practice problems, you will find that there are plenty of concepts from your premed prerequisites that you are having difficulty remembering.
Whenever you have to refer back to your MCAT textbook for information, consider writing that information down on a flashcard. For example, if you struggled with a question that required you to remember one of the transport enzymes in the electron transport chain, make a flashcard with the name of that enzyme (Or all the enzymes involved in cellular respiration!) and its role in the process.
The more tests you do, the more flash cards you will have. If you review those flashcards consistently, you will be mastering the content covered on the MCAT while you practice.
Did You Get the Main Idea From Each CARS Passage?
Mastering how to quickly and accurately get the main idea from each CARS passage is key to doing well in this section. In my previous post, how essay writing skills can help your MCAT score, I discussed why it’s important to develop the skill of discovering the main point of a passage and quickly summarizing every paragraph.
This is important because the majority of CARS questions are based on the argument the author was trying to make. You need to be able to understand what the author is thinking while reading each passage. Understand the author’s thesis and how he or she constructs each paragraph, and you will understand the argument.
When reviewing each CARS passage, it is important you re-read the passage and make sure you properly deduced the main point and each paragraph’s sub-argument. When you review each question, make sure you understand why the correct answer was right and why the wrong answers were wrong.
Keep Track of Questions You Had Trouble With
Everybody struggles with different things on the MCAT. It is important that you understand what you have the most trouble with so that you can improve your score. While reviewing each question, make sure you keep track of problems you had trouble with and accurately record them.
For each question you get wrong, record the following:
- Subjects being covered. Sometimes this can be hard. Usually, an MCAT problem won’t test one single bit of information but rather a combination of different subjects. None the less, try pinpointing what science knowledge was required to answer that problem and write that down.
- Type of problem. Every MCAT problem falls into some sort of question type category. For the science problems, this usually recall, experiment results, or deductive reasoning using new information with a premed scientific understanding. For CARS this can be a question about the main purpose of the passage, what weakens/strengthens the author’s argument, inference about the passage, a direct recall from the passage, or which answer is the worst/best answer.
- Why you got that problem wrong. Was it because of a lack of time? Were you simply not able to recall the material? Did you misread the passage? It is very important to record exactly why you got each question wrong so you can see what areas you need improvement in.
Using the information you obtained from above, analyze any trends.
Are there certain subjects you are struggling with more than others? Consider reviewing the entire chapter of your MCAT content book that contains that information.
Are you missing questions due to lack of time? Figure out what you are wasting your time on so that you can be better at time management.
Are you consistently missing questions because you didn’t understand the passage? Spend time learning how to grasp what a passage is saying. The MCAT loves to throw in difficult science articles but the reality is the information they are looking for in their questions are pretty simple premed topics. Learn to filter through the information that is difficult to comprehend at an undergrad level!
Always Come Up With a Plan of Action For Improvement
Make sure to write down your plan!
Most of the time, the plan of action should be to do more practice tests. But sometimes, you may have to change your focus a bit.
For instance, one of the things I struggled with in the beginning was remembering all the amino acids and their abbreviations. This cost me valuable points because lots of the biology section problems require you recall either the structure, name, abbreviation, or functional group of an amino acid.
My plan of action involved memorizing all of the amino acids and also making sure I drew them all from memory on the scratch paper at the beginning of each practice exam.
You may also decide that you need more practice in one section in particular. If you need extra help in CARS, you could make custom tests that have two 90 CARS sections instead of one.
Further Reading: The Best CARS practice books out there
Other Useful Tips
Review related concepts in addition to tested concepts. Most of the time, when you missed a question due to not being able to recall key premed topics, chances are you also don’t remember related topics. Review those as well! For instance, if you forgot how thin-layer chromatography works, review the other chromatography experiments like column chromatography or size-exclusion chromatography to make sure you didn’t forget those as well.
Use Reddit or SDN when you don’t understand a passage. Occasionally you will come across a passage or discrete problem on your MCAT practice test that you can’t figure out why the correct answer is correct. The solution provided during the review also doesn’t make it clear. Copy and paste this question on Reddit or SDN to ask for help. Most of the time, a quick google search will show that other people struggled with this question as well and the answer is already there. Every time I did this, someone on Reddit or SDN had that answer and was able to explain it to me.
Do not wait too long to review MCAT practice tests. It is tempting to want to take a break day after performing an MCAT practice test. Refrain from doing this. You want the entire practice test fresh in your memory while reviewing it. Take your rest day after your review day as opposed to after your practice test day.
Consider a group review. Group study can be a very effective tool when used properly. There is a benefit of bouncing information off each other and it is considered active learning when you are able to explain a concept to someone else. This also forces you to be committed to finishing the review instead of postponing it to the next day. Consider doing an MCAT practice test at the same time and review it together the next day!