“Here are our top 10 tips to streamline your MCAT prep.
These will help you make the most of the hundreds of hours you’ll spend studying.”
It’s very common to see students just tack on MCAT studying to their full-time jobs and/or school obligations, and this is likely the number one reason why students either unexpectedly extend their MCAT prep or repeat their MCAT studying. Consider making arrangements with your job so that you have larger chunks of time for studying, or choose to study for the MCAT when you’ve got a lighter course load. Additionally, make mental space; it’s tough studying for the MCAT when you’ve got really challenging courses you need to study for at the same time. Finally, you need space for yourself. It’s not healthy to be always on the go!
On the other spectrum are students who clear their schedule and only study for the MCAT. This type of student is often plagued with guilt any time they’re not studying, possibly because they (or their support system) have had to make sacrifices to do so. It’s not reasonable to expect yourself to study 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Treat it like a full-time job, and make sure there are breaks and days off. For example, consider adding some time volunteering to help with your application. Also, sleep is NOT a break but a necessity, like eating.
Be honest with yourself. Does your tried-and-true “make flashcards for everything” technique really work? Does reading a chapter and taking extensive notes actually help you with understanding content? The MCAT is very different from your undergraduate classes. Be honest with what works for you, and be open to changing comfortable study techniques so that you’re always working towards progress.
Planning is helpful for a number of reasons:
- a) You won’t waste time figuring out what to do every time you sit down to study
- b) You stay on track with timelines, which is really important for test-dates and application deadlines; and
- c) It gives you a sense of progress beyond just the percentages you get from quizzes and practice tests.
Also, make the blocks specific, attainable, and have a time-limit. A block that says “Optics” isn’t quite enough—how do you know when you’re done? Instead, make your tasks like this: “Monday 9-10am: Watch this video on optics, take notes” or “Block 3 (1 hour): Memorize these equations, then do these 10 practice questions and review.”
Nothing feels worse than spending time and effort studying a topic in great detail, only to find out that the MCAT doesn’t really ask for those details, or you need to think about the topic in a different way. Get your hands on as much MCAT practice questions you can, and use them not for assessment purposes, but to help you see what details you’re missing, and to practice test-taking strategies outside of practice tests. With Kaplan’s MCAT Adaptive Qbank, you get access to over 2000 questions that adapt to your performance along with in-depth explanations.
A 7+ hour test is no joke! Just like you don’t just decide to run a marathon one day, taking the MCAT without having built up stamina is a bad idea. Similarly, prepping by running a full marathon every day of race week will only burn you out. Start those practice tests early to give yourself a chance to build up endurance, and space them out (ideally once a week!) so that you’re gaining the maximum benefit from the review process.
Bulldozing your way through as much practice as you can will help to a certain extent, but savvy test-takers will spend equal amounts of time (if not more!) reviewing the explanations, memorizing, and thinking about different ways to connect the content to the questions. The review process will help you generate appropriate takeaways so that you’re not making the same mistake again!
The beginning of your MCAT journey can seem overwhelming if you consider the vast array of topics in each section. However, it’s not all equally tested, and it’s rather rare for the MCAT to require a lot of detail for a particular topic. Shortcut your work by doing some digging into what is important for the MCAT, instead of studying all topics with equal emphasis. Your undergraduate textbooks are just too packed with details, which will waste your time and efforts. Get your hands on material specifically made for the most recent version of the MCAT.
Medical schools have a huge range in MCAT score requirements, making it tricky to have just one set goal score for everyone. AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) lets you search and compare information about U.S. and Canadian medical schools. Your goal score will help you make decisions like how long you should be studying, what test-date you should be aiming for, how many hours per week you should set aside, and when you’re ready to take the MCAT. Consider this your “one and done” MCAT.
Don’t walk into the test day and hope that you get lucky. If your practice test scores don’t indicate that you’re within range of your goal score, you’re not ready. Remember, even though schools use one score, they see all the scores on record, so there’s no sense in taking the test when you know you’re not going to get something that will help you get into medical school.