Sign up to our Newsletter

A student studies behind a stack of books

When To Start Studying For The MCAT For The Best Results

October 9, 2021
image of dots background
Part 1. Introduction Part 2. PreparationPart 3. Study MethodsPart 4. MCAT Study PlanPart 5. Mimic Testing ConditionsPart 6. Analyze Practice TestsPart 7. FAQsPart 8. Conclusion

Introduction

You made it through your undergraduate degree and now you’ve got your sights set on medical school. You have your dream schools picked out, the ones you’ve been dying to apply to. There’s just one hurdle left: the MCAT, an intense exam that scrutinizes your preparedness for the medical field. Your MCAT score determines your acceptance to medical schools. 

How does one prepare for a test so monumental? You’re probably wondering when to start studying for the MCAT. But don’t panic just yet. Studying for this exam seems intimidating, but we’ve devised an excellent study guide to help you prepare. 

image of dots background

Preparation

To give yourself the best chance at passing the MCAT, you need to create a plan that suits your needs. There is no one perfect plan because every student is different and every student approaches exams differently. As you read on, you’ll find an outline on studying for the MCAT, and you can manipulate this outline in whatever way you see fit. 

Start the Process as Early as Possible

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

The best way to retain the information is to continue testing yourself on the material long after you’ve passed a class. You will need this information for the rest of your career. Unfortunately, you won’t succeed if you only memorize facts to pass and then immediately forget the information. But we understand that sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated to test yourself once a class is over. You want to take some time to relax and turn off your brain. 

If you haven’t kept up with your studies, don’t panic just yet. Once you’ve decided on a testing date for the MCAT, do your best to study all of 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 so you can see what the MCAT is like. There are so many options when it comes to practice tests. MCAT Self Prep provides a free prep course as well as MCAT tutoring to help you prepare for the exam. Blueprint Prep provides a free MCAT exam and other study resources like a Question of the Day email to keep your mind sharp. 

Practice tests are a great way to gauge how much you know before you take the actual exam. They help highlight any weaknesses you may have and show you how much preparation you need to do. You may start out thinking you’re ready, but the practice test might show you some areas that need improvement. 

It’s also a great way to save money. The MCAT costs over $300, so you only want to take it when you’re sure you’re ready. 

Set a Target Score

The MCAT is broken down 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 to 500. Your acceptance rate increases as you reach a score of 500, giving you a greater chance of attending the medical school of your dreams. 

Don’t be discouraged if you score below 500 in the practice exam. We recommend starting the process early to give yourself plenty of time to reach your target score. If you score low on the practice exam, you’ll know that you need to spend more time studying before you’re ready for the actual exam. 

If you score a 500 or higher, don’t take this as a sign to ease up on your studies. You can take some time to rest and pat yourself on the back, but don’t stop studying. You need to make sure you are fully prepared before you commit to the real thing. 

Sign up to our Newsletter

Study Methods

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

1. Look over your notes from all of your past classes.

This provides a refresher course on information you might have forgotten as the years passed. 

2. Condense varying information on flashcards to quiz yourself on the go.

Carry them with you wherever you go so you can incorporate practice throughout your day. You could also hand the flashcards to someone else and have them quiz you. This adds a level of pressure you don’t have when you study alone and will show how you handle that pressure. This person can also point out any areas in which you struggle. 

3. Don’t just focus on science and math.

The MCAT also tests your critical thinking, so make sure you incorporate some critical thinking practices in your study session. 

4. Suppose you’re having difficulty understanding some concepts.

In that case, you can always look to websites like Crash Course that provide videos with an easy-to-understand overview of various topics, ranging from anatomy and biology to study skills. 

These are just a few methods to help you study. Remember that 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 the study methods you’re going to use to prepare yourself for the MCAT. How long should you study? Like study methods, the answer to how long you should study for this exam varies from student to student. 

The best way to determine how long you should study is to take a practice test and see how well you do. If the result on your practice test mimics your target score, you know that you have a decent understanding of the exam, and you can ease up a little on your studying. But this doesn’t mean to stop studying entirely. 

We recommend that students spend around three months studying for the MCAT, spending at least 10-15 hours a week studying. Remember that the practice test is not the actual exam, so don’t assume that a high score on the practice test means you’ll get a high score on the MCAT.

You can take a few breaks here and there, but make sure your mind stays sharp, especially in your problem areas. 

MCAT Study Plan

The best way to prepare for this exam is to map out a plan for success. You want to start this process as early as you can because it’s less stressful to study as you go rather than cramming the week before your scheduled test. 

1. Refresh your mind constantly with the notes you took throughout your undergraduate years.

These concepts provide the foundation for your journey into medical school. 

2. Decide on your target score and then take a practice exam.

This will let you know where you stand in your understanding of the test materials. Some practice exams, like the one Blueprint Prep provides, give an explanation of the answers. Unfortunately, the real exam doesn’t show your incorrect answers, so you mustn’t just memorize the material but truly learn it.

