How To Overcome MCAT Stress and Anxiety – MCAT Mastery

How To Overcome MCAT Stress and Anxiety

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 you might feel that those feelings are serving you in making you 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!

The question now is, how can you get your mind from being in a state of worry and negativity, to a state of positivity and clarity?

First, recognize 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.

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).

To explain this better, let’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 the past or the future.

Now let’s list out some positive emotions:

  • Joy
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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.

Knowing that you learn better, are more motivated, are more creative, have better memory, etc., when you're in a positive emotional place...

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.

So the question is...

How do you achieve this present state awareness regularly?

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 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. 

You can read the abstract - 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 with 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 you can manage such high level of pressure and stress and if you can achieve your objectives while remaining calm, collected, and clear-headed.

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.

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

3 Simple Strategies For Increasing Clarity and Reducing MCAT Stress

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, 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 sit down to start 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. 

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, 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 minute 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 - Stop Trying To Reinvent The Wheel

So far we've talked about some of the best strategies to manage stress and keep stress at bay so that it doesn't have the power to impact your MCAT performance and score.

However, here we want to show you the best way to eliminate the root causes of MCAT stress, so you may never have to deal with it again during MCAT prep... 

The root causes of extreme stress during MCAT prep are when scores don't improve after weeks and months of studying, when you're not retaining information, when motivation is running low, when you're misinterpreting or over-analyzing passages and questions...

And the list of MCAT studying frustrations goes on...

The problem with all these causes of stress is a lack of understanding in exactly how to approach a monsterous exam of this nature. Something no premed has experienced before.

If you want to get to a destination, would you try to figure it out on your own? If you did, you would likely get lost, or you'd progress extremely slowly. Imagine how stressful that would be. 

Or would you get a map or a guidance system like a GPS to tell you exactly where to go and how to get there?

Imagine a map showing up in your hands when you're feeling lost. The stress immediately disappears and you find yourself feeling a new jolt of confidence.

What if you could feel a jolt of confidence like that for your MCAT prep right now? With the right guidance system, you can...

Most premeds are trying to figure it out on their own, using study tactics they've used all throughout undergrad (that don't work on the MCAT). This leaves them confused, frustrated, and stressed.

Some bright premeds realize they need a smarter approach to MCAT prep and try to come up with it themselves. Not being able to figure that out either, leads to more stress and more time wasted.

We ask these premeds, if your destination is getting over a 510 on the MCAT, why are you trying to reinvent the wheel instead of just following a proven roadmap? A proven roadmap from others who have already reached that destination and have already gone through this journey.

At MCAT Mastery, we research and interview those who have already gone through the MCAT journey and have already reached MCAT scores you're aiming for, so that we could create such a proven roadmap for you.

Today, after years of research, we can give you this proven roadmap to reaching your 510+ MCAT score destination quickly and easily.

This is your opportunity to learn from those top MCAT scorers who have already achieved what you want to achieve. This is your opportunity to take the fastest route possible to achieve your competitive MCAT score.

Never try to reinvent the wheel. You don't have to. There are people before you who have already figured it out. Learn from them. Get their proven strategies that you can trust and watch your confidence and MCAT score skyrocket...

You got this, 

The MCAT Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors

"I've been studying content and practicing questions endlessly but was looking for something that would provide key tips and strategies when actually taking the MCAT. I found everything I needed in this guide.... I feel more confident, I feel more prepared, and I feel more ready to take on this challenge that I have ahead of me." - David Ho