Hey guys! If you are taking the shortened MCAT exam soon, you are going to love these insights from my experience! I would have loved to know these five things before my exam. Instead, I was spending every day wondering about the little details that the AAMC didn’t explain in the MCAT essentials or if 10 minutes was enough time to eat anything knowing that the process to actually use your break takes away from those 10 precious minutes.
1. You have time during the 10 minute breaks to snack and go to the bathroom
Yes! You heard it right, you have enough time to eat and pee. I am sure this is one of the biggest things people are stressed about because it definitely was for me. My stomach growls at the mere thought of going 5 hours and 45 minutes without food. PLUS, for all my practice exams I always had to pee after every section!
Not going to lie, I literally told my boyfriend I would rather pee my pants than take the chance of losing time on the CARS section. LUCKILY, it didn’t have to come that that! I was pretty indecisive on whether I should take the first break since CARS would be the worst section to start late, but ultimately decided to take it. I literally jogged to the bathroom to pee, then went to my locker to scarf down part of my snack because I was already hungry. I got back with four minutes to spare and the other two breaks were much less stressful, knowing the time crunch wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
First thing to note: this does NOT mean you can lollygag during your break! I was very quick and efficient about it, and even though I had extra time after taking my first break I was not about to get too comfy. I still jogged to the bathroom during the other two breaks and ate the rest of my snack as quick as I could without gagging. If you want to know more about the testing center’s process when you take a break and what I packed to eat for my exam, read my other post here.
2. No tutorial doesn’t mean your test starts immediately
The other thing I was really stressin’ about was how the test would begin if there was no tutorial. Do you click a button and BAM! time starts counting down for the chem/phys section?! No. Thank goodness, no!
Actually, when you click a button there are a couple pages where you do things like verify your ID and there is a 3 minute timer counting down. Then, there is one page that states you are about to start the chem/phys section and there is a 1 minute timer.
Same for the other three sections. If you take a break then come back, the person that escorted you will put in their login info to end your break and a page will pop up and state what section you are about to start. Each with a 1 minute timer counting down. That minute is plenty of time to put your earplugs back in, flip your noteboard to an empty page, take a deep breath, and have a second to mentally prepare for the next section.
3. The building might be locked if you are the first exam of the day
So you are told multiple times to arrive at least 30 minutes before your exam, but NO ONE tells you the building may be locked if you do so!! This definitely through me for a loop because it never occurred to me that might happen. It makes sense now considering most businesses open around 8 am or later, but it would be really nice of the AAMC or Pearson Vue to mention this might happen!
Despite driving to my testing center days in advance to make sure I was in the right spot, when I walked up and the building was locked I second guessed whether I actually had the right address. Anyway, it ended up being totally fine. There were other test takers stuck outside too and around 6:05 am someone came down stairs to let us in. The building was still locked though so the guy that let us in had to go back down stairs two more times to let people in. Therefore, even if you arrive at 6:15 am you might be stuck outside for a few minutes.
What I would suggest: even though it worked out, I really wish I had saved the phone number for my Pearson Vue testing center just in case. Also, if you arrive at 6:20 am, the doors could still be locked and they may assume that every one would have arrived by then. Hopefully, you plan to get there much earlier if you are taking the 6:30 am exam, but in case there is a mishap it would be really handy to have a number to call. Either save it when you register or go here to look it up. They should answer if you have to call. After the guy that let us in was upstairs someone called and he answered right away, so have that number saved!
4. A “noteboard booklet” is what you are given to write on
If you read the MCAT essentials you might be wondering what they mean by a “noteboard booklet” and why the never mention giving you scratch paper. Well, basically the noteboard booklet is your scratch paper! Why they don’t either clarify that or use words or a picture so students would actually understand what they mean, I have no idea. I found a video here so you can see exactly what it is. I actually took the MCAT exam first in 2016 so I knew that it was some form of dry erase something, but I didn’t totally remember and when I tried to look it up I was just confused.
So if you were unclear on whether they gave you something to write on, yes they definitely do. It is a booklet of multiple pages of laminated graph paper. The paper is longer than normal printer paper and you can write on both sides. There are plenty of pages which is good because the marker is only wet erase which means you can’t erase during the exam.
I wouldn’t stress about practicing for your MCAT exam with something similar. I used pencil and paper for all my practice exams except for the last I used a dry erase marker and small whiteboard. If you want to though you could buy this marker and dry erase graphing mats. The mats aren’t the same as the booklet you will get, but it is more similar than practicing with pencil and paper.
5. I should have planned better for after my exam
Alright guys, taking the MCAT exam (possibly after rescheduling multiple times) means you have ended the era of studying and sacrificing fun for months on end. Please do not make my mistake of not planning to do something fun afterwards! You just accomplished something huge, you deserve to celebrate! By no means does celebrating have to being going out and getting drunk with friends… although that’s what I did after taking it in 2016 and that is a super fun option if you still like going out!
I really, really, really wish I had thought about this ahead of time and asked my boyfriend to take the day off of work. Instead, I finished my exam at 12:30 in the afternoon and only had my dog to hang out with the rest of the day. It was sunny and 75 so we went to the dog park and enjoyed the nice weather.
I started studying part time in December 2019 and by the end of January I was studying full time in addition to working full time as an EMT. I was originally going to take it in April, then decided on May 29th, then that got cancelled and I got to take it on June 19th. My plan to study for 3 months got extended to 6 months so being done was a huge weight off my shoulders. It was so weird to finally have that over, then go home and have a normal day as if it meant nothing! So plan to do something fun that day (or the next if you are taking the evening exam) and acknowledge what a huge thing you just accomplished!
I hope this post helps you feel more prepared for your MCAT exam!
If you want to read about all the things (besides studying) I did to prepare for my MCAT exam, read this post.
Comment below if you have any questions about what to expect and I will be happy to answer or help point you to the right resource!