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Tips and Tricks to stay alert on Test Day?

Discussion in 'MCAT Discussions' started by Sylvee, Aug 7, 2015.

  1. Sylvee

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    Hi everyone!

    I'm sure that I'm in not the only one running into the challenge of trying to stay alert and focused throughout the 7-hour day. With the early start time (where I'm guessing everyone will be leaving the house no later than 7am), and the length of the exam, I'm finding it tough to focus during the first block and that dreaded 2pm slump. For me, specifically, it's the after-lunch slump. CARS and Psych/Soc I wake up all of sudden. It's a little frustrating when I have to spend half my energy keeping focused.

    What are some of the strategies that the others members here have used to combat the inevitable fatigue?
     
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  3. El-Rami

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    You could go to sleep extra early the night before, wake up at 5 AM to workout, then shower and get dressed for the rest of the day.
     
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  4. trimethylpurine

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    It's a lot easier staying awake and focused for the real MCAT vs. practice test, just btw.
     
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  5. Sosick22

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    Having just taken the mcat, I can tell you if you do enough practice tests under testing conditions, it doesn't even feel like 7 hours. You'll be high on adrenaline because you know how important the test is, plus the breaks, plus the feeling it'll be over soon. Trust me, it will feel shorter than 7 hours.
     
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  6. NCPremed13

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    I agree with Sosick22 that if you practice under test conditions, it doesn't feel like as long as it is. Also, if you really have a hard time focusing, you could trying taking a focus pill like Focus Factor. I tried something that was similar to Focus Factor, I think it is called Fast Focus which is suppose to be milder and it helped me (though don't take it for the first time on test day, as with everything). Another type is stay away from coffee unless you drink it usually and do not use caffeine pills. Instead of coffee, I bought these little cans of matcha tea shots and it helped me stay alert. Also, on the test in the last little stretch, my eyes would get tired, so don't forget that you can look away from the screen and breathe for a few seconds. I know that my answer isn't the typical "get more sleep" answer, but I hope that it helps.
     
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  7. Fedekz

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    Drugs, a light dusting of cocaine in the bathroom between sections kept me on my toes
     
  8. jimmypod

    jimmypod Doodler
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    I see you are making good use of confiscated cocaine, police officer.
     
  9. Avicenna

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    Hit them snowy slopes every break and you'll come out 510+
     
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  10. dushash

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    I don't often take MCAT, but when I do - I prefer ether:
    :)

    On a serious note though, stay hydrated before and during the exam - water keeps you awake.
     
    #9 dushash, Aug 13, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2015
  11. Fedekz

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    My report never mentioned any cocaine. As far as I'm concerned, if it isn't in the report it was never "really" there ... :p
     
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  12. StudyLater

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  13. FutureD.O

    FutureD.O OU-HCOM OMS-II
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    I do coffee in the morning with complex carbs and fruit and sip of G2 between sections. I eat a couple fruit and granola bars and take a 5 hour energy during the 30 mins. Lastly, I eat another piece of fruit during the last 10 min break. I don't eat anything after the first section because I'm usually still fueled enough to focus very well for cars!
     
  14. StudyLater

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    It only takes a bit, though. It's actually very easy to overdo it and create an emergency mid-passage. Do not drink like the full water bottle before going into a section.
     
  15. gothicfoxes

    gothicfoxes MD & MPH goals
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    The pressure of not wanting to take the test again should keep you awake.
     
  16. StudyLater

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    You guys keep saying this. Really hope it's true.
     
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  17. Doremonster

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    You will be surprised at how awake you will be when the test counts.
     
  18. StudyLater

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    Well that's good. I was worried my current don'tgivea****itis would bleed into test day.
     
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  19. El-Rami

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    If you go to bed early the night before and then work out 30 minutes as soon as you wake up then eat and shower, I guarantee you'll be awake by 8 AM. :)
     
  20. Crayola227

    Crayola227 The Oncoming Storm
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    Wear an incontinence pad so if you can't hold it you can just pee right in front of your computer and change it during your break
    I didn't need to use mine but just wearing it gave me confidence my bladder would not be calling the shots in the middle of a block

    Be sure you are regularly consuming the water and caffeine you plan to have as intake for test day so you're used to that amount and won't be peeing q2 hrs

    Caffeine pills not a bad idea so you get the energy, still has diuretic effect but since you're having less input of water with it....

