Hello 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!
Choosing your MCAT prep can be a difficult task in its own right, even before you crack open the books and start studying. Walk into any bookstore or search the internet for MCAT study materials, and you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you. Throughout the years, people across all industries (academic, test-prep, self-help, etc.) have published study aids and materials meant to help students achieve their goals on the MCAT, and the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. To further frustrate your efforts, try asking a friend or classmate for recommendations on what to use to study for the test; then, take that response and compare it to recommendations from a different friend or classmate – I’ll bet that you find some conflicting information.
The reason for this is quite simple: we’re all different. We all study differently, we learn things in a specific way, and it can be a shock to the system to try and change that. If something works for one person, there’s no way of guaranteeing that it will work for someone else. Unfortunately though, this may lead to information overload as test takers try too many different approaches without first structuring and customizing their test prep.
“You’ve got to structure, filter, and compartmentalize.” These words were repeated to me over and over again when I was preparing for the MCAT. The basis of this strategy revolves around the fact that you can choose from a plethora of study material. However, attempting to go through it without first customizing it towards what will fit your needs best is not the most effective technique. Instead, some time spent game-planning before the process will result in big gains overall. Decide first on what type of learner you are. There are the classroom types. There are the book-learning types. There are also the practice-makes-perfect types. Note that these are not mutually-exclusive, as you might want to consider how much of each would be ideal for you. Once you understand your learning style, you then need to decide how much time you want to and can commit to studying. Some study aids are meant to be used for a period of months while others fit better during a “the test is coming, oh my, the test is coming!” timeframe. Lastly, you want to have your study resources ready to go in the right order. Yes, that’s right, prioritizing your materials according to the timeframe is important for the MCAT.
Books, lectures, tests, and computer-based work make up most of the scope of the study aids. In the beginning of the MCAT prep process, books and lectures will be helpful as you start building your content knowledge. After developing a deeper fund of knowledge, moving away from print material and classroom lectures and towards the computer and practice problems will be vital to doing well. Many students often state that they knew the material well, but when it came time to apply that knowledge under testing conditions, they faltered; the best way to avoid this is to become comfortable reading, thinking, and answering questions in front of the computer for long periods of time. You cannot achieve this by being in the classroom or reading out of a book, so long before it’s time to take the exam you should transition almost all of your studying to the computer.
The goal should be to simplify your study plan rather than to complicate it. Making the investment (in time, money, and yourself) ahead of time will result in big gains as well as a lot less stress, which is always worthwhile when you’re preparing for the MCAT!
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