By Taylor Purvis
I took the MCAT exam during my two-year research job after college. This day-long exam is a major stepping stone in getting into medical school. As if all that hard work you put in to your coursework wasn’t already enough!
In all the lead-up to the weeks of my focused MCAT study time, I found very few resources on how to cope mentally with this rite of passage. Some folks online wrote about proper self-care during this period which for them usually consisted of adequate sleep and going to the gym–the latter of which, bless their hearts, isn’t exactly what refuels me during periods of stress. I tend to go more for watching angsty British and Scandinavian dramas, but to each her own.
I also found very little material out there for how to cope with the self-doubt that is all too pervasive during these times of exam preparation. Maybe you were lucky and never encountered this in your studies, but self-doubt certainly raised its ugly head during my MCAT preparation. I wanted to share some techniques and tools that I found helpful to support me mentally and emotionally throughout my MCAT study period. I hope you will find some of them useful, too!
(1) Location, location, location
I could not have done this test without the support and physical presence of my family. Personally I couldn’t imagine being on my own for a number of weeks without the ability to go downstairs and get a hug and a brief “you can do this!” from my folks. Gimli our pet Cardigan Welsh Corgi was, as always, a welcome comfort.
Even if you can’t be physically home or in your ideal location, try to make your study spot separate from your bedroom and in a well-lit, cheerful environment. It’s great to have your bedroom be a place you associate with relaxation and all things NOT exam related!
(2) Physical activity
For me, this didn’t mean going to the gym and reading MCAT material on my iPad. I can’t think of anything less relaxing! I found a group class on Groupon that incorporated yoga into 2-3 mile walks on the beach. It was so refreshing to spend time with people who were not studying for an exam or in a medical field.
(3) Uplifting notes
Ask your friends and family to send you handwritten letters if they aren’t typically snail mail types. From my little second-story studying lookout I could see the postman come up the walk every day at 3pm and I was always so excited to see if an envelope for me was in the mail. What if your friends and family aren’t snail mail people? Send yourself letters! I know, it’s a little unconventional. Hear me out.
Go to postable.com and pick out 3-4 of the most cheerful cards you can find. You can write a message inside the card online and they post the letter for you. I filled mine with uplifting quotes and poems and mailed them to my home address. Alternatively, send the letters to your peers who are also studying for the MCAT. Write to them what you would want to hear said to you: “You are smart and hard-working! I believe in you!” Who knows—writing it to others might help you believe it about yourself, too.
(4) Sign off of Facebook and Instagram (temporarily)
For me this was a no-brainer, since I knew seeing other people talk about their studying would only enhance my anxiety. For you social media might be an important way of reminding yourself that there are other things out there than pre-med courses and an exam, so it might actually be vital for your happiness. Just be thoughtful about it before the study period begins. Trust me, your friends and family will understand if you need to take a break from it!
(5) Read these two books and keep them with you
There are books on mindfulness written by lawyers for those recent law graduates studying for the bar exam. Sadly, there aren’t similar books for premeds taking the MCAT. I bought these two books about bar exam prep that were so helpful and very applicable to my situation, despite the fact that they were written for law students. I encourage you to give them a try–the references to actual bar exam material are few and they focus instead on test-taking mental health strategies more generally.