How To Conquer MCAT Stress and Anxiety So It Stops Holding Your Score Down

A lot of times, while studying or beginning to prepare for the MCAT, our mind gets bogged down with thoughts that make us feel anxious, nervous, or worried.

At MCAT Mastery, we know exactly what you’re going through because we’ve experienced it ourselves. There’s pressure from everywhere...

Time pressure especially!

So how do you stay calm in such stress-provoking times?

We'd like to share some guidance and insights that we leverage when we're getting incredibly stressed.


This has helped us, and will certainly help you stay calm, collected, and confident throughout MCAT prep...

While reading this, you might be tempted to wonder where this is going, you might be tempted to make assumptions early on, but keep an open mind because this is pretty powerful stuff.

The Unexpected Key To Learning Better During MCAT Prep

Feeling worried, nervous, or anxious about the MCAT is normal...

And although some students might feel that those feelings are serving them in making them more motivated to study... 

The fact is that you can be even more motivated to study and do well when you’re approaching MCAT prep from a place of enthusiasm, clear-mindedness, and inspiration.

The fact is, you learn better when you're happy.

There are many studies that have shown over and over again, that positive emotions enable us to think more clearly, be more attentive, be more motivated, be more creative, and the list goes on.

“It's only in the last couple of years, that people have studied positive emotions. And the positive emotions are essential for learning. It turns out those are what drive curiosity and exploration, which is how we learn about the world.”  - Frank Thissen, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart, Germany.

So not only does feeling stress and worry not feel good, it also holds us back from learning to the best of our abilities! 

Most people look at top scorers on the MCAT and see how confident they are during MCAT prep. The conclusion the average person draws is that they have a "reason" to be confident so they're confident.

But no one thinks that maybe the 'reasons' or the 'results' come because they are confident in the first place and don't let stress and overwhelm cloud their judgement and ability to use their mind to their full capacity.

So how can you get from being in a state of worry, frustration, and anxiety, to a state of clarity, confidence, and optimism?

The Key To Transforming Your Emotions During MCAT Prep

There's a big 'positive thinking' movement that has been going on for quite a while. Personally, a lot of us do see a lot of validity in it, but if you're not into that type of thing, don't worry because in this article, we'll only be providing research backed advice (like always).

We'll also have reference links at the end of this article.

So first key idea that we'd like to you to recognize is that emotions can be categorized as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’.

When you’re feeling an emotion, it’s in either one of the two categories. Obvious? Good.

Now although this can be argued, generally when we think about something, the emotions follow the thought.

For example, when we're studying and the thought of the MCAT coming up soon props up into our mind, that triggers the worry.

Secondly, recognize that our thoughts reside in one of three places; in the past, in the future, or in the present.

When you’re thinking, you’re thinking about what happened (past), or what’s going to happen (future), or what’s happening (now).

So et’s list some negative emotions...

(You are probably feeling or will feel some of these during your MCAT journey…)

  • Anger
  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Regret

Now let’s look at where the thoughts reside, when these emotions are felt…

  • Anger: in the past because one's angry about something that happened
  • Worry: in the future because one's worried about something that's going to happen *cough*MCAT*cough*
  • Anxiety: in the future
  • Sadness: in the past
  • Guilt: in the past
  • Regret: in the past

Key Insight:  Negative emotions are usually associated with thoughts in the past or the future.

Now let’s list out some positive emotions:

  • Joy
  • Pleasure
  • Excitement
  • Enthusiasm
  • Delight
  • Fascination
  • Euphoria
  • Relief

Notice, all these emotions are emotions you feel when you're focused on the present moment.

Think about it, when you’re laughing with friends in joy, you’re not concerned about your exams.

When you’re on a roller coaster or are having sex, you’re not thinking about how you handed in your assignment late.

When you’re engrossed in a good movie, you’re not thinking about a question you got wrong.

Key Insight: Positive emotions are usually associated with the present moment.

The present moment can be addictive as well. When you’re in the present, you’re relieved from any burdens you're carrying (consciously or unconsciously).

Alcohol and drugs are tools that bring people in the present moment – it helps them ‘escape temporarily’ from the negativity in their lives.

Once people sober up, they’re back to reality and are looking forward to having their escape again.

Alcohol and drugs aren't the only addictive shortcuts to the present moment; porn is another one, so is overeating, and scrolling through Facebook news feeds.

To be clear, we're not advocating 'escaping' from your emotions in such ways. Our goal here is not to help you 'escape' from your emotions, but to manage them in a healthy way during your MCAT prep so as a result, you learn a lot more proficiently.

Knowing that you learn better, are more motivated, are more creative, have better memory, etc., when you're in a positive emotional place... And knowing that a valuable key to unlocking the positive emotional place is through stepping into the present moment....

What if you could cultivate a present-state awareness at will, so you can continuously be in a state of complete positivity, enthusiasm, curiosity, and excitement while you're studying, so you're learning better?

