Improve your MCAT score by training your brain to focus

by Gabe

I recently read a study published in Psychological science that detailed how researchers were able to get students to improve their GRE Verbal scores by the equivalent of 16 percentile points in two weeks using a pretty simple technique.

Imagine if you could get that same improvement in your CARS score. And in two weeks! (For reference, going from a 127 to a 130 would also be an increase of 16 percentile points). Now of course, the GRE Verbal section is easier than the CARS section. But the method used in the study is still very applicable to CARS (and the MCAT as a whole).

So what did they have the study participants do? It’s pretty simple: they had them practice mindfulness meditation. 

The simplest way I can describe mindfulness meditation is that it’s basically a method of training your mind to focus more intently on whatever is in front of it. It doesn’t have to be a religious/spiritual practice, and it’s not about “emptying” your mind. It generally involves some process of bringing your attention to focus on your breath. And it’s something that anyone can do. You can think of your focus like a muscle and practicing mindfulness like a workout for that muscle. Over time, if you practice mindfulness, your ability to focus on complex or boring tasks will improve dramatically.

Think about how helpful this would be for the MCAT. Have you ever found your mind wandering while doing a CARS passage? (If you say no then I don’t believe you!) Your ability to focus intensely is key to doing well on the test. Anything that can help you improve your focus muscles is worth your time.

This study bears that out. The researchers found that doing this mindfulness practice for two weeks significantly decreased how frequently participants minds wandered. Their hypothesis was that the increase in focus was responsible for the jump in scores. The better they were able to focus, the better they were able to score.

Given how hard it can be to increase your MCAT score, I think that if you’re not doing this then you’re missing out.

If you’re looking to get started with mindfulness, I would recommend downloading the Headspace app. It’s not perfect, but it will give you a simple introduction to mindfulness. You can also find plenty of guided mindfulness meditations online, and those would work just as well.

I’ve had a lot of my students do this and they’ve seen great results from it. My personal recommendation is to do a daily mindfulness session of at least 10 minutes in the morning and then do an extra shorter session before you start studying or working on CARS passages. Doing that will help you get in the zone and start building laser focus.

Mrazek, Michael D., et al. "Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering." Psychological science 24.5 (2013): 776-781.

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