At times, the stress of a looming MCAT test day can feel overwhelming, even after working with prep courses (like Kaplan and Magoosh) and materials. However, planning ahead to understand what you can control on test day can make the stress more bearable. One of the few things you will have control over on test day is what you bring to the MCAT.
Test Day Procedure
Most MCATs begin testing at 8 a.m., so plan to arrive at 7:30 a.m. Test administrators will sign in test-takers one-by-one—checking IDs, sealing cell phones in bags, and handing out keys to lockers. Administrators will also take your photo and scan your palm (which is like scanning a fingerprint but even more foolproof).
You must keep your cell phone sealed in the bag until the test is completely over. Then, an administrator must unseal the bag to ensure that you did not access your phone during the test. Additionally, all of your belongings must remain in your locker (except for the locker key administrators provide and the clothes you are wearing—in addition to your ID) while you are testing. You may, however, open your locker during breaks for water, snacks, and a lunch.
Before entering the testing room, administrators will scan your palm, check that your face matches your photo, pat you down, and scan you for hidden cameras. You will have to turn your pockets inside out to show there is nothing hidden in them.
Administrators will hand you a noteboard booklet, a fine-tip wet-erase marker, and foam earplugs. These items, in addition to your locker key, ID, and clothes, are the only items allowed into the testing room. Some test centers will also have noise-cancelling headphones available at your testing computer, although not all testing centers have this feature.
The Essentials to Bring to the MCAT
In the “Test Day Procedure,” you may have noticed that there is one item necessary for check-in (your ID), one set of items to use during breaks (water, snacks, and a lunch), and one set of items to bring into the testing room (the clothes that you are wearing). Unless you have a medical condition that demands a medical device, these are the only three things you should bring to the test center. Below are further elaborations and advice on each of what you will bring to the MCAT.
As a measure to prevent cheating, you need to bring an approved form of identification to your MCAT. The spelling of your name on the ID must exactly match the spelling on your MCAT registration. Showing up without your ID means that you cannot test.
Approved forms of ID include your driver’s license and passport. A full list of requirements for your MCAT-accepted ID can be found here.
During the MCAT, you must carry your MCAT-accepted ID with you at all times.
2) Provisions: Water, Snacks, and a Lunch
My friends who run competitively say that runs less than 60 minutes don’t require any special treatment, but longer runs demand energy gels to keep them going. The same principle can be applied to testing.
Compared to all other tests you have taken, the MCAT is a marathon. Fortunately, there are three breaks scheduled during the MCAT: two 10-minute breaks (which are perfect for snacking) and a longer 30-minute break (which is perfect for lunch). Be sure to use these breaks to refuel.
Keep in mind there is no refrigerator for you to use, as you must store all belongings in your locker. This means to stick to non-perishable foods, or to bring an ice pack to keep your food fresh.
During my MCAT, I had a granola bar and strawberries for my first snack, a sandwich and dry cereal for lunch, and another granola bar and a banana for my second snack. This breakdown worked well enough to sustain me.
I would recommend packing more food than you think you may need, as you may feel more light-headed or depleted of energy than you expect while sitting and test-taking for so many hours.
Also, no water is allowed during the test, so use your breaks to rehydrate (but do not over-hydrate, as you do not want to have to use the bathroom in the middle of a test section).
3) Comfortable Clothing and Layers
You can essentially wear whatever you want to the MCAT, within reason, so why not be strategic? Comfortable clothes will allow you to better focus on the test, and layers will allow you to better thermoregulate. Planning out what you wear ahead of time also allows you to have some essence of control on this very overwhelming day.
I was strategic with what I wore during my own test: a long-sleeve shirt, a flannel that my friend (who also happened to score well on the MCAT) gave me, track pants, sneakers, and my favorite socks. I was originally going to wear a long-sleeve shirt with my alma mater on it, but I realized that other test-takers may approach me during registration or breaks to talk about my school (and I wanted to stay in the zone during these times). I opted for a plain, regular-joe shirt instead.
While not necessary, wearing clothes that have significance—like gifts from loved ones—can give you an extra boost of confidence on test day. The sneakers I wore on test day were a gift from my sister.
4) Any Necessary Medical Equipment
If you have a health condition that will demand medical equipment in the testing room, you will need to apply for accommodations. You should submit your application at least 60 days before test day to allow for enough time for your application to be processed. More information about this application process can be found here.
Note that if your application is not approved, your registration for your test day is still valid, and you must test under standard conditions.
Planning ahead on what to bring the MCAT can help alleviate MCAT-related stress. Bringing proper identification, hearty food, and comfortable clothes will make test day run as smoothly as possible.