What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your MCAT Day
Written & Edited by: Taylor Goss
My alarm goes off at 5:30 am. It is officially the scariest day of my life: MCAT Day. I had gone to bed around 10 o’clock the night before but I still wanted to go back to sleep. But today was not the day to hit snooze. I got up and put on my pre-planned MCAT clothes. I had been practicing in similar clothes to what I wanted to wear to test day, down to my socks. Nothing was going to throw me off today. I had previously read internet recommendations for test day meals and had settled on oatmeal (for slow burning carbs) and blueberries (for antioxidants). After reviewing my formula sheet one last time, I had nothing left to do to procrastinate leaving for the testing center.
The Pre-Test Wait
My testing location was about thirty minutes from my apartment and for the whole ride there I listened to Apple Music’s “Inspiration Essentials” playlist. I understood when I reached my destination why everyone suggests that you visit the testing site beforehand to make sure you are acquainted with the buildings. I drove around for a few minutes before parking and deciding, “This must be the building because a lot of other cars are turning into this parking lot.” This theory was confirmed when I noticed a girl crouched on the sidewalk outside furiously flipping through a spiral notebook. I had left my phone in the center console of my car so I was relying on my memory to tell me which suite I was heading for. Was it 460 or 406?
I opened the door to the Prometric suite and found myself standing in front of a desk with an older woman asking for my ID. She looked back and forth between my driver’s license picture and my face and checked me in on the computer. I was handed a small piece of green construction paper with the number 5 on it and told to put everything in a locker except my ID and that piece of paper. While I was reading the laminated sheet of test center rules, I noticed that the girl checking in after me was told to remove her ring since it was not a wedding or engagement ring. I looked down at my hand and panicked over the thought of taking off my grandmother’s Irish Claddagh ring – luckily no one asked me to, probably because it was small and didn’t have any large stones. After stuffing my bag into locker number 23 (my lucky number), I headed to the bathroom while I still had the chance and when I returned I was told that if I was ready I could have a seat in a small lobby area where they would do security screenings.
I sat and waited for my number to be called. There were two testing rooms – green and orange – and a check-in desk for each. I watched as those before me went through the process. It went something like this: pull your pants up past your ankles, roll your sleeves up, turn your pockets inside-out, take off any necklaces or large earrings, and shake out any jacket hoods. Then they waved a metal detector wand over you and you were cleared and told to sit down until the woman at the computer was ready for you. The girl being checked in before me had handed her ID over and I noticed that it was not a Florida drivers license. When the woman asked her what her birthday was, I thought that maybe it was an international ID because all American government issued ID cards would have a birthday. I was taken aback at first because the girl appeared to not know her birthday. “October 10-I mean 28.” Afterwards, I realized that she was probably thinking about 10 for October and was just nervous checking in.
I was called up to the desk where I was again compared to my driver’s license picture. Apparently, I still looked like myself with a baggy t-shirt, no makeup, and my hair up in a bun because she then scanned the front and back of it into the computer. I was asked to confirm my phone number and given my ID back. She slid two yellow booklets (they were more like one long sheet of paper folded in half than booklets) of paper towards me and told me to make sure there were four pages – there was. I was then told that they were going to be taking the fingerprints of both my index fingers. It was similar to setting the Touch ID on your iPhone: put your finger down, pick it up, repeat three times. The woman grabbed a small plastic chip and velcroed it to my locker key tag. The tag was yellow meaning that my “access restrictions” were food, drink, and medicine only. I then looked into a small video chat camera and my picture was taken in case there were any questions about my exam later, they could show who had shown up that day. A binder was slid towards me and I signed in to the testing room for the first time. It was 7:22 am. She examined my signature as if I might have just handed her a counterfeit hundred dollar bill.
The Next Seven and A Half Hours of My Life
The test center employee opened the door to a room lined with four rows of computers surrounded by little cubicles – I would estimate at most 24 stations total. She told me to stand up against the wall just inside the door while she walked to my computer to get it ready. After a few seconds, she waved me over to computer number eight and I settled into my home for the day. There were over-the-ear headphones to my left in case I decided I needed them. I looked to the computer screen to see the examinee agreement was staring back at me. I took a deep breath and clicked through the agreement – I had read it at least three times by that time. Following the agreement is an optional ten-minute tutorial to familiarize you with the MCAT user interface but with six practice tests under my belt, I felt pretty familiar. Instead, I used this time to jot down as much of my formula sheet that I could remember – things like positive and negative amino acids, convex and concave lenses, hemoglobin curves, Michaelis-Menten inhibition graphs, and of course some physics and general chemistry equations.
