MP 21 : What to Expect on Your MCAT Test Day


Session 21

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about what to expect on test day and some tips leading up to test day on how to best maximize your test day experience. Knowing what's going to happen is important to help alleviate those stresses that build up. Knowing the basic mechanics smooths out the whole process for you.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

What to expect leading to test day:

  • Visit your testing location. (Know where you're going to park, how to get there, etc.)
  • To be able to go to a test site near you, you need to register to make sure there are open seats available. Register as soon as you can to get a good seat.
  • Different tests are going on in the test center, so don't freak out thinking you're in the wrong place.

What to expect on test day:

  • Bring your ID. You get a ton of notifications from AAMC to make sure the name that appears on your ID is exactly the same as the name you used to register for the MCAT. Make sure that happens!
  • You get a one-page laminated sheet with test instructions.
  • You get a locker key and you're expected to put everything in the locker. You can put your cellphone in the locker as long as it's turned off. But generally, leave your cellphone at home or in the car. Don't bring it in the room with you.
  • Sit in the waiting room with your locker key and ID (the only two things you're allowed to carry around all day) for about 15-20 minutes.
  • They call your name and bring you into a little side room (in between the waiting room and testing room) where they do the security check. They get your fingerprint scanned and picture taken. Then you sign your name and the time you're starting.
  • They open up the door to the testing facility and ask you to stand by the door. Then the proctor will take you to your cubicle.
  • As you sit down, you'd see the testing screen in front of you. Confirm your name and begin the tutorial for how you take the exam.
  • Don't skip the tutorial just to get yourself settled in.
  • Begin the test itself. It will look, feel, smell, and taste just like your practice exams.

How to use the breaks:

  • First, go through the checkout process. Go back to the security room, re-scan your fingerprint.
  • You get 10 minutes for the first break and 30 minutes for the second break and 10 minutes for the last break.
  • Get up and move around to get the blood moving and freshen up your brain.
  • Drink water and get a mouthful of food.
  • Use the restroom. Even if you don't need to, just splash some water into your face to freshen up and refresh your brain to get yourself ready for the exam.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep – Use the code MCATPOD and save yourself money when you sign up to their products and services.



Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at

This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 21.

A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles as a premed, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a physician.

Alright welcome back to The MCAT Podcast. Last week we played a special podcast, the first in the Specialty Stories series of podcasts. It's going to be a brand new podcast. If you haven't subscribed to that yet, go check it out over at Again that's Let's go ahead and jump into this week's MCAT Podcast episode.

So Bryan last week we talked about stress management, and we talked a lot about test day and how to kind of reduce stress on test day by knowing what is going to happen. So let's talk exactly about what to expect on test day, and maybe some tips leading up to test day on how to best maximize our test day experiences.

What to Expect on MCAT Test Day

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah Ryan, you know it seems so silly but literally just knowing the basic mechanics of what to expect, what exactly am I going to be asked to do, and how does it all work, can help really smooth out the whole process for you. So leading up to test day, the first and most important thing is to go actually visit your testing location. Right? When you register for the MCAT they're going to tell you, ‘Oh you're going to this Prometric testing center at 123 Main Street in Suite 507.' And so many students will neglect the advice to go visit the location, but you absolutely have to. I almost got burned by this the first time I was taking the test at a new location. When I didn't realize because I was going on the weekend the front door had this big sliding glass door in a big fancy office building it wasn't open, and I couldn't find the door to get into the building. So here I am, this supposed MCAT professional having a total panic attack like, ‘I can't even get into the building,' because I didn't know where the side door was because I hadn't gone to visit the location ahead of time. So definitely before test day go scope it out. Know exactly where you're going, where you're going to park, how you're going to get there and everything.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I want to add a quick little caveat to that. To be able to go to that test site that's close to you, you need to register early enough so that there are open seats available at the test site near you that you can go and check it out. So that's a caveat there.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah always register as soon as you possibly can. I get students all the time telling me, ‘Well I'm not sure yet. Maybe I'll do May, maybe I'll do June,' and I always put my foot down. I'm not going to tutor you unless you pick a test date. So like let's pick May and if we have to push it back to June we can, but you have to register right away so you get a good seat.

