Seven Strategies for Acing Test Day

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As a graduate of Boston University School of Medicine, I have sharpened my test-taking skills over the years– dating back to the SAT once upon a time, the MCAT, all the Steps, and more. Here are some test-taking tips I have used throughout the years that prove to helpful and applicable across all standardized exams.

Every test we take is important, and the test results have a significant impact on the life of each and every student. Instead of being spontaneous on test day, it is a good idea to begin your test prep well in advance. Some people study for more than 12 months, some people for six months, and the extremely lucky people study for only a few months. Since test day is such a significant day for you, it is important to take a few precautions to make sure that you sail smoothly throughout the day.

Today, I will today share seven simple strategies for test day. I made sure to follow these strategies for the MCAT, throughout medical school, and am planning to use them for licensing exams as I progress in my career. I have divided the strategies into different sections to make it easier for you to follow.

What should you do at home on test day?

Do not skip breakfast.

Irrespective of the stress, tension, hectic schedule, and everything surrounding test day, you should never skip breakfast on test day. This will certainly compromise your performance. You have a long day ahead of you and therefore, you need the energy. You can opt for a breakfast which is high in protein. You can consume things like whole wheat toast, milk, eggs, oatmeal. You should never plan to skip the breakfast on the test day. This point cannot be emphasized enough.

Stick with a routine.

Many students drink coffee daily to improve their focus and alertness. If you're not a regular coffee drinker, you have to keep in mind that you should not experiment on test day. You have to stick to your normal daily routine as much as possible. This will keep you calm and composed. You should not experiment on test day. Coffee can be extremely strong for those who do not regularly consume it.

Keep a valid ID ready.

Before heading to the testing center, you must double check that you have a valid ID on hand. If you show up to take the test and don't have your state or government issued ID, you might not be able to take the test. This can lead to a lot of stress as well as loss of time and money. That is why you have to always double check the if you have a valid ID in your bag or whatever you are bringing with you to the exam.

Take your own food and water.

Tests can be long and tedious. Sometimes you have the option to take breaks. If there is a 30-minute mid exam break, that is the perfect time to consume healthy food to ensure that your energy levels are normal. During this break, you are not allowed to leave the exam center. That is why you have to bring your own food in order to save time. It is advised not to skip this meal option as that can lead to loss of focus and lack of energy during the remaining hours of the test. Make sure you pack healthy brain food, something that will sustain you and give you energy, without the stress of a sugar crash!

When should you reach the center on test day?

Arrive at the center at least 30 minutes in advance.

At most test centers, the examinees will be checked at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled time. That is why it is a good idea to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance. This will help you avoid a last-minute rush and also reduce the stress of arriving on time.

What precautions should you take at the center?

Use earplugs.

During the test, you need to focus on the test solely. While there are not many distractions present in a test center, things can always pop up: there could be a fluorescent light that buzzes, the AC/heat creaks, or something similar. You need to prevent these small problems from distracting you. Purchase earplugs and bring them with you to the test! Most testing centers will provide earmuffs, which allow you to focus only on the test and minimize any noise from your surroundings.

Utilize the breaks.

Many candidates think that they will be at a distinct advantage if they do not utilize the breaks. This is not true at all. You cannot remain focused for such a long period of time. That is why it is important to utilize the breaks. You can take a small break of 10 minutes in order to just walk around or have a quick bite. Do jumping jacks! Something to get your blood flowing and reinvigorated for testing.

You are allowed the flexibility to choose your own breaks for Step 1 as well as Step 2. In order to utilize your breaks in the best way possible, you have to consider your attention span and concentration power. If you have a longer attention span, you can tackle the first two blocks back to back and thereafter take a break. If that is not suitable for you, you can even take a five minute break between block one and two. It is certainly not a good idea to skip the breaks and not utilize that time, as that can reduce your focusing power over the course of the test.

So, if you plan to sit for an important test in the future, it is a good idea to plan your test day in advance, paying close attention to the seven strategies detailed above. These details will help you to maximize your performance on the test day.

Dr. Andrew Nimmich is a PGY-1 in Integrated Vascular Surgery. He's also a Co-Founder of Tutor the People, an online and in-person service that provides one-on-one MCAT test prep, as well as all other graduate entrance exams.

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