The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is a big deal.
It's the gateway into medical school, and there is no doubt that it is a challenging exam. It is far longer and more comprehensive than other standardized tests.
So yes, the MCAT is tough, but it is not impossible - particularly when you are ready. And although it may be intimidating, with the right MCAT preparation, you will be able to conquer this exam.
From my 12 years of counseling pre-med students through the medical school admissions process, I've compiled a list of tips on how to study for the MCAT test more effectively.
These are tried-and-true methods from students who have taken this exam and received a good MCAT score.
8 Study Tips When Taking The MCAT
Below are 8 study tips that have been curated specifically for MCAT preparation, and directly relate to the learning process that is needed to succeed in the MCAT.
Learn About the Exam
The first thing you want to do is to learn everything you possibly can about the exam. You don't want to have any surprises on exam day.
Learning what topics, skills, concepts, and disciplines are on the MCAT test is critical for future medical students.
For example, you will want to understand that the MCAT exam is comprised of four sections :
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
You should read about each of those sections and understand how your undergraduate pre-requisite courses (biology, organic chemistry, physics, etc.) are related to each of them.
Find Out How Much You Know
The next step is to get a good understanding of your starting point.
This will identify your strengths and weaknesses in all the exam areas. You will see how close or far from your desired MCAT scores you are.
Additionally, a practice test will explain your incorrect answers and show you which concepts and disciplines deserve your added attention.
You can then plan your future study accordingly - spending more time on your weak areas and less effort where you are already strong.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to take the Associate of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) free practice test .
Since this is the organization that creates this medical school admissions test, you can be confident that this test will give you a solid baseline from which to work.
Create a Timeline
Of course, you want to give yourself enough time to study to get a high score. Most successful pre-med students start working on their MCAT prep three to six months before the test.
During this period, you should plan to spend about 300 hours studying. It sounds like a lot of time, but remember that this is the hardest of all standardized tests, and medical schools only accept MCAT scores that are top tier.
You are probably smarter than me. But it doesn't matter. While you are goofing around, I'm gonna be studying, and I'm gonna catch you.” ― Peter Rogers MD
Importantly, you should not do all this study at once or at the last minute. Instead, you should break up the time into routine, regular, and manageable chunks - a couple of hours every day.
You want to make a timeline with realistic goals based on your personal situation. For instance, if you are a full-time employee and have small children, you may have less daily time for dedicated study than a traditional student.
But don't let this discourage you. Long study periods can actually be counterproductive.
Create a Plan
Next, you need to figure out what you will have to practice and learn to score well on the MCAT.
You should dedicate time to the areas that are most commonly tested and then make a study schedule that focuses on them.
You should allocate appropriate practice and study time to each subtest on the MCAT, focusing more effort on your weaker subjects than on your best ones.
Your plan should ensure that you remain well-acquainted with all the material from your coursework that is relevant to the MCAT.
The more detail you're familiar with, the easier it will be for you to identify which areas need more time.
Study in the Way That Works for You
Everyone is different, but there is one universal rule with MCAT prep - study, study, study. That is the time-honored way to get into med school.
However, how and when you study is up to you. After all, you have successfully studied "your" way in school, so be very careful before throwing out a working method for something new.
For example, when it comes to study schedules, some people find it best to study for the MCAT early in the morning, and others do better in the afternoon or evening.
Some do better in a solo effort, where others find a study group or study buddy helpful. This helps keep them accountable, gives you reinforcements when needed, and allows both of you to celebrate your joint triumphs and individual successes.
Some people prefer to use online test prep resources or apps, while some prefer a physical textbook or even a class from a test prep company.
The important thing is knowing what study materials work best for you and then sticking with them when studying for the MCAT exam.
Take Practice Exams Often
Full-length practice tests are one of the highest yield methods of study for this med school entry test.
Although you cannot expect to see exact questions on the real test day that you have done in practice, taking practice tests will give you a feel for what is important on the MCAT, how questions are worded, and how long it takes to work through them.
By taking full-length practice exams, you also get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses - and can use this information to tailor your future study and approach real MCAT tests with confidence.
Ensure that after taking the practice exam, you look at the explanations for any questions you get wrong. This way, you are automatically studying a weak area and learning from your mistakes.
You should also skim the correct answers to ensure you understand them and did not just have a lucky guess.
Full-length tests are truly the test strategy that can make the most impact on your mean MCAT score.
Focus on Weak Areas
You should study your weak areas first and return to review the stronger ones during your test prep.
Many students study the material first and then do practice problems and MCAT practice questions as part of their daily study schedule.
At the same time, you should not get bogged down if something isn't clicking. Simply make a note and come back to it in a couple of days.
One of the benefits of students creating a defined study timeline and plan for their MCAT exams is that they have time to circle back on weak spots after giving the brain a chance to rest.
It's likely that after reviewing it a few more times or trying a different method of studying, you'll get the hang of it before you have to take the full-length exam.
Understand - Don’t Memorize
Don’t try to memorize material word-for-word—instead, figure out which concepts are important and keep those in mind.
Certainly, facts and figures are not insignificant when it comes to an average MCAT score.
Still, their value is nothing compared to thoroughly understanding the ideas behind the material you need to learn.
You need to be able to quickly analyze how a given piece of information relates to the other aspects of the question and how they all fit together.
Most medical schools are looking for students who use systematization to help break down complex ideas into more digestible parts.
Studying for the MCAT
Studying for this test can be grueling and time-consuming. So, turn off your phone, laptop, and anything that you think is more interesting than studying and put it out of sight.
Reducing your distractions and using these tips to study for the MCAT test in a way that is smarter, not harder, you will be able to do well on the MCAT without sacrificing all of your free time for the exam.
By following these steps, you'll be well-prepared and confident when the actual test day arrives. You'll feel less stressed about the exam because you will know what to expect and will have studied efficiently and effectively.
And walking into the test with well-earned confidence on your MCAT test date will help you get the score you want for your medical school of choice.