Don’t keep carrying a question

Posted in: MCAT

by Luke

There’s a Zen fable about two monks walking home to their monastery. They encountered a woman stuck on the wrong side of a river which was flooding due to recent rains. Even though the monks had taken vows never to touch a woman, the older monk carried her across the river on his back. The younger monk was speechless, and spent the next few hours of their journey silently fuming at such casual disregard for their sacred vows. He glared and frowned at the blissfully carefree older monk. Finally the younger monk could restrain his wrath no longer and blurted:

“Brother! We are forbidden from ever touching a woman!”

The helpful monk turned to his younger friend.

“I put her down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?”

It’s a lovely story with simple morals. The first is obviously prioritizing helping the person right in front you over regulations which were talking about different situations. That’s something you should to think about after you become a medical professional. But before that we have to take the MCAT, which doesn’t involve itself in such ethical challenges, which is why we turn to the second lesson: make your decision and then leave it behind. This one is much more useful for multiple choice exams!

The older monk made the “least worst” decision in his situation. All his options had problems. He had to either abandon someone in need or break one of his own rules. He chose the least worst option, solved the problem, and moved on with his life. He has nothing to worry about. But his friend stressed and fumed about it for hours, ruining their own mood and wasting their own energy. It’s easy to see who was right in both cases.

Just think about how badly that must have distracted the younger monk. Think about how hard that would make it to think of other things. The MCAT multiple choice section can do the same to you if you aren’t careful. Don’t worry, the examination room won’t flood, but you have to make sure you aren’t carrying a difficult question with you through the whole exams.

Get a free philosophy lesson with your exam advice!

The MCAT’s multiple choice questions can sometimes challenge you with awkward options, or cases where you’re forced to choose the “least worst” answer or even randomly decide between two 50/50 options. No matter how tenuous your reasons for choosing an answer, that’s it. You’ve chosen an answer. Leave it. Move on. Or if you’ve marked it for later review, forget about that until you’ve completed everything else and are doing that review.

This ability to make quick decisions and move forward without regret is vital for an entire medical career, not just a medical college admissions test. It’s a powerful technique. It’s the end goal of several business courses and some entire philosophies. And you can get it for free while practicing multiple choice questions!