Getting a Top Score by Using Topical Tests

Topical TestsHello my excited readers! Last week I filled you in on the awesomeness that exists in the MCAT flex sessions. Today, I’d like to highlight another often-underused and misunderstood resource, the Topical Tests!

Topical tests are un-timed and feature usually two passages as well as about 10-15 discrete questions. They’re focused on specific materials such as Oxygen Containing Compounds or Kinematics. They are an awesome first-stop to grapple with equations and concepts.

Now, I frequently get students who email me in a panic, worrying that they didn’t score 100% on the topical tests. In fact, lots of students score way lower than they anticipate, like 50% low. Pre-med students are not noted fans of 50% as a score ever. It makes us feel uncomfortable. It can also be incredibly discouraging given that you read your review notes, took the quizzes, sat through the class and were ready to rock the topical test!

So why am I telling my students that a 50% on a topical test is totally fine?

I would like to take this moment to dispel the myth that you can only do well on the MCAT if you score 100% on all of your materials. I encourage you to do your best effort on the topical tests and I celebrate your scores, especially if it’s below your ideal percent. Getting a low score means you struggled with the material. Topical tests are designed to stretch and expand your knowledge!

By struggling with the topical tests, you’re falling into traps that you don’t fall for on Test Day! By doing less than perfect, you’re identifying weaknesses while you have enough time to ask questions and address them. This is your first real MCAT-style practice on your own, of course it’s going to be challenging!

In short, the topical tests are a key part of your review work following your class sessions. If you need a pep talk about your topical test scores or any other MCAT troubles, don’t be afraid to hit me up in the comments!

Happy studying!

  • John

    I ended up on the first topical physics test scoring a 42%. I was extremely frustrated, as I know I am not mentally unable to comprehend questions. I have a 4.0 GPA and I want nothing more than to go to medical school. Can I please have some advice?

    • Emily Hause

      Hi John, it’s totally normal to feel frustrated. The first physics topical tests are especially challenging for students because this is your first real adventure with MCAT style questions. The best thing to do at this point is to review the test. Really take the time to look at why you got a 42%. Was it because you didn’t know the material? If so, you can review equations and concepts. Did you not understand what the question was asking? Did you fall for a trap answer? You can improve those skills by getting more practice through QBank. Did you forget to use the passage or make a math error? If so, you can address those also through additional practice.

      Getting a less-than-ideal score at the beginning can help you diagnose your testing issues early on. This is a great opportunity to reflect and practice so that you can improve and go on to kick some MCAT butt when it really counts!

      Hopefully that helps! If you need more advice, feel free to comment again!
      Emily

  • Sam

    Kind of similar situation. I have been getting low 70’s. So, how should I go about it? I do review them extensively afterwards and then move on to another subject/test and do not actually go back to the review book for that subject. I thought that by removing these tests, I am building my knowledge and once I am done reviewing and start taking the sectional tests and full lengths, it will pay off and I will use the Q banks then.

    Do you think my strategy is fine or should I make changes to it?

    One more thing, it takes me so long to review even 10 problems. Is it supposed to be like that?

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Sam,

      Your strategy is sounding really solid. You definitely want to review the topical tests after you take them. Once you’ve read the review notes, you don’t really need to re-read them unless you find that you’re consistently struggling with a certain topic.

      How long is it taking? If you are feeling that the time is productive, then no worries but if it’s taking a long time because you’re struggling, then it’s a good time to ask someone for help. There is no correct length of time to review problems as long as it’s helping you improve!
      Happy studying!
      Emily

      • Sam

        Thank you! Reviewing a topical test with about 20 questions takes me one and half hour, but I feel that I find myself in much better state of mind after reviewing them.

        Scoring fairly low on the topical tests should not be a big reason of worry, right ( Considering that I will do better in sectional and full lengths )?

        And when I start taking full lengths, should I go back to review books to go over the concepts that I struggled over or how should I review them?

        Thanks again!
        Sam

        • Emily Hause

          Hi Sam,
          It sounds like you’re in the right ballpark time-wise. I would not worry too much if I were you.

          After you start taking full lengths, you’ll use your post-test analysis to guide how you deal with issues. For example, if you forgot an equation it doesn’t make sense to re-read the chapter about that equation, but maybe do more practice problems. What your issues are will determine how you spend your study time.

          It would be very infrequent that I would suggest someone go back after a practice test and re-read the review books.
          I hope that helps!
          Emily

  • Isaiah

    Hello, So reviewing is a must. I understand that. What would you say to someone who is behind on their preparation? The class says I am supposed to be on section three, and I am finishing up section 2. I cannot move that fast. Partly because I do go through and review the material methodically.

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Isaiah,
      There is a ton of material to keep up with and almost everyone, at some point, feels like they’ve fallen behind. If you’re feeling behind, I suggest prioritizing the material to make sure you’re completing the essentials. You want to make sure that you’re still doing enough reading before class so that the class sessions are useful. Will you have time to do some review and practice after your class finishes?
      Emily

      • Isaiah

        Yes I am almost done with section 2. I have finished section 3 of gen chem. After I finish all of the syllabus. I plan to do subject tests and sections tests as well as reviewing material. I am not confident on. I am behind..but I am going at the rate that I can do.
        I am taking physics now. So I am learning. All the other subject’s I know. I just need to review. I am going to start full lengths late March.

        ——————————

        • Emily Hause

          Hi Isaiah, that sounds like an awesome plan!
          It’s tricky to be in the classes you need for the MCAT while you’re studying, but you sound like you’re doing okay.
          Best wishes!
          Emily

          • Isaiah

            Emily,

            Thank you for your help!!!!

            ——————————

          • Emily Hause

            You’re welcome :-)

  • Myriam

    Hello, so I’ve been studying for around 40 days and my scores are still at 50%
    Any recommendations!
    Regards

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Myriam!
      I have a few clarifying questions for you. Are you getting 50% on topical tests or other tests? Are they all new material or are you re-taking them? Are you in a class? If so, how far along is it? I would love to help give you some pointers. With a little more background info, my advice can be more specific!
      Happy studying!
      Emily

  • nwareagle11 .

    Hello. When we have completed the topical tests, is it OK to review only the incorrect questions? Ideally, I would like to review all of the questions, correct and incorrect. But, it’s taking me almost triple the amount of time. Are we missing anything by not reviewing the explanations to the questions we answered correctly?

    I’m taking the Kaplan class along with 2 college courses, and I’m really having a difficult time keeping up with the course because I tend to go through everything in detail.

    Thanks

    • Emily Hause

      Hi nwareagle11,
      I understand how difficult it can be to keep up with schoolwork and MCAT studying! Unfortunately, it is possible to miss things by skipping the explanations of questions that you got right. You can absolutely get a question right for a very wrong reason. I would suggest skimming the explanations of the questions you got right just to check and make sure that your logic is in line. If it is, go ahead and keep going. If not, you can learn a lot from that question.

      Since you are short on time, I suggest checking out resources like your score reports to really help focus your studying.
      I hope that helps!
      Please let me know if there is anything else I can do.
      Emily

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