Think like a Review Pro

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MP 306: Think like a Review Pro

Session 306

This week, I want to emphasize the importance of proper test review, which so many students tend to overlook. Simply taking full-length exams repeatedly without analyzing and learning from them is a common mistake. It’s crucial to take a step back and reflect on your performance, asking yourself questions such as, “How did I do on that full length?” or “Why did I get a low score of 505?” This kind of analysis helps you identify the areas in which you need improvement and better understand the topics you may be struggling with. In this post, we’ll provide some tips on how to review like a pro.

We’re joined by Nicole from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[04:14] All About Practice

You’ve just taken your diagnostic and you’ve been studying for a few weeks. Now, you’re preparing to take your first full-length exam and naturally, you’re hoping for a score increase. Now, it’s common for students to anticipate an improvement. Whether it’s an improvement from your diagnostic exam, any previous ones, or even if you’re retesting and hoping to reach a previous plateau.

But it’s important to keep in mind that early full-length exams are all about practice. Sitting down and taking a long and difficult exam like the MCAT requires a lot of time, focus, and preparation. It’s a process and it’s normal for there to be fluctuations in your progress.

'We have to start learning from our exams, in order to get those score improvements that we all want.'Click To Tweet

The goal is to learn from each exam and use it to propel your learning forward. It’s important to remember that your MCAT score isn’t set until you receive it back after a month. There may be fluctuations in your progress, and a decrease in your diagnostic score is normal, especially if pacing and endurance are a struggle.

So, early on, it’s about the process of taking the exam and learning from it rather than being solely focused on the score. Afterward, it’s important to thoroughly review the exam and use it to identify areas of improvement for future practice.

[08:24] Keeping a “Lessons Learned” Journal

If you’re preparing for a big exam, it’s essential to be intentional with your study plan and review process. One of the most valuable tools you can incorporate into your preparation routine is a “lessons learned” journal (LLJ).

When it comes to reviewing a full-length exam, many students make the mistake of focusing too much on content review and not enough on practicing with questions and exams. Instead of doing this, it’s essential to get into the practice of reviewing full-length exams, going through every question, and noting down what you got right and wrong, what the subject was, and why you got it right or wrong.

“Big mistake number one – is students doing way too much content review and not getting into the questions and the full-length exams soon enough.”Click To Tweet

By keeping track of this information in a “lessons learned” journal, you can create a roadmap for yourself to improve your content knowledge and test-taking abilities. By noting down your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to identify patterns and common themes that you can use to adjust your study plan moving forward.

Being intentional and precise with your journal will help you identify where your deficits are and how you can improve week after week. By incorporating this into your preparation routine, you’ll be more equipped to tackle any exam that comes your way.

[09:32] A List of Your Weaknesses

To truly improve your performance on any exam, it’s crucial to identify your weaknesses and create a plan to address them.

Your lessons-learned journal can serve as a valuable tool for this process, as can a running list of your weaknesses.

Pay special attention to the questions you got wrong. Instead of just noting the content that tripped you up, dig deeper to identify any strategy weaknesses that may have contributed to your mistake.

Could you have eliminated some answer choices based on context clues in the passage? Did you overlook an important keyword in the question stem? By noting these strategy weaknesses, you can develop a plan to improve your test-taking skills and become a more confident test-taker.

It’s also important to note that content weaknesses are a crucial part of your overall preparation plan. For topics or concepts that continue to stump you, make sure to allocate extra time for review. However, don’t neglect the importance of strategy, as honing these skills can make a significant difference in your overall exam performance.

By focusing on both content and strategy weaknesses, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any exam that comes your way. Use your lessons learned journal and running list of weaknesses to create a comprehensive study plan that addresses both types of challenges. With practice and persistence, you can become a master test-taker and achieve your academic and career goals.

[11:17] Repetition and Implementation are Keys

It’s not always easy to push past your weaknesses and ingrained habits when it comes to test-taking. Even if you find yourself writing down the same things repeatedly, such as “don’t bring in outside information,” it’s important to keep at it.

Repetition is key to getting this information into your brain and translating your awareness of areas of weakness into meaningful changes on test day. There’s a significant difference between knowing you have an issue with something and being able to actively avoid that pitfall when it matters most. It takes time and practice to develop the necessary skills and mindset to excel under pressure.

So, even if it feels like you’re writing the same things over and over again, don’t give up. Keep reminding yourself of your goals and what you need to do to achieve them. It may take some time, but with persistence and dedication, you can overcome your weaknesses and become a confident and successful test-taker.

'There's a gap between identifying a weakness and actually fixing it. So you have to be really intentional about strategy.'Click To Tweet

To truly improve your test-taking abilities, it’s essential to be intentional and develop effective strategies for reminders. Consider how you’ll remind yourself in the moment when you’re faced with a difficult question. It may seem obvious, but repeating a mantra, such as “the correct answer is 100% correct,” can help reinforce your confidence and focus.

However, it’s also important to remain vigilant and be mindful of moments when you feel unsure or have a gut feeling that something is off. Don’t settle for a less-than-ideal answer simply because it’s the best you have at the moment. Instead, take the time to carefully consider your options and ensure that you’re making the best choice possible.

