Most students who have taken the MCAT will consistently cite taking practice tests as the most important part of their preparation.
However, practice tests can improve your MCAT score even more if you use them to simulate test-day conditions. As part of our online MCAT course, we walk our students through every aspect of the test-day experience. Here are a few pro-tips and aspects of test-day that will help you maximize the benefit from your practice tests.
Using the Tutorial Time to be a CurveSetter
Before your practice tests, you will encounter a 10-minute tutorial that walks you through every feature of the MCAT software. For your first practice test, we recommend that you use this time to learn about all of the features at your disposal. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with these features, for subsequent tests you can breeze through this introduction to get right to the test. Most MCAT prep courses will recommend that you skip this section on test day as well. But on test day, every minute that you’re given is precious.
One pro-tip that can boost your score is using this 10-minute introduction to create a reference sheet for your test day. On test-day, you are given a booklet of dry-erase sheets. During the introduction, you can write down every memorization-heavy concept that you find difficult to remember. Some examples are all of the amino acid R groups, stages of development according to various psychologists, even a list of physics equations! Spend an hour during the day or two before your test to create this list ahead of time. Then practice copying this list down from memory over and over again until you can do so effortlessly. Bring this list with you to the testing center so you can glance at it one last time before you head in to take your test. Again, we want to simulate test-taking conditions as much as possible when taking practice tests. So an option is to take your practice tests with this reference sheet in front of you! Hooray! No more memorizing pesky physics equations! (However we do recommend that you don’t take practice tests with the amino acid R groups in front of you as you should know them like the back of your hand even without the reference sheet)
Noise Cancelation and Screen Dimensions
The next thing you may notice when you sit down to take your test is the noise cancelation options and the dimensions of your screen. Pearson testing centers offer two methods of noise cancelation for every student: over-the-ear headphones and ear-plugs. In my experience, the headphones offered were terrible. They hurt my ears. I decided to use ear-plugs instead, but again it’s a personal preference. For either method, we recommend taking practice tests with the method of noise cancelation that you decide on (but if it’s headphones don’t use your $300 fancy ones because you will be disappointed on test-day).
The MCAT will be administered on Windows desktops. If possible, take your practice tests on desktops with a mouse instead of a laptop. The dimensions of the test will also be squared with black bars on either side. This makes the CARS passages seem longer because you need to scroll more to get through them. So when taking practice tests, square your browser screen to simulate this effect.
Because the MCAT lasts almost an entire day, you will be allowed to take 3 breaks during your test-day experience. Your breaks will last 10, 30, and 10 minutes after your Chemistry and Physics, CARS, and Biology and Biochemistry sections respectively. To make the most of these breaks, successful test-takers will fuel up with both foods and liquids. We think of taking the MCAT as running a marathon. It’s long. It’s hard. This endurance requires a constant and consistent output of energy. Marathon runners refuel by eating protein bars and other healthy foods. As you may know from your studies, sugary foods burn fast and bright but lead to physical and cognitive crashes after they are used up. We recommend eating and drinking as you would for a marathon (including frequent bathroom breaks). However, finding your own balance is the most important aspect of MCAT nutrition. Experiment with your breaks for your first few practice tests until you find out what works.
A word on caffeine: Just as you want to maintian consistent levels of blood sugar to prevent crashes, make sure to keep a consistent caffeine intake if you choose to use it. It’s much better to sip on a caffeinated beverage at each of your breaks rather than chugging 2 coffees right before the test starts. If you feel yourself crashing before the final section, feel free to pound caffeine to get you over the final hump because you can always crash later. As a natural alternative or supplement, I also did push-ups and jumping jacks during my breaks to wake my body up. Keeping the blood flowing can restart your focus after sitting in front of a computer for hours on end.
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