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MCAT Stress Management: Stay Calm and Focused on Test Day

As anyone who has taken the MCAT can tell you, this high-stakes exam isn’t just about your academic skills or whether you can successfully apply mountains of science knowledge; it’s also about mastering the art of staying cool, calm, and collected. 

Many of us have been in situations where our nerves have gotten the better of us and affected (or, dare we say, even undermined) our performance. And while naysayers may say “It’s all in your head,” we say, well, yes, but we need our heads in tact for this!

We’re here to help you with some practical strategies to slay MCAT stress before, during, and after the test. By the end of this article, you’ll hopefully be able to turn that paralyzing anxiety into score-busting adrenaline—no pressure, though.

MCAT Stress Management Techniques: Before The Test 

The stress-management strategies you adopt in the days leading up to the MCAT are as crucial as your content review and practice. Use these techniques to get your mind, body, and spirit ready for the biggest challenge of your premed journey.

Create a Study Plan

Crafting a well-structured MCAT study plan is the first step toward conquering the MCAT. A study plan will break down your MCAT prep into manageable chunks you can modify based on your strengths, weaknesses, and progress. 

How does this help with stress? When you feel prepared, you don’t feel as anxious, your confidence increases, and you’re better equipped to tackle your practice tests and the actual test day!

Take Regular Breaks

We can’t overstate the power of regular MCAT study breaks to help you stay focused and avoid burnout. Plan to punctuate every hour spent studying with a five to 10-minute break and engage in activities that rejuvenate you, such as stretching, walking, or listening to music. 

Try to avoid doomscrolling or social media in general. You might think you’re taking a relaxing mental break, but you could be falling into a black hole of distraction.

Keep Healthy Lifestyle

When it comes to managing stress, taking a holistic approach is key. You need to treat your body right, my friend! That means keeping a balanced diet, getting your beauty sleep, and getting some exercise in. Think of your body as the ultimate instrument for all your knowledge and skills—it deserves a little fine-tuning!

Minimize Environmental Differences on Test Day

To ease test-day anxiety, take your practice tests under test-like conditions. This includes adhering to the exact timing, eating similar foods, and wearing comfortable clothing. A familiar routine can make you feel more comfortable on test day and improve performance.

MCAT Stress Management Techniques: During the Test

After weeks and/or months of intense MCAT prep, the big day finally arrives. Although you might know you’re prepared, it’s not unusual to feel the test-day jitters. Keeping your testing anxiety and test-day stress in check will be crucial to your performance.  

Here are some techniques to help you stay calm and focused during the exam.

Understand and Manage Anxiety

While a certain degree of anxiety can enhance alertness and performance, it is important to recognize when your anxious thoughts become excessive. 

Breathing exercises and grounding techniques can be particularly useful in these moments as they can help you regain focus and control.

Combat Negative Self-Talk

Transform your inner critic into a supportive ally. Replace negative thoughts with constructive, positive ones and remind yourself of your preparation and past successes. This mental shift can significantly boost your performance by keeping your brain focused on the task at hand.

Positive Affirmations

Reinforce your self-confidence with affirmations like “I am well-prepared and capable,” or “I can easily handle challenging questions.” These affirmations serve as powerful tools to counteract stress and anxiety. They also promote a positive mindset during the MCAT.a

A simple “You got this. Keep going,” also works wonders when you get to that really difficult CARS question.

MCAT Stress Management Techniques: After the Test

The time after completing the MCAT is just as pivotal for your personal and academic development as the preparation itself. It presents a special chance for self-reflection and strategizing your future.

Reflect on the Experience

Dedicate time to contemplate your MCAT journey. Reflect on your performance and how you dealt with this huge challenge in your life. This introspection is invaluable for personal development and can provide insights into your coping mechanisms and resilience under pressure—two things you’ll carry with you through medical school.

Rest and Recharge

After surviving the MCAT, it’s time for a well-deserved break. Go ahead and do things that recharge your soul and body. Whether it’s indulging in a hobby you’ve put on pause, taking a trip, or simply spending time with your favorite people, these activities will do wonders to reset your mind and get you ready for the next chapter of your medical journey. 

Plan Your Next Steps

Completing the MCAT is just the beginning of your medical school journey. Next up, applying to medical school! Start by researching schools or even building up your experiences section a bit with more shadowing, clinical experience, etc. Think about whether or not you’re going to take a gap year and don’t forget to get a start on your personal statement early too!

Maintain Healthy Habits

Don’t abandon the healthy habits you developed during MCAT prep! This includes the mental fortitude you’ve built up—because after what MCAT test takers go through, we know you’re all the more stronger for it—as well as the techniques you’ve learned to reduce stress, stay mindful, and leverage organization for long-term success. 

Final Words: Slow Down and Breathe

If during your MCAT prep or your actual test you start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and close to pulling your hair out, it’s ok. This test is hard and this part of your life is challenging. Don’t beat yourself up over it. 

Remember to pause, breathe, and refocus your mind on the task in front of you. A well-prepared test taker is a confident test taker. By the time test day comes around, remember that you’ve already done the work and you’ve taken multiple practice tests—you just need to go through the routine one more time and then you’ll be free!

We believe in you and we’ll be there for you every step of the way! If you want to boost your MCAT score and your confidence, we can help. Blueprint MCAT students see an average 15-point score increase thanks to our holistic curriculum and focus on personal growth. 

Explore our courses and private tutoring to find the one that fits your learning style. Or get started for free by creating a Blueprint MCAT account to access to tons of free MCAT resources, including our customizable MCAT study planner, a free trial of our online course, and more!

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