How to Succeed on MCAT Test Day
#1 Know What to Expect Test-Wise
The MCAT is developed and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and stands for the Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT is required by nearly all medical schools in the United States as well as some in Canada, and most graduate programs accept the MCAT in place of any other standardized test. It is offered several times annually, from January through September, at offered at a multitude of test sites throughout the US and Canada as well as at several international locations.
The MCAT includes prerequisite content for success in medical school, as identified and agreed upon by educators, physicians, medical students, and residents. This content is divided into four sections:
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
For more information on this section you can read the complete overview of Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section and/or download the content PDF for this section.
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
For more information on this section you can read complete overview of the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section or download the content PDF for this section.
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
For more information on this section you can read the complete overview of the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section or download the content PDF for this section.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
For more information on this section you can read the complete overview of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section or download the content PDF for this section.
#1 Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
As you can see above, there’s a lot of content on the MCAT. The key to mastering it implementing a study plan early. The earlier you start studying, the more time you’ll have to learn and retain information and less likely you’ll be to resort to cramming, a highly ineffective study method! You’ll also just feel less flustered and more confident overall if you leave yourself time to digest the content properly and ask for the necessary help on areas of weakness. A good way to study is to use a 3-month MCAT study plan, or if you have even more time, a 6-month MCAT study plan. Either way, set a start date for studying well in advance of your testing date and stick to it.
#2 Exercise Self Care
This one may seem obvious, but it’s critical. Preparing for and taking the MCAT require stamina, so you should think of the entire process–from registration to testing day–as a marathon. This means exercising self care from the outset. Pick a study plan and then stay on pace, avoiding anxiety-inducing all-nighters and cram sessions.
Likewise, nurture yourself the night before and the day of the test. The MCAT exam is 7 hours and 30 minutes, so it’s imperative that you’re well rested for it. Get a good night sleep the night before, and again, avoid staying up too late doing last-minute studying.
On the day of the exam, eat a filling, healthy breakfast, hydrate sufficiently, and remember to bring something to eat and drink on your exam breaks! You will receive two (optional) ten-minute breaks and one thirty-minute lunch break during the exam, but it’s important to note that you can’t leave and reenter the testing premises, so pack snacks accordingly!
#3 Review Testing-Day Protocol
Because the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) aims to be as ethical and confidential as possible, there are quite a few test day rules you should be aware of. You can read a highly comprehensive overview of everything related to the MCAT, including testing day protocol in the MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2018 guidebook, but below are a few key guidelines and rules to be aware of:
Before the test:
Make sure you arrive on time for your exam, since late entry is prohibited—and doesn’t include a refund! At check-in you must show a photo ID, and typically a United States driver's license or passport will work. That said, your photo ID absolutely need to demonstrate the following criteria:
ID must be in English
ID must be current (document must have an expiration date that has not passed)
ID must be government-issued
ID must include a photo that can be used to identify you
ID must include a signature, which you will be asked to duplicate
ID must not show any indication of tampering (e.g. be overly weathered, have holes punched, etc.)
ID must present your first and last name exactly as it appears on your MCAT registration
Note that these are the only forms of ID that will be accepted, bottom line. No expired or temporary IDs, library cards, student IDs, etc.
During the test:
Again, the guidebook linked above provides more in-depth testing room rules, but here are some of the most important ones you should be aware of:
The only items you may bring into the test room are: your ID and a pair of foam earplugs provided by the test center. As shown in the video, all other personal items, including jewelry and watches, must be placed in secure storage prior to the test (as directed by the test administrator). Necessary personal items such as eyeglasses are subject to an inspection by a test administrator.
You must raise your hand to take a break or leave the testing center. If you leave and re-enter the room, you may be subject to a metal detector scan.
You are required to the seat that is assigned to you.
You may not eat, drink, or smoke in the testing room.
You may not wear hats, scarves, or jewelry (outside of pre-approved religious garments).
You will be provided with a noteboard for note-taking during the exam, but you may not rip, tear, or conceal any parts of it at any time, and it must remain on your desk at all times.
Your photo ID must also remain on your desk at all times.
You may not use any electronic devices at any point after check-in for the exam, even on breaks.
You may be asked to turn your pockets inside-out to show that they are empty.
You may not remove your shoes at any time during the test.
#4 Test Ethically
First and foremost, be prepared to read and sign your examinee’s agreement, a contract between you and the AAMC that is required to take the exam. On exam day, you will have to indicate that you have read it thoroughly and agree to its terms on Test Day Certification Statement that you’ll be issued before answering exam questions.
In short, the examinee agreement is a contract between you and the AAMC that promises your total honesty and integrity on the exam—from being truthful in the personal information you provide, to not disclosing content on the exam (in other words, cheating). In return, the AAMC ensures ethical administering of the MCA and handling of your results. The 2018 MCAT examinee agreement and The AAMC’s “Honoring Your Examinee Agreement” letter provide additional information on why the contract is so important, but in short, be prepared to read, sign, and stick to the terms.
Additionally, Once you’ve finished the exam, exercise caution in discussing it with anyone. The AAMC has released formal guidelines for discussing the exam, but really, per your examinee agreement, the best rule of thumb is not to discuss the specifics of the exam at all. You can absolutely discuss the general test-taking experience (for example, you could tell someone, “I feel great about how I did on section 4!”), but any discussion about exam specifics is considered cheating.
Most importantly, once you’ve taken the exam, breathe a deep sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You’ve taken a huge step towards an admirable dream--now do something relaxing while you wait for your test results!
About the Author
Rachel Kapelke-Dale blogs about graduate school admissions for Magoosh. She has a BA from Brown University and did her own graduate work at the Université de Paris VII (Master Recherche) and University College London (Ph.D.). She has taught and written about test preparation and admissions practices for eight years.