Wednesday, 4 May 2011

My experience writing the MCAT

Warning: This is not intended to be an uplifting story about writing the MCAT. If you'd rather read a blog about how amazing writing the MCAT was, you're free to go find one now. If you are about to write the MCAT, and to keep your morale up you'd rather watch Rocky and get yourself pumped up, by all means, DO IT. But, if you want to read about someone screwing up so bad that it makes you feel better about writing the test, then you might just want to read my story.

My Story

Mmm... calories...
I flew to Vancouver to write the test, a city I really enjoy to visit. I had to stay at a hotel and decided I wasn't going to study the day before writing the MCAT to ease my mind. In theory, this would have been great, logical, even highly advisable... my brain was hoping that I would do this, but my nervous system wouldn't let me. I started to furiously go through my organic chemistry notes. I have no idea why I did this. I'm an organic chemistry TA and that was the section I understood the most. Maybe it was because I knew the material so well, I wanted to keep myself in high spirits before the test. I’m not sure why, but I studied that and that alone. Here's another tip I was given: eat a nutritious meal the day before the MCAT, full of veggies and brain food. What did I do? I ordered a massive cheese pizza from Pizza Hut. I think I ate the whole thing out of nervousness (and I'm pretty tiny). I studied the material and devoured my pizza. When it was around 11 PM I tried to get to sleep.

Dear readers, make sure you get a good night sleep the night before the MCAT. I am sure it helps quite a lot to be well rested. However, when it comes to sleeping, I have on-and-off periods of insomnia. Most of the time it is well managed, but when I am stressed out, sleeping is impossible. I remember trying so hard to fall asleep the night before the MCAT that I was telling myself to fall asleep. Note: that does not work. I tossed and turned in the hotel room, became increasingly bitter about how noisy and bright Vancouver is at night, and chaotically swallowed about 8 St. John's Wort tablets in desperation. Restless, I went to the hotel bathtub and put some sheets and pillows into the tub. This was around 5 AM and I was to write my test at 8:30 AM. I needed to get some sleep, and this strategy allowed me about 1 hour of it. Before I knew it, I was up, dressed, and in the taxi cab.

I was so confused...
Dear readers, it sounds simple, but this is so important: know where the testing location is. I had no idea where the testing location was. Sure, I read the printout that stated the location, but I was hopeful the cab driver would instruct me where to go. I landed in front of a mall, which was bizarre to me. I had never written a test in a mall before. I thought to myself, am I supposed to write the test in a food court?! At this point I was totally lost, I think I gained about 10 grey hairs, and I only had 45 minutes to find the location. I walked up to the mall doors, and was stunned to find out the mall was closed.

How could it have been closed?! The test was in 45 minutes! I really did not know what to do. I searched the mall for an entrance. I contemplated breaking down the windows to get in. Luckily, I was let in somehow (this escapes me for the moment – I hope I didn’t resort to a B & E), and I was left to search for the testing center. Once inside, I was very calm. I needed to find the station location and I was going to.

So, I found the testing centre and was checked in. You even have to do a thumbprint, how CSI of them. There were several other premeds around me that were about to write the test. Some were quite nervous, some were calm and collected, and others had a smug expression on their face. Smug premed A said to smug premed B in a very loud and obnoxious voice, "I've written this test once already. I'm really hoping I can bring up my 40 S." This infuriated me. For those who are unfamiliar with the MCAT, a 40 S is nearly a perfect score. I am quite content if you think I am horrible for doing this, but I remember glancing at smug premed A and telling him with a faux worried expression, "Well, that would suck if you screwed it up again, huh?!" He stopped talking. Exactly the effect I was going for. One girl beside me even awarded me a fistpound.

We all walked into our testing stations and I sat down in front of the computer ready to write  err digitally enter and/or type my answers for the test. They gave us these funky headphones to wipe out the distracting clicking noises of neighbouring keyboards. I found these bizarre things to be helpful; however, I tended to get sleepy whenever I placed them atop my ears. I developed a system where I would wear them until my eyes became heavy then immediately remove them. This worked quite well.

