The MCAT and COVID-19: How does AAMC plan to administer the exam safely during a global pandemic?
MCAT and COVID-19
For most people, the current coronavirus pandemic has altered how we are thinking and feeling about a lot of very important things: our families, our friends, our studies, our jobs, our financial status, our well-being, and our futures.
If you were planning on taking the MCAT and applying to medical school in the near future, you may be feeling really worried about what’s going to happen next.
And we have some advice from our experts on what to do if your MCAT studying and your med school plans suddenly look very different.
Keep reading, and let us know in the comments how you are feeling and how we at Magoosh can help. If you’re feeling a bit stressed about these changes, we’ve created a resource for you—see our video on how to manage pre-med anxiety with mindfulness!
In this post:
- The MCAT in 2020 vs. 2021
- VIDEO: Taking the MCAT During COVID-19
- How is the coronavirus pandemic impacting med school admissions?
- What should I do if my test date has been cancelled or rescheduled?
- What should I do if I’ve gotten off track with my study plan?
- What should I do if I need to cut back on my MCAT studying?
- What should I do if I have more time for MCAT studying?
- Where can I find free (or more affordable) MCAT resources?
- What can I do if I’m having a hard time studying for the MCAT because I’m stressed?
- VIDEO: A message from our MCAT expert on what to do
- What options do I have to adjust my study plans If I am a Magoosh student?
The MCAT in 2020 vs. 2021
The MCAT changed in 2020, with some administrations being cancelled and the rest made shorter. More administrations were added per day, in order to condense 7 months of testing into 4 months, and score reports were expedited. Students were expected to take the MCAT at testing centers, while masked and practicing social distancing.
According to AAMC, 2021 will be different. In early October, AAMC announced that 2021 MCAT exams will be administered as they were pre-COVID-19, with some small exceptions. MCAT administrations will be full-length and administered in test centers. AAMC anticipates giving tests on a typical full-year schedule, and they added a new January test date and afternoon testing options. Score reports will arrive 30-35 days after the exam, rather than on an expedited schedule.
There are some new health and safety protocols to be aware of. You can learn more about the new protocols here.
VIDEO: Taking the MCAT During COVID-19
In April 2021, I had the opportunity to interview a panel of three students who’ve taken the MCAT during the COVID-19 pandemic. I asked questions such as,
- What was their experience like in the testing center?
- What are their top tops for other students?
- How can YOU best prepare for your upcoming MCAT?
How is the coronavirus pandemic impacting med school admissions?
AAMC, which oversees both the MCAT and AMCAS (the American Medical College Application Service) is currently considering revising their admissions policies for the 2021 and 2022 admissions cycles. In order to obtain the most current information, AMCAS recommends checking the deadline updates provided by individual medical schools.
For reference, in 2020, AAMC announced that they delayed data transmission to med schools from June 26 to July 10, 2020. This gave students an additional two weeks to complete these applications.
What should I do if my test date has been cancelled or rescheduled?
Do your best to reschedule your test date using the online AAMC registration system as soon as you can. If there are no test dates available for you, communicate this to AAMC to help encourage them to open up more test dates. They have already opened up three new dates for the shortened MCAT.
But don’t panic! Everyone is going through this together, and that actually may be something to take solace in. It’s much more likely that solutions will be found for the masses than if a small number of people were impacted.
Also, we are not the experts on predicting what’s going to happen, but make sure you consider the possibility that additional tests dates could be cancelled. It likely will help reduce your stress if you think through the scenarios of: “What will I do if June exams are cancelled as well?”; “What will I do if exams are cancelled for the rest of the year?” and develop some tentative Plan Bs and Cs and Ds now.
Keep studying and hoping for the best case scenario, but also be prepared for other possibilities.
What should I do if I’ve gotten off track on my study plan?
First, give yourself a break and keep reminding yourself that everyone’s schedules have been disrupted to one degree or another. You’re doing the best you can in trying circumstances. At the same time, resist the temptation to blow the whole thing off. This is your opportunity to do some creative problem solving under pressure; think of how relevant this is to the profession you’re entering!
Second, avoid overwhelm, and that applies to the advice offered right here, in these very words. The advice here is grounded in a lot of experience with the successes and stumbling blocks faced by other students we’ve worked with. But they’re only suggestions, not hard rules! Your main goals are to stay in motion and balance practice questions and tests with content review. That’s all. If you’re doing those two things, you’re already succeeding! If you want more targeted tips, consider implementing some of the following:
A) Make sure you have a good grasp on high-yield topics before getting into the weeds. Some MCAT favorites include:
- Biology: cell structure, function, and reproduction; DNA structure and replication; amino acids; circulatory and endocrine systems; types of proteins; Krebs cycle.
- Chemistry: acids and bases; lab techniques; equilibria; Gibbs Free Energy; oxidation/reduction; separations & purifications; electrochemistry.
- Physics: electromagnetism; fluid dynamics; thermochemistry; optics; sounds.
- Psych/Soc: Neurons; Regions of the brain; Freud, Erkson, Piaget; Conflict theory, Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism; Memory and Learning.
