“Now what do I do?”
The moment that I answered the last question on my MCAT, a feeling of pure euphoria and joy spread across my entire face. Months of what seemed like endless studying had culminated in 5 hours of multiple choice answers and two essays. Never mind the test, what I was really happy about was being done with studying. During my MCAT prep, I would get excited for “free-days” from school work because that meant I could squeeze in another full-length test. It was a peculiar time, and my friends wondered why anyone would willingly put themselves through such an experience. But despite the joy that came with being done with the MCAT, a sudden realization hit me: I have to wait another month before I find out my scores.
I wrote a post about my reflections on MCAT studying the week after I was done, but as anyone who has taken the MCAT will tell you, waiting for your scores to come back may be just as hard, if not harder than the actual preparation. The feeling of anxiety is such a universal experience that it’s become known as PMS: Post-MCAT Syndrome (on a side note, I’m a little embarrassed to tell my friends that I’m experiencing PMS). The worst part for me is that at least with preparation I felt I could do something through studying or practicing problems, whereas with waiting for scores, the best possible solution is to not think about it at all. And once again, for anyone who has taken the MCAT will tell you again: this is immensely difficult. I’ve tried a variety of things to attempt to distance my mind from MCAT scores, but every once in a while my thoughts turn to justifying different scores in my head. The first few nights after I took the test, I would have full-blown nightmares about bad (I mean single-digit combined) scores. Utter relief can barely describe how I feel when wake up and realize it just a dream.
So what are some resources to aid those feeling anxiety over waiting for MCAT scores?
Take a Break. Immediately after your MCAT you should be decompressing in some way or another. I unfortunately scheduled my MCAT the last day of spring break and jumped right back into school. Being a quarter system, my school has the first week of the quarter right after spring break and the craziness of the first week sent me on a one-way train to burnout city. Rather than grind away at the whole quarter at half-pace, I dropped all my work for the first weekend of the quarter and had a “me-weekend”. Sure, I had to play catch up the second week but the mental recharge hugely outweighed the slight bump in workload for a day or two.
Exercise. I asked one of my friend who had taken the MCAT the year before how she kept her sanity while waiting for her scores and she placed exercise as her number one reason. Exercise serves as a great way to take your mind off worrying about the MCAT and is a great way to let off steam. Protip: if you’re still thinking about the MCAT while your exercising, you need to be pushing yourself to exercise a whole lot harder.
Meditation. One of the most cliché pieces of advice I get is to “stay busy” in order to not over-things and stress out. I feel this method merely masks the real problem of over-thinking instead of directly confronting it. A better solution is to practice controlling your thoughts through meditation. A quick google search of “meditation techniques” can be a little overwhelming so here’s an easy-to-follow method:
Sit down cross-legged with attention to your posture. Close your eyes. Imagine the number 1 coming at your face, let it pass through your body, travel through your system and leave out your toes. Do this chronologically with numbers each evening for 5 minutes before you go to bed.
Sure it sounds weird, but I think freaking out over a score you can’t do anything about sounds even weirder to me.
Therapy/Mental Health. Don’t be afraid to use the mental health resources that are available to you, especially if you are an undergrad. Many universities have funded mental health centers that can help you severely reduce your anxiety. Significant sleep deprivation or loss of focus over score anxiety can severely affect your lifestyle, but the good news is that many insurance companies cover mental-health related treatment. Sure, we may all think we’ll be doctors eventually but for now leave the treatment to the professionals.
Avoid Pre-Med Forums Like The Plague. When it comes to dream-killing and anxiety-inducing, nothing quite gets the emotions going like a “quick” visit to pre-med forums. While I do admit that such forums (*cough* SDN *cough*) have some legitimate information, the nervousness and desperateness that exist in these forums is dangerously infectious. Avoid taking anything someone says on the internet (myself included) too seriously. Otherwise you’re cortisol levels are going to be spiking dangerously high when you read a post from “SuperPremed123” about how his 45T MCAT score couldn’t get him into Harvard.
Thinking Big Picture. Sure, the MCAT is a big deal for medical school admissions. However, in the big-picture of things, getting a bad MCAT scores doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, going to be a terrible doctor, or that you killed a bunch of puppies. Bad score? Swallow your pride and re-take the test. There’s no shame in having a bad day, and as my friend told me, “Really it’s just one test and one day, just like anything in life, sometimes you have bad days, sometimes you have good days, that’s it..” Many people re-take the test, and many of those people get into medical school. The MCAT, like board tests, are just necessary hoops to jump through in order to become a doctor. Doing well on these tests doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be a good physician and by the same token, doing “bad” doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad physician.
I sincerely hope that these tips can help reduce your anxiety while waiting for your MCAT scores. It’s definitely a stressful situation having to wait around for scores to come back, but those 30 days will come and go. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the MCAT or med school apps on my website. Good luck on your own quests into medicine!
- MCAT Results! (flusteredgrad.wordpress.com)
- MCAT Test Tomorrow (flusteredgrad.wordpress.com)
- MCAT Recap (flusteredgrad.wordpress.com)