Crafting an MCAT Experience

MCAT preparation is paramount to a successful exam. I had no idea idea what sort of super stressful series of unfortunate events would become my chaotic test day.

Being the prepared pre-med that I was, I started out the door with ample time to arrive to my testing center; the route I had practiced multiple times to ease my anxiety.

About 3 blocks from my home I encountered a freight train, stopped dead on the tracks. I waited for some time as the line of cars behind me grew to appear endless.

15 minutes later, no progress.

Having exhausted my buffer time I finally chose to weasel my way out of the line to attempt an alternate route that ended up taking me to detours C and D due to the length of the train spanning my entire town.

I actually had to take back roads to get to the next town over so that I could hop on the interstate... only to find construction! Construction that was not there the day before.

Alas, by some miracle, I parked outside the Pearson office with 28 minutes to spare (2 minutes after the recommended check-in time).

I entered the waiting area with my fellow testers and was advised that we were waiting out technical difficulties to be checked in.

So my haste had really been for naught.

These "technical difficulties" took 55 minutes to resolve before we could begin the check-in process. If you're keeping track, that's 25 minutes after the scheduled exam start time--another 5 minutes and policy would have had us reschedule our MCAT exams.

At last seated for the MCAT, my Pearson-provided pen wouldn’t even smear a faint smudge.

Six minutes of waving and wiggling and rolling my chair into the open area in front of the proctor's window went by before the he noticed and set down his sandwich. In hindsight, I should have just given up and worked through the exam.

Reaching my first designated break, I darted out the door to find the restroom... closed. I wasn't going to survive the next three sections without some relief so I ran all around the building in search of an open restroom.

The only other toilet happened to be up some stairs and at the opposite end of a nightmare hall.

Upon my return, the proctor got cozy in my testing seat, entered his password to restart my exam, and pointed at a prompt (yeah, he was still seated).

Leaning over the man's shoulder I read the notice that stated that I was two minutes into the CARS section (THE section you don't want to lose time on).

I asked him to allow me to sit.

Another click or two and he rose from my seat as I practically rushed him.

The next break was upon me. I wasn't about to be late again but I did need some energy (especially after the anxiety of the day). I exited and inhaled my PB&J sandwich, followed by a couple big gulps of water.

I returned to be checked in with confidence.

I had taken 10, maybe 15 minutes, and now the testing staff could take their time. No way could I restart late from a 30-minute break.

One proctor began the process--taking my ID and glasses and talking his way through as he trained a new employee.

Then, for what seemed like pure comedic value at this point, he chose this inopportune moment to restart his computer and allow his trainee to log in and practice checking me in.

Yes, I was again late coming back from my break and had less than the allotted time to work through the next section.

Finally, I had learned my lesson and forfeited my last break.

As I went into my last section, it must have been shift change time for the proctors because they were having a party. A party that the blocky headphones they give did nothing to drown.

I couldn't even hear myself think over the hottin' and hollerin'.

Somehow I reached the end of the exam and was faced with the decision to submit for grading or void the attempt.

I should have voided. I knew I should have voided it.

But a part of me was hopeful that despite the strange series of events, I might have pulled out a decent score.

I did not.

Between then and now, I’ve come to realize that perhaps my score may not have been so impacted by the many but small things had I gone in better prepared.

Content preparation is important, don't get me wrong. But most students sitting for the MCAT are already content-smart. Maybe they need to review some amino acids or fluid mechanics... but they can probably figure their way through to an alright score.

I was always told to take practice exams. Do this. Really, DO IT.

But I was always told to simulate a quiet, calm, testing center experience.

DON'T do that. Practice at a rock concert if you can. Plan for everything to go wrong and learn how to keep your cool (because I certainly did not).

This is one skill that I have been perfecting as I've spent this academic year in the throws of studying medicine remotely, from home. Not only do I attend lectures and self-study with my lovely, screaming, crying toddler in the background, but I also take my Zoom-proctored tests right here too.

It's been hard, but with practice I can study or test through nearly anything now... boy, would that have come in handy for my MCAT exam.