Coronavirus, the MCAT and Other High-Stakes Tests: 10 Tips You Need Now
“I only have a month before the MCAT. I’m panicked.”
“I thought I’d have a job and money to pay for a prep course.”
“I’m overwhelmed with all the changes and uncertainties.”
“I was bumped from the test site at the last minute. Now, I’m going to try to go out of state to another site that might have more room.”
Worries about high-stakes tests amid coronavirus
In the current situation, students report a variety of feelings:
- Stressed about taking a long, complex test that impacts their career choices.
- Concerned about new formats and unstructured time away from academic settings.
- Tired and stressed due to the upheaval of college schedules and questions about the reopening of undergraduate and graduate schools.
- Distressed by uncertainties about financial aid or getting the funds required for tutors or commercial courses.
- Overwhelmed with hundreds of pages of study resources and practice materials.
- Isolated from the fun and support of their friends.
- Unable to benefit from on-site preparation courses.
Regardless of which test you’re planning to take, it requires time and attention to ensure you understand the changes due to the pandemic—and devise ways to attain a score that demonstrates your true potential.
The MCAT and coronavirus: What has changed?
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a seven-and-a-half-hour test covering four areas: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior.
Currently, due to constraints and concerns about the pandemic, the exam has been shortened to five hours, 45 minutes, and there are just three appointment times per test date at each test center. To find the MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2020, go to https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/6b/9b/6b9b3807-1ca4-4ed2-a2eb-0c35b0a45f46/essentials_2020_combined_final.pdf.
What about the LSAT and other high-stakes tests?
Other admissions tests have made significant changes to dates and formats. For example, the traditional on-site Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) was canceled in April, May, and June. An online, remotely proctored LSAT-Flex is offered
(https://www.lsac.org/update-coronavirus-and-lsat; https://www.lsac.org/update-coronavirus-and-lsat/lsat-flex). Students worry not only about these changes, but about time delays for law school admissions.
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is required for application to most graduate programs. Currently, it is administered through at-home testing and available worldwide. This test is “identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring to the GRE General Test taken at a test center.” It is monitored online by a trained human proctor from start to finish to maintain test security (https://www.ets.org/s/cv/gre/the-americas/).
MCAT and other high-stakes tests during coronavirus—10 tips to help you prepare:
- If you are taking the MCAT for the first time, take a full-length practice examination. However, do not take it in one day—take two sections a day. Think of this test as your baseline assessment—an exercise during which you gather information about the subjects in which you excel, the amount of time it takes you to answer questions, and the type of questions you get wrong. In addition to lowering the stress of thinking: “This test will determine my life choices,” using this strategy provides you with a study guide for the next assessment.
- First, take the test without time limits. For each section, write down where you are when the time limit is up. If you aren’t finished with the section, complete the remaining questions, and again write the time. Divide the number of questions by the total time it took to finish the section. Estimate the time per question. If you run out of time in any section, check your fatigue level. Perhaps you need minibreaks during test-taking.
- Gather your study resources and use only one or two sets of materials. Students often buy multiple test banks and guides, but then feel overwhelmed. Jumping from one text or practice book to another will not be helpful.
- Prioritize the topics you need to study.
- Outline and schedule subtopics to study, leaving one week for review.
- Keep in mind that as fatigue and worry increase, your ability to focus, learn, and remember decreases. Schedule time for ample sleep, exercise, nutrition, and safe social interaction. Manage your worries, and set reasonable goals and schedules. Find a quiet, non-distracting study location, follow a warm-up routine (deep breaths and body stretches), and plan for breaks every hour or so. Timing apps (http://www.tomatotimers.com/) provide a structured way to stay on schedule and take breaks.
- Use coping strategies to manage stress and anxiety related to both the coronavirus and the exam.
- Identify an online study partner or supportive person.
- Hire a tutor or find a mentor to explain topics you do not understand, following social-distancing guidelines.
- Gather information and tips from professional organizations (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/top-10-tips-mcat-ecxaminees-test-day/) and commercial preparation businesses (https://magoosh.com/mcat/what-to-do-if-your-mcat-study-plans-have-been-disrupted/). For other tips about preparing for and taking tests, go to https://managingyourmind.com/2017/04/10/licensing-and-certification-exams-test-preparation-courses/
Your goal is to study, take practice quizzes, and slowly increase your knowledge base. It is a step-by-step process. Preparing for high-stakes tests is never easy—and it’s even harder during a pandemic (and social unrest)—but you will benefit by using a systematic approach.
Expect ups and downs when you take practice tests or quizzes. Although you may begin your test-taking journey with low scores, studying effectively—and managing your time and stress—will lead to more in-depth learning and retention.
Finally, here is some advice from a great leader: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill.