The last week before the MCAT can present a number of last-minute challenges. You’re finishing up your prep over the last seven days, and trying to make sure that you do all the right things to be ready for test day. Here’s a list of things you should make sure to include in the final days as the MCAT approaches.
It’s tempting to try to cram in as much study as possible in the week before the MCAT. However, last-minute learning isn’t going to be terribly effective. Success on the MCAT is not based on memorizing formulas and facts. Instead, you need to have critical analysis skills that are developed over time.
To make the most of your final study time, focus on success: review topics that are areas of strength for you. These are the subjects that will gain you points most easily on the MCAT, so you want to brush up on them. Also, since they are areas of strength, you probably haven’t been focused on them as much as other topics. Finally, this will build your confidence as test day approaches.
How many practice tests should you take right before the MCAT?
Many test-takers want to take practice test after practice test in the final week before the actual MCAT. However, this can actually work against you. In order to get the most out of a practice test, you should spend as long reviewing it as you spend taking it. Your final practice exam should be one week before the MCAT. Then use the results of that test to fine-tune any subjects that you need to brush up on.
The AAMC has two practice tests available. The AAMC Sample Test provides a good idea of what is on the actual MCAT, but it isn’t scored. You’ll see the number of questions that you got right and wrong with explanations, but it isn’t translated into an actual scaled score. The AAMC Practice Test, however, is just like the real MCAT. You’ll see your scaled score and your percentile ranking. The AAMC Practice Test is ideal to take about one week before your actual MCAT. For more information on the AAMC tests, click here.
What else should you do in the week before the MCAT?
One overlooked aspect of the MCAT that requires preparation is the physical drain of the test. Between the test sections and the breaks, you’ll spend almost seven and a half hours taking the MCAT. You need to prepare for this in advance, and have a plan for all aspects of test day.
First, set up your body’s Circadian rhythm to match test day. Start going to bed and getting up at the same time that you’ll need to on the day of the MCAT. That way, it won’t be a big change for you. Match your meals and breaks to the test day schedule. Also, keep in mind that no food or drinks are allowed in the test room itself. You might need to change your coffee/tea/caffeinated beverage routine to match what you’ll encounter on test day itself.
Next, plan out what you’ll do in each break. Snacks, lunch, and beverages are part of making it through a long and challenging day. Bring high-energy snacks that are quick, neat, and some of your favorites; having something you like will help you manage stress. Good choices are fruits (such as a banana or sliced apple), granola bar, cheese, or nuts. For lunch, have a small sandwich such as peanut butter or ham and cheese. Don’t forget to have something for the final break to help you get through the last section of the test. Most importantly, you’ll need to stay hydrated. Have water or a sports drink at every break, whether you feel thirsty or not. No food or beverages are allowed in the test room, so having a plan for what you’ll bring along for the breaks is critical to your endurance.
Finally, consider taking a trip to the test center itself to become familiar with the environment, or calling before test day. You can make up a list of questions for the test center staff so that you know exactly what to expect. Consider the following, and add any other questions you might have. Each test center is slightly different, so make sure you know exactly what yours will be like:
● What is the temperature like in the testing room?
● Am I allowed to put on/take off layers of clothing in the testing room?
● What are the lockers/storage bins like?
● Is there a refrigerator or microwave available?
● How long does it take to check back into the testing room after breaks?
● How many bathrooms are there? Where are they located?
● What kind of scratch material is provided? What kind of writing instrument?
● Anything else that you want to know
Test anxiety is a normal part of the MCAT, and it can actually work in your favor. Most people perform better when they have a bit of an “edge,” and rise to the occasion. However, stress can really build up in the final days leading up to the MCAT, and you need to plan to deal with it.
First, keep the big picture in mind. Remind yourself why you are doing this: in order to become a physician. The MCAT is part of that process, but don’t let it become the center of your universe. When anxiety begins to build up, visualize yourself in a white coat, with your name and “M.D.” after it embroidered on the front.
Next, stay active. Light exercise is an excellent way to release stress. You don’t want to overdo it in the final week before the test; taking the MCAT when you are stiff and sore isn’t going to help you out. But don’t stop exercising just because the week is busy. Even better, find an exercise buddy to keep you on track and to give you support leading up to test day.
Finally, trust in yourself and the preparation you’ve done. The MCAT is like a marathon, and the most successful test-takers have been studying and practicing over time. Keep the big picture of all of your work in perspective, and stay focused on your goal of becoming a physician.