    Buy little glucose tablets (like for diabetics at the Walgreens) and keep a few on you in the test area (if you're a rebel that can sneak them in and sneak eat them) and you can chow them down on your breaks, so you have plenty of glucose fuel (brain runs off only glucose) without a big sleep inducing meal, and like granola bars etc, I had a tasty sandwhich day of too, for complex card and protein, I had cheese sticks and yogurt for that reason
    Make sure tylenol and ibuprofen, your pick, don't make you drowsy (I know NSAIDs can do this sometimes) and have that with you if HAs or other aches can distract you

    I did pasta carb loading a few days before, you want your liver to have plenty of glycogen and then the above glucose exam day

    Google chair stretches, stretches you can do in your chair that doesn't look like cheating, those can help keep the blood flowing

    I agree doing a fair number of test simulations to keep your test stamina up, but don't do them the 5-7 days before the test so you're not too burnt on full length practice

    Don't be afraid to use your break time PRN, even in the room just for a few min to rest your eyes
    I keep sterile saline eye drops in the single use individual squeezers for my eyes, you'd be surprised how much well-lubed eyes do for your sense of alertness (and caffeine and computer staring will dry them out)

    And whatever will be your necessary sleep/wake and work hours for test day itself, you should try to maintain for 1 month prior to test AND on weekends (weekends not necessarily working those hours but still time of sleep/wake)

    For your brain to be totally adjusted to being alert those hours you need about 1 month solid (I am circadian wired to be a night owl and I know my sleep medicine pretty well)
     
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  21. jimmypod

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    Also, in all seriousness and joking aside, you can try out melatonin supplements (dat pineal endocrine function - mmmmm) before you go to bed.

    To be more specific, I would use the supplements on the days leading up to the test/week beforehand to adjust your sleep schedule to wake up as early at 6-7am without any problems. Even though there are few side effects, and due to slight superstition on my part, I would refrain from taking the pills on the night of your exam. They are extremely useful for jetlag situations, and I have been able to adjust my horrible 6am - 1pm sleep schedule to a more reasonable 11pm - 8am one. Gone are the nights where I would sleep when the sun would rise.

    And they're mad cheap.
     
  22. StudyLater

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    Don't know what the bolded term means, or if it even correlates with specifically MCAT test performance. Citation needed.

    Nice one on q2, HA, NSAIDs, PRN, etc. btw :)

    Or tryptophan. But that sometimes gives me hypnagogic hallucinations. And can't effectively overpower a good stimulant. Same goes for the quils.
     
  23. Crayola227

    Crayola227 The Oncoming Storm
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    As a doc, things to know about melatonin:
    Some risk of sleepiness the next day. Very slight risk of depression, usually just a risk in someone with pre-existing depression (although melatonin is arguably a great strategy for improving sleep) so this is just something to monitor for.
    More is not necessarily better with melatonin, take the lowest dose first and work up as needed, it can have a paradoxical effect at higher doses (insomnia), something to watch for. Start at 1 mg and can end up at 3 mg. I would see a doc before going beyond that dosage.

    Also, I would see what, if any effect, you might have skipping a nighttime dosage before a practice test. I wouldn't recommend any changes in medication before a big test, at least any you're not confident about.

    Since I'm an actual MD that popped in here to give advice, my use of abbreviations came naturally to me.

    I'll let you do your own research on sleep medicine, no one has to take my word on anything I've written here.

    As far as having a sleep/wake cycle similar to what you'll want test day for 1 month beforehand, I'm being conservative. 1 month is for anyone fighting their natural sleep/wake times.

    I know people who slept till noon and went to bed at 2 am on the regular that thought they'd turn it around right around test day.

    Maybe adrenaline and fear of such a ridiculous time change kept them alert through the day.

    Anyway, I don't have citations but as someone who left to their own devices sleeps/wakes 2 am and noon, and lives in a state of perpetual social jet lag, I researched sleep medicine heavily, and kept a 6 am wake and 9 pm bedtime religiously for 1 month as I had read about, still barely turned around to being alert for an 8 am exam, and did above average on Step 1. Granted that's not the MCAT, but I took that too. I'd say my test taking history is pretty solid.

    Take it for what you will.
     
  24. StudyLater

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    This seems to be the consensus.
     
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  25. El-Rami

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    Do you think there would be any objections if I wear a catheter inside the testing facility?
     
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  26. dushash

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    I use Valeriana pills and Camomile - unlike some stuff suggested here, it's all herbs and is all natural.
     
  27. Crayola227

    Crayola227 The Oncoming Storm
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    If you pull the move on "House" and tape the Foley bag to your leg.... that's probably fine. Last I was at Prometric they didn't pat down your crotch.

    If they do, you can just claim you didn't think a Foley for "incontinence" was a special accommodation.
     
  28. Crayola227

    Crayola227 The Oncoming Storm
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    Ignorance.

    Melatonin is all natural. Not an herb, but then again, how natural is ingesting a foreign herb to your body over taking something already found in your body for sleep? I would argue taking melatonin for sleep is more "natural" than a random herb.

    When your liver processes compounds, it doesn't give a **** if you bought it at the drug store or got it from the garden in your backyard. However, while I don't know what the interaction between some random root and your liver is, I *can* trust what it will do with melatonin which is endogenous.

