The MCAT, clocking in at 7.5 hours, is likely the longest standardized test most premed students have taken in their lives. While the prospect of taking such a long and difficult test might seem daunting, there are several strategies that will help make this task manageable. Below we share five high-yield tips for the weeks leading up to your test day that will help you perform to the best of your ability.
We also recommend you read our MCAT Study Guide, which includes how the MCAT is scored, 7 MCAT study strategies, MCAT resources, and FAQs.
MCAT Test Day Strategies
1 | Simulate the Full-Length With Practice Exams
The MCAT is a testing marathon, and it’s important to methodically habituate your body, mind, and spirit to the rigors of completing this exam so that you can perform well on test day. To do this, complete full-length practice exams at least every week before test day, with the last practice exam taking place exactly a week before test day.
For example, if your test day is on a Friday, then make Fridays your practice exam days, and complete your last practice exam the Friday before test day.
The goal of doing these practice exams is to closely simulate the conditions you will face on test day. Therefore, go to sleep the night before and wake up at the exact times you will on test day. Consume the exact same breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks you will on test day. Wear the exact (comfortable, layered) clothing you plan to wear on test day, and try to simulate the ambient temperature of the testing center (i.e., air-conditioned office building). Ensure that your testing environment is silent. Wear earplugs if necessary.
2 | Practice Crafting Your “Tutorial Sheet”
You will get an 18-minute window of time (consisting of your tutorial and examinee agreement) before the actual exam starts. This time can be used to write down anything you can think of on a piece of scratch paper or the test notebook.
This “tutorial sheet” should contain anything you have trouble remembering or anything that’s easily transcribed onto paper (e.g., physics equations, amino acid structures, psychology stages.)
Memorize this information and practice transcribing it onto scratch paper before completing your practice exams.
3 | Review Notes, Flashcards, and Summary Sheets the Week Before
The week before the exam should be spent reviewing key concepts, using condensed notes, flashcards, and summary sheets. Ideally, you should not be learning any new material at this point. Furthermore, try to identify your weak points and focus the bulk of your remaining time shoring up your knowledge in these areas.
However, do not neglect to review the areas you’re most strong in. The last thing you want to do is miss easy points because you spent too much time memorizing the Krebs Cycle. In terms of scheduling, it is advisable to review weak topics at the start of the day (when you are fresh) and strong topics at the end of the day (when you are more fatigued.)
4 | Visit the Testing Site in Advance
Visit the testing site where you will take your exam in advance to ensure that you are familiar with the route, traffic conditions, and the parking situation. You do not want to be caught by surprise or arrive late on the day of your test. Take a walk inside the testing center to familiarize yourself with its approximate temperature, lighting, and various environmental conditions. Make sure to locate the bathroom and get familiar with the center’s security screening protocols.
5 | Spend the Day Before the Exam Doing Light Review and Relaxing
Give yourself a hard cut off time in the early afternoon the day before your exam. Beyond this time, you cannot study. It’s imperative that you relax and give your brain a break in whatever way works best for you. Hang out with family and friends, veg out in front of the TV, play video games, or read a book.
The goal here is to conserve and maximize your mental acuity and energy levels, so you can expend them all on the day of the exam.
Final Remarks and Additional Resources
The MCAT is undoubtedly challenging, and a major milestone on the journey towards becoming a physician. While it is important to study hard, studying smart and making sure you are in peak condition in the days and weeks before the test will help you achieve that top score.
For more advice on what to bring, eat, and do on test days, read our guide: Test Day Strategies — MCAT, Step 1, and Step 2CK.
Med School Insiders offers tailored MCAT tutoring designed around your strengths and weaknesses to help you make the greatest improvements. Learn about our MCAT tutoring services and comprehensive admissions packages.