When preparing to take the MCAT, it is important to know what to expect on your MCAT test day. Your only focus on test day should be taking the test. You don’t want to be stressed out about all the ins and outs that come with the testing center.
Here is a complete guide for the MCAT test day.
What to Bring on MCAT Test Day
The most important thing you need to bring to your MCAT testing center is a government-issued ID, your driver’s license, or your passport. Also, it is important to note, your ID cannot be expired!
You will need to bring lunch and snacks. Not including check-in time, the MCAT is 7.5 hours long. You are given a 30-minute lunch break for a reason. You should also pack some cash. In my experience, testing centers usually have a vending machine.
Every testing center I have been too had some sort of water dispensing machine. But on the off chance they don’t, pack yourself a water bottle.
Coffee isn’t the best thing to drink during a test. But the reality is, most premed students are addicted to coffee. MCAT test day is not the time to try quitting! Bring that coffee.
How Long is an MCAT Test Day?
The moment you sit down to take the MCAT to the end of the satisfaction survey, the exam takes just over 7 and a half hours.
Now, this does not factor in other things like check-in time and check-out time.
On a typical MCAT test day, the exam is supposed to start at 8 am. The testing center asks you to show up at 7:30 am to start checking you in. This process can take up to 30 minutes because usually there will be 20 to 30 other test takers for the MCAT as well as different standardized tests.
During this check-in process, the testing center will obtain fingerprints and a picture of you, which you will use when coming in and out of the testing room.
In the end, you can tack on an additional 5-10 minutes for the testing center to check you out, print your MCAT confirmation page, and gather your belongings.
Altogether, you are really spending a little more than 8 hours at the testing center. Unless you cut your breaks short which is NOT recommended.
Expect to arrive around 7:30 am and leave around 3:30 pm.
MCAT Test Day Schedule
As I mentioned earlier, all MCAT exams start at 8 am local time. You are supposed to show up by 7:30 am to begin the check-in process.
Afterward, you can begin the test. Here is the schedule breakdown for the exam:
MCAT Test Day Breaks
During the MCAT test, you will have two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute break. Each break follows one of the 95 minute MCAT sections. You will need to take advantage of that break in order to prevent burnout.
Be prepared to be efficient. 10 minutes is not a long time and the testing center doesn’t make it easy for you. You will need to check-in and check-out every time you re-enter and leave the actual testing room.
First, they have you turn your pockets inside out in front of the proctor and a camera. After every pocket is checked, the proctor waves you down with a metal detector wand. Then they check to make sure you aren’t hiding anything in your shoes/socks. You aren’t allowed to have anything except for your ID and the key to the locker with all your stuff.
Seriously it would be easier to have a career as a diamond thief than cheating on the MCAT. So, if you were planning on cheating, you could reconsider your career choice.
The 10-minute breaks during the exam are so much shorter than what 10 minutes feels like in real life. I swear I would check out with the proctor, use the restroom, eat a granola bar, and then find myself racing back to the test room. And of course, checking back in requires the whole pat-down procedure, so make sure you give yourself at least 2 minutes for that.
The 30-minute break gives you enough time to eat a quick lunch. I found that sitting in the little break room with other test-takers was slightly awkward. You feel like you need to talk about something, but the one thing you have in common, the MCAT, is not allowed to be discussed at the test center.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I needed food in my system and that my eyes were slowly drying out from looking at a computer screen, I would not have bothered taking a break.
Can You Use Foam Earplugs or a Headset During the MCAT?
The answer is yes. You can use either earplugs or a headset for noise canceling purposes on the MCAT. However, you are not able to bring your own headset or earplugs (Even if your earplugs are still packaged!).
This is because they want to stop people from cheating. Obviously if given the chance, pre-med students will hire accomplices to park a van outside the testing center and radio information via their spy earpiece.
Luckily, the MCAT testing center proctors have headphones and prepackaged foam earplugs for you to borrow.
MCAT Test Day Rules
Prior to taking the MCAT you sign a non-disclosure. This includes the following rules relating to what you can say about the exam:
You may comment on your general exam experience such as test center conditions or how you felt about a particular section, such as the biological sciences section.
You may NOT:
– Describe any passage or exam topic, question, incorrect response, correct answer, or graphic in greater or more specific detail that described in the What’s on the MCAT Exam? interactive tool. This includes discussing or disclosing a topic list or describing the frequency or order in which such topics appear.
– Outline the steps or process to answer a question
– Speculate about which passages are field-test or experimental items
– Assist anyone else in doing any of the aboveAAMC
The AAMC also clearly outlines what you are allowed to bring into the testing room:
The following items are the only items allowed in the testing room during the MCAT exam:
– Photo Identification
– Center-provided noteboard and marker
– Center-provided storage key
– Center provided foam, wireless earplugsAAMC
Your bag must remain in the testing center lockers throughout the entire exam. You can only take out food, water, or medication to bring into the break room. If you even so much as touch an electronic device or piece of paper you are directly violating the AAMC rules and can be kicked out of the exam.
Also, do not speak to anyone during the exam!
This is an important rule. Technically you will only get in trouble if you discuss things from the MCAT (as listed above) but do yourself a favor and avoid talking to anyone.
You don’t need people psyching you out right before you go into the testing room. There is no point in having a little small talk with another test taker.
MCAT Test Day Tips
From personal experience I can provide the following tips:
- As mentioned above, DO NOT TALK TO ANYONE.
- Pack light and easy to digest snacks/lunch. Examples are granola bars, ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit, nuts, etc. You don’t want to bring in pizza and struggle with constipation your entire exam.
- Carbo-load the night before. Runners do this before a marathon and honestly, the MCAT feels like a marathon.
- Use the bathroom when it is available. When I took the MCAT there was only one bathroom for us to share. If you are taking a 10-minute break and wait till the last 4 minutes to use the restroom, you might end up behind someone and miss your chance to relieve yourself.
- Don’t cut back on coffee if you are already dependent on it. Yes, it is generally not good to use stimulants during exams. But if you are like me and get headaches when you don’t drink coffee then you should not cut it out prior to the MCAT. Try cutting back on coffee during a less important test.
- Make sure your drinks have lids WITH a cover for the mouth piece. Personally I was not allowed to bring in my coffee because it was in a yeti which we all know doesn’t provide a cover for the mouth piece. I ended up pouring my coffee into an empty plastic water bottle I found in my car because that stuff was ESSENTIAL to me doing well.
- Drive to the MCAT testing center the day before. Get a feel for traffic and how long it will really take to get to the testing center.
- Check to make sure there are not any major events occurring on the same day and same location as your MCAT. This never happened to me but someone I know didn’t realize she scheduled her MCAT test on the same day as a major sporting event. She ended up not being able to drive to the testing center because all the roads were blocked! If she looked it up weeks before, she could have gotten a hotel room within walking distance the night before.
Voiding the MCAT
At the end of your MCAT exam, you have the option of voiding your score. This means you won’t see your score and neither will medical schools.
I do not recommend voiding your MCAT score unless you fall violently ill and can’t perform the exam. Here is a detailed post regarding all the reasons why you should not void the MCAT. In a nutshell, no one feels like they did well on the MCAT. You won’t know your score until it’s compared with everyone else.