The content is filed away in your head, and you're well honed with approaching passages. You feel confident in your ability to ascertain the question being asked and quickly ranking which answer choice best addresses the question. You know your stuff.
After the prep is done, after all the hours you've studied and all the practice tests you've taken, it only comes down to test day.
But of course the MCAT is not just a content exam. Nor can we say it is just content and critical thinking. It is also a test of your stamina and mental endurance. Make endurance training a part of your MCAT prep to sustain your test taking performance over the five hours it takes to sit for the test and give yourself the opportunity to show what you really know.
Maintaining mental focus can be exhausting. You'll need to practice being in the position of demanding focus from your brain and optimally responding to questions regardless of whether they fall at the beginning or end of the test.
Testing Stamina and Performance
Taking more qualitative notes on your practice test experiences can show you how endurance issues may be affecting your test performance.
You should try to take your practice tests under similar conditions as the real exam, most importantly in terms of the time limits. You can also test out how sleep, diet, and caffeine intake affect how you feel during a practice test. (Early in your content review, you may be taking un-timed passages and sections to first address knowledge gaps and test-taking strategy. Schedule those study sessions separately from your test endurance training.)
Identify Endurance Issues
Check to see if there are any patterns of question order affecting whether you are getting questions correct. You can address incorrect answers clustered at a certain point in a section or passage:
At the Beginning - You may have trouble getting in the zone. Work on passage strategy to see what combination of skimming/reading the passage, the questions, and the answer choices optimizes your performance. Practice a warm-up before you begin, which could include reading material, flashcards, or running through a mantra in your head.
In the Middle - Within a long test or a complicated passage, you may be experiencing a lull in your focus. You may want to practice using a keyword or phase to remind you of what you are going to accomplish. Repeat it to yourself when you need a boost in your focus. Also, you can practice compartmentalizing portions of the exam by thinking only as far as the end of a passage. Recognize when your mind begins to wander to thinking about Biological Sciences when you are in the middle of Verbal, and practice staying in the present. Other life practices such as meditation and yoga may help you with being present for on portion of the exam at a time.
At the End - This is the classic scenario of finishing the last two miles of a 26.2 mile marathon. You especially want to finish strong because there may be "easy" questions at the end of a passage or section, and you'll not want to miss out on those points. You've done the work, you know your stuff, and those points are yours for the taking. During your prep you may want to begin timing your study sessions, steadily increasing the time and scheduling when you take breaks in line with the time requirements for the MCAT.
How are you practicing for endurance on the MCAT? Share your strategies!
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