Avoiding MCAT Meltdown
April 13, 2015
Hello my studious pre-med readers! Today I want to talk about a topic that gets brought up by at least one student in every class that I teach. It’s a topic that is very sensitive and when left unaddressed can be extremely detrimental to studying for the MCAT: test anxiety and ultimately an MCAT meltdown.
Now, if you have never had anxiety about anything, the concept of test anxiety is very foreign. But if you have experienced this feeling, you know all too well the tightness in your chest, the cramps in your stomach and the general loss of intelligent, rational thought that accompanies true test anxiety.
However, there are a few strategies that I recommend to help prepare both your body and mind to hopefully reduce anxiety on Test Day and avoid an MCAT meltdown.
Do you have anxiety about brushing your teeth or tying your shoes? No. Why not? Because you do it every day. Taking practice MCAT exams will help reduce your anxiety because you will become familiar with the test questions, the test format and become able to integrate test-taking strategies into a regular routine. That said, don’t go overboard and take a full MCAT every day. It IS possible to have too much of a good thing!
If you know that test anxiety is an issue for you, have a plan for when the panicky feeling starts to set in. There are many different strategies for coping with anxiety such as focusing on your breathing or having a mental image or happy place that you can imagine. One of my favorite strategies is to focus on a moment when you were truly happy (hint, mine involves a lake on a summer day) and have that happy moment waiting in your back pocket to reassure you and propel you forward. A key component to planning is also to practice your anxiety-relieving strategies so you know which is most effective for Test Day.
3) Take a break
When the letters on the screen start to blur together and you start imaging what a future as a lawyer or farmer would look like, stop and take a break. You may worry that because it’s a timed test, you are losing valuable seconds. However, the clarity that taking a break can provide will more than compensate for the few lost seconds.
4) Moral support
When I was preparing to take my first MCAT, I had one of my best friends give me pep talks any time I was feeling stupid, anxious or unprepared which, let’s face it, was pretty often. One of the worst parts of anxiety is feeling entirely alone. Make sure your friends and family know that you are having anxiety and let them help and support you. A good pep talk can do wonders.
If you have strategies for managing test anxiety, I would love to read them in the comments. It’s an important issue for many students!