We show you the best practices that you can take in order to become an MCAT test day pro.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
We are continuing our MCAT Like a Pro Series. Today we are going to focus on preparing for your MCAT test day like a pro. We’re joined once again by Nicole from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to premed.tv.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:48] Preparing for the MCAT Test Day
Your test day actually starts on the day before your exam. You can take an hour to do a few flashcards and read through a few things. For your weaknesses, you can review with a little study sheet. Those are okay. For the vast majority, the day before your test should be a time to relax and chill out.
The Night Before Your Test Day
The night before your exam, go and eat a favorite food of yours that you know is friendly to your stomach. Eat a good meal, something you feel good about, chill out that night and make sure you do your best to go to bed early.
Nicole shares how she took melatonin before her practice tests so she can just drop to sleep, knowing that she could get nervous on her test day. But it did nothing except made her body feel tired while her mind was going crazy. She says she regrets trying to use melatonin to sleep.
Getting in bed at nine is great. If you have 3 pm tests and you usually go to bed at midnight, that is okay. Just be prepared the night before.
Mindfulness and Meditation Practice
Try to cultivate as much calm as you can through mindfulness and meditation. Nicole says playing some music made things less worse for her. Do whatever is calming to you – do some drawing, do some painting, do some push-ups – anything that makes you feel calm or is anti-anxiety for you. Do all that the day before your tests because the anxiety is going to be real so don’t let that surprise you.
Practice Dealing with Anxiety
Nicole talked with students on practice tests who said they were really anxious about that practice test. For her, it was a better simulation of test day conditions. So just try to go to bed early with the knowledge that you might probably not fall asleep as fast as you usually would but you are still going to be okay.“Practice dealing with that anxiety whenever you feel it recurring throughout your prep and then just try to chill out as much as you possibly can before your test day.”Click To Tweet
Getting Enough Sleep Days Before Your Test Day
Don’t go cramming and studying and then go chill out and get a ton of sleep the day before your test day. If you get a bad night’s sleep two days in a row, that feels worse than having just one off and you were previously well rested before that. If you are testing your day of test prep, it should start the week before by sleeping as much as possible. Sleep could drastically affect your performance.
[07:00] Test Center Location
What a pro would do prior to test day is knowing specifically where the test center is – where to park, where to go, what building, which entrance, and what floor the test is going to be.
Nicole recommends taking a practice test on the same day of the week that your actual exam is because traffic patterns change throughout the week. Drive to your testing center at the same time that you will be driving there on the day of your exam. If you have to park in the parking garage, pay whatever fee it is and you walk to the testing center. If they will let you up, go as far as your testing people will let you.
Go to your testing center and understand the transportation situation. Avoid relying on something like Uber or Lyft to get to the testing center unless you have literally absolutely no other option.“You do not want any surprises that morning of your actual test day.”Click To Tweet
[08:18] Test Day Morning
On the morning of your test day, assuming it is a normal morning test time, you could be waking up to your alarm realizing that you actually did fall asleep. You are going to wake up happy that you actually did sleep more than you thought you did.
Hopefully, the previous evening, you have laid out all of the things that you need. You have all your snacks, your lunch, and everything pre-packed in your fridge.
Setting Your Alarm
Set your alarm as late as you can within reason that you will still make sure you are getting to the testing center early. If your exam starts at eight, do not be rolling up at 7:58. Most testing centers recommend getting there at 7:30 for morning tests.
Test Day Instructions
There is going to be information from your testing centers which they will send to your email. Nicole highly recommends that you read the emails. They are going to tell you important things. If you are testing in an urban area, they will tell you what floor you are going to and what suite it is.
Try to have everything set up so you can sleep in as late as you can, while still getting there with a comfortable amount of early time.
If they tell you to get there at 7:30, 7:20 would be a great time to get there. Don’t show up at seven because they are just going to make you stand there and not let you in. It’s going to be a waste of your time. Be a little earlier and not a lot earlier than they tell you. Be there on time. Do not be late to the test.
[10:51] What to Bring to the Testing Center
Rely on what the AAMC or your testing center tells you to have. You need to have your form of identification. A driver’s license would be sufficient.
If you are an international student who does not have a driver’s license, you will need to bring a passport. Make sure you have a photo ID with you.“If you change your name, make sure that whatever name you registered to take the MCAT under is the same name that is on your ID, because if it doesn't match, you are not taking the test.”Click To Tweet
Things that are Not Allowed in the Testing Center
Do not bring extraneous items to the testing center. You should not be wearing your watch to the testing center. You are not allowed to have that. There are some kinds of jewelry or any type of jewelry that you are not supposed to wear.
Nicole recommends not to have anything that is easily removed and can cause you a lot of distress. She says to remove those or worst case scenario, they tell you to remove them when you get there. Be prepared with all those little details.
Depending on your testing center, they might have certain requirements. They might ask you to take off a jacket so make sure you have layers on. Don’t show up with a tank top and a hoodie on top because they might ask you to ditch the hoodie and you are going to be cold.
Be very careful. Make sure all these things are set the night before and that you reread all the checklists on everything that you need to have with you.“You do not want to be surprised when you get to the testing center.”Click To Tweet
If you are paranoid that something goes wrong, you need to plan for the unexpected before test day so that when you get there, it is smooth sailing. Once again, it’s important to have some mental space. Don’t take up your energy on test day. Have as much energy as you can, and be as relaxed as possible. Have a mindset that might not be very relaxed, but at least, it’s not full panic. It’s all about trying to downgrade your levels of anxiety as much as you can.