Yeah so then what do you do, right? You get to the location, typically these are going to be a computer testing facilities not specific to the MCAT. So something like a company like Prometric where it's just a big office suite full of cubicles with computers, students taking all different kinds of tests, okay? So you're going to get there, you're going to open the door, there's going to be a waiting room with a front desk. Now I've been to about eight or nine different of these testing locations, and they're like McDonalds, they're all exactly the same. They all follow exactly the same floor plan, they're laid out the same way. So there'll be some lockers along the wall, there'll be a place to hang up your coat. You go up and you bring your ID, right? You'll get a million notifications from the AAMC telling you to make sure that the name as it appears on the ID is exactly the same as the name you used to register for the MCAT including middle name, or middle initial, or whatever it is. And they are 100% not kidding, right? Make sure that that happens. I've had students of my own get rejected because the middle name didn't match, or they registered for the MCAT with a middle name but their driver's license didn't have one. So they're not kidding about that. So you go up, you show them your ID, they'll just check in the computer to make sure that you're actually- you are where you're supposed to be, and then they'll give you a little one page laminated sheet with test instructions that will say things like, ‘Don't try to steal the computer,' or whatever. It's a whole bunch of silly instructions, you can read it or not, there's really nothing surprising there. ‘Don't bring a gun into the testing room with you,' stuff like that. So you give them back the laminated sheet and then they will give you a locker key. So they have these little cubby lockers and you're going to be expected to put everything in the locker. Now about the cell phone. You can put your cell phone in the locker as long as you turn it off. Okay? It doesn't go on silent, it doesn't go on vibrate, it goes powered down. But generally you want to leave the cell phone either at home or in the car. Don't even bring it into the room with you because if it starts ringing in the middle of the test they're going to come get you and make you shut it off, and you're not going to get that time back. So just leave the cell phone in the car. Better to not have to deal with that situation. So your lunch goes in the locker, anything personal that you brought with you goes into the locker, and then you just sit there in the waiting room holding onto your locker key and your ID. Those are the only two things you're allowed to carry around with you all day. So you've got your driver's license and your locker key, and when you sit in the waiting room there's literally nothing that you can do. Right? You can't study for the MCAT certainly, you can't even have any prep materials in the building with you. You can chitchat with other students there, or you can read like a fifteen year old copy of US Weekly magazine, I mean whatever. Although I've never actually seen them have reading material. You're just like, ‘Oh look, Britney Spears shaved her head sixteen years ago.'

The finest that People Magazine has to offer. So you just sit around and you wait, and typically you're going to be kept waiting somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes depending on the location. If you get there early or it's a smaller testing center that's having a slow day that day, they might let you in after five or ten minutes. But expect to deal with just a little bit of boredom right at the beginning. In fact with my own tutoring students I even tell them when you're taking a practice test, go to a library, set up your laptop, get all settled, and then just sit in the chair and stare at the wall for fifteen minutes because it's boring, and because it's boring it's a little stressful, so that's part of the experience, right? Be ready to be bored a little bit. Then they'll call your name and they'll bring you into another little side room in between the waiting room and the testing room, and the little side room there's going to be two or three little chairs that are like the on deck circle for baseball fans out there. You're just kind of waiting, and that's where they do the security check. So the security check is going to be that first they'll have you stand there and they'll wave a metal detector wand over you to make sure you're not- I don't know, sneaking in contraband or something. If you're wearing any pants or shorts with pockets, they'll ask you to turn the pockets inside out. If you're wearing long pants, they'll ask you to lift the pants up above your ankles. If you have any shirt pockets, they'll ask you to sweep your finger through the pocket to make sure there's nothing there. And you can't have any head coverings unless they are like religious head covering. So if you're wearing a yamaka or hijab or something that's fine, but you can't wear a baseball cap into the testing facility. Then they have this little fingerprint scanny thing where they will check you in, and this is not some super fancy iPhone 7 recognize your fingerprint in two seconds. They're using tech from the early nineties, so every time I've ever gone it's like, ‘Okay pick up your finger, put it down again. Okay pick up your finger, put it down again.' Like just for whatever reason it takes them forever to get a proper fingerprint scan from you. So they'll do that, they'll scan your fingerprint and take your picture, and then they'll have these big three ring binders and they'll ask you to sign your name and the time that you're starting.

