The MCAT, clocking in at 7.5 hours, is likely the longest standardized test most pre-med 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.
1 | Simulate the full-length practice exam
The MCAT is a testing marathon and it is 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 being exactly a week before your 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 and wake up at the exact times that you will adopt on test day. Eat the exact breakfast and lunch/snacks/drinks that you will consume on test day. Wear the exact (comfortable, layered) clothing you will 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, wearing earplugs if necessary.
2 | Craft your “tutorial sheet”
You will get an 18-minute window of time (comprised 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 is easily transcribed onto paper (e.g., physics equations, amino acid structures, psychology stages). It will be useful to memorize this information and practice transcribing the information onto scratch paper, perhaps during your practice exams.
3 | Review notes, flashcards, and summary sheets the week before the exam
The week before the exam should be spent reviewing key concepts by going over condensed notes, flash cards, 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 areas in which you are strong. 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
Visiting the testing site where you will take your exam will ensure that you are familiar with the route, traffic conditions and parking situation on the day of your test, so you will not be caught by surprise and/or arrive late. You will also know the approximate temperature, lighting, and other environmental conditions of the testing center. Make sure to locate the bathroom and familiarize yourself with the center’s security screening protocols.
5 | Spend the day before the exam doing a light review and relaxing
Give yourself a hard-cutoff time in the early afternoon the day before your exam. Beyond this time, you cannot study and must relax by whatever means is best for you (e.g., hanging out with family and friends, vegging out in front of the TV, playing video games, reading 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.
The MCAT is undoubtedly a challenging test and a major milestone in 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. If you have scheduled your MCAT test day for January and are making a final push over the winter holidays, best of luck to you and please do set aside some time to see family and friends.