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Why MCAT Content Review Is Overrated

First off, we should make it clear: the MCAT is more than content. Pause. That doesn’t mean content isn’t important, but it is often overrated! While there is a master level of MCAT content expected, we find that it’s easy for MCAT students to dive into their prep focused solely on content. This can result in neglecting the importance of applied practice in developing MCAT-specific critical thinking skills, especially for those of us who don’t self-identify as “natural” test-takers. 

MCAT Skills You Need To Know

The AAMC breaks science into four distinct “skills:”

Skill 1: Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles
Skill 2: Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving
Skill 3: Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research
Skill 4: Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning

They also tell us that Skill 1 questions, the “content” questions of the bunch, only make up about 35% of each science section. This equates to a content-only MCAT focus missing the point of about 2/3 of the exam.

MCAT Content Review vs. Practice 

What can MCAT students do to take advantage of the MCAT’s focus on critical reasoning? Well, you can practice it, for one. The earlier you learn that the MCAT is repetitive and formulaic, the better. 

There are only so many questions to ask in the form “variable X goes up, what happens to variable Y,” or “an individual has elevated A, what would happen to B and C?” Notice that both of those questions have a content component to them, but the key to answering each is the structure of the question. Questions with similar structures like this can be approached in similar ways, whether they’re about metabolism, the endocrine system, kinematics, or sleep cycles. 

Going even further, the AAMC’s last two skill categories for the sciences are all about experimental design and data. While there are some definitions to know that fit under those terms, practice and review are the keys to mastering questions about research passages. And speaking of research passages, MCAT passages themselves often fall into large, overall patterns. Primary research passages are the clearest example, and each MCAT has multiple primary research passages, which often introduce goals, methods, and data in similar ways.

Once you’re done with a passage and onto the questions, you will be tested on your content knowledge. But more often, the task will ask to connect passage ideas to answer choices in meaningful, true ways. The pattern with pretty much all of these points is that the AAMC wants you to think critically on the MCAT.

You won’t get the practice you need by simply pouring over MCAT books and videos. You’ll also need to learn to apply everything you’ve learned. Blueprint MCAT students develop these necessary skills and strategies both in class with their Live Online instructors or on their own during their self-paced Online Course.

Don’t Forget Endurance Training

 The MCAT is…a long exam. Seven hours long. I know that I’ve missed plenty of questions in Psych/Soc that I’d never miss if I was fresh. But after 6 hours of nonstop critical-thinking brain activity on a practice exam, that psychology flashcard I get right every time might not come to me. 

In cases like those, I could study that flashcard 20 more times, or I could keep practicing and reviewing full-length exams. I did the latter, and after the fifth or sixth MCAT practice exam, those last few Psych/Soc questions didn’t seem so bad—especially once I figured out what kind of mid-test lunch worked best for me.

So, if MCAT content review ever gets you down, remember that there are plenty of other ways to attack the test. Content is important, but it’s not even close to everything. Scoring 500 on two consecutive practice exams can be a huge win if the second exam felt better, or strategies were clicking more, or patterns in answer choices were becoming clearer. Every MCAT tests different specific content details, but all exams are built to have the same patterns. Put some energy toward recognizing those patterns in review, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success on test day.

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