6 Tips for Preparing for the New MCAT

By Tara Servati, 2014 Mailman graduate

If, like me, you have considered taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), you already know that it is no easy task to take on. In fact, it can be downright draining. I suggest that when preparing for the exam, you keep your mental wellness on par with your academic vigor. And while many think studying 14 hours a day and cramming is the best method, take it from me, that is not going to maximize your cognitive capabilities. You are probably aware of the numerous study tips, including “take as many practice exams as possible” and “start studying 100 days before your exam.” But what about preserving your brainpower and mental health? Below are a few tips I have developed to make the MCAT study experience more manageable.

1. Exercise

It can be hard to motivate yourself to spend an hour of the day exercising when you can be studying. But exercise improves neural connections in your brain and enhances memory and acquisition, according to a study published in Behavioral Neuroscience. Another study, done at the University of British Columbia, found that regular aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. For those of you who are still anxious about sparing a moment from studying, remember, you can always do some reading on the treadmill.

2. Meditate

I know what you’re thinking. Meditation is hard. Meditation is “a waste of time.” Meditation is “for hippies.” However, I believe meditation is a great way to remove yourself from the daunting task ahead and bring you back to the present.

3. Watch educational documentaries

You need a break but feel guilty about watching mindless television. Luckily, there are countless educational documentaries available at your fingertips that are both educational and entertaining. Maybe you can understand that tricky physics concept if Neil deGrasse Tyson explains it to you.

4. Sleep for 8 hours each night

This is certainly not a new tip, but one often forgotten in a rigorous academic setting. Neurologically, sleep is extraordinarily important when consolidating memories; the process of sleep will help you retain the information you spent the day learning. A Columbia study is among several showing the effects of sleep deprivation. If not for your own well-being, sleep for your brain!

5. Train your brain to be alert at 8 a.m. 

Establishing routines is an essential part of preparing for the MCAT. Because of the extended length of the new MCAT, afternoon exams are no longer offered, which is unfortunate for night owls (like myself). Here’s my tip for avoiding a drowsy test day: I recommend waking up at  around 6 or 7 a.m. for at least two weeks before your exam date so your brain and body can become accustomed to the exam time.

6. Day before the exam: DO NOTHING!!

Okay, you can do some things. But those things you choose to do should be relaxing, should make you happy, and should not involve the MCAT. Go to a movie, visit a museum, have your friends and loved ones entertain you. My reasoning behind this is, you should be prepared for the MCAT by now, you should not be learning something new 24 hours before the exam. You can go over your summary notes briefly, but I recommend that you not spend more than an hour on MCAT preparation the day before.

A new MCAT exam was introduced in April 2015. Below is a video produced by the Association of American Medical Colleges that explains the scoring of the new test.