Overcome MCAT score plateau I

One of the most common frustrations that we’ve seen students run into during their MCAT studying is the dreaded score plateau. A student’s studying is going well, they are improving on their practice exam scores and feel confident in their content mastery, but then several exams in a row show the same score. It can feel demoralizing, but remember, it happens to nearly all students, even students who end up with 520+ scores, and it is a normal part of the MCAT studying process.

Why Score Plateau Occurs

Plateaus occur because a student has rounded out all of their most prominent content gaps, familiarized themselves with the basics of MCAT strategy and reasoning skills, and addressed any glaring problems with time management. In other words, plateaus occur when we have fixed our most obvious weaknesses, and now the mistakes that we’re making, while fewer in number, are subtler, more systemic, and harder to address. When we reach this stage of the studying process, the appropriate prescription is a detailed exam review.

Detailed Exam Review

Look at what you missed on your last few practice exams. Were there certain content areas where you kept missing questions? That can be a sign that you are misunderstanding some key aspect of that field, even if you know the basic science behind it. Did you do better or worse in certain sections? That can be an insight to guide your drilling. Are you scoring better or worse on easy vs. medium or hard questions? A stronger performance on questions classified as easy often means that you are approaching the exam too shallowly.

Go back to the hard questions you got wrong, and really dig into your thought process: Why did you choose answer choice A? Why was A wrong? Why was answer choice B correct? Why did you rule out B?

Focus on understanding and changing your thought process, rather than passively reviewing your mistakes. On the flip side, you may see that you actually did better on medium and hard questions, and struggled on questions classified as easy. Don’t feel embarrassed; this is actually quite common! It is typically a sign that you are overthinking questions, looking for reasons that are too subtle and too complex. When this happens, review the explanations for those “easier” questions that you missed, and try to find ways to streamline and simplify your thought process.

Overcome a Score Plateau

Score plateaus can be scary, especially if you plateau at a point below your target score, but overcoming a score plateau is not an insurmountable task. Expect that it will happen when you begin studying, don’t panic when it finally does happen, and focus on detailed test review to solve it.

Remember that while content weaknesses can play a part in score plateaus, a plateau is typically more deeply rooted in our reasoning skills and how we approach questions.