What Makes For a Good Test-Taker?

July 25, 2013
Emily Hause

iStock_000015742269SmallHello my devoted MCAT students. For those of you who are taking a July or August test, you may be losing steam in your studies. I encourage you to not lose hope! You’re almost to the finish line, so give it your all for these last few weeks or days. Today I want to talk about something that you may not have thought about while you’re studying for the MCAT, but it will hopefully be useful both in your MCAT studies and ideally someday in your medical school studies: What Makes for a Good Test-Taker?

What separates people who are naturally good at test-taking from those people who are not naturally as good at test-taking? There are lots of theories about what separates the two groups. In fact, you may have some of your own theories, especially if you’re one of the people for whom the idea of taking a test sounds less fun than spending a day in a 100 degree metal box incessantly scooping ice cream with flies stuck with fly paper glue to your elbow and knee. Sidenote- this is decidedly not fun. I know from experience (Thanks high school summer job!).

The theory I want to talk about today is the idea that people who are naturally better test-takers have a habit of looking for the overarching pattern that unifies the details rather than memorizing the details themselves. They understand the WHY behind the WHAT of what is actually happening. Great test-takers can see the big picture and unite ideas under a common theme.

Now what do I mean by that? For example, I had a moment when I was studying for a Physiology exam. The nit-picky details of the nephron were eluding me. Na+ goes where? Cl- does what? Then I had a moment when I realized that all of the intricacies of the nephron all made sense if I simply viewed them all under the over-arching goals of the nephron. The flow of ions and water makes sense if you know WHY it is happening.

How can this help you while you’re studying? Instead of mindlessly memorizing each step in a reaction or the flow of ions in the nephron, take the time to ask yourself WHY things are happening. Look for the patterns to help both with memorizing information, but more importantly understanding information. The MCAT is a critical reasoning test. It’s to your advantage to practice critical reasoning while you’re studying in addition to using it on the test itself.

Using this rockin’ strategy, you too can study for the MCAT like those naturally excelling test-takers!

Happy studying!

Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over eight years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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