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Stuck in an MCAT Score Plateau?

  • by Kerry Goldstein
  • Jan 15, 2014
  • MCAT Blog, MCAT Info, MCAT Long Form, MCAT Prep, MCAT Retake

I’m stuck!

One of the most frustrating things that well-prepped MCAT students face is the moment when they hit a score plateau. You work and work and WORK and just can’t seem to break out of a particular score region.

When you’re stuck in a plateau, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Be patient.
2. Stay positive.
3. Focus on process, not product.
4. Be very strict with yourself as you review.
1. Be patient

This is one of those things that’s really easy to say and so very hard to do. But you’ve got to be patient with yourself. Recognize that everyone hits plateaus (plateaux? plateauodes? plateaua?) and the only way out is to keep pushing forward. Don’t flail around trying all sorts of crazy things. Just keep to the study plan you’ve set, tweak a few things here or there, but as Dory reminds us: just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

2. Stay positive
One of the worst things you can do to yourself is to get so frustrated with being stuck that you actually break out of the plateau by going down rather than up. Stay positive! Earlier in this thread I’ve got a whole post about keeping a positive attitude. Go back and re-read that and make sure you do a positive review at least once a week.

3. Focus on the process, not the product
Earlier in the thread I’ve discussed the value of keeping a Lessons Learned Journal. I also talk about it at length in my MCAT scheduling thread here. If you haven’t started a Lessons Learned Journal yet, then you should do so. It lets you see a physical manifestation of all the stuff you’ve been learning.

So even if you’re not at the score you quite want, or feel like you haven’t been making progress, you can look back over your journal and realize, “hey I really have learned a ton of stuff. If I just keep at it, then this stuff will eventually come together and help me raise my score.”

Another suggestion I’ll make here: take a full MCAT but don’t score it.
I know that sounds crazy, but people get so obsessed with their scores that they’re entirely worrying about the product at the end rather than the process of learning to think like the MCAT. If you take a full test and don’t score it, you’ll force yourself to stay much more oriented towards the actual process. Who cares what you would’ve gotten on that practice exam!? Instead, look at how many lessons you can extract from the test to add to your Lessons Learned Journal.

4. Be very strict with yourself as you review.
Ultimately, this is the most common pitfall that leads to people getting stuck in a plateau. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had over the years who will tell me, “Oh yeah okay I reviewed AAMC #5 and I didn’t have any questions from it. I understood it.”

But then when I check them and say, “Okay so turn to Bio Sci passage 4. Explain that passage to me. Explain what it taught you about the MCAT,” the student will just stare at me blankly and not be able to offer a thorough analysis or any real Lessons Learned.

Do not be easy on yourself while you review. Don’t just casually flip through and go “oh okay I get it. Yeah I see that it’s (A).” Instead, stop and force yourself to say OUT LOUD TO THE EMPTY ROOM why it’s choice (A). Pretend you had to lecture a class and teach them why this question matters and why choice (A) is the right answer here.
It’s that level of understanding that leads to real improvements and helps you break out of a plateau.

Don’t study as if you were an MCAT student – study as if you were an MCAT teacher!
Good luck!! 🙂

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