When studying for the MCAT, or the many high-pressure exams you will take as part of your medical school education, it is easy (and common) to feel overwhelmed by negative outcomes, especially score plateaus on practice exams. A growth mindset is essential for facing these struggles head on and will empower you to be successful in future endeavors.

What is a “growth mindset” and why is it important?

You may have heard the term before: the psychology and sociology section of the MCAT requires you to know the difference between a growth and fixed mindset. Incase you need a quick refresher, here is a quick recap from psychologist Carol Dweck. (For a more indepth review, check out this article)

  • Growth mindset: The idea that intelligence is an active, plastic process that can be developed, guided by a desire to learn and develop tendencies to embrace challenges, learn from criticism, and find lessons and motivation in suboptimal outcomes.

  • Fixed mindset: The idea that intellectual growth is static, which leads to a desire to “look smart,” avoid challenges, give up easily, see any effort as fruitless, ignore useful constructive criticism, and fall below your full potential.

During your MCAT prep, you will make a lot of mistakes and encounter some challenging content. Having a growth mindset will allow you to embrace your mistakes as learning opportunities and take advantage of sources of feedback (such as the analytical tools available to you through Blueprint).

How do I cultivate a growth mindset?

Embrace the power of "yet." Instead of focusing solely on outcomes, embrace the process and reflect on what you can learn from your mistakes. Don't be afraid to FAIL, since it really is a First Attempt In Learning. There is a great ted talk by Carol Dweck on the power of yet and the effect that reframing your approach to learning can have on performance.

Here are 5 changes that you can make to cultivate a growth mindset: (for more, check out this article by Saga Briggs’s)

  1. Embrace imperfections as opportunities for growth: Scoring a 478 or a 502 is perfectly ok on a practice exam! Performing lower than your expectations gives you more opportunities to learn your strengths and weaknesses, and to tailor your study plan to best address your learning needs. Don’t shy away from your mistakes: teach yourself to view every single one as a chance to grow and do better the next time.

  2. Try different learning tactics: What works for one person might not work for you, and that's ok. With standardized tests, the key is to find what reading strategies work for you. Do you highlight? Do you take notes? Or do you prefer mental summaries after the whole passage is complete? Do you integrate practice into your daily schedule? Or do you alternate between practice and content review days? How do you review your full lengths? If one strategy does not work for you, remember that it is NOT a reflection on your ability to do well on the exam. There will be another strategy that works for you, and you just have to keep pushing yourself to find it.

  3. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning:” The key that we will emphasize throughout this article is that no mistake is a failure, and every mistake is a learning opportunity. Do not let one score distort your view on how much you accomplished - there is plenty of time to continue improving, and understanding your mistakes will help you do better the next time!

  4. Celebrate growth with others: Share your progress with others! No, I do not mean post your Full Length 3 exam score on Reddit, but rather talk to your support system about how you have improved. What sections are you doing better on now? What questions have you gotten better at answering? Your friends care about you, and they want to know!

  5. Provide regular opportunities for reflection: How do you reflect on your progress? Do you journal? Debrief with friends? Tell your parents? No matter the situation, allow yourself an opportunity to reflect on your growth. Embrace your emotions and reflect on how each positive or negative outcome can be a learning experience.

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