The new 2015 MCAT has longer sections and more of them. Although the exam itself is just over six hours, which includes four sections 90 to 95 minutes each, the section breaks bring it a total of 7.5 hours. Even if you studied thoroughly and are confident that you know the material, if you don’t have enough endurance for a 7.5-hour test you will get tired somewhere in the middle of the exam and your potentially high scores will be compromised.

So how do you prepare to take a 7.5-hour exam without burning out? In addition to studying the resource material for the MCAT, you must gradually build up your test-taking endurance to ensure that you are comfortable, confident and mentally present for the entire exam. 

Building Endurance Takes Time

Building endurance is a gradual process. My advice is to focus on these two phases.

  1. Get comfortable sitting and studying for 95 minutes in one shot.

  2. Get comfortable doing this four times successively with short breaks in between.

Three of the exam sections are 95 minutes and one is 90. So you have to be able to apply yourself for four 95-minute test sections in a row without burning out.

How do you build stamina for this? First, determine your baseline—how long you can sit and study comfortably before any endurance building—by taking the full-length sample MCAT. This will also help you determine your understanding of the material before you begin studying.

During the sample exam pay attention to how many minutes into the test you are when the burn out begins. Record that time for each section because that will be the baseline from where you’ll start to build up your endurance.

The ultimate goal is to be able to sit for four consecutive sessions of 100 minutes each even though the exam sessions are 90-95 minutes because you want to ensure your brain can operate past that time. This way, as you near the end you’re still operating at a high mental capacity.

Getting Started

Let’s say that your baseline is 60 minutes for the first section, 50 minutes for the second, and the third and fourth sections were brutal. We’ll tackle it two sections at a time and turn your study sessions into endurance exercises.

Start with two back-to-back 60-minute study sessions. Study one specific category or topic for 60 minutes as if you were taking the exam. That means no distractions—no cellphone, no snacks. After 60 minutes, even if you feel fine, take a 10-minute break. and use the restroom, have a snack and some water and do some jumping jacks to get your blood circulating. After 10 minutes begin your second 60-minute session.

You may do well the first session and start to wane during the second session but that’s fine. Repeat this for at least a week, studying three or more times that week. When you feel comfortable studying for two 60-minute sessions with a 10-minute break, crank it up a notch and add another session for as long as you can function well mentally. But be sure to take a 20-minute break after your second session because the MCAT has a 20-minute break after the first two exam sections.

Try to add a few minutes to that third study session each day so that, for example, within a week you’re doing:

  • 60 minutes

  • 60 minute

  • 30 minutes;

The next round

  • 60 minutes

  • 60 minutes

  • 40 minutes

and so on…

When you feel comfortable enough add the fourth session for 10-20 minutes, or as long as you can manage it, and build onto that time each day until you’re able to do:

  • 60 minutes

  • 10 minute break

  • 60 minutes

  • 20-minute break

  • 60 minutes

  • 10 minute break

  • 60 minutes.

Once you’re completing four 60-minute sessions with the appropriate breaks, start increasing the time of each session, eventually building up to your goal of 100 minutes.

It will be harder to forge through the later sessions so start by keeping your first two sessions at 60 minutes but add minutes on the last two sessions. Keep adding minutes to the last two sessions until your endurance is at 100 minutes.

Then start adding minutes to your first two sessions until you reach 100 minutes on those

Don’t forget to take all the appropriate breaks.

As you gradually build up your stamina, take a weekly full-length practice test. It’s good practice and you can check your baseline to see how much you’ve improved your endurance!

By the way, are you getting ready to take your MCAT in the next few weeks? If so, click to grab a FREE copy of my new ebook (leah4sci.com/premedlifeMCAT Exam Strategy – A 6 Week Guide To Crushing The MCAT.