This time, let’s discuss how students can identify their strengths and weaknesses on the MCAT through self-reflection and reviewing their full-length practice exams. Discover these tips on analyzing mistakes and seeking help, especially if you feel stuck in your studying.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses through Self-Reflection and Practice Exams
Meera says that taking a full-length practice exam is one of the best ways for a student to figure out their strengths and weaknesses, as it mimics the actual MCAT exam in terms of length, number of passages, and breaks. It allows students to experience what test day will be like and see what content areas or skills they excel at and which need improvement.
“A full-length practice exam is one of the best ways that you can figure out what you’re good at and what you need to improve on.”
Meera’s biggest tip is to try taking a full-length practice exam if struggling to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Analyzing Feelings Over Time After a Practice Exam to Identify Weaknesses
She says the way to think through it is with a time-based approach – how you feel right after the exam, the day after, and the week after can point towards areas that need work to improve your score. Analyzing your feelings over time after a practice exam can help pinpoint weaknesses.
Systematic Review of Practice Exams
Meera says it’s very normal for people to feel a little bit lost after taking a practice exam. To avoid feeling lost, she recommends doing a more in-depth analysis. Systematically review each question to understand what was answered correctly and incorrectly, and think about why. Doing that allows you to determine strengths and weaknesses. It helps pinpoint specific areas to focus studying on.
Using Gut Reaction to Identify Challenging Sections
Meera mentions that gut feel can also help determine strengths and weaknesses. She says that oftentimes, a student’s gut reaction after taking an exam can point to which section or passage was the most difficult for them. Paying attention to this gut reaction right after finishing an exam, when emotions are high, can provide insight into an individual’s performance.
Assessing Question Difficulty After a Practice Exam
Meera advises that right after a practice test, students should check in with themselves about which section was the hardest. She also suggests asking yourself if the hardest questions were discrete questions, which are standalone, or passage-based questions that require reading and understanding a passage before answering questions about it.
Analyzing which type of question was more difficult can help point to where more studying is needed, whether on content knowledge or passage comprehension skills.
Beginning the Review Process the Day After a Practice Exam
Meera notes that after taking a full-length practice exam, students deserve to take the rest of that day off. However, she recommends beginning the review process on the next day, which involves systematically analyzing the exam to identify areas of strength and weakness.
“Systematically go through every single question on an exam and understand where you went right and where you went wrong.”
Meera refers to the review process after a full-length practice exam as creating a “lessons learned journal,” where students can document what they learned from taking the exam and pinpoint areas to focus on for improvement.
How to Create the Lessons Learned Journal
To create the “lessons learned journal” after a practice exam, Meera recommends systematically going through each question to understand what was answered correctly and incorrectly. The journal should note why each question was easy or difficult and the reasoning behind getting each answer right or wrong.
Analyzing the Reasoning Behind Each Response
When creating the lessons learned journal, Meera emphasizes the importance of analyzing the “why” behind each correct and incorrect answer. Students should not just note whether a question was right or wrong, but think more deeply about the underlying reasons.
For incorrect answers, they should consider why the question was difficult – was it a lack of content knowledge, misunderstanding of the passage, or something else? For correct answers, identifying why the strategy used was effective can help reinforce strengths.
Taking the time to analyze the thought processes and reasoning behind each response will provide valuable insights. It helps identify strengths in strategies that are working, as well as weaknesses in strategies that need improvement.
Feeling Overwhelmed After an Extensive Full-Length Exam Review
Meera acknowledges that reviewing a full-length practice exam, which contains 230 questions, can take a significant amount of time. She understands why students may feel overwhelmed after completing such an in-depth review. And it’s easy to come away thinking they are weak in all areas. Meera empathizes with this difficult feeling many students experience.
When students feel like they are weak in all areas after reviewing a full-length exam, Meera advises them not to be too hard on themselves. She acknowledges that the MCAT is challenging and it takes time and effort to improve.
Meera reassures students that having multiple areas to focus on is normal at the beginning. With continued practice, guidance and course-correcting, their skills and score will increase. Additionally, she notes that every student starts at different points but success is achievable through perseverance.
Taking a Systematic Approach to Analyze Mistakes
Meera recommends taking a systematic approach to reconciling mistakes made on questions the student thought they knew. They should first determine if the error was due to a lack of content knowledge or misunderstanding of the passage. Then they can dive deeper to pinpoint whether the issue was not initially understanding the material, forgetting it, or misunderstanding the question or answer options.
Analyzing each layer will help identify the root cause of the mistake and guide you to focus your studying in the right areas.
The Importance of Active Review Techniques for Content Retention
When analyzing whether a mistake was due to a lack of content knowledge, Meera suggests asking if the material was not understood initially or just forgotten. She says that most often, students have studied content before but forget it later, which is normal.
However, rereading textbooks alone usually doesn’t help with remembering. Meera recommends more active review techniques like flashcards, practice questions and teaching material to others. She says these are better ways to reinforce content knowledge for the long term.
Three Potential Causes of Incorrect Responses
Meera notes that there are three main things that could cause a student to get a question wrong: not understanding the passage, not understanding the question, or not understanding the answer options.
Analyzing which of these factors contributed to an incorrect response helps pinpoint where to focus study improvements.
* If the issue is not understanding the passage, analyze whether it’s a timing or comprehension problem and address it by practicing speeding up or slowing down respectively.
If the issue with not understanding passages is a timing problem, Meera recommends working to gradually speed up passage reading pace over time through practice. However, if it’s more of a comprehension issue, she suggests slowing down significantly, such as reading each sentence individually and systematically working through the passage to ensure full understanding before moving on.
*For misunderstanding the question, ensure comprehension of question types and language.
*If answer options confused the student, learn to carefully evaluate each option against the passage/question.
Systematically reviewing mistakes in this way helps students identify targeted strategies to overcome weaknesses.
When to Seek Outside Help with MCAT Preparation
Meera says that students should consider seeking guidance if they reach a point where they feel stuc or are unsure how to improve. Or maybe they have been trying different study methods for weeks with no progress, yet continue seeing the same results on practice exams.
“Help can be one of the most difficult things with the MCAT.”
This suggests it may be time for an outside perspective to help identify what’s holding the student back and get them back on track to increasing their score. She recommends asking others who have successfully taken the MCAT, such as tutors from a prep company like Blueprint MCAT, for an outside perspective on weaknesses and ways to correct course. Seeking input from an expert can help get a student back on track when self-study isn’t enough.
The Importance of Regular Course Correction in MCAT Preparation
I use this analogy of course-correcting, like pilots do when flying planes, to describe the ongoing process of adjustment needed when studying for the MCAT. Just as planes are constantly making small tweaks to stay on course despite winds pushing them around, students need to regularly assess their progress.
Identify weaknesses through practice exams and reviews, and make targeted changes to address areas of difficulty. This ensures efficient studying by redirecting focus to what needs the most improvement rather than repeating mistakes. Moreover, asking others to help spot needed course corrections can be invaluable when feeling stuck in preparation.
The Importance of Acknowledging Weaknesses and Practicing Deficient Skills
Meera emphasizes the importance of students coming to terms with their weaknesses identified through self-reflection and reviews. She says it’s important to acknowledge areas that need the most work and focus time and effort on developing those skills. Meera stresses that targeted practice of weaker areas is essential to strengthening abilities and achieving improvement.
In the end, Meera leaves us with these words of encouragement:
“Enough time, effort, course-correcting, guidance – that will get you to where you need to go. This is an exam that you will and you can succeed at. So you got this!”