Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner
Retaking the MCAT requires a different approach to prep than your first time around. Because you already know your strengths and weaknesses, your study sessions should be more efficient than those during your initial MCAT review period.
Below are three strategies to help you maximize your chances of success when retaking the MCAT exam.
- Analyze your performance thus far
The first step in improving your MCAT score is to carefully analyze the results of your first test, as well as any practice exams you completed. Catalog the specific topics you struggled with (i.e. electricity and magnetism), as well as those you excelled at (i.e. genetics). You should also reflect on which sections and question types challenged you the most. For example, certain students may loathe problems that pertain to statistical interpretation of experimental data. Others may find that stand-alone questions with no accompanying passage cause them significant anxiety. Invest in this crucial first strategy when starting your prep for your MCAT retake. These insights will help you construct the most effective, individualized review process possible.
- Refocus your study
Once you identify your MCAT-specific strengths and weaknesses, use this information to tailor your study strategy. For instance, create a review calendar that devotes significant periods of time to your weakest topics. This may seem intuitive, but many students subconsciously focus on the subjects they enjoy. These are often the areas where they already excel. Devoting additional time to these topics will not lead to an increase in your MCAT score.
For example, Student A may excel at kinetics and forces, but struggle with electricity and magnetism. In this case, it makes more sense for her to set aside several hours for practice questions related to electricity and magnetism.
- Practice more effectively
As you review your first prep period, think about whether or not you used practice questions and tests to their full potential. For example, did you complete enough practice? I recommend taking as many practice exams as possible during your review period, but a good rule of thumb is a minimum of five. You should also complete sample question sets. If you feel that you did not practice often enough before your first MCAT, redouble your efforts for your second attempt.
You can also review how you used this practice material. Many students simply take periodic practice exams in order to gauge their scoring potential. As you prepare for your second MCAT test date, make an effort to examine every single practice question you complete. Take note of the different facts and problem-solving strategies that you used to find the correct answer. This exercise not only helps to reinforce critical subject matter, it also helps students realize how they best utilize various critical thinking skills. It can be extremely helpful to keep a running list of facts and details that you find difficult to remember or understand. You can review this list frequently in the days leading up to the MCAT.
It is also vital to ensure that your practice sessions are performed under MCAT testing conditions. This means adhering to time constraints. Students run the risk of forming bad habits if they complete practice exams under non-realistic conditions.
As you prep for your second MCAT test, take the time to truly understand which material is most challenging to you. Tailor your study sessions to emphasize these subject areas, and utilize practice questions and exams to their full potential. This should help you improve your MCAT score. Good luck!
Dr. Sunny Varshney is a board-certified cardiologist and an Advanced Heart Failure, Transplant, and Mechanical Circulatory Support Fellow at Stanford University. In addition to caring for patients with advanced heart disease, Sunny uses clinical insights and outcomes research to evaluate and advise start-up companies to facilitate cardiovascular device and drug development. He engages in research that identifies persistent unmet medical needs and defines benchmark outcomes that next generation therapies should improve upon, with a focus on advanced heart failure and cardiogenic shock.