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When MCAT Prep Isn’t Working

Almost everyone who took the MCAT has been there. You’re practicing passage upon passage for CARS and regularly taking FL exams, but you can’t get that score up. Every Chem/Phys section on every FL exam seems to have those select few topics you didn’t review hard enough and forgot a formula for. How do you get unstuck?

As with any struggle one faces, the most important thing to remember when you can’t follow your MCAT study schedule or the MCAT prep isn’t working is that you have to relax, take a step back, and figure out the root cause of why you are not performing the way you want. The most straightforward way to do this is by reviewing your MCAT prep course practice material. When you go back to review your Qbanks or FL exams, ask yourself: “Am I getting CARS questions wrong because I’m running out of time or because I am struggling to choose between two answer choices?” Is your C/P section score low because you didn’t know the formulas, or are you making calculation errors? 

The steps you take next to get over this plateau depend heavily on why you’re stuck there in the first place.

Make a Spreadsheet

Especially for CARS, a simple hack to recognize why you are consistently making mistakes is to keep a log or spreadsheet of your mistakes. For example, for every question you get wrong on CARS (FL or Qbank), write down the genre of the passage, the type of question (Reasoning within the text, Reasoning beyond the text, etc.), why you got the question wrong, and if possible, how you think you could have reasoned to get the question right. 

It might even be helpful to color code the reason you got a question wrong or the question type. For example, for practice questions missed because you misunderstood the main idea, highlight that row in green. For practice questions missed because you incorrectly chose between two answer choices, highlight that row in blue. 

That way, when you look at your beautiful collage of a journal, you can see which colors are the brightest and most predominant and which mistakes you are most commonly making.

Track Topics

In addition to logging practice errors, a critically important strategy is to keep an organized log of the topics you are getting wrong in the science sections. This strategy also emphasizes the importance of an in-depth review of Qbanks and FL exams to keep an eye open for content misunderstandings that lead you to get a question wrong. When you come across this mistake, make sure to write down the concept you missed in this log so that you can refer back to it on content review study days. 

On those days, you should also experiment with a variety of learning strategies, such as flashcards, videos, or simply reading content review textbooks, to discover the method that YOU best learn from. 

Using whichever tactic best suits you, as the test taker, review those missed topics you put in your log and take notes on whatever concepts you feel are new to you or might forget. Reviewing these notes shortly before an FL exam and even taking the MCAT exam will help you keep that information fresh in your mind.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Another thing to consider when it feels that MCAT prep isn’t working is to dial back the volume of studying temporarily and pace yourself. Burning out is real and a killer to our motivation and ability to think clearly. 

Rather than studying for 10 hours a day and cutting off friends and family for a month, be willing to study for three hours a day and extend your studying over a longer period of time while still enjoying your free time. 

If you are struggling with CARS or P/S, start off with the goal of doing just one, untimed practice passage or discrete question set a day. Once you see improvements in your accuracy at that pace, gradually increase the number of passages you do a day as the test date of the actual MCAT exam. That way, you steadily increase your stamina for a section without feeling overwhelmed. 

Ask for Help

And, of course, one of the best things you can do when you feel prep isn’t working is to reach out for help! Blueprint Prep has a strong, supportive, and dedicated team of tutors and instructors ready to help you reach our MCAT goals through dynamic and diverse medical school prep materials. Be sure to sign up with one of our MCAT tutoring programs or courses to help you get over that study plateau and get the MCAT score you deserve!

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.