How To Build MCAT Stamina & Focus During A 7.5 Hour Exam | 515 Scorer Strategies

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Do you find yourself getting questions wrong on content that you thought you knew? Where you feel like you know the material inside and out but you don’t get why your practice scores aren’t improving as much as they should?

One of the biggest mistakes premeds make is not realizing that the MCAT is also a test of your mental and physical stamina.

Your MCAT Mastery mentor, Ariana, faced many challenging moments when preparing for her MCAT before she realized how she had to improve her test taking stamina. 

After implementing test-taking and stamina building strategies, taking the MCAT became so much easier for Ariana. In fact, the stamina strategies she developed helped her go on to score a 515 on test day! 🎉

In this video and the commentary below, Ariana shares her top MCAT strategies on how to build MCAT stamina that will help make you focused and ready to write the long and rigorous test that is the MCAT.

The Culprit of Your MCAT Problems

The reason most people who study content get low scores on their practice tests is is often due to a lack of stamina. 

MCAT testing stamina is a very underestimated skillset. Yet, it is one of the major skills that top MCAT scorers give credit to. Stamina is a huge factor to doing well on the MCAT!

The MCAT is unlike any other test you’ve ever written because it’s very endurance heavy. Without any stamina training, you may be able to sit through 7.5 hours of the MCAT, but you very likely will have a difficult time getting a competitive MCAT score.

To do well beyond the 2-3 hour mark, you really have to train your mental and physical stamina and endurance. 

If the average student studies for 1 hour and takes a break for another hour, then there’s a big problem. As comfortable as that sounds, you have to remember that you won’t get an hour break for every hour you spend writing the MCAT. By doing this students don't develop the stamina that will give them the ability to focus like they should on the actual MCAT. 

You can also be certain that stamina is your main culprit if you find you did well on all the courses (content) that are tested on the MCAT (Biology, Chem, General Chem, Organic Chem) but aren’t doing well on practice tests.

You need to make sure your stamina is at a point where you can sustain taking a test for over seven hours and can perform at your full ability.

How do you build your MCAT stamina? Here are 2 strategies we recommend… 

How To Build MCAT Stamina Strategy #1: Develop The Marathon Mindset

MCAT stamina can only be strengthened by the way in which you practice.

A helpful way to get into the right mindset about the MCAT is to think of it like a marathon.

You definitely wouldn’t want to compete in a marathon if you’ve never experienced anything similar to that beforehand! Even if you’re able to finish, it likely won’t be a great experience.

Before running a successful marathon, you have to train as if you were running a marathon to develop the stamina and drive you’ll need on the day of the big race..

When it comes to conquering the MCAT, practice tests are your form of training for the actual test..

The key to dominating the MCAT and developing stamina are full length practice tests. And the more practice tests you do, the better you’ll do on test day!

Just be sure that you’re doing your practice tests effectively, as if you were were writing the MCAT!

That means that once you’ve started a section, you should try your best to make sure you complete it. Remember that simulation of the real MCAT exam is the key to making sure that you’re ready. 

The same applies to taking breaks – only take your breaks as you would on your MCAT test day.

For top strategies on how you should approach your practice tests, check out our article on ‘How 515+ Scorers Tackle MCAT Practice Exams’

To start building your stamina through practice tests, see how long you can get through your first practice test attempt. Take note of when you feel burnt out, tired and lose focus. Being mindful of these test taking conditions will give you a much better idea of where and how you need to improve.

After you do your practice test, you’ll need to analyze how you did and how you can improve...

And we can help you do that with the next strategy!

How To Build MCAT Stamina Strategy #2: Break Up Your Practice Exam Analysis Into Phases

Identify When You're Struggling The Most

After you’ve completed your practice test, break up the time you spent into hourly phases.

From here, your goal should be to analyze and determine which phase of the practice exam you are getting the most answers incorrect.

Ask yourself this: Where am I struggling the most? In the first and second hour? The third and fourth? Fifth and sixth? Or the last hour?

