As an aspiring physician who has taken some of the most challenging college-level courses, you probably know how to tame distractions while studying. So, take a deep breath. Yes, the MCAT is hard and very important, but you have the study skills, focus, and drive to ace it. All you need is a plan.
Below, we’ll show you how to study for the MCAT on your own and how to make an MCAT study schedule that works for you. Take our tips and combine them with your academic expertise and willpower, and you’ll be off to the races!
What is the MCAT?
The Medical College Admissions Test is an exam that directly influences your ability to apply and be accepted by a medical school.
The MCAT is a standardized, computer-based, multiple-choice test conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) several times a year. Your score on this test will help medical schools, to which you apply, assess your knowledge and readiness.
The test comprises four sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Each section is given a weighted score, and then, those scores are added. The highest possible total MCAT score is 528, although any number higher than the average score of all test-takers in your year is considered a good score.
Ready. Set. Go!
Before you hit the books, consider how much time you have between the day you start studying and when you take the test, and how much you can realistically do. It’s also a good idea to start by taking a full-length practice test, which will give you an idea of what the exam is like and help you set your baseline.
The following sections can then help you make your plan.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
When you take a practice test, you’ll be able to identify patterns in your results. If there are certain content areas you’re already nailing, focus your time elsewhere.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker. Half of the battle is learning how to take the exam itself. If the test takes longer than expected, manage your time well and don’t panic. Your times will come down as you practice, and it’s better to focus on studying than rushing to complete your practice exams in record time. Remember to never leave any question unanswered, even if you’re unsure. A blank is counted as an incorrect response, so roll the dice.
Take the first step: it all starts with an MCAT prep plan
Once you’ve established your baseline score and test-taking time, along with your strengths and weaknesses, you’re ready to make an MCAT study plan. Whether you’re in a rush and wondering how to study for the MCAT in three months or you have a wealth of time ahead, use the following tips to guide you:
- Aim for at least 200-300 hours of study time.
- Start preparing for the test as early as possible (in the junior year of your pre-med undergraduate studies, if you can).
- Be consistent in your studies; this hard work is only temporary.
- Give yourself enough time to absorb and understand all the materials, even if it means rescheduling your test date or taking a retest.
- Stay true to what works best for you, and ignore what doesn’t serve your process or stresses you out. Everyone is different and has distinct learning styles and strengths.
How long do you need to study for the MCAT?
If you read the recommendation of 200-300 hours of study and had to take a few deep breaths, we understand—that’s a lot of hours, especially if you’re in school, working, or both. Give yourself the time you need to spread out those hours.
Some recommend starting to prepare for the exam at least one year before you plan to enter medical school. Remember that there are a limited number of MCAT test dates, so you won’t have a clear idea of your deadline until you register for the exam.
Take some pressure off yourself by remembering if you don’t clear it the first time, you can appear for a retest, if necessary. It’s not an inexpensive process, but if you don’t perform as anticipated, you can come back stronger the second time around.
Baby steps will become strides
Set yourself up for success. Focus on fostering good study habits, and you’ll find that the little things go a long way. Here are a few quick tips that can lead to long-term results.
- Set up a study sanctuary
- Minimize distractions
- Study in short stretches at first, incrementally increasing your study time and taking quicker breaks
- Make healthy snack choices
- Answer practice questions in environments with minor distractions (such as cafes or libraries) to prepare for test day
- Wear comfortable clothes (scrubs, anyone?) that won’t rub you the wrong way
Keep calm and nail the MCAT!
Our number one piece of advice is to stay calm and be compassionate with yourself. You’re doing a lot of hard work to become a doctor, and we know you’ll greatly impact your future patients’ lives. This is a high-stress field, and all the studying and milestones leading up to your goal can feel overwhelming.
Manage your stress by biting off only what you can chew. Don’t rush yourself to meet a certain test date if it causes too much anxiety. Leave yourself ample time, track your progress and avoid getting down on yourself if you have an off day.
Need comfortable scrubs to study in? A special lucky pair for the test day, perhaps? We have everything you need to ace the most fashionable aspect of the exam.