How to Succeed on MCAT Test Day
These hands-on expert tips are really useful for Medical students aiming to ace the MCAT tests.
Our friends at Magoosh share important and useful tips that can be of great help to students gearing up for the MCAT test.
Taking the MCAT is part of one what is no doubt, one of the most exciting endeavors of your life: applying to medical school. The MCAT is a long exam (a whopping 7 hours and 30 minutes to be exact!) covering a lot of content, so you’re going to want to treat it the same way you would a marathon: with plenty of preparation and mental stamina. You can read a comprehensive guide to the MCAT, but below you will find some of the best tips for ensuring that your actual testing day is a cake walk.
1. Put a Study Plan in Place
The MCAT consists of four intensive test sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. There is a wealth of content out there to help familiarize you with each section, including the AAMC’s interactive guide to what’s on the MCAT exam, and the key to conquering the content is to put a highly structured study plan in place, preferably as far out from the exam as possible.
The earlier you start studying, the less likely you are to resort to cramming, which we all know is not an effective way to retain and apply complex information. Starting early will also help you identify and address areas of weakness. A good way to study is to use a 3-month MCAT study plan, or if you have more time, a 6-month MCAT study plan. Regardless, pick a date to start studying, put a study plan in place, and stick to it! You be thankful you did come testing day.
2. Rehearse Testing Day
To the best of your ability, try reproducing at home what test day will be like. Taking MCAT practice tests, for example, can help give you a sense of what it will be like to sit for the exam day-of. Diagnostic practice tests can help give you a sense of your predicted score (and in turn the areas you should focus most on in your studying sessions), while full practice tests help prepare you for stamina required on such a time-intensive test.
Taking MCAT practice tests does require a lot of time, but doing so is one of the single best ways to get ready for MCAT test day; so again, leave enough time in your study plan for taking practice tests.
You can also simulate MCAT test day entirely at least once before the exam. This will require two full-length practice tests, plenty of energy and focus, and a full day of your time. Try to create an environment that is as distraction-free as possible for the optimal testing simulation experience.
3. Rest and Refuel
It may sound obvious, but one of the most critical parts in succeeding on MCAT test day is going into the exam well rested. Get a full night of sleep the night before--ideally at least 8 hours--which means avoiding any last-minute, late-night study sessions the night before. Eat a filling, balanced breakfast the morning of, and hydrate sufficiently.
Likewise, make sure to bring snacks, a lunch, and something hydrating to drink over the course of the exam. You get two (optional) ten-minute breaks and one thirty-minute lunch break but you absolutely cannot leave the testing premises during the exam, so if you don’t bring anything to eat or drink, you’re out of luck. Remember that the exam spans an entire day, so you won’t likely want to skip the sustenance!
4. Know the Rules
Because the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) aims to be as ethical and confidential as possible, there are quite a few test day rules you should be aware of. You can read a very thorough overview of everything related to the MCAT, including testing day protocol in the MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2018 guidebook, but below are a few key guidelines and rules to be aware of:
At check-in you must show a photo ID, and typically a United States driver's license or passport will suffice. Note that your photo ID absolutely must demonstrate the following criteria:
- ID must be in English
- ID must be current (document must have an expiration date that has not passed)
- ID must be government-issued
- ID must include a photo that can be used to identify you
- ID must include a signature, which you will be asked to duplicate
- ID must not show any indication of tampering (e.g. be overly weathered, have holes punched, etc.)
- ID must present your first and last name exactly as it appears on your MCAT registration
No expired or temporary IDs, library cards, student IDs, or similar will be accepted, no exceptions, so make sure your ID fits the criteria above.
Before entering the testing area, there are a number of procedures you may be asked to go through, such as having personal items examine, reproducing your signature, having your palms scanned, storing your belongings, etc. Watch this very concise and helpful video shared by the AAMC and created by Pearson VUE (which manages testing centers) for an overview of the pre-testing protocols you should be prepared for (though you won’t likely have to go through them all):
In the testing room
Again, the guidebook linked above provides more in-depth testing room rules, but here are some of the most important ones you should be aware of:
- The only items you may bring into the test room are: your ID and a pair of foam earplugs provided by the test center. As shown in the video, all other personal items, including jewelry and watches, must be placed in secure storage prior to the test (as directed by the test administrator). Necessary personal items such as eyeglasses are subject to an inspection by a test administrator.
- You must raise your hand to take a break or leave the testing center. If you leave and re-enter the room, you may be subject to a metal detector scan.
- You are required to the seat that is assigned to you.
- You may not eat, drink, or smoke in the testing room.
- You may not wear hats, scarves, or jewelry (outside of pre-approved religious garments).
- You will be provided with a noteboard for note-taking during the exam, but you may not rip, tear, or conceal any parts of it at any time, and it must remain on your desk at all times.
- Your photo ID must also remain on your desk at all times.
- You may not use any electronic devices at any point after check-in for the exam, even on breaks.
- You may be asked to turn your pockets inside-out to show that they are empty.
- You may not remove your shoes at any time during the test.
5. Test Ethically
Before you take your exam, be prepared to read and sign your examinee’s agreement, which is essentially a code-of-conduct contract between you and the AAMC. Prior to answering questions, you must indicate that you have read it thoroughly and agree to its terms on a Test Day Certification Statement that you’ll be issued.
The examinee agreement promises your total honesty and integrity on the exam—from providing truthful personal information to not cheating in any manner. Likewise, the AAMC ensures ethical administration of the MCAT and release of your results. The 2018 MCAT examinee agreement and The AAMC’s “Honoring Your Examinee Agreement” letter provide additional information on why the contract is so important, but in short, be prepared to read, sign, and stick to its terms.
After completing the exam, you are expected to exercise caution in discussing it with anyone. The AAMC has released formal guidelines for discussing the exam, but the gist is: don’t discuss the particulars of the exam with anyone, under any circumstances. Doing so is cause for your exam being disqualified. Fee free to discuss the general test-taking experience (for example, you could tell someone, “I feel great about how I did on section 3!”), but any discussion about exam constitutes cheating.
Good Luck and Happy Studying!
Adequate preparation will surely payoff on MCAT test day, so once you’re done, applaud yourself for your discipline and stamina. And most importantly, do something restful to reward yourself!