3. 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. Make sure you give yourself enough time to think before choosing an answer. 

4. Remember to take breaks every now and then.

This exam covers a wide range of information, and overloading your brain can cause you to forget some things, and it can also lead you to feel burned out. 

5. Take as many practice exams as you can.

Find exams from different websites so you can familiarize yourself with the wording of questions. These exams will try to trip you up because you need to know this information inside and out. Fortunately, the practice exams are around the same difficulty level as the actual MCAT, so you’ll have an idea of how the questions are asked. 

As with study methods, your plan might differ from those of other students. Don’t let this discourage you, and don’t sink to comparing your plan to others. If it works for you, stick with it!

Mimic Testing Conditions

Once you feel comfortable taking the practice exams, you should try to mimic the testing conditions to the best of your abilities. The test is broken down into four sections, and you’re allotted around 95 minutes per section. You also get to take two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute break. 

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 know how you handle the pressure. Set a timer and only take the three breaks allowed to give the most accurate reading. If you find yourself unable to complete a section within the time constraints, you know you should devote more time to studying that section. 

We understand that seven and a half hours is a lot to devote to a practice exam, but the MCAT costs over $300 each time you take it, so you might consider practicing in the best ways you can to avoid having to retake it. 

You could also try to take the practice test in a populated area like a coffee shop. You don’t want to practice the exam somewhere that’s so loud it’s distracting, but you won’t be taking the MCAT alone, so you need to get used to tuning out the sounds of others around you. 

Make sure you get plenty of rest as well. Use the practice test to determine the kind of breakfast you need to eat before your actual test date. You want something that will keep you full so that you can give your undivided attention to the test. The same applies to snacks as well as the lunch you bring.

Use the practice test as an experiment, so you know the foods that help fuel you before you take the MCAT. 

Analyze Practice Tests

Once you complete these practice tests, continue to look over your results and see if there are any areas in which you struggle. If you find a practice test that shows your incorrect answers or even explains the reasoning, you’ll learn what areas of the exam you need to 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 as you prepare for the real thing. You can switch between studying flashcards and looking over the test results to gauge how you’re improving. 

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, the balance between what you know and don’t know, as well as the balance between the scientific parts of the exam and the analytical parts. 

FAQs

1. When can I take the MCAT?

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

You can find more information on when to take the MCAT here.

2. 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, it’s always better to study as soon as you can rather than waiting until the last minute. Focus on all of your classes, take good notes that you can carry throughout the years, and test yourself constantly on the material. 

Your freshman year builds your foundation for the rest of your career, and you want to make sure you have a clear understanding of the information and seek help in the areas you struggle. Creating study habits early on will help keep you on track in the future. 

3. 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. 

4. 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 enough. Just make sure you study the topics equally throughout those four months. Remember that the MCAT tests your analytical skills as well, not just on your scientific knowledge. 

5. Can I prepare for the MCAT in one month?

Trying to prepare for this exam in one month would be challenging but not impossible. If you already have a solid scientific and analytical background, you could probably study everything you need in one month. Understand that you would need to devote most of your time to study, and we would only recommend this short amount of study time to those who are absolutely sure they’re competent. 

6. Is the MCAT hard?

The MCAT is a challenging exam, but it’s not impossible to pass. Understand that this exam is unlike any exam you’ve ever taken. This test spans seven and a half hours and covers an array of different topics. 

The questions are formatted as long paragraphs that are often written to try and trip you up. The exam wants to test your ability to know the information inside and out and apply that information to real-life experiences. 

You need to do more than just state facts. The MCAT helps determine your career as a doctor, so you need to make sure you take it seriously and devote a substantial amount of study time in order to pass. 

7. How much does the MCAT cost?

The MCAT costs around $320 unless you’re an international student in which you pay an additional fee of $115. 

8. How do you improve your MCAT score?

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

You can also find websites that help break down tough topics into ways one can easily understand if you’re struggling to remember some information.

9. Can I take the MCAT without studying?

It would be nearly impossible to pass the MCAT without studying. This exam spans semesters of different topics throughout your years in college and tests you on information you likely forgot. To take the MCAT without studying would be a waste of your time as well as your money. Some might be fortunate enough to pass the exam without studying, but why take that risk? 

Conclusion

The MCAT looms over you as you prepare your journey into medical school. This exam helps to decide your future, but don’t let that stop you from chasing your dreams. This exam is a monster, but if you use this guide to help you with your studies, you’ll equip yourself with the best weapons to defeat this monster and begin your career as a medical student. 

Whether you decide to study for one month or six, you should come out on top as long as you put all your efforts into this exam. Good luck!

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.
Thank you! Your submission has been received and one of our consultants will be in touch soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
image of dots background

You May Also Like