Reflection and implementation are key to success, so be sure to review your lessons learned journal frequently to identify patterns in your performance. Use this information to adjust your study plan and strategies as needed, and remain committed to your goals and vision for success. With the right mindset and strategies in place, you can become a confident and effective test-taker.

[14:55] Creating Your LLJ Template

Creating your own personalized lessons-learned template can be a powerful tool for identifying trends and patterns in your weaknesses. Rather than using a premade template, it’s important to tailor it to your specific needs and learning style.

For example, you may choose to use a Google Sheets document with separate tabs for each section of the exam, such as chem phys, cars, bio biochem, and psych/s. By keeping all of your data in one place, you can easily track your progress and identify patterns over time.

Types of Data to Include

Within each tab, you might include the date of the practice exam, the source of the questions, and the topic being tested. In the next column, you would note why you got each question wrong and how you plan to improve, tailoring your approach to your needs as a learner.

It’s important to keep your notes general and avoid including highly specific details from the passage. For example, instead of noting a specific enzyme name, you might note that you missed a key piece of information in the introductory paragraph.

For the CARS section, you might skip the content deficit column and instead focus on strategies for improving your comprehension and analysis of the passages.

Ultimately, your lessons-learned journal should be designed to help you identify patterns in your strengths and weaknesses, so you can adjust your study plan and strategies accordingly. With persistence and dedication, you can become a successful and confident test-taker.

[18:26] Creating Acronyms/Abbreviations

To keep your entries concise and easily digestible, consider creating acronyms or abbreviations for common mistakes. For example, you might use “NKF” to signify a content issue due to not knowing a fact. This can help you quickly identify trends and avoid spending unnecessary time sifting through lengthy entries.

When creating your lessons learned journal, think about how someone else might use it to quickly understand your strengths and weaknesses. Consider including an answer key to help decode any abbreviations or acronyms.

The goal is to make the information as accessible as possible so that you can easily spot trends and make targeted improvements in your test-taking skills. With a thoughtful and strategic approach, you can create a highly effective tool for achieving your academic and career goals.

[19:38] Tips for Effective Review and Journaling

Spending Time Reviewing vs. Practicing

When it comes to effective review and journaling, it’s important to keep in mind the amount of time spent on each activity. A good rule of thumb is to spend about the same amount of time reviewing as you did practicing. While some people may be faster or slower than this, spending less than half the time reviewing could indicate a lack of effort or attentiveness.

“ A good rule of thumb is that if you are spending about the same amount of time reviewing as you did practicing, you're pretty good.”Click To Tweet

Detailed Review Process

To ensure that your review process is thorough and effective, make sure to read and analyze each passage carefully. This includes rereading passages, identifying missed information, and understanding the reasoning behind each question you got right or wrong. Take notes in your lessons-learned journal for any questions that you didn’t understand 100%.

Journaling Tips

When adding to your journal, focus on questions that you got wrong or guessed on but got right. Avoid simply copying the question and answer; instead, take the time to reflect on why you missed the question and what you can do to improve. Keep entries concise, with two to three sentences per item, and consider using acronyms or abbreviations to streamline the process.

By following these tips, you can maximize the effectiveness of your review process and journaling, allowing you to identify weaknesses, track progress, and ultimately improve your test-taking abilities.

[22:45] The Purpose of Practicing in Test-Like Conditions

Avoid Taking Time during the Exam

When taking a practice exam, it’s important to simulate test day conditions as much as possible. This means avoiding taking time off to reflect during the exam itself, as this can break your concentration and mimic unrealistic conditions. The goal is to complete the exam and review process as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Simulating Test Day Conditions

To get the most out of your practice exams, it’s important to simulate test day conditions. This means testing in a location other than your usual study spot, such as a library, and ideally sitting in a different chair to further simulate the real exam. Additionally, pack your own lunch and take scheduled breaks to get into the habit of managing your time effectively during the exam.

Reviewing Strategies and Timeline

When it comes to reviewing your practice exams, aim to finish within three days. This helps ensure that the material is still fresh in your mind and allows you to identify patterns and adjust your study plan as needed. If you’re doing a set of untimed practice questions, pause briefly between questions to reflect on the process without breaking your flow.

Ultimately, the goal of practicing and reviewing is to identify areas for improvement and practice test-taking strategies that allow you to perform your best on test day. By simulating realistic conditions and implementing effective review strategies, you can improve your performance and achieve your academic and career goals.

[26:28] Final Words of Wisdom

To effectively review your exam, it’s important to thoroughly review the entire exam and not simply focus on the questions you got wrong. However, it’s unnecessary to write lengthy paragraphs about the questions you got right.

Along with reviewing, taking notes can help solidify your thought process and help you remember key points. Think of it like setting a reminder on your phone to remember to do something later.

Focus on questions you got wrong, guessed on, or were otherwise unsure about. Even if you guessed and got it right, add it to your notes to help identify any patterns in your test-taking approach.


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