How I Dealt With MCAT Stress/Anxiety Using Mindfulness

February 2, 2024

minute read

I know it's hard when you're studying for the MCAT and are feeling stressed, anxious, and frustrated...

When I was studying I had a full course load, a job, extracurriculars, some serious personal/family challenges, and scores that were refusing to improve...

So I HAD to figure out ways to stay calm, otherwise I knew my MCAT score had no hope of getting to where I needed it to be! 

And I'm happy to say I did figure it out and made it through with a score I was happy applying with 🙂

Which is why in this article, I want to share three of my most favorite techniques that I used to stay calm and collected when dealing with the challenges of MCAT prep.

I still recommend them to my students I work with and continue to use them throughout med-school!

I'd love to know how they helped you so please comment below and share your thoughts/questions!


Psst! MCAT Mastery Team here 🙂

Why Is Mindfulness Important On The MCAT?

Mindfulness is important because you need to be able to think clearly throughout your MCAT journey and on the actual MCAT.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the anxiety of the test, of how long it is, of hearing horror stories of people who have taken it three or four times and still have not been successful.

So by being mindful and focusing on the present and on the now, which is what mindfulness is about, you’re able to put aside some of those anxious thoughts about the future and about your test.

You can stop thinking about how you’re going to do it, and where you’re going to apply, and focus on right now and how you can be successful on the MCAT, to become the doctor that you want to be.

Side Note: What's the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

A lot of people get meditation and mindfulness confused and think they’re interchangeable. Meditation is where you’re quieting your brain and kind of putting it in a resting state whereas mindfulness is focusing on the here and now.

So meditation is a form of mindfulness, but it’s not the only way to be mindful. If you’ve heard a lot about meditation and you’re interested in learning more but you kind of don’t want to go that far yet, or you’re not sure you’re ready for that, these little tips are a great way to start and get your foot in the door.

You might realize how helpful it is and you might become even more interested in learning about meditation and other mindfulness techniques.

If you're already, here's an article on using meditation during MCAT prep.

With that said, let’s continue with our three tips...

MCAT Mindfulness Tip 1: Use This Breathing Technique Between Passages

The first tip I have is called the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique by Dr. Andrew Weil.

This technique is where you spend four seconds breathing in, seven seconds holding your breath or sitting with your breath, and eight seconds releasing.

I love this because it only is 19 seconds total, it’s not very long, and it’s a great way to reorient yourself if you’re in the middle of a passage or a question when you’re not sure what’s going on.

If you do it three times, it takes up barely any time, maybe a minute total, or less than a minute…

But you’re able to think clearly.

I also like to use this on CARS between each passages because even though you’re using those minutes and you’re not reading, it really resets your brain so that you’re not bringing in information from your old passage into your new passage and you get so much clarity on the next passage because you’re focused and you’re zoned in. 

I love the 4-7-8 technique just in general when you’re studying, whenever you’re overwhelmed or need a break and just want to refocus.

But especially if you’re in CARS and you want to break up each passage and help use that to refresh yourself if you find yourself falling asleep in CARS, getting bored with CARS, or if you realize that it’s hard to stay focused between passages, the 4-7-8 technique is a great way to combat that. 

You can learn more about this technique by clicking here.

MCAT Mindfulness Tip 2: Give Your Brain A Break!

My next tip is going to be about getting outside or getting up and moving around.

It’s very easy when you’re anxious, to want to stay and work on something. When you see that you missed a problem and you have to understand right now exactly why you missed it!

Then you end up spending three or four hours focused on this one problem and you get frustrated because you can’t understand it! And that happens so often because you know you’re investing all this time and you have to understand it, but your brain needs a break!

Whenever you’re taking a break, you’re actually letting it rest and you’re kind of letting things synthesize and marinate in your head so that in a few hours or a few minutes when you come back,  your brain has time to process through it.

So this tip is basically whenever you feel like you’re getting frustrated or you don’t want to get up, you need to get up, walk around, do some jumping jacks! If you can go outside, go outside, and breathe a little bit of fresh air!

Obviously a time this doesn’t hold true is if you’re doing your full-length practice exams in testing conditions. You can’t just get up in the middle of the test. But you can practice, on your breaks, getting up and moving around a little bit.

On the actual MCAT or on a practice one, don’t just take your break and walk out of the testing center into the lobby, and just sit down again. At least get up, move a little, go to the bathroom, just kind of move your muscles so your brain can understand that we have a break to take some time and get some clarity. 

Speaking of clarity, another great tip to help you have a clear vision of the future is my third tip called visualization.

MCAT Mindfulness Tip 3: Leverage Visualization 

Visualization is where you will just sit there and visualize certain scenarios in your mind. It will really teach your brain to think of the scenario as what’s going to happen or how it should happen.

So it’s not that, “Oh maybe it will,” or “I hope it does.” Your brain thinks, “This is how it’s supposed to be!”

Visualization is also a great way to lead yourself into meditation.

I recommend spending two or three, maybe even five minutes a day on visualization, which can be used on both a macro scale and a micro-scale.

Macro Scale Visualization

Spend time on visualization, visualizing yourself being a physician, what kind of doctor do you want to be, interacting with patients, having your office, wearing a white coat and a stethoscope.

On the big picture scale, that helps your brain recognize the end goal. This is what I’m going be, this is what I’m going to do...

This is what I am GOING to do, not what I want to do, but what I am GOING to do.

Micro Scale Visualization

On a micro-scale, as you get closer to the test date, visualize yourself going through the test, getting on Chem and Phys, opening that test, reading the first paragraph, getting stuck on a problem, and visualize yourself breathing in using that 4-7-8 technique, to calm your mind and go through it, think through it and then being able to answer the question. 

If you do that before your MCAT, for several days, maybe even a week or two before, it really helps when you get on test day, to calm anxiety.

Even if you get stuck on a question, your brain recognizes, “I’m stuck, so what do I do?” I take the time to do a little bit of breathing, to go ahead and re-analyze the question, to come back to it if I need to.

And it helps eliminate anxiety that would be there otherwise. Because the unknown situation is no longer unknown. Your brain recognizes it.

So these are my three tips for kind of getting started on mindfulness with the MCAT!

If you’d like more information, or want kind of a more personalized mindfulness plan or just would like to talk to somebody who has done it before, you can click here to learn more about working with one of us 🙂

Also sign up for our MCAT Mastery emails because you will get a lot of good mindfulness tips and information on stress and anxiety medicine!

Half the battle is being able to stop this stress and anxiety from the MCAT, so make sure that you’re able to do that by focusing on mindfulness!

You got this, 

Ariana Campbell
MCAT Mastery Mentor

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