    If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone with liver or kidney failure for taking herbs to "cleanse" their liver. I'm not hating on the knowledge of ancient peoples, some of that stuff worked, and sometimes that stuff *really* did have an effect on your liver and kidneys, just not quite the one they thought. Hey, bloodletting has a concrete effect on the body. There's at least one disease I can think of off the top of my head for which bloodletting is a legit treatment and still used to this day (polycythemia vera).

    Know what else is natural? Death. Strychnine. Cyanide. Deadly mushrooms. Poop. And you wouldn't eat any of that as medicine because it's "natural" (there is a use for ingesting human feces but beside the point)

    I like chamomile tea, and I think there may have been some studies about valerian root.

    But let's not pop in here like melatonin isn't "natural" and "good" because it's not an herb.

    But somehow a plant that affects your body like a drug is better than a designed and studied drug? That may well be, but not simply by virtue of growing off a ****ing tree.

    In any case, sorry, I'm not against talking about the virtues of alternative medicine, but let's not throw around terms like "all-natural" "good" "herb" like it has some hallowed meaning.
     
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  29. El-Rami

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature
     
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  30. jimmypod

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    Would just like to report, since I have just used melatonin for 3 straight days, that this morning was the first morning without any melatonin taken the night prior.

    My drowsiness is absolutely elevated, and at least in my waking moments I'm a little disoriented. Not sure how this translates to testing performance, but I would not recommend taking a test like this. Perhaps this will ease out after a little. It should be noted that I usually fell asleep between 11pm-1am with melatonin taken. Without any dosage yesterday, I fell asleep feeling very tired at around 1:45am, past my prior bedtimes while watching some youtube videos (and partially succumbing to prior lifestyle habits that led to later bedtimes). In contrast, the feeling upon waking up after taking melatonin the night before is amazing. I was very clear headed, and performed very well on practice questions.

    I can only describe taking melatonin like taking a sleep-inducing pill + caffeine, as I wake up ridiculously alert and without any issue at very early times.
     
    #29 jimmypod, Aug 17, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2015
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  31. Crayola227

    Crayola227 The Oncoming Storm
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    Yes, I recommend trying out what any combo of melatonin and caffeine or lack thereof will do ahead of time.

    With melatonin, two variables that can make a difference are dosage (which I described) but also timing. Usually should take it 1-3 hrs (usually 1-2) before intended bedtime, but everyone is different.
    As you said, my concern with taking it regularly than skipping it night of test is having a sense of rebound wakefulness, maybe you feel more awake the day of, but maybe you just don't fall asleep or sleep as deeply (which is likely before a big test no matter what) and so while you feel less melatonin-drowsiness now you feel sleep-deprived drowsiness test day.

    Thank you for doing the experiment.

    To be clear, most people who use melatonin for sleep have no problems with dependence on it for sleep the same way that happens with other medications, but as you pointed out, once you are adjusted to melatonin for sleep, like any change, there may be some adjustment once you stop taking it.

    So I disagreed with the poster about using melatonin regularly and abruptly stopping or any other change before the test, UNLESS you've done a practice run and are confident what that will do.

    I take various things for sleep, and will adjust them down before a big test, but I have a lot of experiemce with the medications and what will happen when I fiddle with them (all with the input of a physician besides myself).

    I advocate for having as regular a schedule of sleep/wake, and anything else related to sleep and alertness for the month up to the test because in general when it comes to your brain's circadian rhythms and alertness consistency seems to be key and the safest route.

    I really like psycheducation.org website as an intro to thos topic, the website author has a lot of citations of primary literature if you are interested in these topics.
     
  32. j306c954

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    Think about it...it's a high pressure, high intensity situation. The sympathetic division of your ANS will be SUPER stimulated.
     
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  33. j306c954

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    I have taken the MCAT twice already (unfortunately), and halfway through I would have some type of candy. As an athlete, I used to do this IMMEDIATELY prior to competition (I am a TKD athlete and there are three 2-minute rounds). For me, this gives me a good short-term energy boost. The energy boost is long enough to last the duration of the section, but I would only do it for the second half because you are going to crash at some point.

    I only do this now before the very last section. Gives the brain a nice dose of some good 'ol glucose :)
     
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  34. carpediem22

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    Ok I'm just gonna say it: I'm a caffeine addict. I thrive on the stuff. I also know that high levels of caffeine don't bother me so DON'T TRY THIS if you aren't addicted like me ;)

    You guys are gonna think this is crazy but on test day, I had 2 cups of coffee with breakfast, and a red bull between each section (plus nuts, fruit, etc). Yes, that means 3 red bulls. It may have even been 4, I can't remember if I took one before section 1. SO BAD

    Buuuuut kept me alert. Got a 520. Since then, I've cut to 1 cup of coffee per day. :)
     
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  35. StudyLater

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    That's what I'm worried about! It's not the "awake" part. It's the "focused" part.

    I think I'll be ok, though, all things considered. Just hope it goes by fast like my FLs (kinda) did.
     

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