Dominating the MCAT Pt. 8 | Deciding Whether or Not to Push the MCAT

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The surge of misinformation bringing question to the scientific enterprise has weaved its way into far more than politics and the pandemic. Far too many online MCAT gurus are propagating massively unrealistic expectations about what it takes to conquer this test; others are misguiding students to leverage suboptimal resources and inefficient study strategies.

I’ll separate the reality from the fluff.

This is the eighth article in this nine-article series – the Dominating the MCAT series – where I will distill everything I have learned in conquering my MCAT into a comprehensive, actionable framework that you can harness and tailor to optimize each aspect of your preparation and test-taking.

If you missed the first article, I would advise you to start there, where I lay three fundamental takeaways that students should carry forth from day one of their MCAT journey and background on my personal experience.

 

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 1 | Everything You Need to Know Going In

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 2 | Optimizing Productivity & Studying

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 3 | Resources & Timeline

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 4 | 4 Month Study Plan

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 5 | Test-Taking & Reviewing | Strategy for Success

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 6 | Mindset, Testing Anxiety & Managing Uncertainty

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 7 | How I Scored a 132 on P/S

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 8 | Deciding Whether or Not to Push the MCAT

Dominating the MCAT Pt. 9 | Tips, Tricks, Rules & What I Would Do Differently

 

If you are questioning whether or not to push your exam, take a read of my personal experience. It is described in a less structured fashion than the articles but will likely be of value in helping you navigate your way through this decision.

 

1 | Why More Time Does Not Translate to a Higher Score

Initially, I was scheduled to take my exam in mid-August, but my academic program required me to move into college (out-of-state) earlier than expected – this was not preventable, and having disrupted my plans, it forced me to push my exam by a few weeks to a testing center near my university.

In pushing my exam to September, I had to manage my last few weeks of MCAT studying alongside being a full-time college student. I knew without a doubt that this could endanger my preparation and readiness for the exam if my attention became too fragmented between competing responsibilities.

Accordingly, I reduced my academic course load to an absolute minimum and ensured that I’d be able to focus exclusively on simply attending classes and studying for the MCAT for a three-week duration until test day. As I’ve described, I would caution greatly against managing your preparation alongside being a full-time college student – this was something I only needed to manage for a few weeks.

Personally, I was able to transition into my campus environment with a renewed focus on my exam, reaping the benefits of an exciting, new study environment and a revitalized social life that left me refreshed and rejuvenated.

After having spent the preceding months with the brutal third-party material, the transition into school, which took place in parallel with my transition into the AAMC material, was comfortable. The reduced difficulty of the AAMC material (compared to third-party) elevated my mood as I started to glean more realistic insight into how I’d perform on test day.

While I was greatly concerned in the weeks prior to this transition, worried that my focus would be disrupted and my score potential and preparation compromised, the transition worked out very smoothly. Beforehand, I was overthinking the implications of this transition – and it is partly why I noted early on in this series that if you face an unexpected life disruption that forces you to shift your focus away from studying for a few days, it isn’t the end of the world.

Funnily enough, five days out from my test, I had a score drop on FL Test 3 (the supposedly easiest test) after drinking too much coffee and battling an overwhelming need to urinate on two sections. I went into that test with the misperception that it should be the easiest – these types of misperceptions and expectations can compromise performance, and it is why I’ve advocated earlier in this series to always take tests without any expectations in mind.

Ultimately, this experience led me to question my readiness one week out. I was thinking about pushing my test to January, but it was the advice of my mentor that led me to take FL 4 two days later. Fortunately, avoiding the coffee and opting instead for an energy drink, I crushed that test and felt a renewed faith in my capacity to sustain that performance until test day.

Ultimately, I am profoundly grateful that I only pushed my test to September and not to January. If you are thinking about pushing your test, I would be very reluctant to push it for more than a few weeks. After months of intensive studying, the sheer load of information and insight that you have gleaned into this test is beyond describable – there’s a growing sense of intuition – an inclination for certain answer choices – that develops as you delve deeper into this journey, and though you may feel like you are not ready, you’ve likely developed a stronger foundation and deeper intuitive grasp of the concepts on this test than you think.

If there is an obstacle that has left you questioning your readiness for this exam, remember that you need to put trust in the trend of your performance and not the outliers.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are so many variables at play during each practice test – these can be at odds with each other, and every now and then, you may face a drop in your performance. Expect this. It happens.

Don’t let this affect your perception of your readiness – it is a part of the process. Focus instead on figuring out what went wrong and restoring your performance to the trajectory you were on prior to this experience. The trajectory is what should influence your perception of your readiness – not one singular exam or experience.

If you push your test by months, the learning curve will kick in and the memory decay will inevitably hit you. You’ll lose a massive portion of the information that took tens to hundreds of hours to accrue. Your risk of burnout and plateauing also increases as you are prolonging the length of this journey and the duration for which you have to manage this stress. By delaying the date where you complete this journey and experiencing the restored freedom to live life without the constant pressure of studying, it’ll be tough to sustain an elevated mental state and mood.

While I did push my test to September, it wasn’t necessary and if I could have avoided it, I would’ve. For most people, it is important to stick to the deadline you set for yourself, or else you’ll face a prolonged negative mental state that may fuel burnout and compromise your score potential towards the very end of your journey. There is a common misperception that more time to study and prepare for the MCAT will translate to a high score – this is not the case.

Don’t let unexpected outliers obscure your impression of your readiness – focus on the trend as best as you can, and while this will feel uncomfortable, with that new, unexpected experience lingering in your head, it is important that you learn to let go of it. Again, focus on your trend and the process ahead of you instead of the individual outcomes.

Again, pushing the exam is not going to necessarily translate to a higher score. While the cushion of added time might seem comfortable, the reality is that you are prolonging the stress and anxiety surrounding this exam, which may become more pronounced with time and compromise your foundation in the process.

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