Preparing for the MCAT is all a head game, learn the best practices from the experts on how to push through your doubts and find MCAT success.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:08] The Head Game
The MCAT is a game designed to unsettle and intimidate test-takers. Therefore, understanding and mastering this “head game” is crucial for achieving a higher score. Students can effectively prepare themselves mentally for the MCAT by engaging in strategies that promote a positive mindset and developing a well-thought-out game plan prior to entering the Pearson testing center.
The “head game” of the MCAT is crucial and plays a significant role in achieving a high score. The MCAT is a big game that tries to get inside the test-takers’ heads and create stress and anxiety.
Being skilled at navigating this mental aspect of the exam can significantly impact the score. There is a psychosocial section in the MCAT, indicating that psychological factors are important beyond just that specific section.
You need to be in the right headspace, motivated, and appropriately stressed. A certain level of pressure can be a motivator. Be careful about being too overwhelmed and excessively anxious.
There are also potential negative effects of panicking or becoming anxious, which can lead to a detrimental feedback loop and worsen subsequent performance. Indeed, there are challenges in managing the mental aspect, particularly as the test date approaches. It’s important you find a balance to optimize performance.
[03:41] Managing Pressure: A Practice One Should Do from the Start
Embrace the process of making mistakes and getting things wrong throughout the entire MCAT preparation journey beginning in the fifth month of preparation.
Students approaching their MCAT test date and facing pressure, particularly when their full-length exams indicate a plateau in scores, should consider adopting effective strategies five months back.
It is crucial for these students to maintain an optimal headspace during MCAT preparation. Instead of immediately deciding to postpone the test date, they can benefit from advice focused on managing stress and maximizing performance.
Accepting that One Can FAIL Along the Way
Teach yourself to “FAIL” which stands for “first attempt in learning.” It means adopting a mindset that views getting things wrong as a valuable learning opportunity rather than a failure.
Making mistakes can be challenging and even painful, but you need to shift the focus from the negative feelings. And instead, focus on the growth and the learnings that come from those experiences.
There is a potentially negative impact in dwelling on mistakes, as it can discourage learning and make the studying process more difficult.“Be okay with falling on your face, be okay with getting things wrong.”Click To Tweet
Overall, students need to develop a positive and resilient mindset toward getting things wrong, allowing them to embrace the learning process and approach it with enthusiasm.
[09:05] Navigating Plateaus
Plateauing usually happens between two to four months into preparing for the MCAT. The issue of plateauing in MCAT preparation can be demoralizing for students. Hitting a plateau does not indicate a lack of intelligence or a ceiling in your abilities.
The MCAT is a test of how well you can play the game and perform on the exam and not a measure of your overall intelligence or future success in medical school.
Plateaus are signs that the student’s current study approach may need to be mixed up and diversified. Trying different strategies, such as practicing with question banks, applying knowledge to passages, or focusing on specific areas that need improvement are ways to handle the situation.
Do not let plateaus psych you out or let you believe that you have reached your maximum potential. Rather, explore different angles and approaches to continue progressing in your MCAT preparation.
[12:16] What is a Plateau?
The fluctuation in scores is a common experience during their MCAT preparation. When scores are below 500, it often indicates a lack of strong content knowledge, which is expected in the early stages of studying.
As scores improve and surpass 500, the focus shifts to other factors such as critical thinking and skill-based aspects of the exam. Two specific scenarios include one where scores bounce up and down, indicating possible content gaps. Another is where scores reach a plateau after an initial upward trend, causing stress and frustration.
A situation where a student’s MCAT scores show improvement from the mid-490s to breaking the 500-mark, indicating positive progress. However, after reaching a high point of 503, the scores start fluctuating around that range (503, 504, 503, 505, etc.), without showing further improvement.
This situation is referred to as a “score plateau.” The upward trends in scores halt, causing student stress and frustration. The plateau is seen as a challenging phase because it creates uncertainty about further progress and can make test preparation more difficult.
[15:22] Nearing the End-Game
Switch to AAMC and Full Length Practice Exams
Four weeks into the preparation process, it is important to trust the process and maintain confidence in the final stages of MCAT preparation. Towards the end of the study journey, it is recommended to switch to using AAMC materials exclusively and take a full-length practice exam every week. There will be significant score improvements that can occur during this last month of intense practice and review.
However, hitting a plateau or experiencing smaller score increases up to this point can also be discouraging and cause anxiety. Just trust in the process and believe that the groundwork laid in earlier months will ultimately lead to significant growth and success in the final weeks of preparation“The hardest part of this whole process is trusting in yourself that if you do lay the groundwork and foundation then you can just springboard at the very end and a lot of people see growth”Click To Tweet
[18:09] The Right Head Space as the Test Day is Nearing
A student should ideally be in a focused and determined headspace during the last week of preparation.
As you’re approaching the last week of MCAT preparation, prioritize yourself during this time and treat yourself well. From an MCAT perspective, a counterintuitive strategy of focusing on reviewing your strengths instead of obsessing over weaknesses. This approach helps boost morale and confidence, which is crucial for success on the MCAT.
It is important to walk into the test center with confidence, even if you don’t feel 100% prepared. Confidence plays a significant role in the performance on the exam. Trusting the process and not letting self-doubt take over is vital. Ultimately, have fun with the process and maintain a positive mindset.“I'm gonna take the test, it's not going to take me.”Click To Tweet “Confidence is king on the MCAT”Click To Tweet
[20:43] Post-MCAT Emotions: Strategies for Self-Care, Decision-Making, and Future Preparation
Students can employ various strategies to manage their emotions and mental state after taking the MCAT. They should navigate feelings of uncertainty, self-doubt, and the decision of whether to continue studying or register for another test. It is advisable for students to acknowledge and process these emotions rather than suppressing them, and they can take immediate action based on their perception of their performance on the exam.
Post MCAT Depression Reality
Post-MCAT depression (PMD) is real and it can affect students, even those who have not experienced depression before.
It’s easy to feel depressed and isolated after taking the MCAT so you have to take care of your mental well-being during this time. Making plans with friends or family immediately after the exam as a way to distract themselves and provide support is a way to cope.
Most students will feel uncertain about their scores and the possibility of retaking the exam. Regarding whether to continue studying or suppress emotions varies for each individual. Hence, assess your own mental well-being and determine if you need a break, or whether you should continue studying based on your ability to handle the stress.
[24:59] Unveiling the Head Game in the Blueprint MCAT Online Course
Use Blueprint MCAT Online Course
The mindset and thought process regarding the “head game” of the MCAT is discussed in various aspects of the Blueprint MCAT Online Course Live Online Course. It includes strategy modules and understanding the ways to think about and approach different aspects of the exam. Additionally, the speaker highlights the benefits of having a live online instructor and having a cohort of students going through the same journey, allowing for shared experiences and support.
Having a study group or support network is important since the MCAT preparation process can sometimes feel isolating. The availability of study buddies and partners through platforms like Discord fosters a sense of community and support.