Welcome back! If you missed part I of this post, please check it out here. Now that you've made an MCAT study schedule, adjusted your lifestyle, and figured out the fuel your body needs, you're probably wondering...
What should be my next steps to prepare for the MCAT?
1. Put it all to practice
Taking full-length practice tests is the perfect way to train your body for the actual exam. Because these are limited, you’ll want to try your absolute best to emulate your actual test day every full-length you take. That means following the test-day schedule (including the designated breaks), eating meals that you would bring to your actual test, and creating a similar environment to that of your test center. But what does it mean to create a “test-day environment”? Don’t worry, I’ve got you:
Clear your desk of anything but test materials
- Pencils & erasers or black/blue pens
- Computer, mouse, and keyboard
- Scratch paper
- Earplugs or noise-isolating headphones (depending on which your testing center allows)
Get rid of any distractions
- If you plan to take your practice tests at home but don't live alone, make sure to let your family or roommates know beforehand so that they don't disturb you during your exam.
- Turn off your phone and stow it away for the duration of the test, and turn on “Do Not Disturb” on the rest of your devices. The testing center will likely ask you to stow away your phone on test day, so get used to it now!
Get up and leave your seat or room during breaks
- The testing center will have a check-in and check-out process each time you enter or leave your testing seat. Get used to leaving enough time during your breaks for these procedures!
- Get up and stretch! You deserve it!
For best practices, ask your testing center before test day about the exact equipment and policies. Some facilities may allow you to bring your own brand-new package of earplugs to use during the test, while some may only allow you to use the headphones they provide. If you know for sure what the testing center expects, you can prepare accordingly. If you’re using a laptop to practice, I recommend using an external keyboard and mouse, if possible, so you can train your hand-eye coordination and familiarize yourself with the handy keyboard shortcuts on the testing platform.
2. Stress management and the day before
Studying for the MCAT can be a huge source of stress. It’s understandable to get preoccupied with the vast amount of content and lose sight of your well-being. In my experience, however, I learn much more efficiently when I’m both physically and mentally healthy. Your stress levels will likely increase as test day approaches, and you definitely don’t want to be burnt out on your test day! If managing your stress isn’t already your strong suit, this may be a great time to start practicing.
TIPS FOR HOW TO MANAGE STRESS
- Whether it’s going for walks or powerlifting, incorporate some consistent exercise into your schedule.
- Stay hydrated and get some sun and fresh air as well, if possible.
- Make sure to schedule time for other activities you enjoy, like playing video games or safely socializing with friends.
- In my case, I started practicing mindfulness through meditation, which helped me both relieve stress and improve my concentration. If meditation isn’t your thing, you can also practice mindfulness through things like journaling or practicing spiritualism. (By the way, if you are interested in learning how to meditate, you might enjoy Insight Timer, a free app available on Apple and Android devices with a ton of guided meditations.)
Regardless of what you choose to do, the important thing is to keep an eye out for your mental health. If you’re feeling burnt out, take a break!
THE day before the test
Lastly, I want to touch on some tips for the day before the test. To start test day fresh, I recommend you stay away from doing any heavy studying the night before. Unless you’re clueless on a high-yield topic (in which case you might want to think about rescheduling your test anyway), keep it to a light review of key concepts or important equations. This means that you should plan to do your last full-length no later than three days before your test, so you can review it the next day and keep your last day free.
What you may want to do on your last day is personally visit your testing center, ideally at your test time. Familiarizing yourself with the facility beforehand will increase your comfort level on test day. You'll also be able to see for yourself how long it'll take you to get there. If you have any remaining questions about test day, take this time to ask the testing center staff.
Phew, that was a lot of information! If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. To repay your favor, here’s a summary of the tips we talked about so far:
- Plan your study schedule. Try to give yourself at least 2-4 weeks to adjust your daily routine to match that of test-day.
- In the 2-4 weeks leading up to your test, adjust your sleep schedule and daily routine to emulate test-day.
- Try out different foods, snacks, and beverages to find your perfect test-day meals.
- Take your full-length practice tests in test-day conditions.
Of course, life happens, and things may not always go according to plan. You may not be able to follow some or even any of these tips. That's okay! Remember to be kind to yourself and try to just do whatever is within your control to make your test-day as smooth and comfortable as it can be. And if you can, practice, practice, practice! With the right mindset and enough practice, I'm confident you'll be able to figure out what makes you feel most confident on test day. Now go get that MCAT body!