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I Survived the MCAT

By Eun J. Lee

features editor

Everyone has their marathon. The Kenyans, Will Ferrell, and Brian Loux had this year’s Boston Marathon. Nick Sidelnick had 1,729 laps in the Z-center pool in preparation for swimming the English Channel this summer. Me? I finished my marathon this past Saturday in a little under 10 hours.

My marathon was not in the spirit of overcoming nature’s greatest obstacles or exploring brave new frontiers. I did not boldly go where no man has gone before. In training for my marathon, my body was not sculpted to be an efficient, well-chiseled machine. While others train by expending energy and feeling the burn in their muscles, I trained for mine by vicariously experiencing a runner’s high while recalling lactic acid formation in anaerobic respiration and the importance of cooperative binding in hemoglobin.

My marathon was the Medical College Admissions Test. On Saturday morning, I left my dorm room armed with my number-two mechanical pencil, a black pen, a photo ID, what is left of my brain after being at MIT for three years, and a shit load of caffeine. With the experience all said and done, I only have one thing to say: I want ten hours of my life back.

A ... lot ... of caffeine

The big test day began at 6:30 a.m., three hours past my normal bedtime, when I hit the snooze button on my alarm for the fifth time and finally rolled (or fell -- I can’t remember) out of my bed. I didn’t get much sleep the night before only three hours to be exact. My Circadian rhythms and I normally coexist peacefully, except for important occasions in my life when I have to get up early. I’m usually pretty chill with my rhythms. I don’t mind when we stroll in to lecture a few (hey, forty can count as a few) minutes late or sleep in until mid-afternoon on the weekends, but honestly, I was a little disappointed that the little guys let me down on test day. Luckily, though, on Saturday, the lack of sleep was nothing that a grande espresso and a Nalgene full of super-concentrated iced tea couldn’t fix.

On your marks, get set, go

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the MCAT, let me give you the break down. There are four sections of the test, which are proctored in the following order: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing, and Biological Sciences. The Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections are each 100 minutes long with 77 questions. Although the test is mostly multiple choice, the majority of questions are based on reading passages, so you really have to beat the clock to finish each section.

The Verbal reasoning section is 85 minutes long with 60 questions, and the writing section consists of two 30-minute long writing samples based on a question in the same format of the following: Consider this statement: “Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island. Write a unified essay in which you explain what you think this statement means. Describe a situation when Rhode Island can be both a road and an island. Discuss what you think determines whether Rhode Island is a road or an island.”

As you might imagine, it’s a fun-filled 345 minutes, with additional ten-minute breaks between each section and a one hour lunch break halfway in between. However, this time is only the actual testing time. Identification procedures designed to ensure you’re not cheating by taking the test for someone else took up the remainder of the time, including getting finger-printed and signing your name a bunch of times.

How to make the MCAT your bitch

“I want to make the MCAT my bitch,” a fellow pre-med friend told me a few days before the test. I agreed with her, but on test day, this determination to prove my knowledge manifested itself in my heavy eyelids and caffeine-induced nervousness.

So it was me and 180 of my closest anal pre-med friends at the Tremont Hotel in downtown Boston on a rainy Saturday. Okay, maybe they weren’t all anal, but I’m sure some of them were.

“No colored pens, pencils, or highlighters are allowed,” our proctor read before starting the first section around 9 a.m. “Ironic,” I thought to myself, recollecting fond memories of everyone whipping out their shimmery, sometimes scented, colored pens in 7.05 and 5.12. What are premeds to do without colored pens? It’s a trademark, and you know people have probably tried to bring them to the test in the past. Why else would there be a specific clause in the instructions?

“Photocopying or memorizing any part of this test is prohibited,” our proctor continued reading and then looked up with a big grin on her face. “Now don’t any of you try any funny business. Once you read it, just forget about it.”

Because of this last clause, I don’t think I can go into specific anecdotes about passages or questions in the test, at least not in print. But I can tell you that despite taking a Kaplan class and studying nonstop for the last few weeks, nothing I did in preparation was as intense as the real thing. When I finished the test, I honestly felt more tired than if I had run ten miles. At least after running, your muscles may be sore, but at least they haven’t atrophied. By the end of the MCAT, I think I developed a bed sore, I couldn’t fully see out of my left eye, and my hand was swollen from a rare bubbling-induced repetitive stress injury.

We like to party

You always hear the horror stories about the MCAT. I guess with a test so intense, there is a lot that can go wrong. Luckily, my biggest fear of falling asleep halfway through did not happen. However, it was hard to concentrate the entire time and not get distracted. The human mind’s ability to wander is incredible, particularly when it’s mine.

One passage had a measurement in units of ppm, or parts per million, and I had a Bridget Jones’ diary moment. In the movie, she refers to this man’s name as “Mr. Titspervert” when his name is really “Mr. Fitzherbert,” and she can’t think of his real name when under pressure. In my case, I have a friend who refers to ppm as “privates million” instead of parts per million, and when I read the question, it took a minute to think of the real meaning.

For over half of the test, the room was shaking from music coming from the Roxy club next door to the hotel. Apparently they were testing their sound system for that night. I can’t really remember the questions from the writing passage, but I can remember getting my chair-dance on to “We like to party” and “Dancing Queen.”

Things I forgot to mention

Okay, so maybe the experience wasn’t as a bad as I like to pretend it was. Actually, the more I think of it, the memories I haven’t yet repressed from the test itself were pretty bad, but the peripheral events before and after were actually pretty heartening. For one, I forgot to mention that my friends woke up earlier than I did to make breakfast for me and another friend who was taking the test. My brother-in-law also picked me up in the morning to drive me to the test. And everyone I know has been so supportive, wishing me luck before and asking me how it went afterwards. I don’t know exactly how to answer the latter question. I’d like to say I made the MCAT my bitch, but I’m not sure it went that well.

The only source of comfort I have is in the knowledge that in the end, I was not the MCAT’s bitch. I know this because I have already been claimed as MIT’s bitch, and she is a mistress who doesn’t like to share.