Test Day Strategies – MCAT, Step 1, and Step 2CK


Some of the most important days in the life of a premed student are test days. With this guide, we’ll review high-yield concepts designed to maximize your test score on the big day. Regardless of whether you’re taking the MCAT, Step 1, or Step 2CK, the approach and principles we’ll be exploring here apply to all exams.

The overarching principles we’ve found to be most successful are simple:

  1. Be well rested.
  2. Be mentally sharp.

While these principles are simple, they’re also extremely valuable. Here’s how to implement them for a great score on test day.


The Days Before the Test

Drive to the Testing Site

Drive to the testing center to familiarize yourself with the driving route, parking situation, building entrances, and bathroom locations. Don’t save this for the day of the test, as figuring this stuff out then will drain your mental energy.


Do something enjoyable and relaxing the evening before your exam. Do not call your ex, go clubbing, or consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Along those same guidelines, don’t start a new workout routine or diet in the days leading up to your test. Enjoy yourself and relax, but do not deviate from your normal routine.

Stop Studying

Stop studying by midafternoon the day before your test. The extra studying will do more harm than good at this point, tiring you out and increasing your stress levels.


Test Day Strategies: Sleeping

Sleep is often overlooked as far as exams go. While getting enough sleep is crucial, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Learn more in our article: How to wake up early and not be miserable.

Adjust Your Sleep in Advance

Figure out when you need to wake up on the day of your test, and then wake up at that same time every day of the week leading up to your test. Try for even longer than a week if you can. This primes your circadian rhythm to align with test day.

If you’re used to sleeping late and waking up late, your body isn’t going to be able to adjust properly come test day, resulting in sluggishness and mental cloudiness. Waking up at the same time you need to on test day also means going to bed at the same time the night before. Trying to take a test when you’re sleep deprived is setting yourself up for failure.

Calm Your Nerves

It’s completely normal (and logical) to be nervous the day before your test. Unfortunately, this can make it hard to fall asleep.

Having already built a bedtime routine will help you battle your nerves before test day. Ensure you have a comfortable sleeping environment that will help you fall asleep. Avoid blue light, such as from a phone or TV, in the hours leading to bedtime. Instead of TV, turn to reading for fun or meditation to help you relax and wind down.

Watch Out for Oversleeping

You don’t want to oversleep. Set extra alarms and alarm clocks to ensure you wake up on time. Having two alarm clocks works twofold. First, it prevents you from waking up late. Second, there’s peace of mind that comes with knowing you have multiple alarms, which will help you fall asleep without worry.

It’s also beneficial to have a friend or family member check in on you the day of your exam. Have them call or message you to make absolutely sure you’re awake and nothing went wrong with your alarms.


Test Day Strategies: Eating


It’s vital that you eat breakfast on the day of your test. Skipping breakfast will decrease your performance. Breakfast is like leg day. You may want to skip it, but you really shouldn’t.

Eat a meal large enough to keep you satiated for several hours, but not so large that you end up in a food coma. Eat protein and starchy foods with a low glycemic index, such as eggs, oatmeal, whole wheat toast, and a glass of milk.


If you don’t normally drink coffee, now is not the time to try it out. If you do normally drink coffee, stick to your routine.


Pack extra snacks. You’ll be working your brain hard for several hours, and that’s going to build up your appetite. Ideal foods include sandwiches, nuts, granola bars, bananas, and berries.

Stick with healthy and light foods. At the same time, don’t try some exotic healthy food you’ve never tried before. Stick with what you know best, and keep your snack choices simple and effective.


Dehydration leads to fatigue and reduced concentration. Stay hydrated, but not so much that you frequently have to run to the bathroom.


Test Day Strategies: Getting There

Plan to get there 30-60 minutes before your assigned time. Getting there early benefits you in three ways.

1. Decreased Stress

You won’t have to worry about running late. And, if some unforeseen emergency does occur, you will still make it there on time.

2. Time to Familiarize

Arriving early will give you extra time to familiarize yourself. You will have enough time to use the bathroom and to get to know your surroundings before your tutorial begins.

3. First in Line

The group of test takers are not called in all at once, but rather one by one. Arriving early means you’ll be one of the first people called to the testing room, which means less time sitting around with your thoughts or being distracted by your fellow test takers. At this point, the last thing you want to do is psych yourself out.

As soon as you’re inside, you can start.


Other Test Day Strategies


There are a plethora of things that will distract you during an exam, and everyone has their own pet peeves. Using earplugs or earmuffs will minimize noises, allowing you to zero in and keep your focus solely on the test.

Tactfully Choose Your Seat

If they let you pick your seat, choose one far away from the entrance to minimize the distraction of people walking in and out.

Take Advantage of Breaks

The MCAT allows optional break time. USE IT. Your attention span is limited. Pace yourself by taking breaks when allowed, even if you don’t feel like you need to. During the 10-minute breaks, get out, go to the bathroom, drink some water, have a quick bite, and go right back inside. There can sometimes be a line to get back in, and you don’t want any extra stress if you can avoid it.

For Step 1 and Step 2, you have the flexibility to plan your breaks between sections at your discretion. Plan your break time wisely. Some people do the first two blocks back-to-back when they are fresh. Again, understanding that our attention spans are limited, taking a 5-minute break between blocks 1 and 2 may be more beneficial.

Have Confidence in Yourself

Your months of studying are complete. Been there, done that, collected the postcard. Don’t waste all that hard work and energy by cramming the day before your exam, psyching yourself out, or letting doubt creep into the picture. Have confidence in all of the work you have put in so far. A little positivity can go a long way in calming your nerves and helping you ace your test.

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.


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