The Perfection Trap

Posted in: MCAT

April 4, 2019 | by Luke

“Being too perfect” sounds like a ridiculous problem, the sort of thing you’d say when asked at an interview about your worst flaw when you’ve decided you don’t actually want the job. But it can break you long before looking at employment options. Perfection is the enemy of the MCAT, which is bad news for perfection, because perfection doesn’t actually exist while the MCAT happens to thousands of people every year. And it happens to some of them really hard.

Obviously students want to score 100%. Especially MCAT students. Everything about applying to medical colleges encourages excellence, improvement, ever higher marks than everyone else and as much more as you can offer. Plus we all sort of hope that medical professionals will make perfect decisions!

But there are big differences between a perfect answer and the right answer. The biggest being time. It takes far longer to make something perfect than to make it good enough, and a hundred good enoughs will always be better than one perfect. Especially when everyone is a sick patient who needs to be treated before things get worse. This is another way the MCAT isn’t just an admission test but early medical training. Doctors daily face far more patients than non-doctors imagine, and they need to know how to help them all instead of getting bogged down trying to take one human body to 100%.

This can be a difficult lesson to accept, especially for the kind of high-achiever who goes for the MCAT. Which is why the MCAT is so specifically built to break that idea down into simple facts. There are far too many questions to spend time getting them perfect. The exam is simply too long to sustain perfect thinking. Even if you could achieve flawless answers, the human brain simply can’t sustain that level of performance for over seven hours. So when we say the earlier you accept this the better things will be it’s not just life advice, it’s exam strategy.

We can’t be perfect, but we can get things right.

We don’t need to be perfect. We do need to get things right, to make them good enough, and that’s the attitude we should bring into our study and our exam. Getting something good enough and moving on is achieving AND relaxing. It means you’re moving forward, and you can always work on improving to become even better. But if your goal is perfection you’ll never reach it. You’ll always be frustrated. And whether you’re looking at the exam or your entire life, you’ll run out of time without ever reaching that impossible goal.



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