This week, Bryan and I are shedding light on one specific question that has been coming up over and over again and that is – how many practice tests should a student aim for before taking the real MCAT?
Practice tests are the key to doing well on the MCAT. Next Step Test Prep has prepared 10 full-length exams to help you, but how many do you really need to take until you’re truly ready to take the real thing?
[01:26] Absolute Minimum Acceptable Number of Practice Tests to Take
Every student is different so Bryan will touch on the different cases. Starting with the easier answer, the ABSOLUTE minimum acceptable number of practice tests to take is three. This is as of the time we're recording this podcast because in the beginning of 2017, the AAMC has released three official practice tests. Now if you happen to be listening to this podcast in 2018, maybe the minimum will be four depending on the number of practices tests the AAMC has released. But you cannot consider yourself an adequately prepared MCAT student if you have not, at the bare minimum, done the official AAMC practice tests.
[02:37] Good Number for Extreme Cases
You may extend the practice tests to as many as seven to ten if you find that you're really having trouble improving your score or you're the kind of person who had to take a lot of practice SATs and ACTs as a kid. If standardized testing doesn't work for you, you may find that you have to go as high as seven or eight. Bryan is putting a hard cap at ten because once you get past that number, that could result to diminishing returns when perhaps you should have reviewed them more carefully instead.
[03:40] The Average Number for a Well-Prepared MCAT Student
A good amount would be five or six. You take three from AAMC and another three from a prep company like Next Step. This is the average amount for a well-prepared MCAT student. So five, six, or maybe seven full-length practice tests. If you need to go beyond that, it's fine. Again, if you're reviewing them properly, there shouldn't be any need to go past nine or ten tests.
[04:12] When to Know You're Ready
When to know you’re ready to take the MCAT basically depends on the student. There is this notion of getting your dream goal MCAT score and so you have to get that score once or twice on the practice test before you're ready. Some students have this hyper-ambitious view. Others, meanwhile, simply look at the trend that if they see a solid upper trend, they know they're learning from their practice and they're headed in the right direction and they've taken enough tests after about five or six.
[05:11] What If You Scored Very High on Your Diagnostic Test?
Even if you're a student who started off with a very strong baseline since you scored high on your diagnostic test, you should still take all three AAMC practice tests and possibly cram off these three just in a couple of weeks just to make sure it's not a fluke, to make you comfortable with the interface, and you're totally at home with how the test is presented. Of course, after you've taken all three, go ahead and take the real test.
Links and Other Resources:
Next Step Test Prep (I highly recommend their one-on-one tutoring service. Use the code MCATPOD to save some money off all their offerings.)
Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast, session number 34.
A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles on your premed journey, and we’re here to give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a medical student.
Welcome to The MCAT Podcast. I am your host, Dr. Ryan Gray, and I am excited to have you here today. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this podcast. This week's going to be a little different, going back to some of our original episodes where we cover a topic and not necessarily questions off of the MCAT. This question about MCAT re-takes has come up a lot, and I'm excited to talk to Bryan about it.
Bryan, welcome back to The MCAT Podcast, I hope you're having a great day.
Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely Ryan, I am, and yourself?
Dr. Ryan Gray: I'm doing great, thank you. I want to talk about some recent questions that came in- or one specific question that has come in recently over and over again, and that is the question- I'm surprised we haven't covered it before. How many practice tests should a student aim for before taking the real test?
How Many MCAT Practice Tests?
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah it's a real good question, real common one, and I'm going to give you the short and correct answer first, and it's going to frustrate you and the listeners, but it's the right answer, which is as many as you need. And that's- students don't like hearing that because they're going, ‘Well how many do I need?' But of course every student is different. So if we start talking about kind of the extreme cases, let's start with the easier answer which is what is the absolute- and I do mean absolute minimum acceptable number of practice tests to take? That's a real simple answer, it's three as of the time we're recording this podcast. Because here at the beginning of 2017 the AAMC has released three official practice tests. If you happen to be listening to this podcast in 2018, maybe the minimum will be four because the AAMC will have released four official practice tests. But you cannot consider yourself an adequately prepared MCAT student if you have not at the bare minimum done the official AAMC practice tests. So that's part of the answer.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, and what's the other part?