Before the first section began, my name and face appeared on the screen informing me that by clicking “NEXT” I was confirming that I was the person on the screen. A brief description of the Chemistry and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences appeared and then my MCAT began. The Chem/Phys section is 59 questions over a 95 minute period and as you will see during practice tests, it consists of rotating two to three passages with five to six stand-alone (sometimes called discrete) questions. I took my time and filled up an entire sheet of scratch paper, trying not to second guess myself as I went. At one point, the entire screen went blank and I panicked; staring at it for a while deciding what I should do. I gently jiggled the mouse and the screen reloaded to much relief. Finishing with about three minutes left, the first section of my MCAT was complete.
I started my first ten-minute break, which as per my testing plan consisted of a granola bar, a few swigs of water, and stretching. Normally, my plan did not call for a bathroom break until lunchtime but I felt as though I had to go and I certainly did not want to be stuck in the exam room with a full bladder for the next 90 minutes. When I returned, I had a minute or two left according to my timekeeping, so I did a few downward dog stretches and went to sign back in. My sign out and sign in times were nine-minutes apart so I quickly rushed back to my seat to find a screen saying “Your time is up.” I am not sure exactly what would have happened if I was gone for too much longer but today was not the day to find out.
I began the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section. This is the only section that is fully passage based and contains 53 questions over the course of 90 minutes. I was pleased with the passages that I got and I finished with around eight minutes left. I was so glad to start my 30-minute lunch break. Like all other aspects of my MCAT Day, my lunch was very planned out: six saltine crackers, a slice of cheddar cheese, and a container of raspberries. I am fairly certain that I had developed a stomach ulcer during the course of my MCAT studying so I wanted to keep my lunch very light. I was worried that a sandwich might make me tired; since my favorite sandwich meat is turkey. I drank a decent amount of water and made my way to the restrooms again. It was during this time that I overheard the front desk employee asking other students if the girl that had just left for the bathroom had her phone out. No one knew so she ran out the door after her and odd looks were exchanged between those of us sitting in the lobby. The woman shortly returned but with no indication of what had happened in the hall. After some standard touch-your-toes stretching, I checked back in with about nine minutes left.
With the second half of the test done, I blew out a big breath and began the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems. Like the Chem/Phys section, the Bio/Biochem section is 95 minutes with 59 questions in a similar pattern of passages and stand-alone questions. I started to feel a little tired during this section but I pulled it together and finished with around 13 minutes left.
Time for my last break. When I would take practice tests at home, I wouldn’t really take this break except for standing up and stretching but with the whole process of signing in and out of the test room, I figured I might as well have some apple slices to try to wake me up. While I was sitting in the lobby eating my apple slices, the woman at the front desk asked me if I was taking the MCAT. When I said yes, she said I wasn’t allowed to have my bag sitting out at my feet. I had to take what I wanted out of it and put it back in the locker. I quickly obliged. For the fourth time that day, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom but decided it was just nerves and that I would finish the last section fairly quickly.
I signed in for the last time and started on the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. This section’s formatting was identical to the first and third. I had a few eccentric passages but overall enjoyed the section. While I was on question 58, the pop-up came up saying that I had thirty minutes left. I had basically finished the section in two-thirds the time allotted. Although I hadn’t done this on the other sections for fear of second-guessing my answers, I decided to review the questions I had marked. I changed one answer and still finished with about twenty minutes left. I stared at the review screen for a few seconds before hitting submit.
Don’t get me wrong, it definitely felt real but it still kind of felt no different from my practice tests until the final screen came up with a five-minute countdown clock. This screen has two options: “send my test to be scored” or “void my exam.” I check for my exam to be scored and stared at the words. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I clicked submit. Finally was an optional twelve question “Satisfaction Survey” – as if anyone is satisfied after taking the MCAT. I clicked through and filled it out, making sure to mention my technical issues during the first section. The final screen was prefaced with: PLEASE RETAIN FOR YOUR RECORDS. I looked around wondering how on earth I was supposed to do that. I shrugged and hit next. When the Prometric logo came up on the screen, I felt as though it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be over already, could it?
I walked out of the testing room and waited to sign out. There was a girl checking out before me. She was not taking the MCAT because the employee printed out a page and told her Congratulations – she must have passed. When it was my turn, I signed the binder one last time. The time was 2:06 pm. I handed over my scrap papers and my two number two pencils while she began printing something out for me. For an irrational moment I thought she was going to hand me my scores. Instead, she embossed it with the company seal, initialed, and dated it before handing it to me. It was the “Retain for your records” page. We exchanged pleasantries and I turned to gather my things out of my locker. I left the key in the lock and walked out the door feeling like I was missing something. It felt too normal to just walk out of the building with a very mundane “Have a nice day” after having just taken the most important test of my life to date. But that is exactly what happened. Now we wait…
Please note that this account is solely based on my own experience in order to help future examinees mentally prepare for their MCAT Day. For official MCAT information, please consult the AAMC website.
This post first appeared on momentsinmed.com