How To Choose Your Testing Center

Last year, as the summer was nearing its end, I started preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test, also referred to as the MCAT. I was a recent college graduate and had just successfully completed an intensive program for students interested in pursuing careers in medicine. I was confident that I would have enough time to register for the MCAT, prepare for the exam, and submit my medical school application. While I was able to do all of this in a very limited amount of time, I did encounter some difficulties with finding a testing center to take the entrance exam that was required. Since I didn’t have a testing center in my hometown, I had to look at nearby towns that offered the MCAT on the date that I desired. As I scrolled through the list of locations in my state, I was shocked to realize that the locations nearest to me were all full. I decided to look more broadly and found a testing center two and a half hours away. Without hesitation, I quickly selected this location and registered, knowing that this would be the only chance I would have at completing my application for that cycle. Looking back, I thoroughly believe that this process would’ve been much easier if I had known what to expect when choosing a testing center.

Using my newly acquired knowledge, I will show you what you should do to optimize your testing center experience. While there is a lot of stress that accompanies taking an entrance exam required for any medical, dental, physician assistant, physical therapy, nursing, and occupational therapy program, having the opportunity to choose your testing center, based on the site’s location, condition, and qualities will make the testing process run a bit more smoothly. 

  1. Check entrance exam requirements

    Prior to registering for an entrance exam, make sure to note the exam that is required by the particular health profession program you are applying to. Some schools may allow you to choose between two different entrance exams to take and submit, while others may only allow you to take one specific exam. It is important to know what each school requires. Many schools also only accept test scores for a certain period of time. You should continually check with any admission updates for the schools you are applying to so that you have the latest information about their application procedure. Make the proper arrangements to meet all the necessary testing requirements by the schools you are considering in order to apply to all of your top program choices and not be hindered by making any small mistakes in regards to testing. 

  2. Early bird gets the worm

    If you know that you will be applying to a health professions program, make a timeline as to when you will be applying. Prior to submitting an application, you need to fit in time for taking your entrance exam. Make sure you have an adequate amount of time to register for the exam during your desired test date. I recommend doing some research to find out when registration begins for your exam. Be organized and vigilant, since many testing centers quickly fill up as test day approaches. Each testing center must be authorized to administer the test and follow a set of testing procedures that ensures the security of test-takers and consistency in testing procedures. Due to maintaining these stringent guidelines, there are typically only a few testing centers available in each state, and there may be few spots left—especially in the beginning and end of the application cycle. By having a plan to register as soon as possible, you will have the highest chance of taking your exam when you feel that you will be best prepared, while also meeting the application deadlines.

  3. Location, Location, Location

    When it comes to choosing a testing center, location matters. If you live in a town or city that has a testing center, then you are lucky in that you can take your exam near where you reside. However, not all students live near a testing center. Therefore, it is important to look up all nearby cities and towns that have testing centers and that also offer your specific exam. If you need to travel, make sure to have a proper travel plan ahead of time. You may need to stay at that location overnight, so it is necessary to also make hotel reservations in advance in order to find a room, since hotel rooms may fill up as it gets closer to the date of your exam. Also, pay close attention to time zone differences, especially if you live on the edge of one. Timing may be just as important as one’s location on test day.

  4. Unexpected events

    Even with adequate planning prior to your exam, unexpected situations may still arise. While you may feel flustered with any changes that occur, if you are able to cancel your registration within a certain period of time, then you may receive a full or partial refund. However, after that timeframe passes—and if your situation is not deemed to be an emergency—then you may not be able to get a refund. It is still essential to cancel your registration if you are not able to attend so that it will not be considered a test attempt, as there is a limit to the number of times you can take a particular exam. Make sure to also refer to the information and registration guidelines you received when registering for your exam, as this may become useful when making changes later on.

    If you simply want to change the date of your exam, you may be able to do so in a given timeframe. However, you may be charged a rescheduling fee. Additionally, seats may open up at other locations, so if you find more optimal testing circumstances, such as a closer testing center with newly available seating, then you may be able to make changes to your registration. You should plan for any problems that could occur along the way so that you will be able to handle such issues accordingly.

  5. Resources

    If you are hoping to register for an entrance exam this new year, then I would highly recommend looking into Review2, a new, free service carefully crafted by SDN that offers test-takers the ability to read reviews of students’ past testing experiences. It is a quick and simple tool that allows you to view previous reviews based on exam type, testing center, and location. The site combines ratings from SDN, Yelp, and Google, allowing you to look at reviews from multiple sources. Through utilizing this resource, I was able to learn more about the temperature of my previous testing center, the general demeanor of the staff, and special consideration to follow in regards to parking. This website is very helpful, especially if you are traveling to a new city or town to take the exam and are unaware of what to expect. When registering, you now have the opportunity to look through reviews of your nearby testing centers and choose your location based on past reviews. If you only have one choice, then you will know what you will encounter, which allows you to prepare beforehand so that your testing center experience won’t contribute to any added stress on test day.

    After you conquer your exam, don’t forget to leave a review on Review2! Each experience is unique and the ability to share with others will help future test-takers.

Wherever you end up taking your exam, we wish you success!

Katayoon Dowlatshahi

    Katayoon (Kate) Dowlatshahi is an MD candidate at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. She graduated with highest honors from Methodist University, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry and a minor in Biology. She is deeply passionate about patient advocacy as well as conducting scientific research in an effort to contribute to advancements that benefit the medical community.

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