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What NOT to Do If You’re Retaking the MCAT

What NOT to Do If You’re Retaking the MCAT

If you’ve found your way to this article, you’re probably currently living the Groundhog Day-esque experience of Medical College Admission Test Prep 2: Electric Boogaloo. Whether you voided your MCAT score out of panic the first time, scored lower than your target score, or are just pushing for a higher MCAT score to achieve your loftiest goals, retaking the MCAT is a real mental and emotional challenge. There are plenty of places (including a few articles we’ve written) that can guide you in some of the best MCAT preparation steps to take in order to make your retake a success. 

However, one area that often isn’t talked about enough is what MCAT test takers should *not* do – the pitfalls that make retaking the MCAT that much more challenging. So, let’s dive into some of the most common mistakes people make when retaking the MCAT exam and how you can avoid them!

DON’T Repeat What You Did the First Time 

You’ve already got all these books on MCAT prep, and sure, learning by sleeping on top of them and hoping for osmosis to set in didn’t go so great in round one, but it’ll be different this time, right?! Nope! In all seriousness, it can be tempting to rely on the resources and study habits you’ve already formed when studying for an MCAT retake. 

Instead of going back to the old test day prep, treat your first plan as a failed experiment! You weren’t ready for the MCAT exam the first time, despite the steps you took to prepare, and that’s totally fine – as long as you take stock of what happened! 

Analyze what went wrong with your old plan – What didn’t work? Look at both your outcomes/results and your behaviors to determine points of failure. Maybe the resources you had were great, but you didn’t have a feasible plan to use them before the test date. Maybe you did a ton of reading but never did test-like practice, such as a practice exam. Maybe you couldn’t figure out how to stop procrastinating during test prep. Maybe you didn’t spend enough time reviewing after taking that practice test. 

Evaluate what went wrong, and frame your MCAT prep this time around what you’re going to change and do differently! Speaking of, that leads us to our next tip…

DON’T Assume Your Life, Stresses, Work Ethic, and Personality Are Suddenly Going to Change 

“Well, it didn’t work the first time, but now I’ll REALLY buckle down” are famous last words from well-meaning MCAT test takers everywhere. Your patterns of behavior are what they are, and won’t necessarily take you to a high test score or your target school (no judgment)! 

While you can make some adjustments to your MCAT preparation, if your original plan didn’t work for who you are or how you work, you need a new plan that takes *you* into account. This is why it’s so important to build a study plan that works for you, your needs, and your timeline. 

So what if someone on the internet said the best way to study is for six hours/day – if you can’t summon up the mental energy for more than an hour at a time and are not sure how to memorize the content you’re reviewing, then plan around that! 

Stress and urgency are not going to lead to you changing who you are. After all, you did this once already, and all the stress of taking the MCAT for the first time didn’t change you then. This ties back into why you need to plan to study differently this time – you’ve stayed mostly the same, so the methods and plan you use will have to change! 

DON’T Retake the Same MCAT Practice Items Over (and Over, and Over)

If there’s anything that a learner needs to invest in for an MCAT retake, it’s more practice tests and practice material. Once you’ve taken an exam, that’s it; you are not going to get a realistic score if you retake material you’ve seen before. Whether you consciously recall it or not, your prior attempt at and review of that exam is going to impact how you answer the second time around. If you need to assess where you’re at in terms of overall score, you should use a new exam. 

You can reuse older items in moderation, particularly official AAMC practice exams, but you should seek novel practice wherever you can. After all, you’re not going to see the same items on test day, so your focus should be on building up your ability to answer the wide array of possible question styles, content, and framing that the MCAT might throw at you.

DON’T Treat Reviewing Practice As Optional or an Afterthought 

Whether it’s your first time taking the MCAT or you’re retaking for the seventh time (lucky number seven), this is one of the most problematic habits we see in each medical school student that wants to take the MCAT exam. 

I’m going to say something you might disagree with: the primary value of test-like practice is the lessons you learn after taking the exam about the errors you tend to make. Yes, you get a chance to see things that are like the real MCAT, “practice how you’re going to play,” and you may even get a (mostly) representative overall score, but those pale in comparison to the value of analyzing your weaknesses and tackling them head-on. 

A thorough review is a must after any practice exam. It should take about twice as long as the practice itself (with rare exception), and it should involve you walking through every step of questions you weren’t sure on – even if you got them right – to better understand where you can improve. You should take notes as you review that track your trends (consider a lessons learned journal or similar organizational aid) as well as review the analytics available with the tests you’ve taken. 

Then, you should form a plan of action for the time between one exam and the next: What are you going to do differently? What do you need to do some quick content review on? What sorts of practice questions should you do daily based on where you’re struggling? Any habits you need to break? 

Rinse and repeat this cycle with every round of practice, especially exams, and you’ll find yourself making measurable progress. Without this kind of thorough review, though, you may just keep on making those same errors without any real change. 

DON’T Fixate on the Content You Remember Struggling with on Your Real MCAT

Yes, official questions you can recall are a helpful data point, but they’re just unrelated single data points. You’ve got all of your preparation for the MCAT the first time around and your overall exam performance to rely on to let you know where you should focus. 

The questions you remember specifically had no real impact on your score –- at most, they may have cost you a point or two. Something bigger went wrong to bring you here, and hyper-fixating on a few tough questions (or on the content covered in one passage that really threw you) is not going to get you a significantly higher score on your next attempt. You’re never going to see that same electrochemical cell passage again, so rather than preparing to tackle that individual passage, focus on your passage skills overall or on the highest-yield science content. 

If you’re going for a truly top-tier score (good luck, Harvard hopefuls!), you may need to do granular content deep dives, but even then, you shouldn’t limit yourself to what you saw on the real thing. It won’t be there the same way the next time you go in for a real MCAT. Don’t prepare for the last MCAT you took; prepare for the one you haven’t seen yet! 

There’s certainly more that you should do (and should avoid doing) during test prep, but these key DON’Ts highlight some of the biggest, most frequent errors we see future doctors making when they’re gearing up for a retake! 

Yes, it’s going to take some time, and it’s probably not your ideal situation, but you are still on the road to med school, and you’re going to get there. So DON’T stress just because you didn’t get the score you wanted the last time! Sequels can be better than the original. (Not Star Wars, though. DON’T be like Star Wars.) Gather up your resources from Blueprint Prep, make a plan, and set to get the MCAT score of your dreams!

This article is part of a series of collaborative posts with Sketchy, whose medical courses are a memory-enhancing staple of any med student’s diet, and whose visual-mnemonics-based MCAT course is a great addition to any prep program. If our coverage of how to review a practice test piqued your interest, they’ve recently published an article that’s a deeper dive into that very subject, and you should check it out! If you like the way Blueprint and Sketchy approach the MCAT, don’t forget about the Sketchy X Blueprint bundle, to add structure and great resources to your first or second (or lucky seventh!) trip down the MCAT road.