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After all your hard work and preparation, the day has finally arrived: MCAT Test Day. This is one of the most important days in your life so far and you have to make sure that you do your best in order to keep your opportunity of practicing Medicine in the US alive, no pressure, right?
You may have done dozens of MCAT prep courses to mimic the exam but in reality, nothing will adequately prepare you for the stress of sitting through the 7 hour and 33 minute test. As of April 17, 2015, the "new" MCAT has been unleashed and you are responsible for answering 230 questions in 6 hours and 15 minutes. That means you are given a little over 1 hour of break-time to collect your thoughts and make sure that a difficult section does not derail your entire test. I will give you some insight into the pressure of sitting for your first MCAT and reveal some tips and strategies that really helped me now only deal with the pressure of the MCAT but also STEP 1 and STEP 2 which are substantially longer than MCAT.
Number 1: Meditate for 5 minutes Between Each Section
This was something that I was skeptical about at first but once I started applying it to my practice tests, I noticed an improvement in my scores in later sections of the test. You may have the knowledge to be able to do well on the exam, but there is also a component of mental fatigue that will be hard to overcome of the exam.
Once you get some more experience with the USMLE STEP exams, you becoming more accustomed to sitting for such a long period of time but considering the longest exams you have faced were less than 3 hours, it can be hard to adjust to a 6+ hour test with such pressure. I had tried several different strategies to deal with the "bonus" time I was given. At first, I tried to power through the first 3 sections without breaks because my mind was still fresh and I was ready to get the test over as soon as possible. Once you approach the 4th hour, your brain will gradually start to feel like rice pudding. It will be hard for you to focus on another question and you may even feel that you have to reread the question multiple times in order to make sure you retain the important message you are trying to solve. If this happens, your time-management has failed dramatically.
The popular story of the "Tortoise and the Hare" comes to mind and depicts how you should approach this exam. Instead of powering through the sections as quickly as you can, if you have a deliberate approach and you are even taking breaks during the first portions of the test, you will be able to sustain your focus for at least another hour. Thankfully, if you are able to get to the last 2 sections, a "second-wind" usually happens and your adrenaline starts to take over. You will reawaken slightly and be able to get through the last sections without even noticing the fatigue.