Maximize your exam day performance

by Gabe

How do you make sure you get the best performance possible on the day of your test?

If you've spent any time reading about the MCAT online (Reddit, SDN, etc.) you've probably heard horror stories about people's scores dropping lower than their FLs on the day of the test. Maybe it even happened to you at some point.

Basically every student I work with is worried that their score on the real test is going to drop below their practice tests.

So, I've put together some steps you can take to ensure you actually do your best on the day of the test.

Part 1: The lead-up

A good performance on the day of the test starts in the days before the test. In the week leading up to the MCAT you should be doing at least a little bit of studying each day. Even if you're feeling pretty tapped out at this point, it's important to keep doing some review so that you stay on your game.

For the science sections that can just be some content review or maybe extra passages. For CARS, you should be aiming to do one or two passages per day (including the day before the test!). The best way to do this is using the AAMC CARS Question Packs. If you've already done them, that's fine – just re-do them.

Keeping up some light studying in the last few days before the test ensures that you'll go into the MCAT feeling like you're on your game. You don't want to feel rusty at all when you sit down to take the exam.

The day before the test you should place a big emphasis on relaxing. I know this goes against everything you've been doing for the last few months, but you need to chill out for a bit.

However, please note: relaxing can include studying! For some people, the most relaxing thing to do is a little more studying. If that's you, then you should do a little studying (but don't go crazy). If going for a long walk with your dog or having lunch with a friend relaxes you, then that's what you should do.

Final pro-tip: don't eat anything unusual the night before the test. Just stick to something simple you've eaten many times before.

Part 2: Trust your preparation

Any number of things can go wrong on the day of the test. Maybe you won't sleep the night before, maybe you'll get a cold, maybe your anxiety will be through the roof, or maybe the person sitting next to you at the test center will make too much noise.

But here's the thing...none of that needs to have an impact on you. Whatever goes wrong, you have the mental strength to power through it.

The biggest thing that trumps anything else is your preparation. You've spent months working on this test, so make up your mind that you're not going to let any of these things get to you. I’ve had plenty of students who had things go wrong on test day, but they just did the best they could and got a score close to their practice tests. I don’t want to sound like some cheesy motivational speaker, but you can work through a lot more than you think you can. So trust in your preparation.

Part 3: The difficulty doesn't matter

Let's say you sit down and start to work through the test. And you realize it's the most difficult test you've ever seen. The passages make your biochem textbook look like a children’s book. The questions seem impossible.

Should this worry you? Not at all!

That's because the test is scaled for difficulty. The AAMC has already tested all of the passages and questions that you'll see on your test. So they know in advance how difficult the test will be and they adjust the scoring based on that.

So, let's say that on your practice tests you've been getting 128 on CARS and missing around 9 questions. If the real MCAT that you get is more difficult, then you might be able to miss 11 or 12 questions and still get a 128. (Of course, these numbers are just approximations. The AAMC never releases the actual scales for the exams they administer).

The take away from this is that you shouldn't worry about how many questions you're missing on the real test.

As long as you finish the sections on time and bring the same level of focus that you do on your practice tests, then you'll be fine. Basically, just treat the test like one of your practice tests. Don't change up what you've been doing and don't second guess your answers.

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