5 Tips for a Strong MCAT Test Day

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • As test day approaches, you may find yourself wondering if there is anything else you can do to ensure your exam goes smoothly. While studying far in advance is a no brainer, there are some easy things you can do to make sure you don’t encounter any issue on test day, and just make your life a little bit easier.

    First things first: Don’t wait until the night before the exam to start thinking about these things. If you establish strong habits in the weeks leading up to the exam, your future self will be grateful for that extra bit of intention come test day. Where to start?

    1. Get your sleep schedule in check

    One of the most important things you can do in preparation for the MCAT is to get your sleep schedule in line with test day. If you’re used to waking up later, you’ll want to get used to getting up earlier now so that by the time the MCAT starts on test day, you’re feeling awake and alert. How?

    You should prepare to wake up at least 30-60 minutes before you plan to leave for the testing center. Since you must show up 30 minutes early to the testing center, it would be a good idea to wake up at 6:30 a.m. or earlier. If this seems difficult to you, then it would be a good idea to try to start waking up at 6:30 a.m. at least 2 weeks before your test date — and be sure to go to sleep earlier too! The last thing you want is to not be able to get a good night’s rest before test day.

    Pro Tip: If anxiety is making you restless at night, or you’re having trouble turning your brain off, try any (or all!) of these approaches:

    • Exercise — A tired body and a tired mind make it easier to fall asleep. If you generally tend to feel pretty amped after a workout, make sure you get your sweat on in the morning or afternoon rather than working out before bed.
    • Meditation — Being able to regulate your thoughts and practice mindfulness is one of the most potent tools you can have in your tool kit as you pursue your medical degree. Plus, there are sleep and relaxation meditations that are incredible. We’re huge fans of Headspace, and you can sign up for free!
    • Limit Screen Time at Night — Put your phone and any electronics away an hour before you go to bed.
    • Want more? Here are three tips you probably haven’t heard of from an LMFT and tips from successful med students.

    2. Practice healthy living habits

    Being sick on test day is a scary idea, and it does happen to some students. That is why it is crucial to take care of yourself in general, but especially in the couple of weeks leading up to test day. This means be sure to eat well, sleep well, and avoid doing activities that could get you sick such as sharing drinks and food.

    While the MCAT may induce anxiety or fear, it’s important to practice healthy coping mechanisms, such as making time to decompress and have fun; communicating with friends and family; or even working with a therapist to ensure you address any challenges that arise now. What could be better than getting tools to give you the mental extra edge prior to starting med school?

    3. Get all the logistics in order

    Anticipatory anxiety in particular can be curbed if you familiarize yourself with what you’ll experience on test day. One of the easiest ways you can do this is to know exactly where your testing center is prior to taking your exam. If possible/reasonable, you might want to consider driving to your testing center beforehand. Familiarize yourself with the route and try to figure out traffic patterns for the time of day that you’ll be on the road so you’ll have a better idea of when you’ll have to leave.

    Other simple logistics? Be sure to have your ID (a driver’s license or other government issued ID will work), and be familiar with the format of the exam. Since the MCAT takes up the better part of a day, you will also want to bring a lunch, snacks, and water. Think about what you will bring for lunch beforehand (tip: sauces and veggies on pre-prepared sandwiches will get soggy) and bring snacks to make sure you don’t get hungry during breaks.

    4. Use the time that is given to your advantage

    After sitting for the MCAT, you’re given 8 minutes to read and sign the examinee agreement, and another 10 minutes for the tutorial. If you have prepared effectively, you should be able to finish these things in just a couple minutes. Instead of moving on, it’s a good idea to use the extra 15 minutes to jot down whatever you can on the notepad you’re given.

    Many students may take this time to list all the amino acids and their properties. Some may write down mnemonics they have memorized for things like theories of development. In any case, doing this will allow you to save a couple minutes in later sections so you don’t need to recite a mnemonic in the middle of the exam.

    5. Relax

    This last tip might be obvious, but it is the most important. In the last few days leading to test day, many students might feel it would be beneficial to cram as much material as they can. However, consider this: You have been studying for months now. You have gone over all the material you could possibly go over. You’ve done countless practice tests and practice problems. What good will cramming another day or two do for you, other than cause you more anxiety?

    Instead, take your last couple days easier. Study at most for another hour or two each day, and spend that time looking at high yield material. Go over your mnemonics one more time, make sure you haven’t forgotten any formulas, and maybe read a few passages. Outside of that, spend those two days relaxing in as healthy a manner as possible. Make time to connect with friends and people whose company brings you joy. Move your body. Laugh! Fill yourself up with positive experiences and self care, and you’ll be all the more buoyed by your efforts come test day.

    Long story short, the MCAT is one of the most daunting experiences in a premed’s undergraduate experience but with the right preparation, you can set yourself up for success. Once you finish taking the MCAT, there will be no better feeling than seeing that you hit and surpassed your target score. And if you’re at all concerned about your ability to get there, talk to a professional! They’ll help you put the tasks ahead of you into perspective and make sure you’re on the best path to your ideal score.