Also, don’t get too discouraged if you score low on your practice test, not only is the goal here to find the ways you can improve, but we also have a great article that can help you figure how to bounce back from a bad practice test here!

If You’re Getting The Most Answers Incorrect In The First Hour…

Your issue might be your ability to get into ‘the zone’ and comfortable getting started. One solution to this could be to get into the ‘zone’ before you start your MCAT, by practising flashcards and brushing up on content review, so that your brain is warmed up before you start the test. 

Another solution could be to do with whether or not you’re starting your day off with the test. The MCAT is usually scheduled to start early in the morning, so if you’re not much of a morning person it might be hard getting into the zone...

Part of the solution here might be to start building habits of waking up earlier to give you that extra time to give your brain some mental warm up. 

How do you get in the ‘zone’? Everyone has their own ways. Many top scorers leveraged flashcards and notes and read them through before the exam to 'warm up'…

But remember: Do what works for you! For some students, reviewing before a test creates anxiety and tension that you don’t want to have to experience before you start the MCAT.

If you think what might be stopping you from getting in 'the zone' is test anxiety, remember that you're not alone in feeling that way and there are a lot of great strategies out there to overcome those challenges and get on track. Check out our helpful strategies on conquering MCAT stress and anxiety here

If You’re Getting The Most Answers Incorrect During Hours Four To Seven…

Your issue may be that you’re losing focus. That might naturally happen over time, or it could be due to not being able to refocus after returning from your breaks. 

Ariana found that if she ate a lunch heavy in carbs, she felt more sluggish in the sections she would return to and as a result avoided doing that on test day. It's an important reminder that even the small details like your diet matter when you're writing the MCAT

A strategy that Ariana used during her MCAT prep and still finds very helpful to focus is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. This breathing exercise is what helped Ariana center herself and keep focus during the MCAT. Breathing and mindfulness techniques are powerful tools that can not only help you with the MCAT, but so many other aspects of your life. 

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself and get to the bottom of why you’re losing focus. Once you figure that out, you’ll be able to develop and implement the right strategies for you to stay focused.

If You’re Getting Most Answers Incorrect During The Final Hours Of The MCAT...

You’re probably in the same boat as more than 90% of MCAT test takers!

Most test takers are burnt out at this point in the MCAT. Meaning that this is your point of leverage

Put in the effort to build up your stamina, so that you can perform at your best during this phase. If you’re able to keep up to do well in this section, you’re setting yourself up for a competitive score because only the smartest will have trained their stamina for the full 7 hour exam.

While other test takers will grow fatigued by the end of the test and miss out on easier points that will increase their score, your increased stamina will be sure to let you take advantage of the opportunity to score higher for yourself!

A lot of times you'll find several easy questions sitting right at the end of the MCAT that you don’t want to avoid. You need to cultivate strong awareness and focus at the last stage especially, so you don’t miss these easy points that others will surely miss because of burnout.

Study Smart, Not Just Hard

Remember, the top MCAT scorers who will be writing with you on your test day won't be those who studied the hardest or the longest…

Top MCAT scorers are those who studied in the most strategic way!

That’s why we created our complete MCAT strategy course that takes you step by step through your MCAT prep, showing exactly how top scorers study and approach the test.

Our courses are put together by our highest scoring tutors, like Ariana, to give you top strategies for overall test readiness but also section specific approaches that will ensure you optimize your knowledge and skills in every aspect of the test.

Finally, we know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated when preparing for the MCAT…

But you have to remember that most people have never written a test like the MCAT before and doing well on it doesn’t come naturally to most people. 

It might take some time, but with the right strategies you'll overcome those hurdles and be one step closer to getting into med school and becoming the doctor you were meant to be. 

You got this!

The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors


The MCAT Mastery Team

About the Author

We're a team of future doctors passionate about giving back and mentoring other future doctors! All mentors on the team are top MCAT scorers and we all are committed to seeing you succeed in achieving your physician dreams ????  To help you increase your MCAT score to the competitive mark quickly, we have collaboratively created these self-paced MCAT strategy courses and are also available for one-on-one tutoring!


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