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When To Start Studying For The MCAT For The Best Results

July 14, 2022
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When to Start Studying for the MCATPreparationStudy MethodsMCAT Study PlanMimic Testing ConditionsAnalyze Practice TestsFAQs: When to Start Studying for the MCAT

”Akhil

Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 7/14/22

“How early should I study for the MCAT?” is a common question among med school hopefuls. Read on to learn when you should start studying for the MCAT and how to build an effective study strategy.

You’ve graduated from university, and now you’ve set your sights on medical school. You’ve picked your dream school, and now there’s just one hurdle: the MCAT. The MCAT is an intense exam that assesses your preparedness for the medical field. High MCAT scores can boost your chances of acceptance.

So, how does one prepare for a test so monumental? You’re probably wondering when to start studying for the MCAT. Studying for this exam seems intimidating, but we’ve devised an excellent study guide to help you prepare. Read on to learn how early you should study for the MCAT and other helpful tips.

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When to Start Studying for the MCAT

So, how early should you start studying for the MCAT? The answer depends on your test date and how much preparation you feel you need. The absolute earliest you should take the MCAT is in the summer of your sophomore year. If that sounds like something you want to do, we’d recommend you start studying in the spring. 

However, remember that your MCAT scores are valid at most institutions for three years after you take the test. If you’re planning on taking a gap year, you should push back your test date until at least the end of your junior year. 

If you want to allow yourself the standard three to six months to study for the MCAT, here’s when you should begin studying based on your test date: 

Table outlining when students should begin preparing for the MCAT depending on the month they sit the exam

These dates are based on the AAMC’s MCAT test date schedule. Remember to evaluate your med school timeline before you take the MCAT, so your scores are valid when you apply. 

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Preparation

To give yourself the best chance at passing the MCAT, you must create a plan that suits your needs. There is no one perfect plan because every student is different and approaches exams differently. We’ll outline how best to prepare below. 

Infographic outlining how you should begin preparing for the MCAT once you've decided when to sit the exam

Start the Process as Early as Possible

The best way to prepare is to start as early as possible. At this point, you’ve probably taken all prerequisite courses. Did you retain the information you learned? 

The best way to retain information is to continue assessing course material long after you’ve passed a class. Unfortunately, you won’t succeed if you only memorize facts to pass and then immediately what you’ve learned. It can be hard to stay motivated after you’ve aced your courses, but fully absorbing course material will help in the long run. 

If you haven’t kept up with your studies, don’t panic just yet. Once you’ve chosen an MCAT test date, do your best to study all your materials. Pay close attention to the areas where you struggle, but don’t neglect the areas in which you thrive. 

Take a Practice Test

You can always take a practice test to see what the MCAT is like. Practice tests are a great way to gauge your progress before taking the actual exam. They help highlight any weaknesses and show you areas where you can improve. 

Taking practice tests is also a great way to save money. Registering for the MCAT costs $325, so you should take it when you’re sure you’re ready. 

Set a Target Score

The MCAT is divided into four sections to test your preparedness for medical school. 

Scores range from 472-578, with 500 being the average passing score. You should set your target score according to the requirements of the schools you want to apply to. A stellar MCAT score depends on your school list. 

Don’t be discouraged if you score below your target score in the practice exam. We recommend starting the process early to give yourself plenty of time to reach your goal. If you score low on the practice exam, you’ll need to spend more time studying before you’re ready for the exam. 

Study Methods

Every student tackles exams differently. You may benefit from study groups, whereas others prefer to study alone. The MCAT can be daunting, but you should approach it like any other exam. Choose the best study method for you, or try a combination of these study methods. 

  1. Look over your notes. This provides a refresher course on the information you might have forgotten as the years passed. Review your notes from science courses.
  1. Condense varying information on flashcards to quiz yourself. Carry them with you wherever you go to incorporate practice throughout your day. You could also have someone else quiz you. This adds a level of pressure you don’t have when you study alone and will show how you handle that pressure.
  1. Don’t just focus on science and math. The MCAT tests your critical thinking, so ensure you incorporate some critical thinking practices in your study sessions. How much should you study for the MCAT sections? It depends on your familiarity and proficiency; you can devote more time to one section if needed. 
  1. You can sign up for one-on-one MCAT tutoring. Personalized, private MCAT tutoring can help you pinpoint your weaknesses and rectify them with the support of an expert tutor. 

These are just a few methods to help you study, but every student is different. What works for them might not work for you. It’s up to you to decide the best study method for yourself. 

Length of Study Time

You’ve decided on your study methods and know when to start studying for the MCAT. But how long should you study? Like study methods, the answer to how long you should study for this exam varies from student to student and when your test date is. 

The best way to determine how much time you should spend studying for the MCAT is to take a practice test and see how well you do. If you get close to your target score, you know you’re decently prepared and can perhaps spend less time studying than others. However, this doesn’t mean you should stop studying entirely. 

