MCAT anxiety is one of the most common emotions to feel when you’re about to take the longest and the most challenging exam of your life. We know because nearly all of us at MCAT Mastery felt it when we were studying for the MCAT.
So we know that while it’s true that experiencing feelings of anxiety is common for MCAT takers, it is also one of the most significant barriers to test-day preparation.
Feelings of anxiety can manifest as fidgeting, rapid heart rate, and sweaty palms. Others also develop difficulties in breathing. These symptoms drain your energy and take your focus away from studying, which makes it even harder to recover when empty unproductive days start to pile up and the test date is near!
In this article, we will highlight six effective strategies that we used to keep MCAT anxiety at bay. We hope this helps you focus more on what truly matters at the moment—making the most out of your MCAT test prep!
Even Future Doctors Need This Reminder!
If you are extremely anxious to the point of it getting in the way of your normal everyday functioning, then it might be time to consider seeking a medical professional for help. No volume of self-help tips and advice can amount to the help that a professional counseling or help might give you.
1. You're On The Same Path As Most Top MCAT Scorers
Making the commitment to take the MCAT is already a feat in itself. Pat yourself on the back for that. The next thing to acknowledge before you dive deep into your MCAT test preparations is to know that everyone who has been on this journey (and reached their goals) started off a little bit scared.
But only at the start! We can’t let fear or anxiety over the MCAT throw us off balance, taking us off the focus of truly achieving the goal of getting into a good medical school. The MCAT is only ONE of the stepping stones towards realizing that dream; it can be scary and anxiety-inducing and daunting and overwhelming. But just like everything else so far, we can learn to get through it!
The MCAT is one of the most stressful exams in the world and the AAMC knows this; you don’t have to bear the pressure of it alone.
Reframe your thinking about MCAT prep and test day by putting your stress and MCAT anxiety in context. Think of the hundreds of other aspiring med-school students who might be feeling or experiencing the same way at this moment. It’s a minor thing to recognize, but sometimes the knowing that we are not alone during a difficult or stressful time is like a salve for the wound.
We're Here If You Need Us!
If you think you could use the guidance of a top MCAT scorer holding your hand through the MCAT journey, we're here if you need us! Learn more about working with an MCAT Mastery Mentor here.
2. Practice The Art of the Reframe When Feeling MCAT Stress
One of the biggest reasons why the MCAT is so burdensome and stressful is because most students think of it as such! Our brains are powerful this way, in that whatever we conceive in our minds as real ultimately becomes the reality we’re experiencing.
If you’re already thinking of the MCAT as a burden or a chore before you even start wading deep into its waters, you are setting yourself up for hard, anxiety-ridden days. And these are unproductive days that could be spent preparing for the test day.
Don’t make this mistake. Here’s an important tip you can say to your anxious brain:
“I am being tested for how I can handle highly stressful situations. If I am to become a well-rounded physician, I will certainly deal with this kind of stress on a daily basis. This is just practice!”
A lot of top scorers also found this helpful in their MCAT test prep, so take five minutes off each day and look at yourself in the mirror saying these words. See how much better you feel afterwards—more confident and definitely ready to take up your studying.
3. Go Through The MCAT Journey With Others Who Can Relate
Nothing eases an anxious mind better than a support group and people who can relate. Good thing for aspiring physicians, there are a lot of support groups, forums and newsletters online that provide guidance on your medical school journey.
For example, if you sign up to our emails, you’ll get near-daily top scorer case studies of students who were extremely stressed, with low scores, who made it out with a really competitive score. They’re incredibly encouraging emails many of us wish we had when studying for the MCAT.
It is one thing to go through this alone. Maybe you will survive, if you have the mental fortitude and emotional strength, but most people, even top MCAT scorers, needed to rekindle the fire every once in a while with a good and trustworthy study buddy (or buddies!).
Be careful with this one though. You don't want to catch the MCAT anxiety of others - and a lot of forums are filled with premeds venting their frustrations, or bragging about their accomplishments. Any one of which can make you feel worse than if you hadn't gone there.
Forming your own group of positive, strategic thinkers is the best thing you can do for your MCAT and med-school journey.
The most strategic thing you can do is form a relationship with someone who is one step ahead of you. Who's been through it. Kind of like an older sibling who wants to see you succeed but has to go through the difficulties first so you can get all the good stuff
Of course, that's what we're here for. Again, use our resources on the site! They're for you! If you want us to meet you once a week, once a day, or even once a month during your MCAT prep, you know where to find us as well!
When you learn from someone who's been in your shoes and done well, you get clarity on how best to study for the MCAT rather than trying out random study methods and techniques, that you hope will work.
Being able to set up a definitive MCAT study plan and the strategies that are right for you, will help you tone down your anxieties about the MCAT and help you gain more confidence in acing on test day.
4. Implement Daily Science-Backed MCAT Anxiety-Reducing Practices
Most of the time, our days are filled with the buzz of trying to memorize and absorb information, so we recommend taking a bit of time off to sit and quiet down your mind.
It’s the part of your body you use the most when studying for the MCAT so it might be best to nourish it also with a good ten or 20 minutes of meditation.
A lot of top MCAT scorers swear by the meditation app, Headspace, where you can personalize how long you want a meditation session to be. It doesn’t have to be an outright perfect practice, but as long as you know that you’re sincere in quieting down the mind, you will feel the benefits of that habit in a few weeks.
