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MCAT Stress: How to stay focused during the preparation process

As a pre-med student, you already know that MCAT prep is more than a walk in the park. It is an exam that involves hours and hours of preparation. Just thinking about the amount of content that is required to learn and master is overwhelming altogether. However, we can overcome this fear! We must approach the preparation process for the exam with confidence as we strive for the goal of becoming a physician. Various techniques and methods can be used to lessen the amount of stress that is associated with the MCAT. After reading the “The Premed PLaybook: Guide to the MCAT” by Dr. Ryan Gray, I discovered simple and effective ways to keep a healthy mindset while studying for the exam. Dr. Gray explains that proper stress management is the key to better performance on exam day, as it increases our ability to focus.

  • A major component of managing stress is daily exercise. Aerobic exercise has been linked to reducing stress hormones while increasing positive hormones. These positive hormones are linked to the brain’s performance, ultimately leading to an enhanced ability to concentrate and absorb information. Forms of exercise can include going for a walk, taking a bike ride, or even spending an hour at the gym. During this time, your brain is building its ability to memorize and heighten its performance for test day.

  • An additional stress-reducing technique is mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to take 15-20 minutes every day to slow down and mitigate stress. Taking this time to meditate enhances the brain's ability to work at an efficient rate.

  • Practice. Practice. Practice. In order to familiarize oneself with the variety of MCAT questions and passage styles, it is imperative to take multiple practice exams. These practice exams can be found on multiple websites including the AAMC.

Once the preparation process is over and you have finally mastered the MCAT, it is important to incorporate similar techniques for exam day. Knowing where and how to navigate through the testing area can ease any stress you may experience before the test begins.

Utilizing the methods of exercise and meditation to de-stress will most likely increase your performance on exam day. And most of all, listen to yourself. If you need a mental break, take it. If you feel guilty for avoiding your studies, you should probably get back to studying. You know yourself and your most successful study methods best. Following these few tips can help you approach the MCAT with confidence.

Thank you,

Ilana Saidov

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