We recommend that students spend around three months studying for the MCAT, about 10-15 hours weekly. Remember, your test date can help you decide when you should begin preparing for the MCAT. 

MCAT Study Plan

The best way to prepare for the MCAT is to map out a plan. You want to start this process as early as possible because studying as you go is less stressful than cramming the week before your scheduled test. 

  1. Refresh yourself with your notes. These concepts provide a solid foundation for MCAT topics. If you’ve taken detailed notes throughout your undergraduate career, they can make studying easier! 
  1. Decide your target score and take a practice exam. This will let you know how well you understand the test’s content. Some practice exams may explain answers if you pick the incorrect response. 
  1. Take your time with the first practice test. We understand that the real MCAT is a timed exam, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself on your first try. Ensure you have time to think before choosing an answer. 
  1. Remember to take breaks. This exam covers a wide range of information, and overloading your brain can cause you to forget some things, not to mention burnout. 
  1. Take practice exams to gauge your progress. Fortunately, the practice exams are around the same difficulty level as the actual MCAT, so you’ll know how the questions are asked. They’re an excellent way to measure how well you’re doing and if you need to change study strategies.

As with study methods, your plan might differ from other students. Remember, different plans work for different people. If it works for you, stick with it!

Mimic Testing Conditions

Once you’re familiar with practice exams, you should mimic testing conditions. The test is broken down into:

The MCAT will take you seven and a half hours to finish. Once you start, you want to treat it like the real thing to assess your time management skills. Set a timer and only take the three breaks allowed to give the most accurate reading. 

If you cannot complete a section within the time constraints, you know you should devote more time to studying that section. Practice tests are time-consuming, but they are valuable for acclimating to the MCAT’s structure and delivery. 

Analyze Practice Tests

Once you complete practice tests, continue to analyze your results and see if there are areas you’re struggling with. Your results can dictate your study habits and what content you focus on. 

Don’t just take the practice exam and forget about it once you’ve reached your target score. Use your results as a study guide to prepare for the real thing, especially in areas where you know you can improve.

Remember to continue practicing the areas you do well in too. You don’t want to focus so much energy on your incorrect answers that you neglect areas you’re proficient in. It’s all about balance!

FAQs: When to Start Studying for the MCAT

Still wondering, “When should I start studying for the MCAT?” Read on to have your questions answered. 

When Can I Take the MCAT?

You can take the MCAT whenever you feel prepared, but most recommend taking the exam as early as possible. Aim to take the exam during your junior year of college, so you have time to potentially retake it if needed. 

Should I Start Studying for the MCAT in Freshman Year?

While you certainly won’t know all of the information on the MCAT this early on, you can spend time reviewing course content starting in freshman year. Focus on taking good notes that you can carry throughout the years, and test yourself regularly on what you’ve learned. 

Should I start studying for the MCAT in high school?

You will always benefit from getting a head start on your studies. Though you won’t get an in-depth education on biology and chemistry in high school, learning the basics early will set a strong foundation for college. You can also use your free time in high school to figure out the best study methods to better prepare you for studying for the MCAT. 

Is Three Months Enough to Study for the MCAT?

Generally, three months is enough time to study for the MCAT. However, you may need more or less time depending on how often you’re studying weekly and how much you want to improve. 

Is Four Months Enough Time to Study for the MCAT? 

We recommend spending at least three months studying for the MCAT to pass, so four months of study time is probably enough, depending on how much time you devote to studying weekly. 

Can I Prepare for the MCAT in One Month?

Studying for the MCAT in one month would be very challenging but not impossible. If you’re proficient in MCAT content and have regularly assessed your materials throughout your undergraduate career, it may be possible (although not recommended). 

If you’re wondering how to prepare for the MCAT in one month, you’ll need to devote a lot of time each week to review; we recommend giving yourself more time. 

How Do You Improve Your MCAT Score?

The best way to improve your MCAT score is to take full-length practice tests to get used to the testing format. You could also devote more time to studying or try different study methods to see if they help improve your understanding. 

Can I Take the MCAT Without Studying?

It would be nearly impossible to pass the MCAT without studying. To take the MCAT without studying would be a waste of your time and money. Some might be fortunate enough to pass the exam without studying, but why take that risk? 

Before I Take the MCAT, How Many Practice Tests Should I Take?

How many practice tests before the MCAT you should take depends on your initial score and goals. 

According to the University of Colorado, “Students who have earned competitive scores on the MCAT most commonly report completing 6 to 8 full-length practice tests prior to taking the MCAT.” How many you should take depends on how early you started studying for the MCAT and how much you want to improve your score. 

Feeling Behind? The Best Time to Start Studying for the MCAT Is Now

The MCAT is a major stepping stone on your journey to medical school. While the test is long and difficult, you can equip yourself with the best weapon (good study habits) to defeat this monster and begin your career as a medical student.

Whether you decide to study for two months or six, you should come out on top as long as you put in the effort. When you should start prepping for the MCAT depends on how much time you can devote to studying each week and your proficiency in each section. Good luck!

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