Congratulations on getting started on your MCAT preparation. Planning out the next six months to best maximize your time and not fall into the trap of procrastination is going to be key in your success on the MCAT. Even with six months to prepare, you will need to put aside a good chunk of study each week to attain a competitive score on the MCAT. Let’s take a look at how the next six months should shape up for you.
First thing to consider is that this is a long term plan. Since you are just starting out, now is not the time to jump into taking Full Length exams – don’t worry, that will come soon enough. As we think about the next six months, we should think about the big picture first. In the early months you are going to want to spend more time reviewing content (with a little practice) and slowly, and consistently, ramp up to spending more time practicing (with a little content review). The MCAT does not solely reward you for your content knowledge – it rewards your ability to apply the content, and that is what differentiates test takers from each other.
Before you get started, you’ll need to gather together your study materials. Here is our recommended list:
Reviewing the official information in the Essentials Guide is a required step before registering for the MCAT, and it’s full of helpful information about test logistics, content, and timing. This is a great place to get started.
The MCAT offers two full-length online tests for purchase through their website. The Sample Test is unscored, providing only correct/incorrect and an unscaled percentage. The Practice Test is timed and represents the complete MCAT test experience, including a scaled score and percentile ranking.
Two different packages of practice questions are available from the AAMC web site. The Official MCAT Section Bank has 300 practice questions in three section packs (natural sciences, behavioral sciences, and social sciences). The Official MCAT Question Packs have passages and questions from retired MCAT tests covering Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS).
If you’re in need of extra practice or targeted content review while studying for the MCAT, Kaplan’s MCAT Prep Packs can help you review the content, questions, and full-lengths you need to improve your score.
With Kaplan’s MCAT books, you not only get the printed resources that cover the subject matter from all the test sections but also access to three full-length practice tests online and additional science videos. The book set is worthwhile for these tests alone, since they provide realistic practice that includes scaled scores and percentiles for each section as well as detailed explanations for every question. Additionally, Kaplan’s MCAT 528 Advanced Prep Book and Online Resources will give you more preparation.
- Online calendar
An online calendar can be a great tool for keeping track of and accessing your personal study plan from almost any location. Plus, you can share your calendar with others so they know your schedule and can help you stay on track.
When you only have a few minutes to study, a set of flashcards can be a great tool. Kaplan provides both a boxed set of applicable flashcards for the current MCAT, plus a downloadable Flashcard App for studying on the go.
If you’re daunted by the idea of studying completely on your own, as well as the challenge of making a complete study schedule, consider taking a class such as Kaplan’s MCAT Prep. Live and online sessions cover the strategies and skills needed to succeed on the MCAT, and the course’s study plan helps you determine what you should study, when to take practice tests, and how to pull it all together for Test Day.
Now that you have your materials, it’s time to assess your strengths and weaknesses. The best way to do this is to take a diagnostic MCAT. This way you can build out a strategic attack for the next six month. After taking your diagnostic, you will want to build out a “Why I Missed It” sheet, that tracks your performance on that first exam, and one that you will want to continue to add to over the course of your studies. Here is a sample with instructions.
Sample “Why I Missed It” Sheet
As you review your practice, it helps to track the questions you have missed so you can quickly identify content gaps or patterned behavior for remediation. The more practice you complete, the more apparent your areas of opportunity will become, so you can target your ongoing content review and skills development on the activities that will boost your score the most.
|Exam||Section||Question #||Passage Based?||Content/Type||Why I missed it?|
|EXAMPLE: Kaplan Full-Length #1||Chem/Phys||5||Yes||Carbohydrates||Didn’t know the content|
If you are already feeling overwhelmed, now might be the time to check our comprehensive MCAT program, as it is designed to give you the most personalized study experience for your MCAT preparation.
In the first month, you will also want to start building out your MCAT study schedule. Ideally, you will want to map out each week, with a variety of topics covered, this way you are spreading out your content review and practice.
Here is a recommended schedule:
|Biology, Biochemistry, and CARS||General Chemistry and CARS||Organic Chemistry and CARS||Physics and CARS||Psychology and Sociology and CARS||Revisit problem areas and modify Study Plan||Day off|
In your second month, you will want to continue your content review, but begin to incorporate a little more practice – remember, the more you practice, the better you will retain the content and the more second nature it will become for you. You can start using Kaplan’s Adaptive MCAT Qbank to get customized quizzes that fulfill your prep needs. This is also the time to begin building your passage reading and questions answering skills.
Your primary goal for this month is to complete your initial content review. Sure you are going to review content as you progress, but you want the bulk to be completed now, so you are only revisiting topics as necessary in the future as opposed to trying to cram content review in at the last minute. You will want to incorporate even more practice, pivoting to longer quizzes that target some of your weaker areas. If there is science content that is still weak, be sure to brush up on it now, so you have plenty of time to practice with it as you move towards test day. At the end of this month, you will want to take your first Full-length exam, but even more importantly, you will want to schedule at three days to review your full-length (and track it on your Why I Missed It Sheet). In reviewing the first full-length, you will uncover your areas of opportunity, and that is where you are going to want to pivot to next.
At the beginning of this month, you will want to start to take section length exams, followed by another full-length in the middle of the month to continue building your critical thinking and test taking skills. You will want to review this new full-length exam to further identify where you should place your focus. All the while practicing in your areas of opportunity will continue to build your overall MCAT test taking skills.
This month is going to look a lot like month 4, but now you are going to be getting into a rhythm. You are going to want to start taking one full-length exam at least every 10 days (or take one per week if you want to get more in before test day), and continuing reviewing the full-lengths to hone in on your areas of opportunity, and follow that up with practice.
The MCAT is right around the corner – this is the home stretch. You will want to take one full-length exam per week (or so) but no more than that so you have plenty of time to review them. This is also when you will want to adjust your sleeping patterns, so you are ready to wake up on time on test day! Continue to focus on your areas of opportunity, but don’t get bogged down in every single topic. Focus on the higher yield topics.
The last week is critical – ideally, your last full length exam will be on the same day of the week you are taking the actual MCAT, just a week earlier. Once again, start the week by taking and reviewing your practice test, looking over every question and using the results to modify your study plan if needed.
- Early in the week, take the AAMC Practice Test available from aamc.org. Set aside time to review the test as well.
- For your remaining few days, spend time reviewing the content areas that were your biggest opportunities on your last full-length test. If you’ve never truly mastered a topic, though, now is not the time to attempt to learn it. Instead, focus on the material that you struggled with the first time through but that you think you can master given just a little more time.
- If you have time, travel to the testing center first to ensure you know how to get to the correct building, where to park, and which room your test will be in. Having all these logistics out of the way will help reduce your stress on Test Day—and ensure you aren’t late!
- Take the day before the test completely off; your brain needs to rest before the marathon of test-taking to come! Eat healthy, balanced meals and get a full night of rest so you are mentally and physically prepared for Test Day. On the day of the MCAT, wake up with plenty of time to spare, and be sure to eat breakfast before leaving to give your brain the fuel it needs.
Sample last week calendar:
|AAMC Practice Test||Test Review and Study Planning for Final Week||Final Content Review||Final Content Review, Visit Test Center||Final Content Review||Day off||Test Day|
With this plan, you should be well on your way to success on Test Day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I don’t feel ready” but there is also the reality of burnout. You have been studying for this exam for six months, it is never going to feel complete, but with that much dedication, you should feel confident that you’ve got this!