As you prepare to take the MCAT, practice tests will quickly become a major part of your reality. These practice runs are essential to your success on the MCAT. By following the MCAT practice test strategy outlined below, you can make the most of your practice tests, tailor your future studying, and feel more at ease on test day.
Which MCAT Practice Test to Take
Before you take your first MCAT practice test, you must know that most practice tests are not always representative of the real thing. Depending on which practice test you take, your score on the MCAT could be higher or lower than your score on a practice test. Your MCAT score might also be affected by test day nerves; if you psych yourself out on test day, your score may be lower than your practice tests.
As far as which test you should take, we recommend practice tests from a few different companies, as each will give you a slightly different experience. Some of the more popular practice tests include:
- The Princeton Review
As your test date looms, begin to take the AAMC practice tests, as they will be the closest to the real MCAT. Your scores on AAMC tests will likely be closest to your true exam score, and they’ll prepare you the most for what test day will be like.
When you plan out which practice tests to take, make sure you leave time to take every single AAMC practice test. If you don’t take every AAMC test, you’re leaving points on the table.
When to Take MCAT Practice Tests
Although it might feel daunting, we recommend beginning to take practice tests about two weeks after you start content review. This first practice test will help you get a feel for what the test is like, and you’ll learn your baseline score.
You can also use your first test as a diagnostic tool: it will give you an idea of what areas you need to focus on more intensely than others. Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long to take your first test.
As your test gets closer—about six weeks out—begin taking a full-length practice test every week. Start with third-party tests and save the AAMC practice tests for closest to your test date. Again, remember to take every single AAMC test.
Finally, do not study or take any practice tests in the last two to three days leading up to your actual test. Taking a practice test too close to your test date will exhaust your brain. It also won’t give you enough time to properly review your results, making the practice test less effective.
How to Practice under Testing Conditions
Practicing under testing conditions is a very valuable use of your time. When you’re used to test-day conditions, you can spend more time focusing on the test itself and less time getting used to the environment. Additionally, practicing under testing conditions can help reduce test anxiety.
Before you practice under testing conditions, drive to your testing location (if possible) to get an idea of how long it will take you to get there on test day. Ideally, plan to arrive at the testing center at the same time you will on test day. This will give you an idea of how long it will take you to get to the testing center with traffic. Once you’ve done this, you can work backward to determine what time you will need to wake up.
Here are our tips for simulating the test environment:
- Wake up at the same time you’ll get up for the actual test
- Practice the same morning routine you plan to have on test day: take a shower, meditate, etc.
- Wear the same type of clothing you plan to wear on testing day
- Drive for the same amount of time you will drive to get to the testing center
- Eat a familiar food or one you plan to eat the morning of the test
- Drink the same amount of liquid you plan to drink the morning of the test (this will help you assess when you’ll need bathroom breaks)
- Consider having a family member or friend simulate the check-in process and act as a proctor during your test
- Begin at the same time the real test begins
- Only take breaks during scheduled exam breaks
- Consider taking practice tests at a somewhat unfamiliar location, perhaps a library or computer lab where there will be a small amount of noise and distraction. Test center noises and distractions include people moving around, mouse clicks, people coughing or clearing throats, etc.
- Wear noise-canceling headphones or earplugs
- Store your food, drinks, phone, and other materials away from your testing area
- Use a regular mouse rather than a laptop trackpad
- Use blank notebooks for scrap paper
- Do not look at your notes or practice test answers while you are taking the test
- Give the practice test your full, undivided attention
- Pack a lunch that is similar to what you plan to eat on test day
Of course, some people will take more steps to simulate the testing environment than others. If it’s too much to completely simulate the environment every time, try fully simulating the environment only for your last few practice tests, which should be AAMC tests.
The more you can simulate the environment, the more comfortable you will feel on test day. Ideally, you’ll get to a point where the real test feels so similar to practice tests that it almost feels like just another practice test. When your test day routine becomes automatic, you can also reduce decision fatigue, which may give you more mental clarity for the test.
How to Review MCAT Practice Tests
You’ve chosen which practice test to take, you’ve simulated the test environment, you’ve taken a test… now the real work begins. A practice test can be an excellent tool for improvement and self-reflection, but only if you take time to learn from the test after it’s completed.
After you take your test, review every test question, even the ones you answered correctly. You will probably be able to go through these questions more quickly than the ones you got wrong, but don’t completely overlook them. Reviewing correct answers will reveal questions you guessed on but got correct. You will also likely find questions you got correct but didn’t fully understand your own reasoning.
Reviewing questions you got wrong will of course help you learn new information and reveal what you need to study as well. You might also find questions you got wrong that you were sure you got correct. Reviewing these questions will reveal where your errors were and what you need to do in order to understand that information more thoroughly. Maybe you didn’t take the time to read the entire question or maybe you have some information about the content mixed up.
Another way to review your tests is to look at each wrong answer and study exactly why that answer is incorrect. Reviewing information in this way will give you a well-rounded understanding of the topic, and you’ll be less likely to be tripped up by similar questions in the future.
We recommend setting aside the entire next day to review your test. Because you’re taking your time going through each question, your review will likely take longer than the test itself.
Reviewing questions also helps you tweak your study schedule going forward. Don’t be afraid to take notes as you review your test; in fact, this is an excellent way to assess your knowledge.
You’ll likely notice patterns: maybe you need to focus more on reasoning than content, or maybe there is a certain type of passage that you tend to struggle with. When you find these patterns, you can streamline your studying to make it more efficient. Some practice tests might even show you your strengths and weaknesses.
After you’ve reviewed the test itself, this is where Memm comes in: use flashcards and other resources that feature the information you repeatedly miss. Continually re-reading notes or taking tests again and again will not be effective because this will not teach you the critical thinking and reasoning you need to make the information stick.
Because the review portion of the MCAT practice test is imperative, we recommend taking only so many tests as you have time to fully review. If you take two practice tests per week but don’t have time to review each one, you’re not making the best use of your time. A better strategy would be to take one per week, and review that test during the time you would have been taking the second test.
Practice MCAT tests should be a major part of your study strategy. They give you endurance for the real thing and help you see what you need to review. While practice tests help you get used to the real thing, they are also an incredible active learning tool. Practice tests can help you feel less anxious on test day as well because you’ve done it before.
Don’t forget to review your practice tests after you’ve taken them, as this is arguably the most important part of taking an MCAT practice test. Once you start to notice patterns based on your practice test results, you can tailor your study strategy.
Reviewing practice tests is powerful, but you need to follow up with review that will make the information stick. Memm can help you do exactly that by consolidating key facts from practice tests into long-term memory. Learn more about the powerful benefits of using Memm for MCAT preparation.