When the day arrives and its time to really make the MCAT, there are lots of last minute questions that might come to mind.
“When should I get to the testing center?”
“What will it be like to check in?”
“What will I feel like when it’s time to begin?”
“Will I remember all of the study strategies that I learned?”
“Will I somehow be able to tell if I did well?”
“Will I have to do this all over again?”
Many of those questions will be answered in this segment of Making the MCAT. Before I sat for the test, I wish I had someone to really illustrate their experience from the day of the test. The truth is, I was so focused on the exam during those final days that I really don’t remember too many external details outside of the test day, itself. That’s why I’ve called on my best friend, Chelsea, to contribute a segment to this blog. She was with me from the day before the test, traveled with me to the testing site, and really had a front-row seat to my every waking moment outside of the testing room. I hope that this dual-perspective will help you to get an all-encompassing view of what it’s like to go into the exam, and some great last-minute self-care strategies that you (or your best friend!) can make sure are on your radar.
Back to those questions. The one that lingered in my mind until I actually sat down to begin the MCAT:
“Am I ready for this?”
My answer was no. You’re probably saying “Hold up. What do you mean you weren’t ready?”
Well, I wasn’t. I didn’t feel ready. The idea of feeling “ready” for the MCAT is not generally the test-taker’s reality. If you are one of those people who sat down with unshakeable courage in your heart and a perfect score in clear sight, that’s stellar! For those who sat down, super nervous, still needing to utilize your breathing exercises – you are not destined to fail, I feel you, and many other test-takers do too!
My objective wasn’t to “feel ready” for the MCAT, my goal was to be prepared. Although I felt like I might not be ready, I knew that I was prepared. That knowledge, coupled with my spiritual grounding, made me better than ready -- it made me focused.
The day before the exam, my best friend arranged for me to get a massage at a homeopathic massage center (yeah – she’s pretty amazing). Taking advantage of her gift was the best decision! I didn’t realize how stressed and tense I was until I walked out of the massage center and felt like I could actually take some deep breaths.
There were no more testing sites available in the city of Atlanta when I signed up for my exam. I was kind of disappointed because I didn’t want to travel in addition to everything else I needed to do before going into the exam. After speaking to my mentor and some other test-takers, I learned that traveling for your exam is really nothing out of the ordinary. I talked to my parents and decided to book a hotel in the city where I would be taking the exam so that I could rest the night before and arrive at the testing center well in advance. This plan worked out well, but I encourage you to reserve your testing seat very early so that you don’t have to travel. At the very least, you can have the option sleep in a familiar bed the night before. For me, traveling with my best friend was awesome because she made sure I packed everything that I needed and set up the space when we got there so that it felt more like home.
When we arrived, we scouted out the testing center so that I knew exactly where I needed to go the next morning. I promised myself that I wouldn’t study the day before the exam at all, but I begged Chelsea to quiz me with some of my mini flashcards as we ate dinner. Thankfully, she obliged, and I got that time in. Really that study session was more for my mental wellbeing than my knowledge. I don’t think it is a good idea to schedule intensive study time on the day before your exam, but if you need to review some more material to help you relax – do what you need to do!
The day of the test was truly a blur. I think I woke up in a level of my zone that I had never entered before. In retrospect, the day flew by, and each section went by very quickly. I made sure to arrive at the testing center very early so that I could be the first one in line to check in. I knew that it would make me more nervous to have to wait in a line or check in at the last minute.
A few tips for checking in, breaks, and some things to expect on the day of your MCAT:
I arrived an hour and a half before I was scheduled to begin the test. Although that sounds like a lot of time, I was able to begin the test a half hour before I was technically scheduled to begin. At the end, when everyone was still going through their last section, I was getting up to leave! If you are a morning person and if you practiced waking up with significant time to spare before your practice exams, I highly encourage getting there and starting your exam at your earliest opportunity -- while you adrenaline is still going!
I am a person who gets very irritated by noises when I am focusing, so the noise cancelling headphones were a huge benefit for me. There is one set at every test computer. If you like to focus in silence, use them. Not only did they cancel the random noises that people make, but they helped to put me in more of a focused mindset.
Do not wear pants (or shirts) with pockets! Each time you check in after a break, no matter what you are wearing, you will have to show your ankles and wrists. If you have pockets, you will have to take additional time to turn each one inside-out. You have to factor in your check-in time as part of your break, so the time that you spend turning your pockets inside out can cut into the time that you have to eat your snacks or just breathe! So, seriously – yoga pants.
You will also have to be fingerprinted each time you check in. I personally hate body scans and fingerprinting (it just makes me feel weird), so mentally prepare for that type of experience before going in. This time also cuts into your breaks. When you take practice tests, you breaks may be a lot more relaxing (and a lot longer) than they will be during the test.
Bring snacks that aren’t too heavy. I would not suggest a full sandwich or bowl of pasta. I brought three different ziplock bags with different snacks in them for each of my breaks, so I didn’t have to bring a lunch because I was fueling up every 90 minutes. Some good snack ideas include: edamame, rice cakes/crackers, nuts, cheese sticks, applesauce, and easy fruit (avoid oranges or any other fruit that requires time to peel – unless you do that in advance).
Avoid gum, coffee, and salty snacks during the test! You will keep getting thirsty and there is no water allowed in the testing room. If you do decide to drink water during your breaks, make sure to take small sips so you won’t be distracted by your bladder in the middle of a test section. This goes back to making sure your practice exams are mirroring the real exam. Know how long it takes before you feel the need to use the bathroom after drinking a glass of water. That way, you know how much you can drink during your breaks. It sounds crazy, but these things really do matter to keep you focused and moving forward!
Truthfully, after the exam, I don’t remember too much other than the amazing gifts that my best friend gave me before I completely knocked out! It is a very exhausting day, and the sleep that you will get after finishing is the best! We also went out to dinner, which really helped me to decompress and feel super confident in my accomplishment. If you can, have people who you love around to encourage you when you finish the exam because its natural to second-guess yourself after such a long exam. Although I was extremely happy with my score the first time, that’s not always the case for every test-taker, and there is no shame in that! Once you reach the point of finishing the MCAT or any other really big standardized test, you have so much to be proud of! Be confident in the work that you have put in. Let your score be a reflection of the test and the test alone, not your abilities or your future.
You will be graced with focus and determination- and no one can take away your success, no matter what route you take to it. Make your MCAT, and make every moment of that journey count