Knowing what to expect on the day of your MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is key to feeling confident and achieving your highest score. You want to show up completely prepared — taking the MCAT is one of the most important events of your premed career.
In this MCAT test day guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know, from what to bring, to the full exam schedule, and 10 tips for success.
To ensure a smooth and successful experience, familiarize yourself with the testing conditions and guidelines set by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Studying and test prep is hard enough, and dealing with logistical issues on exam day is an avoidable stressor.
Here are the MCAT essentials you need to know for test day:
On the day of your MCAT exam, you’ll present the test administrators with a valid government-issued photo identification like a driver’s license or passport. Expired IDs aren’t permitted, so make sure you get a new ID if yours will expire before test day.
Your ID must match the information you provided during your MCAT registration. You can’t take the test if the names don’t match. If you’ve recently changed your legal name, double-check in advance that your government ID matches the name you used in the MCAT registration system.
As an additional security measure, you will have your palms digitally scanned, and a test-day photograph will be taken. While this might feel like a bit much, it’s one way the AAMC prevents identity fraud and protects the integrity of the testing process.
These typically include your valid ID, your MCAT registration printout, and any necessary medications you have to take while at the testing center. (Scroll to the next section for a full list of what you can and can’t bring.)
During the actual test, there are designated breaks during which you can access snacks, drinks, and any essential medications. However, electronic devices, study materials, and any unauthorized items are strictly prohibited throughout the day.
The AAMC recommends leaving electronic devices and study materials in your car, as touching electronics (even if you don’t use them to look up MCAT-related information) is a violation of MCAT policies.
You will be provided with noteboard booklets and fine-point markers for note-taking during the exam. These noteboard booklets are for rough work, calculations, and jotting down ideas. You cannot bring any personal scratch paper into the testing room.
The AAMC is very particular about what you can bring into the testing center and testing room, and what should be left in your car or at home. Violate their policies, and you may find yourself unable to apply for med school this cycle.
Here’s what’s allowed and what’s not:
MCAT test day follows a structured schedule to ensure a fair and standardized testing experience for all examinees. Here’s what to expect throughout the day:
Arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled start time. Plan for potential traffic or unexpected delays. Upon arrival, you’ll go through a check-in process, which includes verifying your identity, having your palms digitally scanned, and taking a test-day photograph.
The MCAT exam consists of 4 sections, each with a specific duration and purpose. These 4 sections include:
There are designated 10-minute breaks between testing sections. These brief intervals allow enough time to stretch, hydrate, and briefly recharge. You can access your stored snacks and beverages during these MCAT breaks to maintain your energy.
After completing the first two sections, you’ll have a longer 30-minute lunch break. During this mid-exam break, you can access your stored food and drink and relax.
Owen Ezell took the MCAT in 2020 and scored a 522. Here’s his take about food and beverages on the day you take the MCAT:
Manage your time wisely during lunch to ensure you return to the testing room promptly. Administrators are consistently reminding students when break time is over, so you’ll get ample instructions and reminders so you don’t enter the testing room late.
When you leave the exam room for a break, you’ll need to follow the instructions of the test center staff. Upon re-entering, you’ll go through a check-in process again to ensure the security of the exam environment.
Bathroom breaks are allowed during the exam, but they must be taken during designated break times. You won’t lose testing time for bathroom breaks taken within these intervals.
If you need to use the restroom outside of designated breaks, you’ll need to follow the test center’s procedures and be accompanied by a staff member.
If you have a disability or medical condition that you believe makes it difficult for you to take the test under standard conditions, you’ll need to apply in advance for MCAT accommodations. It’s not guaranteed that your requests will be accepted, but the AAMC does make concessions for certain circumstances with appropriate medical documentation.
To help you excel, I’ve compiled 10 MCAT tips based on insights from experienced test-takers and our team of experts:
Arrive at least 30 minutes early to the test center on your exam date. Nothing feels worse than getting there late because of traffic you didn’t expect, or not entering the testing room on time because you had an ID problem.
I like to recommend students carry a folder with their registration confirmation and ID so they can bring it inside and not spend time rifling through a backpack or wallet upon arrival.
Knowing the layout of the test center building in advance can reduce stress and eliminate some of the worry of “how will I know where to go?!”. Before your exam date, pay a quick visit to the building that houses the test center, just to ensure you know where you’re going.
Dress in comfortable, layered clothing appropriate for varying room temperatures. You want to stay focused on the exam, not on discomfort.
Pack snacks and beverages to keep your energy levels stable during breaks. Staying hydrated is essential for optimal brain function. And resist the urge to eat a full meal — avoid getting hungry, but remember that too much food can make you want to take a nap (and ignore one of the most important tests of your educational career).
Test anxiety is common. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, to stay calm during the exam.
Allocate your time efficiently for each section to ensure you complete all questions. Don’t linger too long on any single question — if you get stuck, move on and come back later if you have time.
To do this, use the “flag” feature. The MCAT lets you flag questions that you’re unsure about so you can go back to them if you have time at the end of the section.
Maintain a positive mindset, even if you encounter challenging questions. Don’t let one difficult question disrupt your overall performance, as MCAT scores are scaled to reflect the fact that certain sections are more difficult on specific test days.
Ezell had to contend with a tendency to panic during his exam. Here was how he managed the emotions:
Many students think that an energy drink or quad espresso will help them stay alert and able to recall information. However, don’t consume more caffeine than you normally would — over-caffeinating may lead to jitters and an inability to stay focused on the exam in front of you.
If time permits, review your answers. Even a quick review can make a difference. And be sure to pay special attention to any questions that you flagged as difficult along the way. You want to focus your review time on questions you’re unsure about, not on those you’re confident in.
There’s also a screen at the end of each section that indicates if you left any questions blank. Give it a quick glance to ensure you didn’t accidentally skip anything. Remember — there’s no penalty for guessing, so you want to ensure that every question has an answer!
Adhere to test center rules and guidelines at all times. This includes respecting the designated break times and not exceeding them, not attempting to go to your car for any reason, and following rules about electronics.
Yes, you can bring beverages, such as water, coffee, or a sports drink, to the testing center and access them during designated breaks to stay hydrated.
It’s possible to walk confidently into your MCAT test day. Proper preparation, including structured study plans, practice exams, and expert guidance from our tutors, has resulted in consistently high MCAT scores for students who work with MedSchoolCoach for tutoring.
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