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Top 10 MCAT Study Tips

If you’re looking for MCAT study tips, then you are in the right place! Here’s some advice to help you parcel out your time and use it to reach your best MCAT score. Remember, it’s never too early to start studying. Let’s get into it!

Top 10 MCAT study tips

1. Take a practice test

Let’s start simple. Before you can really start to prepare, you have to understand what you need to study. So, start by taking a full practice test. What sections did you do well on? What sections did you do poorly on? It can be time consuming to start this way, but it is crucial to understand where you’re at and what you need to focus on most. There are free practice tests available, including from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). 

2. Understand the MCAT sections

It’s great to take a practice test, but your results only mean something if you understand what topics each section covers. There are four sections to the test:

  • 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

Get to know what each of these sections entails and what you should be studying for each section.

3. Make a schedule 

The next best thing you can do is make a study plan. It may be tempting to make a schedule right off the bat that has you studying eight hours a day and starting your studying by 6AM each day. However, that plan may work for a day, maybe even two, but it’s likely not sustainable. Start small and work your way up. A more sustainable schedule may look like studying 3 hours a day during the week and on the weekends spending time doing practice tests on Saturday and taking a rest day on Sundays. Make sure your schedule is doable! 

4. Focus on quality over quantity

It can be tempting to want to study a high number of questions, but if you’re not actually digesting the information, it won’t help you much. Focus on completing a practice question and then understanding the answer to the question. It’s much more beneficial to get through thirty quality questions rather than  a hundred questions very quickly and retain nothing. 

5. Know your test date

Knowing how far out you are from your test is crucial to knowing how much you need to study and at what pace. You should aim to sign up for a test date that gives you ample time to study. For some people, this may mean scheduling a date three months in advance, while for others this may mean no less than six months. Pick a date that gives you plenty of room to study and prepare!

6. Create a “goal” score

Similar to knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are on the MCAT, you should have an idea of what score you are aiming for. You need to have a goal to know whether you are making progress, if you need to increase your study habits, or whether your current study plan is doing just what it needs to be. Aiming for a perfect score is a noble pursuit, but it’s likely not plausible, nor is it likely needed. Look at the average MCAT scores for the schools you’re applying to. Then, create a goal that is based on those numbers and see how your practice scores stack up next to your peers.

7. Simulate the real test

The best way to prepare for a situation is to simulate the experience and become as familiar with it as possible. The actual MCAT lasts roughly about seven and a half hours. During that time, you will be given optional short breaks, but you won’t be able to do much during those breaks. So, this means that you should take practice tests where you sit for the duration of a full test and complete the same number of questions in the allotted time frames. 

8. Invest in good study materials

The materials that you use to study will be a crucial part of your MCAT success. Make sure that you have up to date materials with the most recent information. Outdated information may cause you to do poorly on the actual test, which would be an unfortunate situation to be in after investing so much time into the process. However, big changes are not often made to the MCAT from year to year. This means that you won’t need the absolute newest editions of books. This simply means that you should be aware of the last time updates were made to the MCAT. If no major changes have been made in the past several years, then you can likely get away with also using study materials that are from a few years ago as well. Companies like Mometrix, Kaplan and The Princeton Review frequently update their study materials.

9. Get creative with your time

Getting creative with your study time can be a really smart way to squeeze in just a few minutes of extra studying time each day. 

  • Download an app on your phone and commit the time you may normally spend on social media to studying instead
  • Carry flashcards with you at all times and pull them out whenever you have a few minutes 
  • If you enjoy unwinding by watching a TV show, keep some flashcards with you and squeeze in an extra question or two during commercials or even swap some of your music out for podcasts about the MCAT 

Every little bit of studying can help! 

10. Use all available resources

Resources like textbooks, quizlets, and other apps are obvious, but don’t forget about the resources you may have through your community as well. If you’re currently in college, check to see if there are any MCAT study groups at your college. If there aren’t, but you know others who are also planning for the MCAT, start your own group! Having others to go through the process with can be a huge help. If you need help sticking to a study schedule, ask friends or your family to hold you to it by sending them your schedule and having them text you or check in on you. 

Closing thoughts

Preparing for the MCAT is a lot of work. Studying is certainly not easy, but it is only for a short period of time. Start assessing your timeline today and create a study schedule as soon as you can. Don’t forget that it’s also never too early to start looking for medical school scholarships in your free time as well! The more wisely you use your time the more you can prepare and set yourself up for success! You’ve got this!

Additional resources

This can be such an exciting and scary time in your medical school journey. Check out our other resources to help you through every step of the way, including how to pay for medical school, how to get into medical school with a low GPA, or even how to attend medical school for free!

Next Steps

Next Steps

  • If you haven’t signed up for a test date you should either find a date to sign up for, or estimate when you think you will need to take your test in order to have your scores in time to apply to medical school applications on time
  • Once you have a date, or a timeline in mind, begin to budget what time you realistically have in your schedule to study. This may require you to sacrifice parts of your social life or other commitments in order to make that time to study
  • Find materials that work for you and take advantage of any resources that you have around you that can help you prepare for this test, including using friends and family to hold you accountable to your study schedule
  • Finally, it’s time to put your study plan into action and start studying to ace the MCAT and hit that goal score!
Next Steps

Frequently asked questions about how to study for the MCAT

How long should you take to study for the MCAT?

In general, students will spend between 200-300 hours studying for the MCAT. For some students who can dedicate all their time to studying this may be doable in a period of 2-3 months, but for others who may be working, or still taking classes, this may take them well into six months to complete. This is why it is important to start thinking about the MCAT well before you take it.

Is studying three hours a day enough for the MCAT?

Similar to the previous question, it depends on the person. If you plan to study three hours a day for the next 4-5 months, that should be a fine schedule. However, if your test is in a month or two weeks, you’ll likely need to hit the books much harder in order to feel prepared.

What is the best method to study for the MCAT?

The best study method for the MCAT is the method that works best for you. Some students may learn best by taking constant practice tests and reviewing their answers, both right and wrong. Others may enjoy going through hours of flashcards, watching YouTube videos while taking notes, reading through MCAT test prep textbooks, or a mix of all the things we’ve mentioned. Try out a couple different methods when you first start studying to see what works best for you. You’re going to be spending a few hundred hours using these methods, so a mix of them may need to be utilized.