One of the most common misconceptions about preparing for the MCAT is that there’s one perfect MCAT study schedule which all medical school applicants should follow. Beyond the AAMC’s guidelines of spending approximately 300 hours studying, there is no one right way to study and no one right schedule that will work for everyone. There are, however, a variety of tried and true study schedules that you can adapt to meet your own unique study needs.
Let’s talk about a few of them based on study timelines so you can find the one that works best for you.
The Long-Term Planner
Who: If you’re a sophomore looking to get a jump on MCAT studying, or if you’ve graduated and are trying to study while you work a full-time job, the long-term plan may be the right option for you. Basically, it’s an ideal schedule for anyone who is planning to study over the course of a year or more.
Building your study schedule: In the long-term plan, maybe you set aside one or two days per week for MCAT studying. You do that for a few months or maybe even a year to build a solid content base. Then, as you get closer to your anticipated test date, ramp up your studying by taking practice tests and studying for a few hours a day at least four days per week.
Things to consider: It can be difficult to maintain your momentum when you spread your studying out over a year or more. Make sure to hold yourself accountable to your study schedule and set dates to check in on your progress. A self-paced study package with long-term access to study resources is an ideal match for the long-term planner.
The Average MCAT Studier
Who: Juniors who are thinking of taking the MCAT at the end of a semester and have a lighter class schedule should consider a more middle-of-the-road approach. This is also the correct study schedule for someone who is allotting six months or fewer to their studying timeline. An MCAT class that runs two or three days per week can be highly compatible with a middle-of-the-road MCAT schedule.
Building your study schedule: With this schedule, you’ve got some obligations to work around first. Build your MCAT schedule to fit between your classes or work schedule. Typically, you’d end up having three to five days per week in which you work on MCAT material for several hours. If you can sustain this for a few months, you’ll be set to study more intensively as your exam date gets closer.
Things to consider: It’s easier to say that you’ll study for the MCAT while you simultaneously study for your classes than to actually do it. We’ve watched many students start with grand plans and get overwhelmed by midterms and finals. Make sure that you’ve got a lighter class load if you’re planning to layer MCAT studying on top of your regular classes.
The Fast and Furious Studier
Who: This is the right strategy if you’re looking to take the MCAT over the summer. This is also the right study schedule if your plan is limited to a period of three months or less. The MCAT Summer Intensive Program is built around a short study period and is an excellent model for high-impact studying.
Building your study schedule: You go all-in with MCAT studying. This is a six-day per week, multiple-hours per day MCAT-fest. You start building in your practice tests early and often. You eat, sleep, and breathe the MCAT… within reason of course!
Things to consider: When you go the fast and furious approach, it’s easy to get burnt out. You want to make sure that even though you’re studying on an intense schedule, you still make time for friends, family, and relaxation.
Who: This is someone who has attempted prepping for the MCAT in the past, but ran into some issues. Study plans frequently get thrown off by family troubles, health difficulties, work struggles or other unforeseen time constraints, and it’s important to have a fresh approach to get your MCAT studying back on track
Building your study schedule: First of all, you need to make sure that you have addressed the issue that derailed your MCAT studying the first time around. You then want to scrap your original study plan and start fresh. A new approach will help reinvigorate your studying and help you prep for success.
Things to consider: Sometimes it can be really disheartening to start MCAT studying again, especially if you felt you were making good progress last time and now you’re starting all over again. Work on keeping your spirits up and try not to focus on your progress relative to the last time you studied. You want to embark on this journey fresh and ready to conquer the MCAT!
Your timeline is only one variable in considering how to build your study schedule. You can also choose how you study based on the extent to which you’ll need to improve performance over your diagnostic test score. You can then plan your timeline around the need for improvement and adjust it as you progress through the material. As mentioned, there’s no one right way! How are you going to build your study schedule?