An important step of preparing for the MCAT is taking full-length MCAT practice tests. There are three important reasons to take practice tests:
- Figure out what content you need to review
- Build up the endurance to maintain focus throughout the entire exam
- Reduce testing anxiety
The last reason is a big one. The MCAT can be a frightening exam to take. However, by taking many practice tests, it is possible to reduce the level of testing anxiety. To do this properly though, you will want to simulate MCAT test day to the best of your ability. In this post, we will explain how to do that.
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Steps to Simulate MCAT Test Day
- Start by purchasing the two full-length practice tests from the creators of the exam, the Association of American Medical Colleges. These exams are offered in the same online format as your actual exam. They will allow you to get used to the online interface, the countdown timers for each section, and the online tools (highlighting, striking through wrong answers, marking questions for later review, etc.).
- Wake up at the same time that you expect to on your actual test day. If you plan on waking up at 6:30 AM on your MCAT test day, do the same for your practice tests. You want to get your brain used to waking up at that hour.
- Start your exam at 8 AM. Your actual test day won’t start precisely at 8 AM but it will be fairly close. You have to get used to reading passages and answering questions at this time.
- Follow the appropriate breaks according to the MCAT. Do not give yourself extra breaks as you will not get them on your exam.
- Use scratch paper and pencil to do all of your work.
- Use a mouse instead of a laptop trackpad. The testing centers will have a mouse with a regular desktop computer. It may seem minor but you will want to get used to using the left click to select your answers and right click to strikethrough wrong answers.
- Take the test in a fairly quiet environment but one that is not completely silent. The exam centers do a pretty good job of minimizing auditory distraction but you will still have to deal with the shuffling, writing, and mouse clicking from your fellow test takers.
These are the general steps to follow in order to simulate MCAT test day. There are of course more things you can do to further simulate the test day but it’s up to you how close of a simulation you want. For example, there are some students that eat the same sandwich for their 30-minute lunch break for every practice test they take.
Additional Factors to Consider on Test Day
The goal of taking practice tests and simulating your MCAT test day is to trick your brain into thinking that the actual test is just another practice test. You should be used to the testing conditions so your actual exam will induce minimal anxiety.
Do realize that there are some aspects of your actual test day that you cannot simulate, such as the check-in process. Every test taker is required to sign-in, present valid identification, and get their fingerprints and photo taken. Check-in proceeds by order that the test takers arrive and you cannot begin until you finish the process. You do not have to wait for all of the students to check-in before you begin though. As a result, the time you start your exam will vary. In addition, when you go on breaks, you have to go through another check-out and check-in process. The time it takes to do this reduces the effective length of your breaks.
Despite the fact that you cannot control these factors, simulating your test day in your practice exams is still a helpful strategy. If you are looking for additional advice for the MCAT, check out our other posts on Top Tips for MCAT Studying and the Top Five Strategies for MCAT Success.