In my years as a scientist, I have found that in a world as diverse and unpredictable as our own, it is paramount to remain consistent in the ways we study the world and conduct experiments. Good studies need to have control groups that do not receive treatment and reflect the status quo. Likewise, when preparing to battle the beast that is the MCAT, consistency is key. While the ideas below are broadly relevant to any type of standardized exam, they are particularly important when preparing for the MCAT. Why? Because the MCAT requires memorization of so many facts across multiple subject areas, understanding of a broad range of concepts, and the ability to focus to apply these facts and concepts to correctly answer difficult questions. The GMAT by contrast, a test taken for admission to graduate business school, requires absolutely no knowledge of business subjects at all.
Here are a few factors to consider keeping consistent when preparing for the MCAT.
Do you use caffeine regularly?
Do you always have a cup or two of coffee and ride that caffeine buzz while you’ve been studying over the last 1-3 months? If yes, you should try your best to avoid making any drastic changes (and thus, your physiology) leading up to your exam. If you’re always stimulated with caffeine or other stimulants while studying, you want to make sure you’ve recreated those same conditions on test day. Your brain actually stores the information you’re learning in a fashion where recall is easier if you are able to reproduce that same state of mind. Therefore, try not to start or discontinue use of caffeine before the exam.
What is your posture/position like when you study?
Are you someone that likes to sit in your bed and study? How study about lying down? Perhaps you regularly study in a hammock out on the beach by the ocean…If yes, you’ll probably want to change your study strategy for several reasons. As you may know, you will be sitting down, in a chair, at a desk and in front of a computer on test day. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, sitting with good posture is important! It really allows your whole body to function better as well as offers the psychological benefit of feeling more powerful, confident and strong as opposed to slouching. Confidence is another key element to success that we will discuss is another article.
What does it sound like where you study?
The exam room will be quiet with the option of putting on noise cancelling headphones. Try not to listen to music when you’re taking practice tests and in the month or so leading up to the exam. Do your best to try and find a quiet place to study. While this may be challenging for some people, there are significant benefits. If you do choose to listen to music earlier on, classical music has been shown to be beneficial for the mind when learning math and science.
How are you taking your practice MCAT tests?
Take all practice MCAT exams (the best thing for you is to take as many of these as humanly possible) in the morning, at the same time the test is to be scheduled, in a quiet room in your house with no distractions. Bring a paper bag with snacks, even though you’re in your own home. Don’t go to the fridge and turn on the TV during break…try to feel yourself at the testing center instead of feeling totally comfortable in your own home. The idea is to eventually feel more comfortable at the testing center and these practices should help do that.
Of course, study regularly and pace yourself so that you are consistently strengthening your knowledge and test taking skills every day. The only way to climb this mountain is one step at a time. The MCAT is a challenging exam and using these techniques to condition your mind to get accustomed to testing conditions along with keeping its physiology consistent is critical to achieving the score you need. Be sure to stay tuned for more great MCAT Test Prep advice!