Ready for your big expedition? photo source: National Geographic.
Although everyone will approach the MCAT slightly differently, a bird's-eye view of studying will often show a predictable pattern. Typically, when students start studying, they get overwhelmed by the amount of material they need to cover and they don't necessarily know how to approach it. After they form a study plan - either by themselves, with a tutor, or as part of a class - they tend to become comfortable in their rhythm of targeting the material on a regular basis and methodologically completing content review and practice problems, with intermittent practice tests. In the weeks just prior to the test, however, the test looms and panic sets in as students start to question their preparation.
However, this is one of the most important times in your studying -- you have to stay positive and confident but also make sure to utilize your time wisely. Although most of your preparation is behind you, there are a few things you can do last-minute to relieve your nerves and make sure you perform your best.
Week before the exam
Pay attention to your mindset
To best get a handle on test anxiety, check out my other post about mental strategies to conquer the MCAT. In brief, your last week before the exam should focus on using your support system to stay positive and help destress, and believing in your preparation.
In many professional or high level sports, athletes will take a taper period leading up to a major event.
Think of your last week as a 'mental taper.' You definitely shouldn't be taking any practice exams, and should try to ease off the practice questions and really difficult content review as well. Your brain needs time to consolidate and synthesize all of the information you've taken in. After preparing for months, it’ll be unlikely that you're going to uncover something you've never seen before in the days immediately leading up to your exam.
Take care of yourself physically
The worst thing to happen would be to be well prepared, hitting targets on your practice exams, and then getting an awful cold two days before test day. The exam is long enough, but can be made way longer If you're coughing and sniffling the entire time without tissues. Pay special attention to getting enough sleep and eating well. No all-nighters to try and get in last minute review!
1-2 days before the exam
Try to dedicate the last day or two to a 'high-yield review.'
It's likely that you made review sheets of your own through your notes while you were studying. If not, many test prep books or websites offer 'cheat sheets' or reviews for each test section that are pretty short (under ten pages). In the week before the test, dedicate at least two days to reviewing these high-yield points. The AAMC also provides a ‘topic outline’ for each section -- talking yourself through each of these outline points is another way to review. Make sure you are familiar with the concepts mentioned, and if there's anything that you feel you've forgotten or are still shaky on, take a little bit of time to go back to your books and re-read that section. If you've studied well, it will be a nice way to see most of the material again and shouldn't take more than 2-3 hours per section. If you're still feeling shaky, it's still a way to re-see the information and have at least the big highlight topics in your head on test day. This review should be pretty passive; this means you shouldn’t be answering new questions or wracking your brain for lost information -- you should just be trying to absorb anything you haven’t already and re-establishing your knowledge base. This should make you feel more confident! If you find yourself feeling stressed about the review, make sure you’re focusing on broad, basic concepts as opposed to tiny details.
During the exam
If you struggle with pacing, first answer the questions you can.
Generally, you shouldn't be messing with your test strategy in the middle of an exam. However, if you're still consistently not getting to every question on the exam, you want to do everything in your power to make sure you see all of the questions. To try to save some time, in the science passages, go through the individual questions and try to answer them based on your background knowledge. You'll often be able to answer more than half of them right off the bat. When you read the passage, look only for information that is pertinent to the questions you've seen. Go back and answer any passage-based questions, and then verify that the answers you previously picked make sense in context of the passage. This can shave off some time by focusing your passage reading and minimizing the amount of time you need to spend going back to the passage for each question.
For more specific tips about approaches to questions and passages that can raise your score, check out this post. Otherwise, sit back and rest assured that all of your preparation is about to pay off!
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Looking to work with an MCAT tutor to help you get in shape? Check out our MCAT tutoring services! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.