Then they'll open up the door to the testing facility, to where the actual cubbies with the computers are, and ask you to stand by the door. And then the person, the proctor will go to your cubby or your cubicle, you don't get to pick which computer they use, they give you one, they'll take you to your cubicle and then wave you over, you'll come over and sit down, and you'll see the testing screen in front of you and it will say, ‘Welcome to the MCAT,' for me it would say Bryan Schnedeker. ‘If this is your name, click yes' or whatever. So you confirm that you're supposed to be there, and then you begin the tutorial for how to take the exam. The tutorial is exactly the same as the tutorial that's given in the AAMC practice tests so there's no surprise there. The temptation is to just kind of skip over the tutorial because you're like, ‘I know how to work a mouse,' like the tutorial is written for Grandma. Like here's how you click on things. So it's not like you need it, but you should always take advantage of the tutorial just to kind of get settled in. Like just settle your butt into the seat, and I'm real tall, I'm 6'4″ so the monitor is always too low for me, so I always have to tilt the monitor back so that it's at a good height. You're not going to use the keyboard for literally anything throughout the entire test, you only use the mouse, so you can pick the keyboard up and put it to the side, or I like to prop it up underneath the monitor so that the keyboard's not in the way. You can get used to the mouse, just get yourself settled in during the tutorial. And then you actually begin the test itself. And when you're taking the test of course, it will be just like the Next Step or AAMC practice tests, okay? It will look and feel and smell and taste just like your practice exams, so no surprises there. And then you get to the break, and that's the other big thing to be aware of about the test day experience, is how to use the breaks.

And first, use them. Don't just go, ‘I'm totally amped up because I've got like test day jitters, and so I feel real nervous, so I'm just going to go plow right into the next section.' Bad idea, use the break, take advantage of it. So how do you use the break? Well first you're going to have to go through the checkout process. So you go back out into the little security room, they're going to re-scan your fingerprint, you're going to sign your name of when you left, you get ten minutes for the first break, thirty minutes for the second break, and then ten minutes again for the last break. So it's a break between each section, the middle one is like a lunch break for thirty minutes. But really the breaks are more like five minutes and 25 minutes because you have to account for a few minutes to check in and check out, because if there are other people taking a break the same time as you then you might have to wait for a couple of minutes to do the fingerprint scan, and the sign in and out, and all that. So the big thing during the break is number one, you have to move your body. Just physically get up and move around. You've got to get that venus blood return from your legs back up to your heart, right? Your brain is an organ like any other organ in the body and it needs blood to function correctly.

So get that blood moving. I usually say go out in hallway and do a couple of jumping jacks, or pace up and down the hall a few times, but just move your body around a little bit to kind of freshen up your brain. Second is you've got to get a drink of water and maybe a mouthful of food, and during the lunch break you might need to eat like a quick PB&J sandwich, or whatever you brought with you. I'm a huge fan of granola bars, so I always just rock the Nature Valley granola bars during the breaks. But get a mouthful of food, get a mouthful of water, and then if you need to, of course use the restroom. I usually recommend you go to the restroom and even if you don't need to go to the bathroom, splash some water on your face in the sink in the bathroom, just again to kind of freshen yourself up and reset your brain to get ready for the exam. So all those little mechanics of what the test day experience is like, when you actually get there and experience them for yourselves, nothing will surprise you. So as they say forewarned is forearmed, you'll have a better test day experience by knowing all those mechanics that I just laid out for you there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Nice. And I think we as humans have amazing abilities to make things up in our heads, so knowing the mechanics behind it all, knowing what's going to happen helps alleviate those stresses of building something up bigger than it really is. So that definitely helps.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely. It's so important but it's also so mundane. You know it really is, just from the perspective of the people working there this is just a job they do every day. So if you can kind of get in with that mundanity, just ‘okay here it is, it's just another thing that happens today,' yeah it's much more manageable of an experience.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I think you mentioned it briefly for a second and I want to reiterate the fact that not everyone there is taking the MCAT. So if you get there and you're talking to somebody and they mention a test other than the MCAT, don't freak out and think you're in the wrong place.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah there's going to be nursing students, and like accountants, and pharmacy students, I mean all sorts of different tests are going on at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, what to expect on your MCAT test day. It's a stressful day and so knowing ahead of time what to expect will help ease your anxiety, and hopefully reduce your stress to make the test day as good as it can be. It's not a great test day, it's long, a lot longer than when I took it, though the boards are long eight hour tests, so it kind of prepares you for that. But knowing what to get yourself into- what you're getting yourself into rather is important. So I hope you learned something about your MCAT test day coming up, and hopefully you'll be able to ace it.

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Alright I hope you learned something today useful and to do us a big favor, I would love for you to share this podcast with your premed advisor. The MCAT obviously is a huge stressor for premed students, and if the premed advisor at your school had this resource to give to students, wouldn't that be awesome? I know you're thinking to yourself, ‘but if everybody has this information then they're all going to be just as prepared as I am and that's not going to be good,' remember we preach at the Medical School Headquarters collaboration, not competition. So don't worry about that, you're competing against yourself. Share this resource with everybody out there, it'll come back to you in spades.

I hope you have a great week, and we'll see you next week here at The MCAT Podcast.

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