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Low MCAT Scores: It's All In Your Head

Discussion in 'MCAT: Medical College Admissions Test' started by j306c954, Aug 10, 2015.

  1. j306c954

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    I am a re-applicant, and after a meeting with the dean of admissions of my school of choice to review my application with her, I learned that (in her words) pretty much the only reason I didn't get in was because my MCAT score was below the minimum they accept. She said the rest of my application was "extremely impressive", and to just work on getting up score up.

    While my score has slightly improved since then on practice tests, I remain at a plateau and have not been able to hit my target score. After thoroughly examining and analyzing each of my practice tests and why I got each question wrong, I have come to realize that 90% of the questions I missed were due to putting too much pressure on myself, and therefore not thinking straight. And of course, if I take time to try to recompose myself, I just get even more anxiety about wasting time I could have used to answer questions.

    I know this is a common issue, and it usually relieved by just continuing to take simulated practice tests...but all my life, my personality has been to put too much pressure on myself. I am just curious as to whether or not any of you have suffered similar struggles (as I am sure you have), and how you learned to stay "zen" while taking the exam.


    [And before anyone goes and critiques me by saying that there are always high pressure situations in medicine, for me those situations are different than taking an exam. I have been exposed to many high-anxiety situations, as I volunteered as a crisis counselor for the National Suicide Prevention Line for almost 4 years and have dealt with many life or death situations and remained calm and composed while still being effective. Just needed to put that out there because I know a lot of people on here like to be critical rather than helpful :)]
     
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  2. Shreyasthegreat

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    Try to distance your outside thoughts as much as possible during the exam. Get in "the zone", so to speak. Basically, if you're only focused on and thinking about the exam, you won't be distracted by thoughts of goal scores, your future, and the importance of the exam. My way to do this is to try to genuinely enjoy the passages and maintain full focus. Try it out on your next full length, takes a bit of getting used to.
     
  3. BerkReviewTeach

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    I am so VERY, VERY, VERY glad you posted this. It is a very common issue that gets ignored by many people who brush it off as something that will go away with enough practice. But the truth is that negotiating your anxieties during a major exam is essential if you plan to do well. For the sake of clarifying where my opinion comes from, I have been doing MCAT prep long enough that I have worked with more pencil-based test takers than computer-based test takers (although that will change soon). In all of those years, I have seen this issue as the number one factor when a brilliant student didn't score where they should have.

    There are a few things that you MUST do.

    (1) You have to accept that anxiety is a natural response built into your genes so that your body can rise to the occasion when needed. The goal here is not to eliminate the stress, but to recognize it and re-channel it into something positive. This can be done in part by being cognoscente that you have shifted to a hyper-alert state as well as by knowing what physiological steps to take to get your heartbeat to an optimal state. A deep breath is a great start. When anxiety kicks in, see it as an advantage.
    • A positive attitude and trust in a game plan can overpower the negative impact of anxiety. Building in a recovery plan whenever you start to feel stress build up can help alleviate the cascade effect of anxiety.
    (2) You have to shift into machine mode when you feel anxiety taking over. See it as your body's signal that you must go back to the basics of every question. If you have a systematic flowchart in your head how to deal with each topic, then you will be able to focus on that pathway and avoid errors.
    • Say for instance the MCAT has a passage on urine pH of four different people of varying lifestyle (exercise and diet) over a six hour period. Then they ask a question about hydronium ion percentage differences between two subjects based on their CO2 output. If anxiety starts to creep in, then you go back to the fundamentals of the question. Get away from information overload and focus on the basics here. Chant under your breath what the question calls for. "CO2, pH, and the log scale are at play in this question, and the rest is periphery." There are three facts you need to know: (1) CO2 is a weak acid, (2) urine pH works in conjunction with respiratory pH, and (3) pH is a log scale. Off-loading CO2 through ventilation reduces the acidity of your body, so your body pH goes up upon hyperventilation. They are asking for an exact number, so they must be giving you exact numbers to work with. From the passage or table, you look for CO2 information and zero in on a curve that shows a roughly 0.3 change in pH associated with post exercise pH. There is your number. Because it's a log scale, we know that we need 10^0.3, which is 5. There is a factor of 5 involved, so now it's time to scan the answer choices for a factor of 5. The question called for percentages, so 500% is our aim. From there it is a matter of eliminating wrong answers that don't fit.
    (3) You need to practice systematic, simplified solutions with everything you do. The simpler your solution, the better you will do when stressed. It's like anyone who trains for a crisis... when the crisis hits, you go back to the basics of your training. This helps in a couple ways. Primarily, you won't be as subject to stress-driven mistakes if you have fewer steps in reaching a solution. Secondarily, if you have a fast way to solve many of the problems, then you have extra time that you can afford to take a few zen breaks during your exam.
    • If the next question is a simple case of what is the pKa given a Ka of 4.81 x 10^-7 for instance, then you can calm back down and do the basics. Having a very fast technique for solving the math question will allow you extra time to calm down elsewhere.
    (4) Know your triggers and have a preemptive strike prepared. A great deal of the damage caused by pre-worrying, where you waste energy that should be focused on the question thinking about something else. When you feel you are not focused, force a test method on yourself.
    • If you know that passages with a surplus of graphs freak you out, then develop a strategy of looking at each graph in a certain sequence and make a note on your scratch paper of what is key. The routine you develop can relieve some of the anxiety.
    There are many things you can do that can help, and your plan needs to be customized to you. It all starts with changing the way you attack questions that cause stress.
     
