Test anxiety is real! Good thing is it's manageable.
For many pre-med students, the MCAT can feel like the final ‘hurdle’ before an application cycle begins. You’ve spent a couple years in college trying to do your best in school, be involved in extracurriculars, and form relationships with professors who will eventually provide recommendation letters. All that’s left is this big, scary, standardized test. There’s no surprise that it’s important to prepare well content-wise and to do a lot of practice exams -- those are pieces of advice people will talk about time and time again. Unfortunately, what people talk about a little less is all of the nerves and anxiety that inevitably creep up during the preparation process. It’s crucial to be in your best state of mind while both preparing for and taking the MCAT, so here are some tips to make you as relaxed as possible.
Have a plan.
At points during your study period, it’s natural to be overwhelmed by how much material you have yet to cover, or how much you feel like you have to know, especially if you look at it all at once. Breaking content review down into more manageable pieces based on your own personal schedule can help you focus on one section at a time. Some people I have spoken to recommend using a ‘50-10’ method, which means you review or memorize a specific section for 50 minutes, and then take 10 minute breaks. This is a great way to break up either long or short study blocks. As long as you’re working through the plan, you can be confident that you’re making process and can make sure you’re on track. Cambridge Coaching tutors will always help you develop a personalized plan during your study period!
2. Schedule time for other things!
This tip is slightly dependent on what else is happening in your life when you are preparing for the MCAT. If you are still in school, it’s easier to make sure you’re still seeing your friends, pursuing some extracurriculars, and doing general non-MCAT things. However, sometimes it can feel like you should be using all of your extra time to study for the MCAT. Don’t do this! Make it a point to still watch a movie, go out to eat, read a book, or whatever else you like to do! If you’re doing a more concentrated period of studying with fewer other activities, it’s especially important to make sure that you give your brain breaks.
Even though it can feel like the more time you put into studying, the better off you’ll be, it’s equally important to be fresh and motivated. When I was in college, I was a part of our campus’ Emergency Medical Services, which was a huge time commitment and could often be overwhelming. However, whenever I was feeling unmotivated academically it was a great outlet and also reminded me about the reasons I wanted to pursue medicine and apply to medical school.
3. Do something physical.
Let’s face it, we all know we spend way too many hours of the day sitting at a desk and working. The number of studies out there showing that exercise improves cognitive function is endless, and you might as well make use of the test jitters you have stored up. There’s no one good way to do this - try things from running to swimming to yoga, or just go on a half-hour walk every day -- anything to get you out of your chair and get the blood flowing. I’m a morning exerciser, and getting up to workout means that I feel productive right off the bat, and from there it is way easier to motivate myself to do other things. Knowing that I’m going to get up and go doesn’t leave room for procrastinating (at least in the morning!), and it personally helps me kick off my day in a positive way.
4. Utilize your support system!
You have a ton of people in your life rooting for you, whether they are family, friends, a significant other, or mentors. Regardless of whether or not they know anything about the actual MCAT or medical school process, they’ve probably been able to pick up from you that it’s HARD, and are probably trying to figure out how to help. Let them! If you need to pick up the phone and rant about a tough practice test, or if they want to send a care package or bring over baked goods, let them support you in whatever way they know how. I was away from home when I studied for the MCAT, and my poor parents only got to hear about the bad days and the hard sections. During that time, though, I got some great (hand-written!) letters of support from home, which I actually still have in my wallet.
5. Believe in your preparation.
Chances are, you already have some idea of how prepared you are leading up to the exam. Believe it! It’s rare for actual tests results to differ hugely from practice tests, so you’re probably not going to drop 10 points without any idea why. If you’re not comfortable with how you have prepared a couple of weeks before the exam, it might be worth considering postponing your date until you do feel confident about the level at which you are performing.
Nobody thinks taking the MCAT is easy, but it’s definitely doable. Many of Cambridge Coaching’s tutors have taken the MCAT themselves and have worked with students throughout the process, so if you’re feeling especially nervous and want some guidance, get in touch!
For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our MCAT tutors: When It Comes to Studying, Less Can Be More, 2 Simple Tips to Help You Start Your MCAT Prep, What You Need to Know About the 2015 MCAT. Looking to work with Nikita Saxena? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.