Bryan Schnedeker: The other part is you will- number three may extend to as many as seven, eight, even as many as nine or ten if you find that you're really having trouble improving your score, if you find that you're having to do lots more practice. If you were say the kind of person who had to take a lot of practice SATs and ACTs as a kid, standardized testing doesn't work for you, you may find that you have to go as high as seven or eight. I tend to put a pretty hard cap at ten because once you go past about ten practice exams, really you hit diminishing returns. And so when you hear these stories of students who are like, ‘Oh I took 97 MCATs,' I always wondered, ‘What are you doing wrong? Why did you need to take that many? Sounds like you need to be reviewing them more carefully.'
Dr. Ryan Gray: Or maybe they were getting 520s on all of them, they just like taking them.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah right, they're just doing it for fun, right? The rest of us put our feet up, put the game on, and open a beverage, but if they want to take an MCAT, more power to them. Yeah so typically three is the minimum. Kind of a normal amount, a good amount would be something like five or six. So you take three from the AAMC, you take three from a prep company like Next Step- three or four, and that's a typical amount for an average well-prepped MCAT student. Something like five or six or maybe seven full MCATs. If you need to go beyond that, that's certainly fine, but if you're reviewing them properly, there shouldn't be much you need to go past at the outside- about nine or ten tests.
Dr. Ryan Gray: And it's really- what's the end result they're looking for to determine if they're ready? Is it really the trend in their score, or is it just how comfortable they are taking it?
Determining When You’re Ready for the MCAT
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah well again that's going to depend on the student but there's definitely this notion of ‘I have to score my pie in the sky absolute dream goal MCAT score, and I have to get that score once or twice on a practice test before I'm ready.' You know students will have that very kind of hyper ambitious view. Other students will do what you said of looking at the trend, and if they see a solid upward trend, they know that they're learning from their practice, and they're headed in the right direction, and that they've taken enough tests after about that five or six.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alrighty I think that would cover it then.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely. It seems like a simple question and it has a moderately simple answer.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so let me throw this one in there as one little twist, is a student that I've been working with. He took his first diagnostic and got a 511. I said, ‘Dude just take the test, hurry up and take it, and get it out of the way.' Would you ever- like if somebody just came in on a diagnostic and killed it like that, would you tell them- obviously you mentioned the three already, the AAMC ones, but like 511 on a diagnostic, ‘Go take one of the AAMC ones to make sure that's an accurate score, and then just go move up your test date if you can.'
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah you know that's a nice problem to have, right? Woe is me, I got six out of the seven lotto numbers right at the very beginning. And Ryan, I would say even for that student who starts off with a very strong baseline, they should still cram all AAMC practice tests in. Maybe instead of spacing them out, they cram all three tests into the span of just a couple of weeks, like you said to make sure it's not a fluke, to make them comfortable with the interface, they're totally at home with how the test is presented, and then after they've taken those three of course they go take the real thing.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it. I hope that was some good information as you plan out your path for the MCAT, and how many practice tests you should take, and everything else. I invite you to go listen to The Premed Years, I did a great interview with Dr. Shikha Jain about why you should still consider becoming a physician. I know as you're studying for the MCAT, and you're going through this process, and struggling, and questioning why you're doing this, Dr. Jain has an interesting perspective and some advice for you to stay motivated. So go check that out at www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/226, or listen on whatever podcast app you are using to listen to this, just search for The Premed Years.
I invite you also to check out everything that Next Step Test Prep has to offer. One of the biggest things that Next Step is known for is their one-on-one tutoring. Now for- if I had to go and re-take the MCAT over again, if I was back in my premed years, I would wholeheartedly say that I would use Next Step Test Prep's one-on-one tutoring service, because for the price of an online class, or an in-person class which I took- I took an in-person class from one of the other big test prep companies. For roughly the same price I could have received one-on-one advice and tutoring from a tutor from Next Step Test Prep. Somebody that's going to look at my skills, my struggles, and figure out the best way for me to move forward. So I want you to check them out, see how their one-on-one tutoring can help you, and you can also save some money by using the code MCATPOD. Go check them out at www.NextStepTestPrep.com.
Have a great week and don't forget to join us next week here at The MCAT Podcast.
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