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  4. StudyLater

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    First of all I just want to say, sometimes reading SDN posts is actually great practice for the exam. Just the fact it's usually an extensive discussion on the finer details of an idea that isn't exactly always perfectly easy to understand, our discussions usually require a significant level of critical thinking.

    Quick question: this is on an FL? imo any trouble you're having outside of an FL is bull****. Just do an FL. You'll realize how ample the time you have really is. Particularly in the science sections, discretes will straight up save your ass despite spending 10-12mins per passage (lol @ 8mins per, it just isn't always going to be possible on science; if I could do that I'd straight up finish 30mins early at minimum).

    Like most people, it's difficult for you to take into consideration everyone around you is going through similar struggles. You are not uniquely inferior at all in this sense. Why do you think there are constant complaints on here about people freaking out? They're not posting that simply because they're weak; they're literally panicking. I myself frequently have this issue. Sometimes I panic, and it results in uncontrollable physiological symptoms. But despite the fact it's ****ed up, it's manageable. A lot of people will experience these sorts of issues and immediately say to themselves, "Alright, **** this. There's plenty of other jobs out there without this level of intensity I could do. I'm out of here." So they move on and don't do this whole thing. This is one of the reasons why they say getting in is hard, and it'll be one of the reasons why getting through will be hard too. I'm not gonna give you some motivational speal -- it basically boils down to this: Are you cool with being mentally, emotionally, and physically beat up for 8 years straight in order to gain legal access to practicing medicine?

    No yeah I agree that this is actually a different kind of stress, and therefore requires a different sort of coping mechanism. Having your whole future career staked on one six-hour instance of mental performance sucks, but then we come back to practicality - there's not much we can do about this. They have their way of doing things. It's their club. We want in. So we do what they say. If we don't, we go do something else. That's basically the long and short, which you already know.
     
  5. j306c954

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    Wow, thank you!
    This is definitely something I am not used to. For example, I used to compete in Taekwondo olympic-style sparring at a very elite level (including international competition). In those situations, I was able to successfully channel everything out during competition because you kind of have to (or else you will probably be knocked out). It's interesting that I cannot transfer this ability over to the MCAT.

    Thank you though. That is excellent advice!
     
  6. j306c954

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    Thanks! And yes this is actually only on FLE's.

    I enjoy challenges, and working towards overcoming them (or else I would have given up by now =]). It's funny how my Dad will try to help me feel better by saying "if you don't get into med school maybe it's not for you". That's not even what it's all about at this point. The MCAT is a challenge for me unlike any challenge I've had before. When I set a goal for myself, I do everything I can to accomplish it.

    I agree with your final point completely. Do I think the MCAT is an accurate predictor of your success as a Doctor? Not at all. There are actually a couple studies that have been done showing that MCAT score is not a statistically significant predictor of IQ or success as a Doctor.

    BUT, it is what it is. If they tell me I need to do well on the MCAT, then I am going to do well on the MCAT. Despite my indifference towards it.
     
  7. StudyLater

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    Let's just say I'm probably a somewhat more typical SDNer in that this is not exactly my situation. I guess what I'm saying is, for some people parental love is a contingency plan. It's nice having a definitive form of support to fall back on.

    This is a useful personal quality to have.

    Being indifferent is a bitch, though, huh? Seriously. I wish I could fool myself into being motivated better. The best I can do is get high on caffeine and watch Eric Thomas videos.
     
  8. j306c954

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    Ha it was easier to fool myself into thinking that this was "fun" when I first started. Gets a little more difficult to fool yourself the third time around though Before practice tests I just listen to the same music that I listen to when I'm warming up before a sparring match. Quotes also help motivate me.
     
  9. StudyLater

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    True.
     
  10. j306c954

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    I also take my practice tests at the med school library, so seeing all these students in white coats motivates me as well
     
  11. StudyLater

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    We gotta wear white coats to school?

    Interesting.

    Stethoscope too?
     

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