You can also learn from a 515 scorer and MS, Ariana, as shares a few tips in this video on how she practiced mindfulness during her MCAT prep which warded away MCAT anxieties and helped her achieve a competitive score.
The top MCAT scorers who’ve tried meditation claim that having a meditative or mindfulness practice started up way before test day helped them remain calm, collected, and focused during the actual MCAT test day.
However, if you’re not one for quieting down and meditating, sign up for a gym membership! Try cardio or a HIIT workout, or sign up for your gym’s yoga or pilates class.
Find out which physical exercise works best to clear your mind, gives you more focus, and keeps your energy levelled. Most sports are also "fun exercise".
A boost of serotonin might be good for calming down your test day nerves and MCAT anxieties. It also helps you get out of your study area, take your mind off your study materials, and have a little time off on your own!
MCAT Tutor Tips: Action Steps to Reduce Testing Anxiety
We all felt the testing anxiety at some point during our MCAT prep.
It's a vicious cycle and this is why Savannah Runge, 517 scorer and MCAT mentor, has created a really valuable video for you on how to lessen MCAT anxiety in just minutes!
Savannah often felt defeated, exhausted, and super burnt out during her MCAT prep...
This is the advice she wishes someone told her earlier!
In this video, she covers:
→ 3 questions to ask yourself whenever you finish a subject or a section, that instantly put you in a more calm state.
→ A 5 second action to do every single time you transition to a new subject or section on an exam, that prevents build up of stress and anxiety.
→ A key action step to take after every long study session to help you listen to your body and your mind, so you can improve your efficiency with each study session.
→ 4 questions to feel more at ease and bring back your motivation when you're feeling excess stress, panic, or anxiety (for those really bad times!).
Remember, sometimes feeling unmotivated is more about not having clarity than it is about motivation itself.
When you have clarity on how to improve your MCAT score and the exact steps to take, the motivation usually shows up automatically.
We've poured a lot of energy into creating these MCAT Strategy Courses, and are working with students one-on-one everyday...
Guiding them with clear direction on what to do to hit their score goal and get into med-school!
We know you have what it takes too.
5. Take Back Your Emotional Control With This One Question
Think about this:
What's the only thing that's in your control?
All you can do is study to the BEST of your ability.
So ask yourself now:
Am I giving my MCAT prep all that I possibly can? Am I doing my absolute best?
If the answer is yes, then you have nothing to worry about. Why? Because what more CAN you do? That's all that's in your control, now you can relax because no matter what happens on test day, you gave it your all.
If the answer is no, then crank it up a notch. Ask yourself why you're not feeling like you're doing the best you can...
Are you not studying hard enough? What's causing you to not study hard enough?
Do you have distractions? Change your environment. Do you not know how to study for the MCAT? Learn about it on our blog/emails or work with a mentor.
Whatever is holding you back, you can find the answer. And you can keep finding answers until you can go back to the initial question of "Are you studying to the best of your abilities?" and give a wholehearted YES.
Therefore, you don't need to worry. You always have the power. We feel anxious because we disempower ourselves. We feel a lack of control. But you always have control. You always have control over how you study, how much you study, how much effort you put into your prep.
As long as you can be honest with yourself that you're doing your absolute best during the process, the outcome (and your MCAT anxiety) will take care of itself.
6. Try A Simple Visualization Technique To Get Pumped For Test Day
We get it - this is one of the biggest days of your life that will ultimately define where you’ll be for the next four or so years of your life, as well as your future, so being anxious or stressed out about it is understandable.
Which means whenever you think about test day, you get anxious. You're loathing it more each day it gets closer.
The problem here is that you're looking at test day in the wrong light. Here's a visualization technique that might help:
Imagine yourself waking up on the day of your test day and ask yourself how you’d want to feel in that moment. As you visualize, become familiar with the actual flow of your test day (as if you’re simulating test day) and ask yourself again, “What’s the most ideal and positive thing to feel right now?”
Jot down those feelings you want to feel on test day; the morning of, when you walk into testing centre, when you're in the middle of the exam.
Now when you visualize, feel those feelings.
Your prescription for MCAT anxiety: Visualize regularly.
This will help you look forward to test day. Why? Because you'll be convincing yourself that you'll be THAT prepared and you'll be feeling pumped when the actual day comes.
You'll start looking forward to test day while your MCAT anxiety will fade into the background.
When it comes to MCAT test day anxiety, sometimes a dash of confidence and faith in yourself is necessary. Know that on test day, you’ll actually do really well because you’ve worked so hard all these months in preparation.
In this article, we identified six ways to get over MCAT anxiety, highlighting the techniques which worked for many top scorers as well as practical hacks in general.
We understand the difficulty of the everyday as you prepare for the biggest exam of your life. That’s why we’re here by your side to guide and inspire you into achieving your maximum potential!
As mentioned above, having clarity on how best to study and prepare for the MCAT will curb your anxiety a lot since you’ll know you're using tried-and-tested strategies to help you with whatever your score goal is.
We also encouraged practicing mindfulness to help with any MCAT test-day anxieties. Having a grasp on your emotions and mental being (and practicing this earlier on) will help you power through on exam day to the fullest of your potential. Just know that making MCAT anxiety go away is a day-to-day effort on your end. But worry not; we’re right here with you.
We've created this site to help you own test day and become the doctor you ARE meant to be!