What It’s Like To Take a (Practice) MCAT

You’re ready. As countless people have told you, this entire year has been preparation for this. You are prepared to prepare for the MCAT, the test that will determine your medical school admission chances. Well, that, and whether medical schools are willing to overlook that bio lab grade. Um.

You’re motivated. Your final exams are over, you unwound with dinner and drinks, and your batteries are recharged. Time to tackle this five-hour bastard head-on and show it what you know.

You’re nervous. Because you are an idiot, you signed up to take the exam less than four weeks after classes ended, foolishly believing that you would have enough time to start your review before regular school ended. You realized your mistake mid-April, but by then it was too late and apathy had set in.

The night before, you to go bed with grand plans to wake up early, crush the test, and spend the afternoon going over the few problems you missed before relaxing after a hard day’s work.

It’s test day. You preserve your morning routine because you read somewhere that you should start every day the same way. Never mind that this is just a practice exam; like the real deal, you turn off your phone, go into your room, and shut the door. It’s just you and the sweet, kindly advisories of “YOU HAVE SEVENTY MINUTES. BEGIN SECTION 1.”

So you begin. You read the first passage. It’s about acids and bases: general chemistry. You dominated chemistry.  You read the passage, scan the questions, and knock out the obviously wrong answers, just like you’ve been trained. The first question is easy; the answer is sitting right there in the passage. This is going to be a cakewalk.

Then, out of nowhere, a question about specific gravity pops up. What’s specific gravity? You rack your brain, thinking hard about your chemistry class. Chemistry ended ten months ago. A flashback: your summer chemistry professor standing at the front of the room. He is talking about specific gravity. He says, “Don’t worry about specific gravity. It’s not important.”

Dammit. Hmm. Mark this one and come back. Next passage, please. No need to panic.

The next passage uses twenty-seven words you don’t know and never learned. (What the hell is “hippatic acid?”) You know it is specifically twenty-seven, because in lieu of knowing how to answer any of the questions, you began highlighting words you needed to look up later. You did a lot of highlighting. You mark all seven questions for later review.

Next page, please. You feel a small lump forming in your throat as you realize that your batting average is probably worse than the guy no one wants to put in the order, even at the bottom. Nor do you remember what the half-equivalence point is, or how to calculate momentum in an elastic collision. You can knock out the obviously wrong answers, but you’re doing an awful lot of best guessing.

But… wait. This is just practice, right? You COULD open a new tab in your browser. You could check out that problem about elastic collisions, or hippatic acid, or even specific gravity. It’s just practice. “We talkin’ bout practice.

You catch yourself. NO. When you’re in the heat of battle, will your mommy be there to save you?! No! You have to learn for yourself what it feels like to fall on your face, you slow-witted goon. You cannot use the Internet as a crutch. Idiot.

You realize negative self-talk is not helpful.

Finally, you finish. It’s break time, mercifully. You have ten minutes. Dejected, you walk out of your bedroom and grab an apple – your one concession to yourself. Thou shalt not consume sustenance during the real MCAT, but come on, it’s noon already and you haven’t eaten since you started this stupid thing two hours ago. As you pace your apartment while munching on Granny Smith, you realize that this is a good thing – your tragic collapse will help motivate and direct your studying. After all, you nailed that question about tautomerism; of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that you covered it two weeks ago.

Somewhat energized, you return to your cell and click “END BREAK” on the screen. The next section is biology. Biology is your worst subject by far, but hey, it can’t be worse than what you just did, right?

Wrong. The first question is about mosaic theory. You have a vague sense that this deals with second semester topics, so you begin mentally scanning backward through your classes. But all you can think of are your biology professor’s buzzwords: “button this up,” “diversification,” and his favorite, “invagination.” You always thought that was a little kinky, but – HEY. FOCUS.

As far as you can tell, mosaic theory has nothing to do with invaginations. Dammit. Now what? Wait! You’ve got something!

The picture is clearing up… and it’s the professor pointing at the projector with his broken laser pointer, imagining himself highlighting an important evolutionary “invagination.” In your flashback, you exchange glances with your neighbor, whispering, “he’s gotta know there’s nothing showing up on the screen, right?”

Sigh. Mark it and come back to it later. You seem to be doing that a lot.

The biology continues. You feel like every page is just another loaded boxcar in the freight train that’s currently running you over.  Does DNA replicate in S phase or before one of the gaps? You get the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain confused. You forget the reason why red blood cells are denucleated, and can’t remember why you were supposed to care. The passages start to blur together at the edges, and you find yourself choosing the answer that seems “rightest” a lot of the time. Whatever. We talkin’ ‘bout practice, right?

Three hours and two more short breaks later, you’re done. But you have one last hurdle: like the real MCAT, the test gives you a chance to “invalidate” your score, erasing it from the record books. Of course, if you select this option, you don’t get to see how you did. You’ll never know if you secretly made a perfect score (even though those odds would be longer than winning the Powerball – three times in a row).

The offer is tempting. A way out. A reprieve. You ponder the decision for longer than you thought about the last twenty questions on the exam, but ultimately decide you have to know. You click NEXT.

For some reason, your eye is first drawn to the column entitled “PERCENT MARKED,” indicating how many questions per section you tagged for later review. The number is 12 percent.  Fatigued, you mistakenly think this represents your actual score.

Panic. You put your head in your hands, considering whether you should pursue that career as an electrician.

You collect your wits and force yourself to look at the score sheet again and realize your actual score is over there, to the left. See it? Wait. That can’t be right. That’s…

Astoundingly, that’s good enough. You… passed.

The fatigue hits you like a wave. You lie down on the floor and pass out. You’ll deal with emotions later.

You wake up later and procrastinate by writing about taking a practice MCAT.

6 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Take a (Practice) MCAT

  1. Wow. This makes my LSAT prep seem like a breeze. Good on you for getting through it and for “passing.” You’re going to be great, keep the faith!

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