Or what if you could cultivate that present state awareness even when you're taking a break from studying, so that when you're taking a break, you're actually taking a break instead of worrying about how you're not studying!

Getting high results while being happy the whole time? That sounds like an amazing life if you ask us, and the best part is, with some practice it can become a possibility for you.

Like everything else we teach, you can use the MCAT as a motivating 'excuse' to develop this skill ASAP, and carry it with you for the rest of your life.

So the question is...

How do you achieve this present state awareness regularly during MCAT study?

That’s what we want to show you...

But first, you might not be entirely convinced of the power of being in the present moment. You might be wondering if he we're about to go heavy into some ‘new age pseudoscience' kind of stuff.

As the future doctor that you are, you'll appreciate something we dug up...

We'd like to introduce you to Julie Connelly, MD who has written an article about this in the Journal of Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The article is called:

Being in the present moment: developing the capacity for mindfulness in medicine.

(Full article link is below for reference)

You can read the abstract if you want - here's a portion of it:

“Medical practice is beset by interruptions, contests for the attention of the physician, and urgent demands that diminish the attentiveness required for the humanistic care of patients.  This essay discusses skills for "being in the present moment" that can help doctors to overcome distractedness... Applying these skills in everyday practice rewards the physician with renewed energy, a fresh perspective, and increased strength while preventing the stress and harm caused by a distracted or inattentive practice.”

Here's where you hopefully caught a glimpse of the bigger picture; this isn't just about MCAT prep, it's about excelling in your medical practice...

It's about training yourself now, to be the kind of individual that can get through med-school and become a doctor who exudes clarity and confidence.

The MCAT was created as a filtering mechanism - to identify those who are likely to be future doctors. It's one of the biggest reasons why the MCAT is such a brutal process... 

Because AAMC wants to see if like a med-school student (or more importantly, like a doctor) you can manage such high level of pressure and stress and at the same time, achieve your objectives while remaining calm, collected, and clear-headed.

Those are the students who tend to dominate the MCAT and we want to make sure you're one of them.

With that said, we have tips and advice on how you can leverage everything you've learned so far and remain present in your daily lives and especially during MCAT prep.

Here are 3 simple strategies you can start implementing right away during your MCAT prep…

3 Simple Strategies For Achieving Present State Awareness During MCAT Prep

1 – Savour Non-MCAT Prep Time

"Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up," says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Stephen Schueller conducted a study where subjects took a few minutes every day to savour (to enjoy completely) and be present with something they usually zoomed through.

For example, walking to the bus with no thoughts running, no self-talk, no music playing, etc. Or eating breakfast and simply just being with the food and the taste of it.

Once they did this, they began experiencing more positive emotions like joy, happiness, throughout their day, and fewer negative emotions like worry, sadness, and stress.

Psychologists are big fans of advising their stressed patients to savour everything they do.

During your MCAT journey, while you’re eating, taking a shower, listening to music,really do only those things. Close your eyes if you have to, and really enjoy the taste, the water, and the sounds.

Taste your food 100%. Experience the shower and music to its fullest.

Being in the present is about using your senses attentively.

Also, be conscious of your breathing every now and then. In fact, pay attention to your breathing right now.

These small moments of presence will calm your mind and create a calming momentum throughout the rest of your day and especially when you're studying.

With a clear mind, your level of efficiency in studying, and your ability to learn will improve dramatically.

It's a pleasant, easy hack to make yourself a lot more effective for dominating the MCAT.

You may not notice the difference in your mood and performance right away, but stay consistent (give it a week or two at least) and you'll never want to go back. 

A lot of top scorers talk about how they meditate for several minutes a day. We highly recommend you do this as well. You can use an app called "Headspace" for guided meditations. To learn more about why and how you should meditate during MCAT prep, click here for an article we wrote on the topic.

If you enjoy exercise or running, don't stop it during MCAT prep! In fact, make sure you get your runs in! Exercises like that are great avenues to forcing yourself to become present.

2 – Get In The Flow

Do you ever get so engrossed in something you’re doing that you lose track of everything else around you? Where you’re so engaged and your focus is so intense that you’re unaware of time passing?

This could happen when you’re doing something artistic, solving a puzzle, working on an assignment you enjoy, playing a game, etc.

That state of complete absorption is what psychologists call “flow”. When you’re in this state, you’re in the present moment.

Your mind is clear and from the many studies on the topic, it's a fact that productivity and the quality of studying increases exponentially. 

When reading or studying out of this state, the quality of your time and energy invested is mediocre when compared to being in the state of flow.

When you’re in a state of flow, nothing distracts you. You don’t need to put your phone on silent because even if it’s ringing or vibrating, you won’t notice.

Imagine being able to experience that state every time you begin MCAT prep…

The highest scoring top scorers know how to do this.

One of the easiest ways to get in the state of flow is to simply LOVE and ENJOY what you're studying. If you're passionate about medicine, like truly passionate, you'll be fascinated and engrossed every time you sit down to study.

You can also train yourself to really like what you're reading. It's all about shifting your perspective. We talk a lot about top scorer success mindset in other emails we send out to the community.

