I’m still only in high school but I’m a horrible test taker. I can do fine on quizzes and all the other homework but tests I do not do well on. I really want to get to go to medical school but I’m afraid my bad scores on standardized testing are not going to allow me to even get accepted. Help! Ps. Keep up the awesome blog
Thanks! We hope the blog is helpful for all aspiring docs—it’s a long road and no one should have to go it alone.
Seems like to me if you are doing fine on the quizzes and homework and are understanding the material well, maybe you have psyched yourself out when it comes to taking tests. It’s a fairly common thing (I had a friend in middle school who was absolutely brilliant. He could do calculus when the rest of us in 7th grade were learning algebra I, but he just couldn’t take tests well) and I think it’s something you can overcome. First you have to identify what the problem is. Do tests make you super nervous and scatter-brained? Do you feel anxious? Are you unable to focus? Or do you just second guess yourself a lot?
If it’s the first two, then maybe you have a form of test anxiety, and there are many resources (working with a counselor, learning mindfulness and meditation techniques, etc.) you can use to circumvent that fight-or-flight response and find a sense of calm while test-taking. An inability to focus can stem from many things (anxiety, chronic stress, lack of sleep, etc.) but for some it’s a legitimate biological disorder with no known external causes and should be addressed with your doctor. If you find yourself second-guessing yourself often, then it’s most likely a matter of self-confidence and learning how to trust yourself. Speaking from my own experiences with low self-esteem, the best way to remedy this in an academic context would be practice. I can’t even count how many practice MCATs I took, and I made sure to take them in a setting that simulated how my actual test day would go (woke up at 7am, sat at the kitchen table, put my dad’s noise-cancelling gun-range headphones on and set timers for each section etc.) Take practice exams until you feel comfortable with the material and take as many as you can. After awhile, you get a feel for how the tests are written and become more comfortable with phrasing, and you start to feel more secure about things because you’ve got your test day routine down. I truly believe you can “learn” most standardized tests, given enough time and resources. Since you are still in high school, you could look into test preparation programs (many schools hold mini-programs for free and some offer scholarships or grants to help defer the costs). Some of my friends went to summer camps for the SAT and ACT. It wasn’t something that was financially feasible for my family, but if I could have afforded it, I would have taken advantage of it. They seemed to have benefited from it, but I find that test-prep program results depend strongly on the quality of the program and the learning-style of the individual participating in it. If anything though, I doubt it would hurt and often in these programs they teach you test-taking strategies, which may help you feel more confident when taking these standardized exams. You can also find many of these strategies online and in test prep books, which are a lot cheaper than the tutored courses. It really just depends on how you learn best.
The good news is that you have several years before you even have to worry about picking up a MCAT prep book, and in the meantime, you can work on improving your test-taking abilities and test-taking confidence. Keep in mind that you are more than a score and that the MCAT only serves as one component of your application. I would like to leave you with the wise words of a MCAT tutor YouTube video I once saw: “Stop being terrified of the MCAT. The MCAT exists to HELP you. You’ve survived those classes. You’ve done all the legwork, and now it’s simply time to prove it. The MCAT is the only way medical schools have to objectively quantify your knowledge because all colleges have different class and grading standards. Think of your MCAT score as an enhancement to your application, especially if you’re not coming from a prestigious undergraduate college.” So there you have it. Make standardized tests your friend and make them work for you.
Good luck and best wishes!