Tips for taking the MCAT

Preparation

  1. Finish introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry courses before taking the MCAT.

  2. Start preparing 3 to 12 months prior to the test.

  3. Study mainly from MCAT review books, using course notes and textbooks only as reference material. Personally, I don't think those expensive MCAT prep courses are very helpful, unless you need study discipline.

  4. Ensure that you really understand the concepts, as opposed to memorizing facts. However, you will have to memorize some basic equations.

  5. Practice, practice, practice. Do as many MCAT practice tests as possible, ideally in simulated test conditions. Remember, no calculators.

Just before and during the test

  1. Get used to getting up early.

  2. Have a hearty dinner the night before.

  3. Get a good night's sleep.

  4. Have a moderately sized, low-fat breakfast (don't eat so much that you are sleepy - fat takes longer to digest).

  5. Arrive early and relaxed.

  6. Have a moderately sized, low-fat lunch (don't eat so much that you are sleepy - fat takes longer to digest).

  7. There's no harm in talking to other examinees about the test during the breaks. Just don't get flustered or demoralized. Some people will try to "psych" others out.

What to bring:

  1. 2H pencils for the multiple choice sections, an eraser that won't smudge, and black ball point pens for the Writing Sample. Remember, no calculators or notes are allowed.

  2. A stopwatch is crucial. You can buy a watch with a stopwatch feature for as little as $30. Make sure you have any automatic alarms turned off.

  3. A sweater or light jacket in case the exam room is uncomfortably cold.

  4. Maybe a cushion if the seats are hard.

  5. Maybe ear plugs if you are used to having no distractions. You are packed into the exam room quite tightly.

  6. Candy, fruit, or other high sugar snack to keep your blood glucose up (glucose fuels the brain). The night before my test, I made some very sweet coffee, put it in a plastic bottle, and froze it (I squeezed enough air out first so it wouldn't burst). During the MCAT, between sub-tests, I sipped the melting coffee, which provided sugar, caffeine, and a refreshing stimulus to the senses.

  7. A packed lunch unless you intend to eat at a cafeteria, etc.

Doing the test

  1. General:
    Keep track of time and pace yourself. If you get stuck on a question, flag it and go on to the next. If you have time at the end of the exam, you can return to that question. Similarly, flag any questions you are not sure about as you go along.

  2. Writing Sample:


    Ensure you complete all the tasks asked of you. You are given a statement, and asked something like the following:


    Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks. Explain what you think the above statement means. Describe a specific situation in which [statement] might be justified. Discuss what you think determines whether or not [statement] is justified.


    Thus, the question is actually helping you structure your essay. Each of the tasks should be addressed by one or more paragraphs. For example, the 1st paragraph should explain what you think the statement means. Some "canned" sentences include:


    The statement indicates that ... A similar thought is manifest in ...
    The statement suggests that ... are/are not ... unless ...


    The 2nd paragraph should describe a specific situation in which the statement might be justified. Some "canned" sentences include:


    However, the words ... and ... are ambiguous. The statement pivots on these words and its applicability depends on the meanings attached to them.
    As used in the statement, ... is subject to interpretation. It might refer to ... On the other hand, it might signify ... For example, ...


    The 3rd paragraph should discuss what you think determines whether or not the statement is justified. Some "canned" sentences include:


    Hence, the pertinence of the statement depends in large measure on the meaning attached to its language. If ... refers to ..., and ... means ..., then the statement represents a meaningful comment. If, however, ... means ..., and ... signifies ..., the statement is not accurate/does not furnish a useful insight.



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