B) Give yourself the gift of 1-2 hours to plan to get back on track. Select the earliest date you will be prepared to take the exam, being realistic both about which testing dates are still scheduled to occur and how much time you have to prep. When it comes to revising your study schedule, don’t get too hung up on whether that particular testing date will be available. The terrain is changing daily as new information gets posted, and you don’t want to change your overall study approach more than once a week, max.
C) Once you have a target date and are committed to prepping “as if” that testing date will be a green light, spend some time with a calendar thinking about the weeks between now and your target test date. You might not know exactly how many hours you’ll be working or taking classes, so plan conservatively. For planning purposes, assume that future events, volunteer shifts, classes, etc. you have planned will still occur.
D) From here, map at the level of the week because your daily schedule might be too in flux to nail down. Plan on taking a practice exam every other week—and by the way, it’s okay to split some of these full-length exams into half exams taken across a couple of days! For each week, choose a couple of subjects that will form the basis of your content review, but also set aside time to review answers to your practice exams and answer additional practice questions.
E) Execute and stay in motion, taking breaks every 45-90 minutes. It’s okay if you only have an hour available some days. Even 15 minutes is useful because it’s enough time to review flashcards or answer questions from a practice passage.
What should I do if I need to cut back on my MCAT studying?
The truth of the matter is that at one time or another, most MCAT students find themselves at a crossroads where they realize there isn’t enough time left to cover everything they set out to master. If you need to cut back, you can focus on practice tests and practice questions and let your content review be informed by the questions you miss. Also make sure to review the high-yield topics we’ve already outlined in this post. We can’t emphasize enough the value of short study sessions when longer sessions aren’t possible!
What should I do if I have MORE time for my MCAT studying?
Some of you might find yourselves in the situation of having more time to study than you had planned due to canceled and pushed back test dates. If you’ve already gone through content and practice tests and questions thoroughly, this is a good opportunity to really drill down on practice questions you answered incorrectly. Go through the practice exams you’ve taken and thoroughly review questions, answers, and explanations. Chances are good that there are at least a few questions you still don’t understand. Spend some time with those! And continue reviewing content and trying to find ways that terms connect across topics and even across exam areas (biology + chemistry; psychology + biology; chemistry + physics). At the same time, don’t feel like you have to continue studying at full force. If you’ve done a thorough job prepping, you can ease up while continuing to review concepts in small bursts of time.
Where can I find free (or more affordable) resources to help with my MCAT studying?
You may be particularly worried about your budget right now; or you may have more time to supplement your current MCAT study plan and are looking for more resources. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Magoosh’s MCAT Flashcards (online or in the Google Play or App Store)
- Magoosh’s Free MCAT Practice Test
- Magoosh’s MCAT Study Plans (from 1 to 6 months)
- Complete List of MCAT Topics
- Guide to the Best Free and Affordable Practice Tests
- Magoosh MCAT Free Trial (with 60 MCAT lessons and 16 practice questions)
- Explanations for Most MCAT Questions Spreadsheet (we can’t personally vouch for this, but we know this resource is popular with MCAT students on Reddit)
- (more) Best Free Online MCAT Resources
What can I do if I’m having a hard time studying for the MCAT because I’m feeling stressed or distracted?
First of all, take care of yourself and your well-being.
It’s ok if you are feeling anxious, distressed, disappointed, distracted, or lost right now. Be kind to yourself about this, and take some time off of studying if you need to.
There are lots of great resources out there to help you cope with the current situation. We particularly like Ten Percent Happier Coronavirus Sanity Guide. The CDC has specific resources for mental health during the outbreak as well. And Talkspace has some good resources, including a free support group. If you are a current student, your school also likely has a resource guide on its website.
We also like this simple breathing technique to help calm your sympathetic nervous system. Try it for 5 minutes any time of day, but it could be particularly helpful when you sit down to study, work, or right before your MCAT exam:
Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Release for a count of 8. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
This simple tip goes a long way.
How you can stay focused in stressful times.
If you’re like many of us right now, you may be having trouble staying focused on your tasks when you sit down to study. Your ability to concentrate and retain knowledge falters under stress. Acknowledge this is a reality and approach your work differently. Instead of setting a goal of, say, studying for a 3-4 hour stretch and covering a ton of material, set smaller goals:
For example, tell yourself, “right now, I am just going to review hormone systems” or “right now, I am just going to do a practice set of 2 CARS passages” or “I’m going to review 50 MCAT flashcards before bed.”
Focus on making your goals manageable and achievable until you are feeling more settled: you will still be progressing your studies and will build confidence that you can still do this.
A video message from our MCAT expert on how to handle the uncertainty around med school admissions and coronavirus
What options do I have to adjust my study plans if I am a Magoosh MCAT student?
If you’re a Magoosh MCAT Premium student, or thinking about signing up, you should know that we are pausing and extending student accounts for free as needed.
We also want you to know that our Student Help Team is here not only to help with questions about carboxylic acids or protein digestion, but also test anxiety and other concerns. Feel free to reach out through the purple Help button on your dashboard or send an email to email@example.com.
We’re following the MCAT and COVID-19 situations closely and we’ll keep doing our very best to respond to what’s going on and help support MCAT students.
We know this is tough. We’re here for you.
What else is on your mind? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash