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Making the Most of Your Practice Exams

Taking MCAT practice exams is one of the most useful things you can do in your exam preparation.  Most advice out there tells you to “understand why you got things wrong.”  Here’s the problem with that advice: it doesn’t actually tell you how to go over your exams.  Going over your wrong answers may remind you of core content you don’t know, but there is often a deeper why to why you didn’t get the correct answer.  Here, we try to provide you the materials to be able to properly go over the practice exams you take.

Last year we had a student come to us after struggling to improve her score on diagnostic tests and ask us for help.  She said her main problem was that she would narrow down the problem to two answer options and then inevitably pick the wrong one.  An interesting and tough problem.  But why should you take your own word for it?  How do you really know that’s why you’re getting things wrong if you don’t have any data to back it up?

Like any scientist, you should be testing your hypotheses.  It turns out that our student was getting questions wrong because she simply didn’t know the content/equation involved.  She was getting 5 times more questions wrong for this reason than for the reason she initially thought.  That definitely helped her refocus her energy where it counted for her: learning the equations and relevant content.  She created equation study sheets and solved a key gap in her knowledge.

Overall, doing more practice is only half the battle.  If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll keep making them over and over again.  To fully understand these mistakes is to truly analyze your practice.  For a bonus opportunity, make sure you’re reviewing questions you got right as well.  If you got lucky on a question once, don’t assume you’ll get lucky next time.  Make sure you’re getting questions right for the right reasons.

We’ve created an Excel spreadsheet (v2.1 updated 7/2015) that you can use to analyze your practice exams and really understand why you’re getting questions wrong.  Try it out and let us know what you think!

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