Another powerful way to get into the state of flow during MCAT prep is to clearly define your goals so that you always know your next step. These are short term and baby-step goals.

What are baby-step goals?

"It could be playing the next bar in a scroll of music, or finding the next foothold if you're a rock climber, or turning the page if you're reading a good novel…” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first defined the notion of flow.

"…At the same time, you're kind of anticipating."

Before opening up your MCAT prep book, have a big-picture goal:

For example. during content review, you can say: “I’m going to complete __ chapter(s) in ___ many hour(s)”. That means, with breaks included, I have to go through __ pages every __ minute(s).

Scenario example: If I want to complete 1 chapter (40 pages) in 2 hours (120 minutes) (big-picture goal) with 20 minutes of break, I know I have to read 1 page every 2.5 minutes.

As you see you’re constantly accomplishing mini-goals and getting through a page every 2.5 minutes, every 2.5 minutes you will be propelled to keep going.

Broken down like that, the goal doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.

Be creative with breaking down big goals when it comes to content review and practice exams. This was just an example and is probably off in terms of minutes.

It almost becomes a game, seeing if you can hit milestones. Games always have a way of 'bringing us into the moment'.

A major cause of stress is not knowing exactly where you're going and what steps you're going to take.

For some, the above example might be zooming in too much.

Maybe your baby step goal can be to read non stop for 50 minutes. Break for 10 min - check FB, email, etc. Then go on for another 50 minutes with no distractions.

And keep doing this until you've studied minimum 6 hours today.

A lot of high performers use that system to work/study. You can also work for 45 min and break for 15.

Once you focus your mind on those smaller, baby-steps, you slowly get immersed in your work.

Hours will begin passing before you even know it.

You'll also free yourself from the desire to check email, phone, Facebook, etc., because you'll know you'll do that in your break and right now, you're in the flow.

Most of the time, you’ll end up surpassing your goals when in the flow state. Your productivity will sky-rocket and progress will speed up.

Sometimes when I have to clean my room, I just tell myself that I'll put 5 things away. Putting away 5 things sounds way too easy to say "no" to.

So of course, I put 5 things away, and before I know it, I put the 6th thing away, then the 7th... soon I'm in the zone, in the flow, and the room is clean.

Use that strategy to get started with studying - perhaps your baby step goal is "I'll read 5 pages" or "I'll read just 1 chapter". Trust me, before you know it, you'll be in the zone.

Most stress and anxiety comes from inaction and not progressing. When you’re productive, you replace worry with the feeling of accomplishment.

Being present and getting in the state of flow during MCAT prep, will enable you achieve high productivity.

As a result, your MCAT studying performance AND your MCAT score, will increase in huge jumps in short amounts of time.

3 - Increase Your Clarity. Decrease Your Stress.

Most stress comes from not having clarity. It comes from constant self doubt. Not being sure if you're studying in the right way. Not knowing how to improve your score. Not knowing how to manage time, schedule, and retain such vast amounts of information. And the list goes on.

It's like you're trying to build furniture from IKEA without an instruction manual to tell you how to do it. Sure, you can figure it out if you spend a lot of time on it, through multiple attempts, and after a lot of mistakes, but why put yourself through that? 

Having zero clarity on how to progress leads to constant stress. Hitting barriers leads to constant stress. Misinterpreting passages and overanalyzing questions leads to constant stress. 

The crazy thing is that it's all pointless because all you need to make your life so much easier and calmer is a simple instruction manual! A simple instruction manual can give you incredible confidence on how to move forward and smoothly achieve your vision better than 90% of people who are building furniture 'on their own'.

Once you have the instruction manual, once you have a proven roadmap to get to your destination, getting in the flow becomes so much easier when you're working on achieving your vision. 

When you're taking a break, savoring that time becomes a lot easier as well because you'll know when you get back to work, you just have to continue following the steps.When you increase your clarity, you decrease your stress.

We have that instruction manual for you. The best part is that it comes with instructions from many top scorers who have successfully achieved the vision you're trying to achieve. 

Not to mention that this is a competition so you obviously want to build better than everyone else! Using a step-by-step manual is a no brainer here.

Remember, never try to reinvent the wheel. You don't have to. There are masters before you who have already figured it out. Learn from them. Get theirproven methods and instructions that you can trust will work.

The moment you finish going through this simple instruction manual to getting a competitive score on the MCAT, you'll feel your stress diminish, while your excitement, confidence and ultimately MCAT score, takes new heights.

You got this, 

The MCAT Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors

Article Reference

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!

You may like our other recent posts:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}


Free MCAT Strategy Crash Course!

In these 4 free videos, you will learn from four 95+ percentile MCAT scorers (518, 518, 520, 522), MCAT tutors, and MS1's, on what's keeping your score lower than it could be, what to start doing to raise it, how to gain confidence in your MCAT prep journey, and proven strategies on how to leverage practice exams to skyrocket your score beyond the 515+ mark.