MCAT Practice Tests: Learning from your mistakes

April 16, 2012
Sam Asgarian

Every Monday morning during the months of September through December, professional football players gather at their respective team’s facilities tired, weary, and groggy from the previous day’s game. They spread out based on their positions and assemble in dark rooms where video projectors display game film while position coaches break down the plays screen-by-screen. The players hate this. They just finished playing barely 24 hours ago. The last thing they want to do is watch the game again. If they won, they want to storm the practice field and keep up their positive momentum. If they lost, they want to charge the practice field and play until they get the sour taste of defeat out of their mouth.

There are many reasons, however, why they all still gather to dissect the action from the last game. Athletes want to improve. They know that in a competitive environment they constantly have to analyze their past performance in order to ensure that their future performance will be up to par. It’s for this same reason that a structured analysis of practice test performance is essential to improving your MCAT score. No one looks forward to this part of test prep; personally, I hate it. I already have my practice test score, so I can move on, right? If I improved, then great, I’ll just keep doing what I was doing. If I haven’t improved, then I’ll just study harder.

That notion is where the problem lies; the MCAT is all about studying smarter, not harder. By reviewing your practice exams and section tests, you’ll be able to see areas where you make consistent mistakes. For example, each time a question requires no information from the passage, do you pick an answer choice that has information from the passage but is not relevant to the question being asked? If so, then you’re falling for the ‘faulty use of detail’ answer choice – it’s tempting because it contains something you’ve seen from the passage, but it doesn’t answer the question you’re being asked. You can study the science as much as you like, but if you make this strategy mistake again and again your score will never improve. No amount of additional test-taking or chapter reading will uncover this behavior, but a close look at the practice tests will illuminate this bad habit quickly.

To help this process along, we’ve provided Kaplan MCAT students with our adaptive learning technology called Smart Reports. The system automatically generates a report after every practice test; strengths and weaknesses are reported, along with useful data such as the number of questions changed from incorrect-to-correct, correct-to-incorrect, and incorrect-to-incorrect. I have taught plenty of students who swore that they always changed the right answer to the wrong answer, but once they looked at the Smart Report data, they saw that it was actually pretty close in terms of how many incorrect they changed to correct versus how many correct they changed to incorrect. Knowing this information helps you adjust your test-taking habits, thereby making you more confident for the real exam.

While this is just a single example of the way that post-test analysis can help you improve, it’s an important point to remember as you get ready for test day. Acing the MCAT is about more than just learning the science that will be on the test – it’s about recognizing your mistakes and learning from them. Once you’re armed with this information, you’ll start to understand questions that used to be your Achilles heel. You’re now thinking like a test-maker and not a test-taker, which is a powerful transformation during your quest to master the MCAT!

Sam Asgarian

Sam Asgarian I'm a current Tulane University medical student and an MBA graduate of the Johnson School of Graduate Management at Cornell University, and a long-time instructor and teacher trainer who continues to help students throughout the country. I've also done significant work behind the scenes, helping to develop and update study materials for both the MCAT and USMLE. I've been around long enough to see former students not only join me in medical school, but also be trained by me as new Kaplan instructors. While obtaining medical and business degrees has kept me busy, it hasn't stopped me from continuing to play soccer as a goalkeeper during both outdoor and indoor seasons.

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