I’ve been teaching students how to prep for the MCAT and advising pre-meds on their medical school admissions process for a loooong time (over 20 years!). Every year, I see a lot of the same problems come up, so I decided to collect them all into one article so you all don’t make the same mistakes. Maybe we can put an end to them right here and now.
Here are the seven errors nearly every pre-med student makes when it comes to prepping for the MCAT, which I have updated for MCAT 2015.
#1 Starting Too Late
The most common problem I run into with my students… they think they have all the time in the world. The MCAT comes around sooner than you think! I would suggest you start studying in the fall of the academic year in which you will be taking the MCAT. For most pre-meds, that’s typically the fall of your junior year in college.
This will give you plenty of time to prepare, while you can still have the occasional “I’m going to blow my MCAT prep off this weekend” without hurting your overall study plan. If you start later or late, you’ll be under a bunch of time pressure and you won’t feel like you’ve prepared enough. You’ll end up delaying your MCAT, which torpedoes your chances of getting an acceptance.
#2 Too Much Studying, Not Enough Practice
Just studying will not prepare you for the MCAT — you need to take practice tests — a lot of them! Many pre-meds neglect this and then they’re surprised when they don’t do well. Don’t fall into this trap. Practice tests are your friend, and I suggest you do a minimum of 7 to 10 practice tests — if you can find that many sample MCAT 2015 tests.
#3 Over-reacting to Practice Test Results
Face it, your first practice test is bound to go poorly. However, that shouldn’t dissuade you. Pre-meds tend to over-react when they get their first score, but there’s no need to. It happens to everyone. You just need to hit the books again and prepare yourself for the next time around.
Instead, recognize that you are like most students. A typical score for first time test-takers is 5-5-5 on the old scoring system, or a 90 or so score per section / 360 on the new test.
#4 Self-doubt and Panic During the Last Week Before the Test
This thought creeps into every student’s head before big exams. Don’t let it get to you. If you have completed a substantial amount of prep (see S2NED prep schedule), and you have prepared yourself fully, you will be fine (remember, that includes studying and taking the practice tests!).
#5 Over-Confidence (see also #1)
No, the MCAT will not be easy. You can keep telling yourself that it will be, but you still need to study. Everyone who takes it needs to study. Part of the reason why pre-meds start studying late is because they think they can handle the MCAT exam — I’d just like to tell you, it’s very difficult. So start studying early.
#6 Grail Quest — There is No “Magic Way” to Ace the MCAT
Many pre-meds think that if they just find that one technique, they will have the MCAT figured out. It doesn’t work this way. There are so many ways to study and you need to use many different methods if you wish to do well. This is partly why I created the MCAT Club — to prevent students from pursuing a “grail quest.”
#7 Assuming That You’ve Done Everything There Is to Do
You can’t rest until you take the test and ace it. You’ll regret it if you stop early, so I suggest you don’t take it easy after finishing your first practice test…. keep at it until the actual test day.
Bonus Mistake #8 — Assuming That Everything You Have Thought Of Is Everything There Is
Like mistake #7, when you assume that you’ve exhausted every possibility to prep for the MCAT, you’re sunk. The student who says, “I’ve done everything I can think of, and there’s nothing else that I can do, yet my score isn’t high enough to get in,” has painted him or herself into a major corner of impossible thinking.
Instead, seek out others with a wider net of experience than you have. Find that crusty, older standardized test tutor who has seen it all before, and ask him/her for advice. You’ll be surprised at the nuggets of gold you can mine.
Have any other common mistakes you want me to address? Do you have any personal stories about the ones I already mentioned? Leave a comment and let me know.