[13:35] Maximizing Breaks During Test Day
Take all your breaks and take them for the full amount of time. There is a chance that might vary a little bit depending on your testing center.
Nicole shares her experience in terms of taking breaks. She had her test in an urban testing center. They did not tell her when her break was over. There is no one who is shepherding you, also because you are probably not going to start your exam at the exact same time as other people. This is not something she realized that she actually started her exam at around 7:45 and it was an 8 am exam. Almost every single person started before 8 am in her testing center.
After you are checked in and you are all set, they sit you down and get started. Do not expect to wait an arbitrary time because they are just going to get you going once you get there.
Practice Tests and Breaks Simulation
It is important to remember that people are going to be taking breaks at different times. There might be some very small noises behind you so just be prepared for the room not to be 100 percent silent.
That is why Nicole always recommends students to take their practice tests in a library where it is quiet but there might also be somebody walking behind you occasionally. It is a good simulation of what you will have on test day and during your breaks.
Eating During Breaks
Nicole’s personal favorite thing to do was eat a little bit of trail mix just to keep fueling whenever she felt like she could eat. What happens if you bomb in the next session and then you have your lunch break after, you will not want to eat. You will be busy hyping yourself up because that session felt really scary and bad.“Munch whenever you feel like you can munch…once again, make sure you have things that are going to be safe for your stomach that you are used to eating.” Click To Tweet
Don’t suddenly drink a bunch of caffeine if that is not something you’re used to. If you usually drink a ton of caffeine, don’t suddenly stop drinking caffeine. There should be no sudden changes on test day, no surprises. What you are going to do on test day should feel routine.
Walking and Stretching During Breaks
During breaks, Nicole would also do lunges, stretching, and walking around, just to try to get her body moving. That way she was not just sitting there feeling sore and fidgeting in her seat.
You can do some stretching and lunges and get your fellow testees in on it but in a way that is not obtrusive.
Do whatever it is that is going to make your body feel good, including drinking water and just standing up and taking lots of deep breaths.
Be used to dealing with these slight differences in circumstances and also be prepared for them. Set your expectations and don’t expect it to be an isolated, perfectly quiet room. Don’t have too many expectations going into it and be prepared for little things to be off. Don’t let things surprise you.
At the testing center, you will get free earplugs or headphones that are supposed to help cancel out background noise. If you want to try using the headphones, Google what your testing center is using or call your testing center and ask them what brand of headphones they have.
Be crazy about it and be ridiculous about replicating all of these details because it is going to pay off. You don’t want to try those out on test day and then suddenly realize there are clicking noises that are deafening.
You could be halfway through CARS and you just developed a raging headache. You want to keep them on but now you are distracted because your head hurts and you are freaking out. Once again, don’t let it surprise you because, on test day, your job is to take the MCAT. Don’t let yourself have anything else to worry about. Be that good at planning ahead.
[19:45] What to Do After the Exams
Have fun afterward. Make yourself some nice plans after you get back from that exam. Go out to dinner with some friends. Do your favorite thing to do where you are. If you want to just have a movie marathon by yourself, have some popcorn and chocolate.
Manage your anxiety. Try to set yourself up for the best success and try not to have unexpected things pop up.
You might not have fun while you are at the testing center but at least you have something to think about other than your tests. While you are on your break, you can think about how excited you are about dinner with your best friends.
As a society and as a species of human psychology, we don’t celebrate the small wins. Sitting for the MCAT is a huge win. Don’t worry about your score. Don’t wait to celebrate till you get that score back a month later.“Celebrate all of the hard work that went into being able to just sit for it that first time or second time.” Click To Tweet
[21:20] Post-MCAT Days
As a pro level, when your test is done and you are done celebrating, no matter if you were absolutely convinced that you got a 485 on your MCAT test day, you are taking the next month off. Congratulations, you’ve earned it.“By studying for the MCAT, you get a month off.”Click To Tweet
Nicole’s advice is definitely not to start studying again no matter how you thought you did on your exam. Don’t register for another exam yet. Don’t do any work. Try and do your best to forget the MCAT ever happened.
Going Back to Your Life Before the MCAT“It is going to take you a few days to reacclimate to life without the stress of the MCAT constantly in the back of your head.” Click To Tweet
There will be plenty of anxiety in waiting for your score. But at that point, your job is to just get back to doing whatever you were doing before you started studying for the MCAT. If you made any changes to your schedule, put it back the way it was. Take some time to relax.
Whatever happened, happened. Try to have the most confidence in yourself.
Worries About the MCAT Score
Most people don’t think they killed their MCAT even when they did. After they walked out of the testing center, most people don’t feel great and that’s totally normal. If you think you bombed it, that probably does not mean anything. You won’t know what you actually did until you get your score back.'Try to have the most confidence in yourself you can because most people don't think they killed their MCAT.'Click To Tweet
If you were in a good spot to test and you were testing when you should have been and you were near a score in your practice test that you are comfortable with, you should be able to trust that. That is generally accurate where an average student is in a statistics-applied population, but not individuals. You are part of the population so we might as well be as optimistic as we can.