The first section of the MCAT is physical sciences. Now, I had not taken physics II and was hoping my summer studying would aid me. Ha! How optimistic of me. The entire section was a disaster. It was like if a political leader were to wear a "Global warming is a lie" t-shirt a G8 summit. Terrible analogy, I know, but all I can say is that it was not good. I remember laughing to myself and guessing every second answer. The questions looked foreign to me. And by the end of the section I was so mad at myself that I left the room and wasn't about to go back. I was convinced I had failed it. I was tired. I was fed up with myself. I felt like my application was going to be discarded by UBC and there was no hope of having my file reviewed that cycle. But I decided to go back. I remembered one of my friends telling me she felt like she failed the test too, but the beauty of the MCAT is the fact that it is multiple choice type exam. Realistically, I had no idea if I had failed it. I had to suck it up, go back in there, and finish the test. And I did just that.

I flew through the next three sections. When I felt tired, I just pinched myself and went on. I was determined to do my best at the other sections and forget the first one. By the time I was done the test, I felt relieved but I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. That feeling lasted until I received my results. I remember seeing other premeds coming out of the testing center crying and hugging each other. For those of you who do not understand test anxiety and think to yourself, what is the big deal: the MCAT is just one test. All I can tell you is that test anxiety is real and it is difficult to keep under control. For those of us with test anxiety, a test is not just a test. Adrenaline levels are in overdrive. It is very hard to control your thoughts. While it has gotten better it is still there just like any other imperfection you`d rather not want the world to see. I understand why those girls were crying after writing the test. These things can creep into your psyche.

A day goes by, a week goes by, then a month goes by and the results are finally in. Did I fail the physical sciences section? Am I ineligible to apply? What was going to happen? I click on the link to see my results and I stare in shock. Physical sciences was my best section! It felt like all of that work paid off, and I was so grateful that I did not walk out of the testing center and pressed through the test. I was elated and so happy to apply that I released my scores that day. I hope this gave you all a few laughs, and if you are about to write the test, one final piece of advice: just do the opposite of what I did and you should be ready to go :)

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Thank you for stopping by!


  1. LOVE your blog!!

  2. Thanks so much for the feedback :)

  3. totally loved this post, I went through the exact same feeling during my test. I thought I would screw up my physical science section but in fact it was my highest as well.
    Good luck to you through the application process, and I hope you enjoyed the visit at Vancouver apart from the whole test anxiety bit.

  4. Thanks! Are you a premed as well? Good luck to you too :)

  5. So I know I'm super late in commenting on this blog post since it was written in like May and now we're in August but can I just say that what you felt during and after the test is exaclty how I am feeling right now? haha! I think it's a slippery slope effect in the sense that after the MCAT, I feel that I did ok - fast forward a week and I think I did horrible - fast forward a month and I think I'm no longer eligible to apply for most schools *knock on wood*. I hope come September, I'll have some great news!

  6. Hi Cass!

    You have officially entered MCAT anxiety mode. Best advice I can give you is to keep as busy as you possibly can during this time. I remember how I felt this time last year! Those same nasty thoughts penetrating my brain. Make sure to exercise, volunteer, work. Anything, really. Stay active and treat yourself well during this time.

    Good luck! I'd love for you to update here on how you did. I'm rooting for ya <3

  7. I'm taking my MCAT on Jan. 28. I'm super nervous :(

  8. Hi Tina,
    Good luck with your MCAT!
    I really mean that! I know it can be a bit intimidating, but you will be so relieved once you're done!

  9. Ha, this sounds exactly like me, except my score was horrible.

  10. This was great! I was wondering what MCAT prep books did you use??
    I'm gonna be a sophomore this coming fall and really want to start studying for the MCAT right now!

    1. Hi Vanessa :)

      I used Examkrackers as my primary source. I already had a pretty solid foundation in general chemistry - these books are pretty general. If, though, you want a very in depth review I would recommend The Princeton Review series.

      Best of luck!

  11. Wow. Good job! I'm premed now and don't have to worry about the MCAT just yet but loved reading about your experience and realizing that it worked out. Just stumbled on your blog and love it, it's officially added to my regular reading list!


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