Retaking the MCAT can be challenging or extremely challenging. Here’s my advice for anyone who needs to retake the MCAT to make it less challenging.
I’m going to sum up this blog in one sentence:
Don’t start studying again until (1) you have coped with the frustration of retaking, (2) have a solid plan, and (3) are patient with retaking the MCAT.
Below, I’m going to discuss why I firmly believe in these three principles:
Retaking the MCAT: Emotional imbalance
Take a couple of weeks off and assess what you did wrong. You might have done this while you waited for your score but the raw emotion you get right after you see your official score on score release day can put you in a state of shock.
Students usually want to start studying immediately after they get their scores back. I don’t recommend this. It is possibly the first move students make and it’s a disastrous move.
If you are like most pre-medical students, you will probably be very critical of your initial score. This will cause you to become emotionally imbalanced. If you immediately start studying again you will not be 100% focused and when you face challenging MCAT problems or CARS passages, your emotions will get the best of you.
What I mean by this is that you will probably stop studying and push it off longer than if you were to give yourself time to cope with the disappointment you felt initially. And even if you continue to study while frustrated, your improvements will not be as significant as opposed to having a clear mind. If you are emotionally unbalanced while you study, you will be stuck in a loop that may last months or even years.
The MCAT is an exam of skill. Just like driving a car is based on skill. It’s something you acquire over time with a lot of practice. People who are emotional do not make for good drivers and they certainly do not make for good test-takers! Stay off the road!
The best way to get over your disappoint is to realize that retaking the MCAT is perfectly normal. Even the best applicants retake the MCAT. I’ve seen students retake scores others would die for. (Like a well-rounded 512 in order to attain a 520 – don’t do this please, not recommended)
But the point is medical schools realize how rigorous this exam truly is and how it may take you a little longer to adapt to its style.
You could also write about your feelings before you go to sleep. There is research that shows how psychologically useful this strategy is. Write whatever comes to mind. You will feel a lot better afterwards. I recommend doing this each night until you are over it.
You can also talk to your friends and family – anyone that has your back. Exercise, eat well, and give yourself time to heal. Recover mentally and physically from this grueling exam in order to retake the MCAT successfully.
It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to be disappointed. But you have give yourself space to get over or else it will seep into your studying and it will ruin your confidence. Confidence plays a large role in retaking the MCAT.
Retaking the MCAT: Preparation is Everything
The MCAT does not test your intelligence. Instead, the MCAT is good at determining whether or not you prepared correctly. The keyword here is correctly. Simply opening up a book and reading novels will not make you a pro at the CARS section. And doing random questions from a chemistry textbook here and there could help but it’s probably not going to change your C/P score by much.
You need to study the right material, the right way. You also need to execute this within a four month window. You should assess what went wrong initially while you were studying and decide what you will do differently when you retake the MCAT. Study how to study! And then do it!
The key to preparation is to have a goal MCAT retake date in mind. Make MCAT your priority while you study and be determined to take the exam the day you are aiming for. You must convince yourself that you will be done with this exam on that day. That is a great motivating factor.
Some students do not do this and instead make the MCAT a work-habit. It’s something they do each day without a goal in mind. When you do this, the MCAT becomes a way of life. The MCAT is not a way of life. It is a goal you must attain by finishing it. But it’s a long-term goal, not a forever goal.
Retaking the MCAT: Stop Rushing
Breathe. You will improve. You will get into medical school. But you need to give yourself time. You may be rushed to take the exam since you might want to apply within the same application cycle. I don’t recommend this. Rushing to take the exam again within one to two months is a very, very big mistake.
If you scored low on a certain section, it’s because you are not at the right proficiency yet. You need to strengthen your weaknesses and no one can do this in a month. If needed, take the exam next year. It’s better than rushing to retake the exam and then being stuck with two bad scores! Would you rather get in next year or not at all? Be honest with yourself and your abilities.
You may think your initial score was a fluke, in which case it very well could be. Maybe something happened on test day, like the fire alarm went off or someone decided to drill concrete outside your building the exact moment you were taking CARS. But even then, you’ve probably taken enough exams up to this point of your academic career to handle issues like these when they arise. If you messed up somewhere, these potential fluke distractions are easy to blame. Again, be honest with yourself.
If you end up rushing, you will most likely get around the same score. Take it when you are absolutely ready. Take it when you know this is the last time you will retake the MCAT. Or else you’re going to have to study for it again.
How will you know you are ready? I would say if you took 10-15 practice exams and thoroughly reviewed them as well as took and reviewed all of the AAMC material available, you are probably over-prepared and truly ready. Practicing a lot of MCAT will rewire your brain, making you a better test-taker. You will know when you are ready to retake the MCAT.