MCAT Diaries: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
- Jan 05, 2024
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Diaries
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
When it comes to the medical school journey, everyone has their own story, but there’s one big challenge most of us have to tackle: the MCAT. In this new series, our Blueprint MCAT alumni share how they crushed the MCAT and made their med school dreams come true!
Meet Noor, a former Blueprint MCAT student who didn’t let imposter syndrome or
Sauron the MCAT stop her from following her medical school dreams!
There’s a boogeyman that haunts most premed students known as the MCAT. It’s a tale as old as time in medicine, a rite of passage that marks your commitment to the journey of medicine (and taking 8-hour long tests).
You hear whispers of the MCAT at the beginning of your first year in undergrad as you start taking your prerequisite courses. Upperclassmen who have battled this boogeyman may have even given you a deep dive into what lies ahead for you.
Yet, it isn’t until your third year of undergrad do you begin to gear up for battle. Here’s my tale of my battle with the MCAT boogeyman.
The Beginning of My MCAT Journey
Once upon a time, I was like any other premed student getting ready to study for the MCAT. I had completed all my prerequisite courses, and I was confident that I was ready for this battle.
My “prime time” to study was the summer of 2016. I had an easy few commitment-free months to focus on the MCAT, go through an MCAT course I had registered for, and take the dreaded exam at the end of September 2016 before I smoothly sailed into my final year of college.
I had this in the bag!
Well..that’s not exactly what happened.
In fact, I wouldn’t end up taking the MCAT for another 5.5 years! When I approached my boogeyman in the Summer of 2016, I was met with a formidable general: imposter syndrome.
The Quest to Become the “Perfect” Premed
I had not experienced imposter syndrome before that point in my life. As a young Iraqi Muslim woman, I had worked hard to go to my dream college—UCLA—and even through mental health struggles, I was doing well in my courses.
Yet, when I approached the MCAT, it was as if all the support beams I had built for myself suddenly vanished. I no longer felt capable of doing well. What I did not know at that time was that I was struggling with ADHD which further complicated my imposter syndrome.
I tried to fit into the box of the “perfect” student.
Go to the library for 12 hours a day. Sit in the same spot. Study, study, study till my brain can’t handle any more information. Take brief bathroom and snack/lunch breaks. Go home. Rest and then study some more. Sleep and repeat the next day.
This was the model student that I was told would succeed on the MCAT by upperclassmen. This was what I saw in the library next to me that entire summer. The reality was far different for me.
Should I Postpone My MCAT?
I went to the library for 12 hours, but my brain could only focus for 2 hours at most. I dreaded the neon lights of the library, the dead silence of focused students (unlike myself), and the sterile environment that didn’t offer any of the warmth I was seeking.
Each day studying felt disappointing and I only felt more anxious about my progress and capability to tackle the MCAT. I was sinking into imposter syndrome.
After a summer of intense and crippling anxiety, coupled with physical and mental health problems I continued to put off, I decided not to take my exam just 10 days before test day.
I was deeply ashamed. I felt that my imposter syndrome had won, and I became even more fearful of the MCAT. It felt like an insurmountable mountain; a boogeyman that could never be defeated.
Years passed by as I avoided the exam. I would look at my MCAT books stacked in a corner, collecting dust, taunting me.
“If you try, you’ll fail. And then you won’t be accepted into medical school. And you’ll be a failure.”
I thought that was them but it was my cruel imposter syndrome speaking to me.
Never mind that I completed my Master of Science in Global Health at Harvard University and went on to do global health research at a variety of institutions in a variety of countries.
The only measure of success that mattered was the MCAT, and without that, I was the ultimate failure.
Reigniting My Passion for Medicine
When the pandemic hit in 2020, my desire to become a physician greatly increased. I had a burning desire to be on the front lines standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow healthcare workers battling this deadly disease.
But the MCAT stood in my way. It still scared the living daylights out of me.
It’s strange how one exam can dismantle an entire lifetime of overcoming societal and economic hurdles to achieve wonderful achievements.
In 2021, with the coaxing of my friends and family and a wonderful therapist—as well as my mindset of “I am fed up with this boogeyman” —I decided to tackle the test and overcoming imposter syndrome once and for all.
I could not spend the rest of my life being haunted by a test! I had surpassed far greater and more difficult hurdles and this exam threatened to demolish all the strength and resilience I had built! Impossible!
Kicking My MCAT Prep Into High Gear
2021 was a year to behold.
I registered for another MCAT course to help me focus my studies as I worked a full-time job. I wanted something to give me the tools and confidence I needed to tackle the MCAT and allow me to explore different studying strategies beyond a 12-hour study day in a sterile library environment that reeked of stress.
I chose Blueprint MCAT because it offered everything I was looking for.
Sign up to get expert tips and exclusive invites to free MCAT classes and medical school admissions workshops!
Overcoming imposter syndrome was no easy feat. Every time I got a question wrong in my practice, I felt my heart sink. I had to push past the aggressive inner thoughts of, “See! You’re failing! You won’t be able to do it!”
When I plateaued in my practice MCAT scores, I felt the tentacles of imposter syndrome gripping me tighter. Yet, with the help of loved ones and a reformed mindset, I refused to let the imposter syndrome drag me back down to the deep depths of despair. I soldiered forward in my preparation.
I was going to tackle the MCAT no matter what, and even if I did fail–for context, in the anxious premed world “failing” constitutes a “low” MCAT score, which is highly subjective–this exam did not determine how intelligent, resilient, and accomplished I was.
The Big Day Finally Arrived
The day before the exam, I experienced a sense of peace I never knew I could have with the MCAT.
Just before I closed my eyes to sleep, I remember I had one single thought, “You did the best you could and that is amazing.”
For 5 years, I had wanted to hear that inner voice so badly, and it finally spoke those beautiful words.
The next day, that sense of peace continued and soldiered through a grueling 8-hour exam. When I emerged from my testing center, that was one of the proudest moments in my life.
I had defeated the boogeyman that is the MCAT, overcoming imposter syndrome, and taking back my life. No matter what the outcome would be, this test no longer ruled my sense of worth.
When I received my MCAT score, I cried tears of joy and relief. I had proven to myself that I was capable of surmounting yet another hurdle in my life and on the path toward becoming a physician.
More importantly, I had squashed the imposter syndrome. As an avid Lord of the Rings fan, this was my Sauron and I had defeated him.
It was a pivotal moment in my life. Now, whenever the tentacles of the insidious imposter syndrome threaten to encompass my life, I remember my MCAT journey and how I overcame it.
Words of Advice To Premeds and MCAT Students
Fast forward to today. I am incredibly fortunate to be an MCAT instructor at Blueprint Prep. It is an indescribable wonderful feeling to help students along this journey.
Many students resonate with my story of overcoming imposter syndrome with the MCAT as they battle those dark forces themselves. I am adamant about building confidence in my students to tackle this boogeyman because I wholeheartedly believe that each one of them is capable of doing so.
And so, I say this to my readers:
The MCAT is NOT a determiner of how intelligent, incredible, resilient, passionate, and accomplished you are.
The MCAT will NOT be the sole determiner of your dreams to become a physician.
And the MCAT CANNOT be the reason why you give up on this so very important dream you have had for years.
That inner voice that is tainted by imposter syndrome is false and the most important aspect is to muster your resilience to solider through this time.
I am confident that every one of you can surmount this mountain, defeat this MCAT boogeyman, and achieve the incredible success you are deserving of!
Conquering the MCAT may seem daunting, but you don’t have to face it alone! Blueprint MCAT is here to provide the support you need to excel on this demanding test. Begin your journey today by creating a free Blueprint MCAT account.
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