Managing Anxiety on Test Day

Taking the MCAT can be a nerve-wracking experience. In fact, many students develop significant test anxiety as a result of the MCAT’s role in the medical school admissions process. If this scenario describes you, here are several tips to help you successfully manage this anxiety:
1. Review difficult details and concepts on your test day
As you study for the MCAT, proactively compile a list of those details and concepts that you consistently struggle to understand. On the morning of your exam, wake up an hour early to review this list. This can help you refresh your memory and begin the MCAT in a much calmer mood.
2. Remind yourself that you are prepared
Many students make themselves anxious by worrying that they have not prepared enough for the MCAT. Make a point of glancing back at your study schedule to see how much effort you have devoted to preparing. This should help quell any last-second nerves that make you feel underprepared.
3. Eat well
You will have many thoughts on your mind the morning of the MCAT. Certain students may even be so busy reviewing MCAT material that they forget about their basic needs, such as eating a healthy breakfast. Be sure to preemptively solve this problem by preparing your test day breakfast the evening before. This way, you will not suffer from hunger pains and constant distraction during the exam itself.
4. Arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes early
Few things are as upsetting as arriving late to the MCAT. Luckily, this is an easily avoidable source of anxiety. Budget enough time to reach your test center at least 30 minutes before your exam begins. I also recommend that students drive to and locate their test center prior to their actual exam date. This can minimize last-minute delays due to traffic, confusion with directions, or ongoing construction.
5. Take frequent breaks that allow your mind to recharge
As you work your way through the MCAT, your mental stamina will begin to wane. This can lead to lapses in critical thinking, rushing through questions, and careless mistakes. In order to avoid the nervousness and anxiety that comes with fatigue, give your mind the opportunity to rest by taking frequent breaks. For example, I recommend briefly pausing after two or three sections.
6. Focus only on the act of completing the exam, not what is represents
Many students understandably fixate on the significance of the MCAT during their test session. The MCAT is a major component of a student’s application, but you should not waste your mental energies toiling over this fact. Instead, make every effort to streamline your focus to the task at hand. This will keep your mind from wandering, as well as prevent your anxiety from mounting.
Overall, the best way to manage anxiety on your test day is to properly prepare. Once you have completed a rigorous period of study, you should work to develop a last-minute review sheet. You should also work out logistics like reaching the test center on time and eating a healthy breakfast. Furthermore, be sure to time your breaks appropriately and to give the MCAT your full attention. Use these tips with a well organized and comprehensive review strategy, and you can expect to be fully prepared to tackle the MCAT.
Anubodh “Sunny” Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and attended medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He is a resident in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
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