In case you haven’t heard, on Thursday, the AAMC announced that registration for January-June 2019 test dates has opened.
On that day and the days that followed – as if trying to get tickets to Coachella or a Drake concert – countless pre-medical students jumped onto their computers to register.
For most, registering early serves two major purposes:
1. Peace of mind: you have a spot in case your preferred exam date and location fills up early.
2. Motivation: nothing motivates you to study more than an exam that is fast approaching.
But should you rush into signing up for an exam date so far ahead? Does doing so really serve these purposes?
If you try to register for the January 18, 2019 exam date (first exam date of the year), you might have a tough time finding the time or test center you want.
Check what’s available in Berkeley right now: nothing.
Such a sight can make you think that your first rendezvous with the MCAT might not go as planned.
When most students see this, they end up registering for a random exam date or test center far away because none are available at a time and place they most desire.
I know of students living in Berkeley who had to travel as far as Oklahoma to take the most important exam of their lives.
Although there are many lovely reasons to visit Oklahoma one day, you don’t need to follow their example.
I don’t think you need to rush to sign up for an exam date because you fear or don’t see availability.
There’s a secret about MCAT registration that the AAMC doesn’t want you to know: nearly all exam dates at every test center open up at the deadlines to cancel or reschedule because many already-registered students cancel or reschedule their exam last minute.
Once a seat is rescheduled or cancelled by someone already registered, that seat immediately becomes available again.
Why do so many students cancel or reschedule last minute? Most students are simply not ready to take the exam they scheduled for.
School, work, procrastination, preparing the wrong way and many other factors contribute to rescheduling or even cancelling their scheduled exam. This realization comes to already-registered students on the day they must decide.
Remember being a freshman planning when you’d take your pre-med courses years ahead? For most, that plan changed in some way. Life happens. Predicting what we will do 3-6 months from now is a huge challenge. And when to take the MCAT is no different.
After years of assisting thousands of students, I have come to realize that the AAMC makes a lot of money off this circumstance.
The fees to cancel or reschedule cost about $100 or more. I believe that nearly one-third or more of the students registered for the Jan 18, 2019 exam will end up paying those fees (this is all a guess as the AAMC does not provide any data on this). I base it purely off the fact that most testing spots are wide open at the deadlines.
My recommendation to anyone who has FOMO is to be patient. Everything opens up at the deadlines. Be vigilant and check on the day or up to a week prior to deadlines.
Trust this and don’t give in until you find the exact day and location you want.
I recommend this because it gives you room to breathe. In case you want to take the exam in March – you now have that option. You don’t have to pay outrageous fees, stress over where to take the exam or waste time and energy on this process.
But what about the motivation that registering early provides?
For most students, knowing their exam is coming up can definitely motivate them to study. But for some, this external motivation may actually do more harm than good. It could cause anxiety and lead to procrastination.
The MCAT is a marathon. Not a race. You have to sacrifice a lot of time and energy in order to prepare. On some weeks, you may not be able to study as much as you’d like which often times leads to feelings of guilt.
If you lose a week of studying you may feel more guilt when you’re already scheduled to take the exam compared to when you don’t know exactly when you will take it. That guilt can overwhelm students who may try to “catch up” on some weeks – leading to burnout.
Delaying the MCAT a couple of weeks or months is totally fine.
Registering for the MCAT should not be your only motivation to study in the first place. Make an internal goal and try to stick to it. As long as you make the MCAT a priority, an external stimulus like scheduling for it three or more months in advance is not necessary.
Study until you are happy with your abilities. When that day comes, register for the exam a month ahead. This should excite you and keep you confident!
Of course, for many students the benefits of registering early outweigh the risks. At the end of the day, it’s your decision.
But I don’t think the registration process is as important as people make it to be.